Nothing like the real thing.

by Jill Amadio

I honestly didn't believe that any new Camaro could possibly revive the spirit of the Camaros of yesteryear. I'm not talking about original Camaros, back in the late 1960s. I mean more recent ones -- well, like my 1979 model, the car I still drive and love.

There's a spirit to it. It has soul. But when they chopped off the rear of Camaros in the 1980s, I decided Chevrolet had completely ruined its elegantly balanced styling for the sake of so-called aerodynamics. I was, of course, in the minority. The blunt back end was hailed as a tremendous breakthrough.

Well, the soul is back. I can feel it. Settling into the 2000 Z28 is just like settling into my own 21-year old car, albeit with an updated interior and a bulkier body. The Camaro essence is there: low-slung seats, lots of leather, a 5.7-liter V-8 (bigger than my 5.0-liter), the sleekest styling, long nose, and low roofline. Best of all, the stylish rear is almost as beautiful as that on my 1979 model.

I tested the Z28 convertible equipped with a Hydramatic 4L60-E four-speed automatic transmission with overdrive. The base convertible costs $28,615 but chrome wheels, leather seats, acceleration slip regulation, special radials, and a Monsoon sound system added almost another $2000 to the tab.

Key features on the powertrain include a control module that measures throttle position, vehicle speed, gear range, temperature and engine load to create a seamless interface between engine and the transmission. Believe me, it works. After fighting with a 2000 Firebird Trans Am's manual transmission with the same V-8 engine as the Camaro, it was restful to allow the automatic version to speed me on my way.

Although the Firebird and the Z28 are essentially mirror images of each other in the big picture, there are enough small design differences in switches and gauges and a few other cues such as pop-up headlights to let you know which brand you're sitting in. The convertible can be ordered with a 320-hp SS performance and appearance package but I found my Z28 as powerful as it needed to be.

While I experienced a certain giddiness to the Trans Am's exhilarating leaps forward, the Camaro was no slouch either, letting my lead foot careen away as soon as the light turned green. Acceleration is a joy when you've got a good powertrain, aided by responsive steering and handling.

Where Camaros fall short, as mine does, is a tendency towards rear-end slip in wet weather unless you buy the optional $450 traction control. While Ford's Mustang is proving a tough competitor to beat, snatching sales away from the Camaro, there's no denying that the graceful symmetry of the Z28 far outshines the Mustang's chunkier silhouette.

The Camaro's cockpit is self-contained, unfussy and expansive enough to enjoy a lengthy trip though athleticism is an advantage when getting in and out. The door opens wide enough but there's not a lot of space between the steering wheel and the seat when you exit. One of the best interior features is steering wheel radio controls for volume, channel pre-set and AM/FM band changes, which Chevrolet refers to rather oddly as "redundant," which Webster's defines as unnecessary. Only time it's awkward to use these steering wheel controls is when you've parked and twisted the wheel. Then the pushbuttons are upside down.

There are very few changes from last year's model. One adds to monochrome styling: rearview mirrors that are now body color, and new aluminum wheels.

The LS1 V-8 engine with 305 horsepower, derived from the Corvette, isn't new but the engine block has been revised, a new progressive throttle cam replaces the linear design, the exhaust manifolds are cast iron, and there's a new starter motor and heat shield. Not new on the V-8 are the platinum-tip spark plugs that don't need replacements before 100,000 miles.

The convertible top, with a glass window, operates effortlessly from the dashboard switch and, once lowered, is neatly covered by a three-piece hard cover that latch into place. If you lose battery power, you can raise the top manually by turning a valve in the driver side of a hatch in the trunk. The trunk itself, of course, is minuscule but can still take a couple of small carry-ons.

Like several other new models, the Z28 has Retained Accessory Power, which allows certain features to continue to work up to ten minutes after you've turned the ignition off. Also, delayed illumination leaves the courtesy lights on for 25 seconds after you get into the car and close the door, and for five seconds after you leave the vehicle. The six-way power seats are practically armchairs with side bolsters on seat cushion and seatback.

Once you get in you won't want to leave.

2000 CAMARO Z28 CONVERTIBLE

Price as tested: $31,065
Engine: 5.7-liter V-8, 305 horsepower
Transmission: four-speed automatic
Wheelbase: 101.1 in
Length: 193.5 in
Width: 74.1 in
Height: 51.8 in
Weight: 3500 lb
Fuel economy: 17 city/25 hwy
Major standard features:
Dual airbags
Air conditioning
Rear window defogger
Anti-lock brakes
Theft deterrent
Daytime running lamps
Sport mirrors
Cruise control
Power folding top
AM/FM stereo, cassette
Tilt steering wheel
Power doors and windows

© 2000 The Car Connection

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