Wednesday, March 25, 2009

2010 Chevy Camaro

With the $22,995 V6-equipped 2010 Chevy Camaro LS producing 304 HP, nearly as much as the V8-engined 2010 Ford Mustang GT, and the 426 HP 2010 Chevy Camaro SS starting at just $30,995, initial impressions of GM's new muscle car are extremely good. It's faster than its competitors and benefits from more svelte looks than the Dodge Challenger and less familiar styling than the 2010 Mustang. It's even more fuel efficient, with the V6 returning an impressive 17 city, 29 highway MPG-rating, while the V8 returns 16/25 MPG when equipped with the slightly higher-geared automatic transmission.
But this Camaro's also supposed to be about more than just numbers , one very important reason: it's based on the 2009 Pontiac G8 GXP. When we drove that car last November, we couldn't believe that a $40,000 Pontiac was like the new E39 M5, only better. That impression was the result of a driving experience that wasn't so much about the 415 HP Corvette-derived LS3 V8 as it was the car's subtle ability to read your mind, then react to what you wanted faster than we thought possible from a big sedan. In short, the G8 GXP is a handler before it's a muscle car and that's saying something for a vehicle that can hit 60 MPH in 4.7 seconds.
The opposite is true of this new Camaro. Based on an updated version of the G8's Zeta platform (here called Zeta II), the Camaro gets a 2.5" shorter wheelbase thanks to bringing the front wheels forward 6", then moving the A-pillar rearwards 3.5" to create a longer hood and new front suspension chosen to make that hood lower. Unlike the class-defining Mustang, suspension is also independent all the way around. The V6 starts with GM's FE2 coil-over suspension package, before moving up to standard FE3 on the V8-equipped SS. Wheels start out at a smaller-than-GXP 18x7.5" on the base LS, before moving up to a standard and massive 20x8" front, 20x9" rear on the SS. The G8 GXP's are 19x8". Most of the SS's standard equipment is available optionally on the V6 models, while the RS-package essentially looks like an optioned-up SS, but with a V6 under the hood.
Well that and the incredibly successful styling. Chevy knows it looks good too, displaying a level of self-assuredness that would be absurd in any other segment. Here's a great example. Our co-driver asked a GM engineer whether the new Camaro increases "length or girth?" His straight-faced response? "It increases opportunity." Cocky, right? But they're right. Where the G8 looks like a rental car, the ZR1 looks like a bass boat enthusiast won the lottery and the CTS-V, even with its classy chrome mesh grille, looks like a tuner conversion, the Camaro strikes exactly the right balance between the mass appeal of its aggression and a more sophisticated retro futurism that successfully references the original while adapting wholly new forms that are completely contemporary. Even though we've been staring at pictures of it for what seems like years, in person it's still surprising how good it looks.
The other defining characteristic of the Camaro's driving experience is the interior. Hop in one and like a classic Camaro, the first impression is of claustrophobia. It feels like Chevy's designers have purposefully set out to make the interior, which is actually surprisingly large with adequate space for four adults, feel surprisingly small. Most of that comes from the slit-like windshield; its top sits at about the height of your forehead, something that will be familiar to Lotus Exige owners. Out through that narrow strip of glass, the hood bulge and fenders are prominently visible, accentuating the power under the hood. Unlike the Exige, there's almost 8.5" of vertical seat movement to accommodate a wide range of drivers. All of them will end up with their head in the exact same place: about a half inch from the ceiling as that's the only position that affords adequate forward visibility. Strangely, the wheel and instruments sit very high, never affording the wheel-in-lap arrangement that I prefer, even with the seat all the way up and the wheel all the way down.
That interior is also going to be a bugbear for the Camaro. While the overall shapes are appealing, the materials are mostly cheap plastic, even on the big knobs that you use to adjust the HVAC and stereo (Nav isn't an option). A huge swath of that cheap plastic runs from the steering wheel all the way to the right door. The standard-on-SS auxiliary gauges, mounted down low in front of the gear lever, are largely worthless on the move due to their positioning, but look really cool, providing a false sense of driver/machine integration that just isn't born out in the driving experience. Believe it or not, the 2010 Mustang with a few options is actually a nicer place to spend time.

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