First Drive: 2010 Chevrolet Camaro

March 20, 2009

Chevrolet first showed its Chevrolet Camaro concept in January 2006, and this reporter was one of a few to drive the show car in April 2006. Since then, thousands of stories, articles and photos have appeared, working the hype into a frenzy and making Chevy's new pony car one of the most-exposed new cars ever.

Was it worth the wait? You bet. After a full day of driving the 2010 Chevy Camaro on some of the best and worst roads in Michigan, this car was everything had hoped for and then some.

The highlights are this: the Camaro SS is the Camaro on everybody's mind, as a performance icon with tire-shredding power. The examples we drove are much better than any production Camaro that's ever turned a wheel. Beyond feeling rock-solid in terms of build quality, the new chassis is buttoned up. While Ford has elevated the 2010 Mustang's ride using a live rear axle, the Camaro's independent rear suspension simply drives better, smoother, and with less twitchiness.

The above should not lead you to believe that the 2010 Chevrolet Camaro SS has been neutered. Powering through corners, the suspension responds immediately with little roll; there is none of the waiting-for-things-to-happen (like springs and dampers compressing) before the car responds. It's instant. Steering is communicative and responsive, plus cornering attitude can be modulated with the throttle. In nearly all circumstances, we'd describe the Camaro's handling attitude as completely neutral, a characteristic that gives the car an exceptionally agile feel.

The Camaro's power doesn't hurt the car's responsiveness either. The base 2010 Chevrolet Camaro LS and LT editions use the 3.6-liter direct-injected V-6 from the Cadillac CTS. It's a fine motor producing a V-8-like 304 horsepower with EPA highway fuel economy numbers that rival some four-cylinder cars; 29 mpg. City mileage for the V-6 six-speed manual is 17 mpg, and 18 mpg for the six-speed automatic.

2010 Chevrolet Camaro

2010 Chevrolet Camaro

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When I drove a 2009 Cadillac CTS with the V-6/six-speed manual transmission last month, I didn't like the Caddy's shift linkage at all. The 2010 Camaro's linkage is different, and feels direct and precise.

Moving up from the V-6, the V-8 powered Camaro SS is offered with two distinct engines, depending on the driver's transmission choice. Both are 6.2-liter V-8s sourced from the Corvette. If you choose the six-speed automatic, you get the L99, an engine that makes use of variable valve timing and active fuel management (that enables the engine to run in V-8 and V-4 modes). Horsepower and torque are 400/410. If you row your own gears, the six-speed Tremec TR6060 is fronted by the more powerful and higher-revving LS3 6.2-liter V-8, with 426 horsepower and 420 lb-ft torque. Mileage is a respectable 16 mpg city and 24 or 25 highway with the SS engines.

While all of the above numbers are important and tell part of the new Camaro's story, they can't fully describe the differing personalities available within the line. Camaros running the V-6 and automatic come close to being the ultimate everyman's sports car. It's stylish and drives with sporty verve that's accessible to all those people who think a clutch is a small purse.

V-6 Camaros equipped with the six-speed manual drive very differently, and should be considered by those shopping sports cars like the 2009 Nissan 370 Z or Hyundai Genesis Coupe. The V-6 revs willingly to its 6400 rpm horsepower peak, and the lightweight engine helps the car feel smaller than it is. Do not make the mistake of comparing a thusly equipped Camaro with a V-6 Dodge Challenger or Ford Mustang. Those are compromise cars. This Chevy is no compromise, and according to Chevy, will bump into its electronic speed limiter at 155 mph.

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