There aren’t many cars that would deserve a “tough guy” decoration more than the contemporary Camaro and this has absolutely nothing to do with its muscular lines or the firepower hidden under its bonnet. This Chevy can be praised for simply being in the service of enthusiasts who crave muscle and affordability after having such a troubled history.
The Camaro was brought back from a coma that lasted for an entire generation after Ford launched the current incarnation of the Mustang in 2005, which marked the return to retro-inspired design. The fifth-generation Mustang had already received a comprehensive facelift (2009) by the time the Camaro morphed from a concept to production reality.
The Camaro might have arrived late at the revival party, but when it entered the scene, it made sure it would top its eternal rival. While the Mustang
managed to outsell the Camaro in the old days, the new-age muscle car era sees GM's fighter taking the lead.
Not only did the Camaro had to sit on the side and watch the Mustang play ball for seven years, but it also lost its nonidentical twin brother, the Pontiac Firebird.
It was 2002 when the Mustang and the Firebird, which were in their fourth generation, had just celebrated their 35th anniversary, when production ceased. GM subsequently killed the Pontiac brand altogether, which is why the Camaro was the only one that made it back to life.
The previous two generations of the Camaro had to face fierce emissions and fuel efficiency restrictions, which meant that instead of building on the "power to the people" fantasy that saw the model being born, they had to make due with less and less potent engines.
The Camaro was allowed to be a proper monster with no worries for the future only during its first generation, which made its debut in 1967. The aforementioned following generations also managed to make it into the bright side of the automotive history books, but the first Camaro is the one that brings the largest smile on any aficionado's face.
It may have appeared as GM's response to the success of the first Ford Mustang, but the concept car that inspired the Blue Oval to build its pony was, in fact, a reaction to the popularity of GM's Corvair Monza sportscar.
We recently set out to view the world from behind the windshield of a Camaro Convertible. We chose the SS, the naturally-aspirated V8 model that sits in the middle of the range and shares the sales crown with the V6-powered models.
The Camaro's visual connection to the original car has been established, first of all, through the proportions and dimensions. Even though over four decades set the two apart, the new Camaro's has grown just only 4.4 inches (11cm) in length compared to the original, while its width has been increased by just 1.5 inches (4 cm).
The front fascia
is like an icing for this muscle car cake. It's instantly recognizable as a Camaro and, with the prominent "V" shape and distinct grille, it's a face to remember. We have to mention that the "V" theme is also used for the hood, where it is toned down a bit. In addition to that, the hood comes with a massive power dome that's gifted with a cold air induction at the front.
The halo light rings
on our test car are an optional feature and while they may not be all that original, they certainly add a hefty dose of visual appeal.
When viewing the car from the side, we have to mention the proportions once again. It all kicks off with the long hood and the short front overhang. These join forces with the well-defined fenders both up front and at the back, as well as with the raked windshield and the ultra-low glass area.
The convertible's roof follows the line of the coupe's one rather well, also borrowing the almost-invisible B-pillar. Both models feature the rear quarter panel gills, which remind us of the golden age.
The rear console is rather short and this not only brings a bonus on the proportions front, but also allows us to better focus on the rear end's details.
The rear fascia
incorporates the same 'V" theme as the front one, but here there are differences between the Coupe and the Convertible. The latter comes with a very crowded arrangement
on top of the boot lid, which disturbs its lines a bit.
The bootlid also has to accommodate the shark fin-like antenna and the third brake light, which creates visual confusion. Moving our focus lower will save the day, as the eye-catching taillights and the massive exhaust tips
of the V8-powered models are a joy to behold.
Rarely do we have the occasion to see the interior shapes of a concept car make it into production without too many modifications, but the Camaro is one of the exceptions to this rule.
The production vehicle has kept the stunning shapes and details that bring a successful reinterpretation of the classic Camaro design. The list of such assets is long, ranging from the shape and details of the entire dashboard, with a special focus on the instruments, to the small gauges
placed where this meets the center console. The shifter
is also included and so are the steering wheel and the central part of the dash, which manages to grab your attention as soon as you step inside the car.
The aforementioned assets are backed by the seats
that have an armchair nature, as well as by the shape of the exterior rear view mirrors, which are a pleasure to use.
The whole cabin comes alive at night, thanks to the strong backlight of the dials and the ambient lighting. We are talking about a traditional shade of blue, which is very pleasant, but still not a match for the Ford Mustang's configurable interior lighting.
Alas, this chapter brings a mix of emotions as the cabin seems to be the area that has to pay the price for many of the car's characteristics. First of all the cost cutting brought materials that manage to seriously affect the perception of the aforementioned brilliant design. The best example is the generous area of plastic trimming on the dashboard, which would be more fit on a washing machine than inside a car.
While we have to admit that the materials aren't unpleasant to touch, we can't help notice the Camaro shares most of its steering wheel parts with lesser GM models.
And the styling extravaganza also brings certain problems in the ergonomics area. Most of the controls are easy to use and within your reach, but you'll need some time to get used to the complicated layout of the climate control system
. In addition to that, you have to completely take your eyes of the road in order to see the little gauges that display info such as the oil pressure, oil temperature and battery voltage.
That low glass area which brings extra points for the exterior has a pretty high cost in terms of visibility, which is also crippled by the thick A pillars.
Both the Coupe and the Convertible offer plenty of space up front, while children can comfortably ride in the back. The canvas top of the latter takes 20 seconds to fold, but you still have to manually unlatch it, an operation that does require coordination. There's also a wind deflector, but this has to be manually-installed at the back.
The soft top does its job in an excellent manner, providing proper sound proofing and thermal insulation. The luggage compartment's generosity means that you don't have to become frustrated whenever you fold the top, but the trunk's small opening
The car itself certainly enjoys city drives, as this is a great opportunity for it to grab all the attention, but as a driver, you won't be particularly pleased by using it for urban rides.
To start with, the dimensions of the Camaro are too enthusiastic for crowded city traffic. This could be solved through an excellent visibility, but the vehicle offers the exact opposite - This is where its spectacular styling cues take their toll. The problem becomes even worse for the convertible due to the poorer rear visibility.
The hydraulic power steering also proves to be a tad too heavy for certain maneuvers that are often used during urban driving, such as parking or turning the car around. Up to the 2013 model year, the range-topping ZL1 was the only one that used electric power assisted steering, which does away with this problem. Fortunately, from this point on, the SS models receive it too.
With its 6.2-liter, the L99 V8 engine certainly screams "no replacement for displacement", but it can actually shut down half of its cylinders when power is not needed. This is often the case in the city and the process is an unnoticeable one for the driver. Together with the six-speed automatic transmission, this faces the challenges of urban driving in a decent manner.
The Camaro also has a few assets that serve it well in urban areas and the most important one is the suspension. This definitely knows what comfort means and, together with the generous ride height (for a sportscar), is perfectly fit for the city.
Despite the aforementioned poor visibility, parking is not an issue, as you can rely on the rear sensors, as well as on the rear view camera. Unfortunately, the latter's display has microscopic dimensions, being integrated in the rear-view mirror.
The Camaro makes a brilliant Grand Tourer, as the car has many aspects that favor cruising. If used in this way, its comfortable nature mixes with certain sporty assets to offer a pleasing experience.
Nevertheless, the Camaro's bad boy lines make you dream about the word "open" - an open road and an open throttle are the dream team. When you do mix the two, the Camaro has some aces up its fenders, but it doesn't quite manage to deliver a vivid experience.
We don't know if it's abused junk food or not, but the Camaro does have a weight problem that even GM itself admitted and promised to solve once a new generation arrives.
The torque monster under the SS' hood manages to deal with the extra kilos and together with the six-speed automatic in our test car, it can make the speedometer sweat in most gears and regardless of the speed. In terms of fuel efficiency though, you can clearly feel the weight of the car. Despite the cylinder deactivation system used by the powerplant of our SS Convertible test car, this returned an efficiency of 13.8 mpg (17 l/100 km).
It's the same story with the Brembo brakes, which provide a confidence-inspiring level of stopping power even at highway speeds.
Things do change when talking about the suspension. Its setup places comfort high on the list of priorities and while it does keep the body's motion under control, it doesn't inspire you to push the car hard. This becomes obvious during heavy braking, when the car shows a pronounced pitch. The problem makes you doubt the official 109 ft (33.2 m) stopping distance from 60 mph (96 km/h), even though you know this is accurate.
Now that we've talked about the "big picture" aspects that influence the Camaro's behavior, it's time to cover the smaller details.
The engine may be potent enough to deal with the excess weight without breaking a sweat, but to enjoy the muscle car experience you'll need to floor the throttle. The V8 truly seems to come alive past 3,000 rpm, but not even then are you convinced that you've got a 6.2-liter V8 under the hood.
Partial loads won't do the job due to two reasons. First of all, the exhaust is surprisingly quiet, whether we're talking about low or high revs. This is doubled by the serious soundproofing, which does make this a sweet cruiser, but kills what was left of the aural enchantments.
As for the handling, the Camaro is safe to drive, thanks to the independent rear suspension and the StabiliTrak electronic nanny, but it doesn't inspire you to push it very far. The aforementioned suspension setup meets a rather vague steering and you won't see why you should step on the throttle more.
If you do, you'll discover that you can have fun with this muscle car, as the chassis is well balanced. However, you'll still get more initial understeer than you'd expect.
There is one solution that fixes many of the aforementioned issues though and this comes in the form of the 1LE pack. Packages have always been extremely popular on the Camaro and for the 2013 model year, Chevrolet has released a brilliant one.
The SS-destined 1LE pack brings suspension tweaks that favor handling. The list includes 20-inch wheels wrapped in Goodyear Eagle Supercar G2 rubber, as well as a different final drive ration for the transmission. For 2013 you can also order an optional exhaust system that uses valves to control the sound.
The two aforementioned options dramatically transform the Camaro SS. While you can't escape the body fat, the handling is seriously improved, with less understeer and body roll, while the extra V8-generated decibels are a perfect match for this.
Don't imagine that things are now perfect - the 1LE package is only available for manual transmission-fitted SS models, so if you want an automatic you'll have to stick with the loose setup described above.