One of the least publicized aspects of the “New” GM is how much of the old company remains on the books. More to the point, bad ideas with new window dressings still reign (Cutlass) supreme. But not the new 2006—sorry, 2010—Chevrolet Camaro: this idea had the right stuff. On paper. In the real world?
Much like Jay Bernard’s Pontiac GTO rendition of 1999, the Camaro appeals more as an Alias-generated prototype viewed on a flat panel monitor. Sure, the proportions are suitably muscular. But someone forgot to sweat the details. The Camaro SS’s bulldog front bumper, pregnant fender flares and breadbox rear deck reek of haste, dying for an evening with a clay modeler’s wire-loop tool. And what the last F-body did for hatchbacks, the new Camaro does for the boot: reasonable space but cumbersome usage makes it a pointless endeavor. Combined with a skyward beltline and miniscule greenhouse, even the Camaro SS’s nine-inch wide rear wheels get lost in the flab. And this ain’t no sexy, slippery F-body. The new Camaro has the poise and elegance of Tenacious D on skateboards.
The interior reeks and creaks of GM interior’s stock and trade: look for visual pleasure, yet touch for sensory disapproval. Aside from stitched armrests on the SS’ door panels, Camaro occupants sit between a rock and a hard place. Faux silver trim accents the flimsy vent registers on a brittle dashboard, then encompass the area normally associated with cloth/vinyl padding on the door panels. (Even the Chevrolet Aveo got that right.) Sitting in the Camaro’s cramped rear cubby reinforces the impression. The interior is awash in a blandness that would not feel out of place in a Chrysler Sebring. What happened to the world-class interiors you promised, Mr. Lutz?
That’s not to say the Camaro’s interior can’t be fun. The busy analog gauges sit in retro square binnacles, while secondary readouts rest atop the console, with its pitch-perfect short handle shifter. The SS gets an ergonomic steering wheel complete with an M-series worthy logo on the bottom of the tiller. There’s a respectable Boston Acoustics audio system and the seats aren’t half bad . . . unless you try the thrones in a Dodge Challenger SRT-8.
But Camaro interiors have been crap for years. The spatial challenge never dissuaded the Bowtie faithful for one reason: Chevy’s small block V8. With six smooth-shifting, close-ratio speeds and a burly 6.3 liters and 422hp of LS3 underfoot, the SS’s performance is absolutely right for the nameplate. Aside from the (industry standard) practice of throttle delay at tip-in, the Camaro’s power is effortless, refined and angry enough to ruin an import’s day, one quarter-mile at a time. We’re torquing the mid-to-low 13 second range—much like the outgoing Camaro SS and its low-po LS1 mill.
All of this makes sense, given the fifth-generation Camaro’s portly underpinnings. Blessed with plenty of NVH (noise, vibration, harshness) reducing materials, an independent rear axle and the necessary bulk associated with the Zeta Platform, the 3800lb Camaro SS rides like a champ, obliterating any bump in the road, rolling down the highway like a refined German autobahn cruiser. Pony car heritage be damned, the new Camaro is made for Baby Boomers who remember the good ol’ days, but demand Lexus-like refinement in the prime of their lives.
Aye, there’s the rub. The Chevrolet Camaro still wanders like a lost Taliban in the Tora Bora; angry and full of vigor, but without any focused direction. No longer a Panhard-infused, knuckle-dragging back road barnstormer, the new Camaro has enough inertia-infused body roll to feel like an overstuffed gymnast in quick corners. The multi-branded Camaro/Brembo calipers have a Bumblebee-like identity crisis, but they stop like a Decepticon in Optimus Prime’s wake, sans nose-dive.
There’s a respectable amount of on-center steering feel. Navigating left hand turns around medians, pedestrians and subcompacts requires craning around the A-pillar to ensure a safe and speedy getaway. While it’s possible to drive the Camaro fast, don’t expect an easy time, what with a soft suspension under the hard and slippery bucket seats. Like most of today’s “Fat Elvis” American performance icons, the Chevrolet Camaro SS is suited to freeway sweepers, not SCCA road courses. And that’s a damn shame.
The fifth generation Camaro’s marketing push in the “new” GM’s portfolio notwithstanding, it appears the remnants of the old GM are alive and well. Uh-oh. If the latest Camaro was a clean sheet redesign, GM wouldn’t give the Zeta platform the time of day. It’s simply too big and heavy to provide the lively performance associated with the Camaro brand. Sorry, model. Even if GM’s platform engineers got the right bones for the beast, the crap interior proves that the “new” GM isn’t ready for the change that customers, taxpayers and the American economy expect from a company (supposedly) changing its ways.