First Drive: 2010 Chevrolet Camaro SS
Although most of the first decade of the 21st Century has not been kind to General Motors, with the deaths of Oldsmobile and Pontiac, there is reason to be optimistic about the next decade with iconic vehicles such as the Volt hitting showrooms as well as the rebirth of a legend, the Camaro. With production Camaro models hitting showrooms now, we were able to spend a brief period behind the wheel on Key Biscayne, Fla. in Chevrolet's muscle car. Right out of the gate, the 2010 Camaro has established dominance outselling competitors such as the all-new Dodge Challenger and the restyled Ford Mustang. The last time the Chevy Camaro outsold the Mustang in a single month was October 1993, but it hasn't outsold its Blue Oval counterpart in a whole year since 1985.
In addition to getting to drive both the base Camaro and the performance-enhanced SS, we also had the opportunity to hear about the development of the car first-hand from Luciano Nakamura, GM's lead exterior designer for the Camaro. Nakamura was quick to point out that the design of the 2010 Camaro was inspired by the iconic 1967 Camaro as well as past Corvettes and even the F-22 Raptor fighter jet used by the United States Air Force. He also added that very few concessions were made in the Camaro's final design, and those required didn't alter the car's attitude. According to Nakamura, the biggest change in the design from concept to production was the placement of the reverse lights in the rear fascia.
The cabin of the new Camaro is just as retro as its exterior with large instrument gauges, a deep-dish steering wheel and a quartet of rectangular secondary gauges that look identical to the gauges from the original Camaro. Besides the design, the execution of this car's interior is also commendable. While many will undoubtedly criticize the large, plastic instrument panel (especially on the passenger side), the rest of the cabin is near flawless. The SS we tested had a two-tone treatment with red inserts over black on the door panels, instrument panel, and seats, while the overall layout was a stylish blend of retro and modern. The soft-touch buttons for the stereo and HVAC controls have become a staple of GM interiors as of late, but we were blown away by the Audi-like redundant controls mounted on the steering wheel. Access to the back seat was a little tricky as the seat release was mounted in the middle of the seat back, but occupants are welcomed with accommodations between what the Mustang and Challenger offer.
Under the hood of the base model, Chevrolet uses the same 3.6-liter direct-injected V-6 that is used in the Cadillac CTS which is good for 304 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque - both numbers are significantly higher than the base models of either the Mustang or the Challenger. The model we were able to drive, though, was the Camaro SS with a 6.2-liter V-8 that produces up to 426 horsepower and 420 lb-ft of torque (the 2010 Mustang GT only produces 315 hp and 325 lb ft). Having a six-speed manual transmission as our means to change gears made this SS even more enjoyable. Regardless of which model you drive, the Zeta platform (the same chassis that underpins the Pontiac G8) performed flawlessly in both everyday driving scenarios, such as going over rough bridge joints and brick-paved intersections, as well as offering precise, confident handling along twisting roads. There has also been word floating around that the Z28 moniker could also be reborn in 2011 to give the Camaro an even sportier model to go up against the Ford Shelby Mustang GT500, but as of now that is just a rumor.
Another aspect of the Camaro's design the Japanese/Brazilian Nakamura pointed out was the amount of diversity that went into creating the new Camaro. His team included GM designers from Russia and Australia to recreate an American legend based on an Australian platform that is assembled in Canada. For those that thought the Camaro took too long to go from concept to production model, it sounded nothing less than an impossible feat to get the original concept design completed in only two weeks leading up to the 2006 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Both the 2006 Camaro Concept and the 2007 Camaro Convertible Concept look just as attractive as the production model - expect production of the drop-top Camaro to start before next summer.
I don't think it's a coincidence that the introduction of the fifth-generation Camaro coincides with the release of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, so it was a treat getting to see the faces of both children and adults alike as the Rally Yellow base Camaro with the optional RS package (looking like a stripeless version of Bumblebee - the lead protagonist in the movie) drove in front of us. The styling of the 2010 Camaro was enough to evoke happy memories for those old enough to remember the muscle car era, while the younger generations were able to ogle the car as if meeting a movie star.