March 22, 2009
PLYMOUTH, Mich.—Three years since the concept bowed at the 2006 Detroit Auto Show, the Camaro coupe hits showrooms this week.
"We have 14,000 sold dealer orders with the money in the bank," says Chevy general manager Ed Peper, who's confident the return of the long-hood, short-deck sports coupe that bowed for the 1967 model year will be a success despite a down market. "Camaro is a shot in the arm needed to make people feel good."
Bob Lutz, General Motors' vice chairman and Camaro's biggest cheerleader, originally forecast sales of 100,000 annually. But, considering that was when the industry was selling 17.5 million vehicles annually, rather than the 9 million now, even half that "would be on the heavy side," Peper says.
Chevrolet introduced the Camaro family — LS, LT, RS and SS — to the media last week. And each is swift and sweet, regardless of whether it's packing the 3.6-liter, 304-horsepower V-6 or 6.2-liter, 420-h.p. (manual, 400 h.p. automatic) V-8. Either can be teamed with 6-speed manual or automatic.
V-6 or V-8, both have good pop, moving the needle quickly from zero to 80 m.p.h., with the V-8 doing it in the blink of any eye. Both also have great exhaust notes.
The V-6 has enough muscle to climb inclines without puffing and battle sports coupe heavyweights Ford Mustang and Dodge Challenger. Heck, it's only 11 h.p. shy of Mustang's V-8.
And, as one colleague noted, if you need more than 304 h.p., where the heck are you going? With either engine, Camaro is limber and responsive, manual or automatic.
Enthusiasts will favor the V-8 with the smooth manual. The V-6 with its equally smooth automatic will be the volume car, Chevy said.
Though billed as a performance sports coupe, the V-6 is rated at 17 m.p.g. city/29 m.p.g. highway with manual, 18/29 automatic; the V-8 16/24 manual, 16/25 automatic. The V-8, featuring a faux engine slot in the hood, shuts down 4 cylinders when not needed to conserve fuel.
With V-6 and 18- or 19-inch (LS-LT) all-season radials, the LT suspension delivers a jostle-free ride. The performance-tuned FE3 suspension on the V-8 has firmer springs/shocks and Pirelli 20-inch summer radials (20-inch winter tires also sold by Pirelli) help the SS scoot into and out of serpentine curves. But the ride is stiffer, and SS gets the jitters over tar marks. Yet in either car, the ride won't rattle teeth as its predecessors did in the '60s and '70s.
Despite great looks, performance and mileage, Camaro has shortcomings. Fun is not one of them, unless sentenced to the back seat, where there's no room for feet, legs or knees. But that's the least of your concerns, considering your melon won't fit either.
And the unusual and narrow, top-opening trunk lid exposes a small space below, though the rear seat-back does fold to open the cabin for luggage. Those are minor issues, however, compared to the small sideview mirrors that put aerodynamics ahead of vision.
No Z-28 version as yet, but stay tuned. No 4-cylinder either, thanks to 29 m.p.g. highway from the V-6. But Gene Stefanyshyn, Camaro vehicle line executive, said that with a 35 m.p.g. fuel-economy standard coming for 2020, don't rule out a 4-banger.
And, sadly, no convertible, which has been delayed at least a year by the supplier's bankruptcy filing.
The base LS starts at $22,445, the LT at $23,880 and the SS at $30,245. Stability/traction control, anti-lock brakes and side-curtain air bags are standard. Add $900 for sunroof, $995 to $1,185 for automatic and $2,700 to $3,100 to move up to leather seats, console gauges, Bluetooth connectivity and USB interface, steering-wheel audio controls and remote start.
Though an obvious Mustang/Challenger foe, Peper downplays a new pony-car race.
"We're looking outside that circle because to be successful; Camaro has to appeal to a wider range of buyers from all segments, including Scion tC or Honda Civic owners and not just former Camaro loyalists."
Another plus, says IHS Global Insight analyst Aaron Bragman: "It comes out at a time when not everyone wants to drive a Prius."
Read Jim Mateja Sunday in Rides. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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