2013 Chevrolet Camaro Review

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Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
October 28, 2012

The Chevy Camaro's no single-minded musclecar--there's good gas mileage and entertaining handling to be had, if you tick the right boxes.

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.

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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.

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2013 Chevrolet Camaro

Styling

We get and enjoy the Camaro's cartoonish musclecar looks, but the cockpit's not in sync.

The styling of the Chevy Camaro isn't polarizing--it's exaggerated for sure, but if you don't like it, you didn't want one anyway.

We're fans of the retro-tinged look, filtered as it is through a modern lens. That doesn't leave it free of criticism. There's a bold face, squat haunches, and muscular fenders, all heady and evocative of the best Camaros of the past. The front end's a bit bluff, though, and the roofline and glass areas are small, especially when the Camaro's caught from a pure side view. It's all too much to digest in one look--the way really exciting cars should be.

The design hasn't changed much since its introduction just a few years ago, though the new ZL1 adds some serious aggression to match its raised performance, as does the 1LE package--both with their own aero additions, splitters, two-tone treatments, and even more hulking appearances.

Inside, the Camaro's cabin is less retro-themed than the outside, with nods to the sleds of the Sixties mostly found in the low-mounted console gauge cluster, vintage type face, and nested bezels. Despite the retro nods and gradual improvements in materials, the Camaro's interior isn't quite as useful or as well-finished as the cockpits in some other sporty coupes in the same price range, like the Hyundai Genesis Coupe, or even the Ford Mustang.

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2013 Chevrolet Camaro

Performance

No matter which Camaro you choose, you'll be rewarded with quick, relatively nimble performance--but not all Camaros are alike.

The Chevy Camaro is a performance story in three parts: six-cylinder cars of surprising strength and good fuel economy are the opening act, while the breathtaking SS and 1LE V-8s propel the story at a blinding pace. Then, just when you think you've figured it all out, the ZL1 sends the whole thing off in a new, expensive, faintly exotic direction that might leave you wondering, what the hell just happened?

The standard LS and LT coupes and convertibles kick things off with a 323-horsepower 3.6-liter V-6. If you've blotted out a six-cylinder Camaro from your memory because of Berlinettas past, it's time to reconsider. This Camaro can rip off 0-60 mph times of about six seconds, whether you choose the meaty six-speed manual gearbox or the six-speed automatic. It's not the most mellifluous sound in the world--don't listen to the V-8s if you have any hope of escaping the showroom for under $30,000--but the V-6's acceleration is no longer a penalty.

Handling isn't either. The six-cylinder cars have electric power steering that's not too artificial in feel, and with 18-inch wheels standard on its control-arm and coil-over-shock independent rear suspension, the base Camaro with the available sport suspension package can feel almost nimble--as nimble as anything weighing in at about 3,800 pounds can feel. Convertibles some of that precise feel that's been dialed in, a function of body structure. Still, this base Camaro is light-years ahead of the highest-performance Camaros of just the last generation, so make sure your expectation buttons have been reset.

There's a psychographic gulf between those cars and the V-8 Camaros, and the Camaro SS provides all of the rumble any muscle-car driver could want--with significant handling differences, depending on the steering, suspension, and wheel-and-tire packages. The powertrain is V-8 and six-speed--a 426-horsepower, 6.2-liter V-8 on manual-transmission cars, and a 400-hp version of the same engine with six-speed automatic-equipped cars, a power loss that's attributed to its fuel delivery system. With either combination, 0-60 mph is only about 5.0 seconds away, accompanied by one of those irreplaceable musclecar roars that belongs in the Smithsonian's audio library. While the six-cylinder cars can get away with automatic transmissions, the SS' manual shifter's not only a collector prerequisite--it's a well ironed out piece with quick shifts and short motions. Plus, there's a dual-mode exhaust system that mutes the V-8 at low speeds and amps it up at full prod--and it's only available with the manual gearbox.

From there, the V-8 Camaro family spins off into a few branches. All versions have a similar suspension design, 20-inch wheels, and now, electric power steering, but tuning differences give the handling edge to this year's new 1LE edition. The wide stance and short wheelbase aren't helped by the basic SS coupe's staggered 245/275 tires and 52:48 weight distribution; they make the Camaro feel less tossable and induce more understeer than can seem possible in a car with this much power available at the rear wheels, though the SS and versions with a sport suspension setup have better ride control than expected, too.

For more track-ready, more neutral handling, the Camaro SS 1LE cures almost all. It's a lively twist that may as well be the stock SS suspension, from our experience on Michigan's Gingerman Raceway. The 1LE gets its own specification, with a closer-ratio manual transmission--no automatic's available--and identically sized 35-series tires front and back, along with monotube rear shocks, a bigger front anti-roll bar, a front strut brace, and some suspension mounts from the ZL1 for better stability. The package is fitted to the less plushly trimmed SS for some weight reduction, and it also gets a blacked-out hood and spoiler, along with transmission cooling. It's a revelation to drive a 1LE and expect tons of push: it doesn't. With stability control set to a sport mode that allows some yaw, the 1LE gently steps out into oversteer, corrected easily with remapped variable-ratio electric power steering that's another one of GM's well-tuned efforts. It's possible to option up an SS to near 1LE-spec--but the steering is one piece that's otherwise unavailable. We haven't driven one on public roads, but a 1LE in the right context--on a road course--acquits itself with disinctly un-muscle-car moves.

Above all other comers, the Camaro's final act is the most difficult one to reconcile. It's because it's more of a supercar than a Camaro, with a pricetag in the $60,000 range to match. The ZL1 supercharges the SS's 6.2-liter V-8 for a grand total of 580 horsepower, and adopts magnetic dampers and a host of aero body pieces (the hood has a carbon-fiber insert) to cope with the copious upgrade in power. Its 0-60 mph time is pegged at 3.9 seconds, and top speed hits 184 mph--and Chevy's lapped the Nurburgring in less than eight minutes in a coupe, all figures that suggest Corvette until the cover's pulled off the body.

That's part of the mind-twist the ZL1 represents. Is it still a Camaro if it only looks like one? With its unreal performance comes some expensive and single-use add-ons--a launch-control mode, a differential cooler, distinct links for the rear anti-roll bars, the dual-mode adjustable suspension--the ZL1's more a rolling experiment lab for what the Camaro can be when it cribs Corvette parts. It's also an instant collectible, whether a coupe or a convertible. And it's a prodigious consumer of rubber whether all its electronic traction aids are turned on or off--you'll just measure the loss of tread visibly with all of those helpers shut down, as you also watch the effects of supercar power lose the battle with physics, time and time again.

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2013 Chevrolet Camaro

Comfort & Quality

Chevy's gradually improved the Camaro's interior, but headroom is tight, and the rear seats and trunk are very small.

The Chevy Camaro pays an obvious price for its meta-Sixties sheetmetal. The interior's small even by musclecar standards, and storage and trunk space are minimal.

Taller drivers get the worst of it in the Camaro, and those that race will feel it every time they strap on a helmet. The front seats--from base models to the sporty seats on ZL1s--are comfortable even for long trips. There's simply not enough headroom for six-footers, especially when a sunroof is part of the equation. Then, the low roof loses all its clearance, and the Camaro comes up short. Even getting in and out of the car can be difficult, with the roofline and long, heavy doors stretching the boundaries of convenience.

The rear seats are 911-like, which is to say, almost unusable for anyone beyond their single-digit years. There's simply not enough leg room here even for tweenagers--just under 30 inches of leg room by the spec sheet. The interior also narrows dramatically as the Camaro swells around its wheels at its hips. The trunk struggles to swallow tennis bags, and the cockpit doesn't offer much in the way of storage.

With more expensive models, the Camaro's interior livens up. It's been a sore point since the latest car was introduced in 2010: the look doesn't match the retro sheetmetal, and much of it is covered in dull, grainy plastic. It's improved over time, and the introduction of Color Touch radios glams up the center stack a lot, as do the suede finishes on the ZL1 and the brightly colored trim pieces inside the Camaro SS.

Despite these complaints, everything appears to be well-assembled, with no squeaks, creaks, or rattles intruding on the experience. Cabin noise in general is of the kind we like, and tire and wind noise are kept to a minimum.

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2013 Chevrolet Camaro

Safety

The NHTSA gives the Camaro coupe top scores; rearview cameras and Bluetooth should be on all buyers' shopping lists.

Some crash-test scores are lacking, but the available data show the latest Chevy Camaro to be more crashworthy than any before it--and better than some best-selling sedans.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) rates the Camaro coupe at five stars overall, an excellent score for a sporty car. However, it hasn't yet tested a convertible--and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) hasn't tested any Camaro at all.

The usual safety features are standard in the Camaro, from six standard airbags, to anti-lock brakes and stability control, to GM's OnStar telematics system, provided with six months of emergency service.

Visibility is a liability in the Camaro. The Camaro's high beltline hinders visibility for drivers of more normal height, all the more so for shorter drivers. Rearward visibility is compromised for all drivers with thick rear roof supports and a small rear window. The Camaro lacks a standard rearview camera and parking sensors--items it sorely needs, given the horrible rearward visibility induced by its coupe body style. They're unavailable on the LS coupe, and optional on the next trim level up, but standard on convertibles.

Bluetooth is an option on some models as well. We think, given the prevalence of mobile phones, it's a necessity.

GM redesigned OnStar's buttons and the Camaro's rearview mirror this year, going to a frameless design that creates a little more viewing area. Any little bit counts in this case, as the Camaro's rear glass and side mirrors are exceptionally small.

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2013 Chevrolet Camaro

Features

Navigation, new radios and a frameless mirror hustle the Camaro even more quickly into the modern world.

The Chevy Camaro doesn't dwell in stripperville. Even the base versions carry enough features to please today's enthusiasts and tomorrow's collectors, and this year the Camaro makes strides in catching up to the Mustang's more complete list of options.

The lineup includes the Camaro LS, LT, SS, and ZL1. All versions, including the base LT, come with power windows, locks, and mirrors; air conditioning; cruise control; 18-inch wheels; a rear spoiler; Bluetooth; an AM/FM/CD player with satellite radio and an auxiliary jack; and steering-wheel controls. OnStar telematics service is also included, free of charge, for six months.

Options on some models include remote start; leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob; ambient lighting; a USB port; and on coupes, a sunroof.

On all convertibles (LTs and SSs and ZL1s), there's a power-operated fabric roof with a glass rear window; a rearview camera; and Chevy's new Color Touch radio, which also is found on LS and higher coupes.

Color Touch provides a graphic interface on an LCD touchscreen for direct control of audio and phone features, and also runs the Camaro's newly available navigation system--a first for the muscle car. It also connects the car's audio system to smartphones and enables some mobile apps for in-car use, apps like Pandora, and also accepts voice commands for audio, phone and navigation--though it's not quite as flexible or as vocabulary-rich as Ford's system, for example.

From some LT trims and up, the Camaro adds more luxury features, like power-recline front seats; heated and leather-trimmed seats; a head-up display; premium audio; and a three-spoke steering wheel. An RS package gets its own body kit and 20-inch wheels.

The Camaro SS 1LE is treated as an option package, but gets its own suspension design and 20-inch wheels and tires front and back, along with a manual transmission, a matte-black hood and spoiler, a front air splitter, and a flat-bottom steering wheel. See our performance section for a more thorough discussion on it and for the ZL1 and its mechanical differences.

The ZL1 makes almost all available features standard, and gets its own wheel and color choices, along with its own aero-add ons; suede interior trim; alloy pedals; rear parking sensors; a set of four ancillary gauges; and standard remote start on automatic-equipped models. A suede package for the interior and a sunroof are among the few options.

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2013 Chevrolet Camaro

Fuel Economy

If you're looking for an efficient Camaro, the V-6 is the best choice; V-8 versions aren't bad, given their extreme horsepower.

Musclecars can give the impression of poor fuel economy on looks alone. For some versions of the Chevy Camaro, that's simply not the case.

The V-8-powered SS and ZL1 Camaros won't bring home any awards for saving the planet, though they're fairly efficient for their enormous power ratings. The V-8 SS scores just 15-16 mpg city and 24 mpg highway, depending on the transmission chosen, for example.

The ZL1's prodigious 580-horsepower output results in fairly low gas mileage ratings: the EPA pegs the manual at 14/19 mpg and the automatic at 12/18 mpg, no matter which body style is chosen.

The V-6 Camaro, though, does very well, given the car's sporty nature. When equipped with the six-speed automatic transmission, the coupe rates as high as 19 mpg city and 30 mpg highway, with manual-transmission models earning 17/28-mpg ratings.

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November 5, 2015
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