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Now in its fourth year since its rebirth, the Chevrolet Camaro's finally fleshed out almost all of its potential. With a lineup of coupes and convertibles from base LS models to the king of smoky burnouts, the ZL1, there's a Camaro of almost any stripe for anyone who will never, ever, don't even think about it, drive one of those Ford pony cars. Not even if you paid them.
This year's lineup includes the LS, LT, SS (and 1LE), and ZL1 Camaro. They share some common cheekbones: that rock-'em, sock-'em styling that's beyond polarizing. If it's what an eighth-grader would draw if they could draw the next Camaro, so be it: it's outrageous in every inch of its sheetmetal, from the too-low roofline to the squared-off haunches. The cockpit's less so, but gets better as you spend more, since SS and ZL1 Camaros can be trimmed up with suede and leather and brightly colored trim pieces.
The stock Camaro is a V-6, with 323 horsepower and a choice of six-speed automatic and manual transmissions. It's the foundation for greatness, and in truth, it doesn't fare too badly as a sports car. It's quick enough to 60 mph to earn the name, and the combination of rear-wheel drive, electric power steering, and an independent suspension yield a comfortable ride and reasonably nimble responses. An EPA rating of 30 mpg highway might actually overshadow this version's performance credentials.
Still, it's the V-8-powered Camaros that draw almost everyone into the whole notion of the Camaro. The 6.2-liter V-8's lyrical engine note is a hypnotic for men of a huge range of ages. We're looped by it too--and by the gripping 60-mph runs of 5 seconds or less. There's ample room for improvement over the base SS and its tendency to understeer (it's the huge 20-inch staggered tires and front-end weight bias)--and the cure's found in the new 1LE package that rights out the tires to equal sizes, tightens up the steering and manual gear ratios, and lets loose some easy, controllable oversteer much sooner in the Camaro's cornering calculus.
There's another development, way up on the price and performance ladder--the ZL1 coupe and convertible. They're strapped to a supercharged, 580-hp version of the same engine, with either transmission, and fitted with the magnetic shocks found in the Corvette and some Cadillacs. Zero to 60 mph times drop to 3.9 seconds, while top speed floats to a supercar-style 184 mph. It's almost beyond the reach of the Camaro nameplate, overlapping the stock 'Vette by a good margin except in price--still about $60,000.
No matter which Camaro you choose, the pitfalls are common. The low, sleek roofline means a shortage of headroom for taller drivers, and the high beltline makes it hard to see out of the car for shorter ones. The back seat is suitable only for children, and the trunk, despite the car's overall size, is diminutive.
Safety and convenience features abound, and the NHTSA rates the Camaro coupe at five stars overall. Features are also ample, with OnStar standard and navigation newly available; Bluetooth, USB, and iPod connectivity are offered as options or as standard gear, and a head-up display mimics the one found in the Corvette. Convertibles get power-folding soft tops with glass windows, and standard rearview cameras. The ZL1 bundles it all together in instantly collectible form--but even SS Camaros, especially 1LEs, show the same potential to entertain auctioneers long after they've thrilled their original drivers.
- Classic but contemporary looks
- 30-mpg highway for the base engine
- Balanced handling gets better with 1LE
- Rides well, even with big 20-inch wheels
- More connectivity and features than ever
Next: Interior / Exterior »
- Visibility an issue even in convertibles
- There's not enough head room
- There's not enough rear-seat leg room
- Interior's better, but still a weak point