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AUTO REVIEW: New Camaro is better than ever

Growing up in the midst of the great pony-car war, I admittedly never gave the Camaro the time of day. It will drive you "absolutely mod," Chevy's TV ads would boast, capitalizing on the trendy term of the time (that's "mod" for modern).

Growing up in the midst of the great pony-car war, I admittedly never gave the Camaro the time of day. It will drive you "absolutely mod," Chevy's TV ads would boast, capitalizing on the trendy term of the time (that's "mod" for modern).

But also running around were Ford's Boss 429 Mustang and the Plymouth Barracuda, which had a stranger fastback but handled better than everyone in the crowd with its torsion-bar front suspension. Even Camaro's cousin, the Pontiac Firebird, offered a bolder and more aggressive look than the Camaro.

For Chevy, redemption these days must be sweeter than honey. The long-awaited Camaro, released earlier this year as a 2010 model, will knock your socks off and dazzle your senses. Indeed, the new Camaro is back and it's better than ever, better than the late 1960s version ever was.

"Everyone wanted to make sure it was right," one of the chief Camaro designers told me. "There was already a waiting list of 20,000 even before production began over the summer."

The Camaro, Chevy's response to the enormously successful 1964 Mustang, was introduced on Sept. 12, 1966 as a '67 model. It replicated Mustang's long-hood, short-deck design but had a grille that hid its headlights. It did not go over like gangbusters, selling about 221,000 the first year -- profitable but short of Chevy lofty goals. Ford was ready for it and answered with a beautifully redesigned '67 Mustang with a big block 390.


Now Ford, by the way, with one eye on Camaro, is busy again tweaking its fifth-generation Stang with styling and a tighter chassis -- but this time it has an even more formidable opponent.

"It's a great interpretation of the first generation," Camaro's designer said. "But this time we wanted the face of a sinister, serious machine."

Mission accomplished.

Camaro honors its kin with a two-door coupe that has similar proportions: a 112.3-inch wheelbase and an overall length of 190.4 inches. This time, the long hood and short deck sport wheel wells that are pushed to the far corners and are encompassed by 18, 19 or 20-inch wheels, depending on the model.

It's a pseudo-coupe because it has a B-pillar, but it's not noticeable from the outside and, besides, it has a purpose, adding to its structural rigidity.

At idle, the Camaro SS shakes ever so slightly -- like a cat ready to pounce on its prey. That shake may be attributable to 426 horses under the hood champing at the bit. A 6.2-liter V-8 provides enough get-up to reach 60 mph at a sizzling 4.8 seconds.

Not surprising, it's a blast to drive and the six-speed manual offers easy throws and great response. A six-speed automatic also is available, and another option for classic buffs is a short-throw Hurst shifter.

It is manageable in the turns, with good road grip, but it does feel a bit heavy. Give the nod to Camaro in speed but the Mustang GT probably wins the duel when it comes to handling.


For visibility, give Camaro a C. Windows are designed to be sleek and that means limitations to how much you can see on the sides and behind. That also compromises parking efforts.

EPA-rated mileage figures for the big V-8 are a respectable 16 city, 24 highway. An available V-6 on lower trim levels gets 300 hp and 276 pound-feet of torque and, as you might expect, better mileage: 17 mpg city, 29 highway.

Camaro's interior is vastly improved over the original as well as the previous generation. The SS gets leather on the seats, the three-spoke steering wheel and shifter knob. An aqua strip of light arches across each door panel for style and ambient lighting.

Seats are bolstered to hold you in for sporty driving. Still, they are comfortable for daily driving as well as the long haul, and that's a big plus. Taller folks may find the window sill too high for elbow comfort since they have to lower the seats for needed head room. Back seat legroom and headroom are marginal, OK for short trips to the restaurant only.

Another quirk: The E-brake is located on the passenger side of the center console, requiring a reach and making it awkward to pull up.

Retro-looking, square gauges are trimmed in chrome and bring you back to the '60s -- but are not especially easy to decipher. And no navigation system is available even as an option.

Cargo space is limited and the short deck means a not-too-big opening for golf clubs and the like.

Safety features include head curtain side-impact air bags for both front and rear passengers. Big Brembo brakes to stop this beast are also a safety plus.


Camaro is available in five trims, starting with a base model I promise you do not want (V-6, steel wheels -- need I say more?).

The first three levels come with the V-6. However, two options packages can make it more attractive: a convenience package offers Bluetooth, leather wheel and shifter and remote start; the RS package offers xenon headlights, 20-inch wheels and a spoiler. The SS gets styling cues inside and out, 20-inch aluminum wheels and the Brembos.

Whether you were there for the original or caught up with the later generations, the Camaro should bring smiles to all. Said Camaro's designer: "We tried to cater to the classic lovers, but we know it will appeal to new buyers, too."


Base Price: $22,000

Price as tested (SS version with 20-inch wheels and sunroof): $36,750

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