It seems like we've spent the past few years hearing about how cool the newest version of the Chevrolet Camaro would be. We saw the photos and liked the retro styling.
We read about how, amid the resurgence of muscle cars, this was going to be the one that firmly put its stamp on the movement to enjoy America's performance heritage again. But who knew for sure how it would turn out; we've been disappointed before.
Perhaps aware of that, Chevy seems to have paid particular attention to getting it right this time, and the result is a 2010 Camaro that is truly a winner. For a tad under $23,000, you get a Camaro LS with a 3.6-liter V-6 engine that makes 304 horsepower, which outpaces or rivals the V-8s in some other models. Bump up to the Camaro SS with the 6.2-liter V-8 and you're jockeying 426 ponies, and your starting price is still under $31,000.
Its rivals in the old-is-new-again muscle car category, the Ford Mustang and Dodge Challenger, have their positive attributes as well. The Mustang is known for its sheer driving pleasure, and after a recent review of the Challenger, we noted how, in addition to being a really cool ride, it is large enough to serve as a more than adequate family car.
As for looks, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Designers of all three models have done a superb job of capturing the heritage styles that made these cars so beloved a few decades ago, while adding just enough modern flair to be appealing to younger folks who weren't around back then.
As for the Camaro, in addition to its great value, you must appreciate its fine fuel economy: 17 mpg city, 29 highway for the V-6, and 16 and 25 for the V-8 with automatic transmission. The Camaro has five trim levels: LS, 1LT, 2LT, 1SS and 2SS. All the LTs have the V-6, and the SSs have the V-8.
The LS includes such standard gear as 18-inch wheels, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, satellite radio and keyless entry. As you might expect, more stuff is added on with each move up in trim levels, although the 1SS has a few less luxury features but gets you the more powerful engine.
With either engine, you can get a six-speed manual or automatic transmission, with the automatic also having manual shift control. On the road, which is where cars like this really earn their stripes, the Camaro handles brilliantly, letting you push the limits and kick out its backside a little, while maintaining a highly interactive steering feel.
You might feel a bit of body roll, but not enough to dampen the enthusiastic driving experience. Our tester had the V-6, and never once did we feel like we needed to drive the V-8 to really witness the thrills that the Camaro can deliver. However, we certainly would be willing to take on that task should the opportunity present itself.
On the inside, the Camaro is neatly designed and appropriately ergonomical. The biggest difference that we noticed in comparison with the Challenger is that its interior seems much more compact.
We noted that the Challenger could serve as a large family sedan; the Camaro, while quite comfortable, is more akin to a mid-size sedan that could seat four adults but wouldn't leave you with a whole lot of extra room.
But most buyers of this category of vehicle aren't so much looking for a people hauler as they are something that can haul ... well, you know. The greenhouse, or amount of glass you get, is relatively small, which might also add to the perception of the compactness of the interior.
But that doesn't seem to compromise visibility, which was unlike the impression we got when we drove the dearly departed Dodge Magnum a few years ago.
With the Camaro, we also loved how high the steering wheel sat - it didn't feel like it was cramped in our lap as is the case with a number of cars. Tall drivers might appreciate that.
Also, the steering wheel looks great and seems to fit the hands wonderfully. We also loved the dashboard gauges, another small detail that captured the retro look exceptionally well.
Check out the speedometer and you'll swear they yanked it out of a '71. Overall, the interior materials look good, and seem to be of decent quality as well. The Camaro has benefited not only from a great deal of preproduction hype, but also from the current buzz from its appearance in the Transformers movie.
That kind of buzz can be a blessing or a curse. A blessing if the car lives up to the hype, a curse if it disappoints. The Camaro is no disappointment.
It is ready to run with its rivals, and ready to show what the new General Motors can be all about:
affordable, fun-to-drive, fuel-efficient cars.