Text: Angelo B. Puyat / Photos: Angelo B. Puyat | posted January 28, 2010 00:00
Reigniting The Pony Wars
That's exactly the thought running through my brain as I was arranging a two week business jaunt to the States. The itinerary demanded a long drive and since the company was paying for all expenses, I decided to have some fun...
Sifting through the available rentals, a sense of delight struck me as I saw the all-new Chevrolet Camaro being offered. A part of my conscience was saying "this is official company business, get an SUV." But the petrol in my blood couldn't resist the chance to sample this new pony car. After all, its been seven years since GM terminated the last Camaro. "V6 or V8?" was the question next to be answered. Justifying the 2 extra cylinders to the accountants would've been a migraine waiting to happen, so I settled for the base LS.
Fast forward a bit and I'm walking towards the cherry red Camaro sitting silently in the parking lot. What hits me first is the closeness the production model has with the concept shown to the public a few years back. The bulging shoulders, the high belt line, the intimidating front…GM seems to have a winner on its hands.
Stepping inside, I am enveloped in a very intimate cabin that revealed the Camaro's first observable flaw. Outward visibility was greatly sacrificed especially in the rear, as the arching lines predominant in the vehicle's design meant glass space was narrower than usual. A glance at the dash showed a little retro flavor with analogue gauges for the speedo and tach, a definite treat for classic Camaro loyalists. What they won't love though is the pervading presence of plastic. The inside just feels cheap. Driving position was quite low, lending to a sporting feel from the get-go with bucket seats provided for the front occupants.
Igniting the Camaro, a deep sonorous growl filled the cabin. The excellent exhaust note was something Chevy engineers lost a lot of sleep over, as they wanted to achieve the right balance in attaining a distinctively Camaro sound without being overly "boomy". Good work. I can imagine how much sweeter the V8 must sound. The first minutes driving got me prodding that accelerator quite a bit, as the raspy exhaust was uncomplicated fun. Simply step and enjoy.
The initial high of driving wears off a bit, and what comes to mind after is that the Camaro is a very muscular looking car. Driving in one of these evokes a statement that you couldn't care less what those Prius drivers were thinking. What counts more is if you can beat that Mustang to the next stoplight. Hey, don't get me wrong, I'm all for saving the environment, but cars that stir excitement such as this are what some carmakers need to stay alive.
Undoubtedly the front is its best asset, looks wise, with the sharply penned nose exposing the round headlamps. The Camaro's got a mean snare going for it. The rear flanks are very broad and quite pronounced, while the tail is rounded off nicely with double lamps. The twin exhausts are also a worthy bonus. The 18-inch wheels standard on the LS model seem diminutive and out of scale for the car's proportions; it's gotta be 19s or bigger with this ride.
A bulk of my seat time in the Camaro was on vast expanses of freeways, allowing me to enjoy its 3.2 liter V6 quite thoroughly. Rated at 304 hp (308 PS) and 273 lb-ft (370 Nm), getting to freeway pace is no sweat. It's quite surprising though that the forward rush comes high in the rev range, as peak torque is achieved at 5200 rpm. Chevy rates the Camaro at 6 secs on the 0-60 mph sprint. I would say it's a tad optimistic. An empty stretch of country road allowed me to do an impromptu 0-60 run, and the time was closer to 7 secs.
Chevy mated the V6 to a 6-speed A/T with TAPshift which allows manual shifting through steering wheel mounted levers. It's not cutting edge by any means, but at least provides a degree of gear swapping control to the driver. A major consideration during the Camaro's build process was ensuring fuel economy was acceptable to consumers. Aside from the more efficient engine technology that was employed (double overhead cams), the 6 forward gears were definitely beneficial on long stretches as the revs were kept down. A computer indicated 21 mpg was returned on the highway, which translates to a relatively decent 8.9 km/L. Hey, it's a pony car remember...
The car feels taut and confident, not rubbery. To give a little perspective to local drivers, picture driving a smaller and nimbler 300C. Although it remains smiling when hustled through turns, it doesn't communicate as well as say a Hyundai Genesis Coupe at pace. The Camaro seems poised to be a capable track car given some stiffer handling mods. As it stands though, the Camaro was a superb cruiser that could keep you fresh for miles on end.
It basically comes down to practicality versus presence with the Camaro. In my experience, it didn't fit much luggage (1 full size suitcase were already a chore), it was difficult to park in a crowded lot (aside from poor visibility, the long doors would hit other vehicles), and the back seats are strictly for kids. On the other hand, I would get thumbs-up from strangers, cars honking their horn in approval, and bystanders chatting me up just to check it out. It's not hard to be cool in one of these.
Do you need a V8? Well, does a spider need more legs? For normal folks who will be happy simply driving a hot looking car, of course you don't. The V6 is plenty powerful for everyday chores, has decent fuel economy (for a pony car), and a wonderful exhaust note too. But for petrol heads with the dough, then the V8 is the only way to go. This LS on a few occasions leaves you wanting for that extra grunt, plus it really won't be a true pony car without that burbling 8 cylinder.