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Review: 2010 Chevrolet Camaro

by Mark Elias

A while back, my young son and daughter joined me to see the original Transformers movie in our local multiplex. A Camaro concept nicknamed the "Bumblebee" was the featured character in the hit of that time. Fast-forward many years to 2009. The kids are through college, have married, and settled down, and are now having families of their own. Low and behold, Chevrolet has, in what seems like the longest automobile launch in history, finally released the production model of the reborn 2010 Camaro.

So it hasn't been quite that long, but it sure does feel like it.

Was the Camaro, probably the highest-profile new-car launch of 2009, finally worth the wait? MG takes a look.

What is it?
The re-creation of a legend, the Camaro is a totally new-from-the-ground-up premium muscle car that has taken many of the design cues that made it so popular in the past and combined them with the technology from today for a "best of both worlds" specimen. In the eyes of GM North America's President, Troy Clarke, it is the re-introduction of the classic American sports car. Ironically, the customers this Camaro is seeking are the ones who were were probably just getting their drivers licenses when the Camaro was finally fazed out in 2002.

It's still a four-seater - but the two rear seat occupants might have to be kids - so the Camaro is aimed at young drivers, empty-nesters and that third, currently unused, parking spot in your garage.

Chevrolet believes it is launching the 21st century sports car, a fast, yet efficient and refined one that will attract today's smarter, well-educated consumers to the brand, and in the process, help to dust up GM overall.

What's it up against?
In addition to the obvious choice of the and , GM says that the , , , , , and are the Camaro's targets.

While some competitors are obvious, others appear to be a bit of a stretch to us. We figure most shoppers have made up their minds before they even enter the showroom, but those who are undecided will probably cross-shop Ford and Dodge first.

Any breakthroughs?
The overall plethora of contemporary automotive goodies leaves the sum greater than its parts - it's what really makes the Camaro worth a look. With the base price of admission for the V6 model just $22,995, including transportation, you really have a product that should walk itself out the showroom door - if it drives well. Read on.

How does it look?
The neo-Camaro is like a 1969 model with a chopped top, bulging fenders, big wheels and other contemporary design cues. Based on a modified version of the Australian-built Holden Commodore platform, it reclaims the long hood/short trunk platform that characterized the first couple of generations, but became watered down as the years rolled by.

A pair of single lens headlights nestled in the grille opening flank a large shark-like mouth that has become a Camaro trademark, at least as far as the 1960s era models are concerned. Making a re-appearance are the gills that are on the leading edge of the rear wheel wells, as well as the broad shoulders that when seen in the side view mirrors, reminds us of a Corvette.

If you're reading this far, you've undoubtedly made up your mind. To us, the Camaro is fresher than the revised 2010 Mustang without being quite as retro as the Dodge Challenger. Color us impressed.

And inside?
The interior is where the Camaro seems to have gone soft.

Don't get us wrong, the seats are great and very supportive. But the dash and gauge binnacles, while having intriguing shapes, don't have the bling that would be expected in a so-called halo-car. A large expanse of black dashboard greets the front seat passenger when the car is equipped with the black leather-seating package. A nice accent of aluminum or carbon fiber would go far breaking up this monotony of monochrome.

A speedo and tachometer with fuel gauge occupy the two main gauge housings while the center stack is home to the Boston Acoustics audio system that, for once, is not shared with any other GM product (yet). Below the stereo and below the rotary knob climate controls, you'll find a series of four gauges for voltage, oil pressure, oil temperature and transmission temps - one of few retro touches inside.

The controls for audio and climate are the weakest links in the interior - they possess the neither tactile quality nor the design character we'd expect to see out of a car this important for General Motors.

If headroom is a big thing for you, be sure to opt out of a sunroof-equipped model: You'll gain more than an inch of extra clearance between the top of your keppy and the headliner.

The road sound is well-deadened for a car that is known for its athletic audio track from the equipment under the hood. While both the V6 and V8 package sound spectacular, we prefer the lower growl from the V8 to the higher pitch from the V6. Perhaps that's a sound the acoustic engineers can program a few points downward - a big change from the '60s when cars, regardless of make, sounded, well, authentic.

But does it go?
Two powertrain choices will be available initially in the Camaro.

The base V6 is the 3.6-liter direct injection engine as utilized in other GM products like the Cadillac CTS. With a freshly certified EPA rating of 18 mpg city / 29 mpg highway, it is available with an Aisin six-speed manual transmission or a GM-built six-speed automatic transmission. It boasts 304-horsepower, and 273 lb-ft. of torque, with a 3:27 final drive gear which you'll find in all but the top level V8/manual combination, where GM installed a unique 3:45 final drive.

Officials at the General are quick to point out that with a 0-60 mph time of 6.1-seconds, the V6 is nearly as potent and peppy as the Ford Mustang GT's 315-horsepower V8.

The six-speed automatic includes a sport mode that remaps the shift points, as well as a pair of paddle shifters on the steering wheel.

V8s with manual transmissions include the LS3 6.2-liter engine derived from the Corvette. It's bolted to a sweet Tremec 6060 6-speed manual transmission, which we found to be slick in its own right, but it will offer a Hurst short-throw stick option later on down the line. Output is a formidable 426-horsepower, with 420 lb-ft. of torque if you opt for the stick, and 400-horsepower with 410 lb-ft. of torque for the automatic, which is bolted to an L99 version of the V8.

Expect 16 mpg city / 25 mpg highway for the 4.7 second, 0-60 mph V8 machine. Chevy chalks up the reduced power of the automatic to Active Fuel Management and cam phasing to get into 4-cylinder mode to achieve 24 mpg on the highway.

Just to reiterate: The exhaust note of the Camaro SS is absolutely intoxicating, but power is impressive throughout the range with either motor. The V8 naturally earns extra points for its grunt, but neither will embarrass.

Chevrolet chose a fully independent suspension for the Camaro to put an emphasis on handling. Two levels of suspension, FE2 for V6s and FE3 for V8s, are available. The V8 sits a tad lower than the V6 car, a byproduct of its revised suspension tuning.

The engineers traveled to Germany's famed Nurburgring race track to dial-in the suspension and, in our brief drives as part of the media launch, we'd say they outdid themselves by managing to keep the ride from beating up passengers on Michigan's pockmarked back country roads, yet giving the Camaro formidable moves in the twisties. Though we experienced plenty of ka-chung, ka-chung from repaired highway expansion joints, the jarring never reached the cabin. A particularly rough winter wreaked havoc on Michigan's rough roads, so we'll wait to fully evaluate the ride-and-handling when we get more opportunity to sample the new Camaro on decent pavement.

Still, as we've already reported, an "80 percent" prototype turned a decent 8:19 lap around the 'ring - and we'd expect that number to improve with a production car. Variable-ratio rack and pinion steering (thankfully not electrically assisted) showed the Camaro was willing to go to extremes before the Pirelli P-Zeros protested. The Camaro corners flatly, almost feeling like it was sucking down on the road while cornering at speed. For those watching their weight, the Camaro dials in at 3719 pounds for the V6 LT with automatic, to 3902 pounds for the automatic-equipped V8 SS.

For stopping power, single-pot calipers grab the rotors on the V6-equipped car, while four-pot Brembos do the same job, just better, on the V8. Wheel options include 18 and 19-inch sets for the V6, with a 20-inch setup for the RS V6 model, while the V8 is only equipped with 20-inchers. The tires are staggered with 245s on the front and 275s out back. Limited slip differentials are on all cars except for the V6-equipped automatic.

Why you would buy it?
The Bumblebee movie character had you at hello - or you missed the Camaro on its first go-around.

Why you wouldn't?
You bleed blue-oval blue or, uh, Dodge SRT-red.

MG's bottom line:
General Motors, while in the news lately for a lot of the wrong reasons, has truly shown they can still build a car that the American public wants - high-mpg Malibus and Cobalts notwithstanding (sure, that's what you really want. Right.). The new halo car will undoubtedly succeed at bringing shoppers into Chevrolet dealerships and, GM hopes, it'll sell more than just Camaros.

It's a lofty ambition, to be certain, but whether you choose the six or the eight-cylinder Camaro, you will wind up with a neo-retro sports car that rewards your senses on almost every level.

2010 Camaro V6 base price, $22,900.
2010 Camaro V8 base price, $30,000.

Words and photos by Mark Elias.

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