Overview

We really hate to admit it, but our test team felt a bit shortchanged when this new-generation Chevrolet Camaro was introduced - and it's taken about two years for us to come around and see this vehicle for what it really is.

When it was unveiled in 1993, we thought some of its individual design licks were outrageous, especially the overstated side-view mirrors, the maximized windshield wipers and the deep well in the trunk. We hated the original multicolored graphics with pale gray on slate gray plastic instrument panels. And we weren't happy about the confusing levels of differentiation between the various models.

Two years down the road, though, with the full line of arch-competitor Ford Mustang coupes and convertibles having been introduced, the Camaro looks a great deal better than it did initially. The stubby Mustang, the overwrought Pontiac Firebird and the host of Japanese coupes that use headlamps as a main design theme on otherwise colorless noses have taken a step back to let the Camaro stand out.

In terms of competition, the Camaro has a dual personality. Packaged with the V8 engine, the Z28 has two true competitors: the Firebird Trans Am and the Mustang GT. But with the V6 engine, the Camaro falls into a completely different, and much larger, category that includes rivals such as the Ford Probe, Honda Prelude, Mazda MX-6, Nissan 240SX, Toyota Celica and Acura Integra. But even in this crowded field, the Camaro more than holds it own.

For our test drive, we sped around in the basic Camaro coupe equipped with a 5-speed manual transmission and the standard 3.4-liter V6 engine. Even with the addition of a number of features - including air conditioning, speed control, foglamps, and power door locks/windows/mirrors - we came in at well under $20,000; $18,314, to be exact.

Walkaround

The Camaro product line has been simplified since the 1993 model year, with only the coupe, the new-for-1995 convertible and the high-performance Z28 in either a hardtop or soft-top version. The SS, RS and other intermediates have been dropped, taking some of the confusion out of choosing a Camaro.

There are four drivetrain combinations to choose from: You can get the basic 3.4-liter 160-hp V6 engine with a 5-speed manual or 4-speed electronic automatic transmission; or you can get the thundering 5.7-liter 275-hp LT1 V8 with the 6-speed manual or the optional 4-speed electronic automatic transmission.

The Camaro comes with dual airbags, a built-in theft-deterrent system (PASS-Key II) and standard anti-lock brakes. This year, body-color side-view mirrors are standard, and they pull the whole car together better than did the previous design.

The Z28 high-performance version of the Camaro gets the V8 engine, larger tires and a substantially upgraded suspension. It also gets exterior badging and a rather uninspired and commonplace interior, which we think is a mistake.

We're of the opinion that there should be more interior flash with a Z28, perhaps standard leather or a jazzed-up dash - anything to wake it up a bit.

New items for '95 include three additional colors, an optional monochromatic roof paint treatment on the Z28, and new aluminum and chrome-plated wheels.

The Z28 also offers a version of the Chevrolet Corvette's Acceleration Slip Regulation, a special type of traction control that reduces engine power and applies the brakes if you corner too quickly. Also new this year on the Z28 are optional high-performance, all-weather tires, available only in size P245/50ZR-16.

Options on all Camaros include air conditioning, power windows/door locks/mirrors, and a respectable range of sound systems and wheels.

We found the level of exterior fit-and-finish to be generally pretty good on our coupe. None of the plastic panels looked like plastic, the paint job was brilliant, and the car had the wonderfully slick, predatory presence that we think all sports cars should have.

Interior Features

Although the Camaro is a low-slung, high-style coupe, getting in and out of it isn't as hard as with the Corvette. You don't need to grab the steering wheel and door jamb to pull yourself up and out.

The rear-seat area is for children and canines only, however, and isn't really usable for grown-ups. But aft of the rear seat, there is still the handiness and openness of the hatchback body style. The huge glass hatch, though, may be somewhat of a problem for the vertically challenged to operate with total ease.

The interior has been up-graded substantially. Chevy designers changed the display graphics from their previous multicolored incarnation to a more peaceful and easy-to-read black and white.

The analog gauges include a speedometer, tachometer, voltmeter and trip odometer. There are also gauges that display coolant temperature and oil pressure.

The driver's controls are easy to reach and use. We liked the large rotary heater and air conditioning controls on our tester, which had high-contrast white graphics.

The Camaro's instruments are housed in a hooded pod that has ventilation outlets on its rim to add visual interest.

We found the seats a little flat around the middle, but otherwise comfortable and supportive - at least for short hauls. Over the course of a long trip, though, they might cause a bit of soreness.

Sitting in a Camaro is like sitting in a tunnel because the windshield glass is steeply angled; the top of the dashboard is so long that the windshield takes on a deep, slotlike appearance. And you can't see any sheet metal beyond the windshield wiper nacelle.

Rear and side vision is somewhat compromised by the camaro's giant roof panels and steeply angled backlight glass. Once you're used to this, though, it's quite a comfy cocoon.

Driving Impressions

Our Camaro had a truly throaty V6 (the kind that mimics the noisy shenanigans of the V8), provided really good torque for its displacement and moved our car smartly along when floored. And we got reasonably decent fuel economy thrown in. The engine did, however, tend to be a bit on the raucous side.

We also wished the 5-speed transmission was a bit smoother and less notchy and noisy. And shift quality was average to stiff. We can't help but wonder why, if all of the Japanese automakers can build quiet manual transmissions, can't General Motors get one from its suppliers?

The ride of all Camaros, we have discovered over the years, tends to be a bit on the rough side, but the grip is outstanding and the car follows orders beautifully through a power steering system that requires some driver participation. You don't have to actually lift your shoulders off the back of your seat to turn the steering wheel, but it does take some effort.

The Camaro tracks wonderfully, though, and likes to run down rural 2-laners as much as any of the sporty pretenders. Our car felt more solid and pulled-together than previous models, which were too flimsy when subjected to harsh conditions such as slushy roads.

Summary

With its durable plastic body panels, much-improved quality (as compared with 1993 models), hatchback utility and a very high fun/looks factor, the rear-drive Chevrolet Camaro is an excellent value. It stacks up well versus a great many Japanese coupes, and better in most ways than its cousin Firebird or the vaunted Mustang. But the Mustang convertible holds a slight edge in quality and noise/vibration harshness performance over the Camaro convertible.

Model Line Overview
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Compare the 1995 Chevrolet Camaro with these competing Coupes:

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