You have to feel sorry for the people at Hot Wheels. They usually have one of the best jobs in the world, taking new cars and transforming them into adolescent fantasies, while their friends over at Matchbox get stuck having to meticulously recreate the same vehicles with picture perfect accuracy. Unfortunately, with the 2010 Camaro, Chevrolet has done the job for them.
Is it cartoony? A little. Sexy? Depends. Muscular? No argument. A head turner? Absolutely. Loathe it, or love it, good luck trying to miss it. You could spot this thing from the space shuttle.
Over a couple of hundred miles in a loaded Camaro SS I encountered no animosity, quite the opposite. A sampling of the people who engaged me in lengthy conversations about the car includes three high school kids hanging out in front of a Dunkin’ Donuts; a cigar-smoking toll booth collector who didn’t seem to care that he was holding up traffic; a really old guy in a Volvo station wagon stuck in the line next to me; and a police officer who wanted his partner to take a picture of him standing next to the bright red government-funded coupe. Your tax dollars at work, two ways.
Of course, I drove it mostly in New Jersey, so the friendly reception wasn’t much of a surprise. When I was coming of age there in the 1980’s its predecessor was considered high fashion, and required equipment if you wanted to be in what passed for the cool club in those days (obvious mullet and tank top references omitted).
To many buyers, this kind of attention is worth the price of admission. For them, Chevrolet offers a 304 horsepower V6 in the Camaro starting at a lowball $22,245. It’s a fun car, sufficiently speedy, but ultimately a little on the soft side. A sporty car rather than a sports car. In the muscle car hierarchy the Camaro SS is the real deal.
With a 426 hp 6.2 liter V8 borrowed from the Corvette under the hood, the Camaro SS makes no excuses, offering exactly one more horse than its closest rival, the Dodge Challenger SRT8. It needs it.
Tipping the scales at 3849 pounds, the resurrected Camaro weighs about 400 pounds more than the last model to wear the nameplate did in 2002. The new one is based on a heavily modified version of the platform that underpins the Pontiac G8 full-size sedan, so the heft is expected. Shortened, and featuring new suspension geometry, the Camaro hides its origins well, but it still comes across like a big car most of the time.
Cruising around, that’s a good thing. The Camaro chugs along in near silence, with a comfortable ride despite the stiff suspension and performance tires that the SS is equipped with. It’s only bouncy on heaving roads and over repetitive concrete seams, but is rarely harsh. The 6-speed manual transmission is geared for fuel economy, and at 65 mph the engine barely turns at 1,500 rpm, returning 24 mpg on the highway. A 19 mpg combined rating means it wouldn’t even qualify as a ‘clunker’, though with the $34,180 price on the window sticker, trading it in for an Aveo is probably the last thing that would cross your mind.
The interior design has a retro flavor, but only in its simplicity. The dashboard is very plain, and made from too much hard plastic to impress, but there are no rattles and apparently lots of sound insulation. The most original visual element is the instrument cluster, with a pair of squared-off housings for the speedometer and tachometer which both feature a font that looks like the one used in NASA’s “worm” logo from the 1970’s. The Camaro may be one of the stars of the “Transformers” movies, but it’s often hard not to feel as though you’re staring into the face of Wall-E.
In-dash navigation is not available, but the Camaro comes standard with OnStar and its turn-by-turn directions feature, which works surprisingly well if you can deal without having a cute little animated map showing you where you are headed. The Boston Acoustics audio system has XM satellite radio, iPod integration and a Bluetooth phone connection, all controlled through a very useable head unit that’s unique to the Camaro.
All fine and good, but on the center console, down low in front of the shifter, you’ll find four additional gauges that track battery voltage, oil temperature and pressure, and transmission temperature. They are a constant reminder of what this car is really about: speed. As if the impractical headless horseman-sized back seats and tiny trunk with its manhole cover opening weren’t dead giveaways.
Shift into first gear, let out the springy clutch, and the stereo becomes useless to you, too. Thrust is truly impressive, and while the noise the Camaro makes isn’t anywhere close to pretty, it has a roar that’s rough and ready. The power band is thick, and the car feels smaller the faster it goes, supporting the Theory of Relativity, but also lighter, contradicting it.
Steering response is quick, and a ton of grip is available, but a judicious right foot is needed to access it. The Camaro will easily kick the tail out in slow corners, and is prone to massive amounts of understeer in fast ones whenever you try to put the hammer down. At times it seems as if the car wants to turn every curve into a drag strip. Rather than fight that urge, I took it to one.
On a hot and steamy summer day at Raceway Park in Englishtown, NJ, track official and local hot shoe Allan Heim managed to squeeze a 13.3 second quarter mile out of the Camaro on a solo run. More impressive than that performance was how consistent the car was over the course of the afternoon leading up to it. Run after run, with the two of us on board, it turned times of 13.5 sec or less, even with my unskilled hands and feet behind the wheel.
The seasoned V8 is bulletproof, though you could probably live without the weight of features like the leather 6-way power driver seat if you do this sort of thing regularly. For you, a relatively stripped-down version of the SS is available with all of the performance goodies, but less of the luxe, for $30,245.
Taking advantage of the near 110 mph speeds we were reaching, I slammed on the brakes hard in the shutdown area a few times to get a feel for the 4-piston Brembo calipers located at all four corners. They clamp down well and combine with the wide rubber fitted to 20-inch wheels to slow the Camaro sure and straight, with virtually no shudder from the anti-lock system.
On the other hand, using the stoppers entering turns isn’t quite as easy. The wide spacing of the gas and brake pedals makes heel-and-toe downshifting a challenge, unless you’re wearing a pair of Nike Air Force 1 basketball shoes like you did in the old days. It turns out the fashion was functional.
Chevy may be the last arrival to the latest American muscle car war, but it sent a serious soldier. Not quite as nimble as the Ford Mustang GT, but far from the bulky bruiser that the Dodge Challenger is, the SS lands smack in the middle, and is the fastest of them all.
With that face, it had better be.
2010 Chevrolet Camaro SS
Base Price: $30,245
As Tested: $33,430
Type: Front-engine, rear-drive, 4-passenger, 2-door coupe
Engine: 6.2L V8
Power: 426 hp, 420 lb-ft torque
Transmission: 6-speed manual
MPG: 16 city/24 hwy
What do you think of the Camaro?
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Gary Gastelu is FoxNews.com's Automotive Editor.