I can still remember my flight home from the '06 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Back then GM invited several members of the media, including 250 enthusiasts from Camaro clubs and websites across the country, to witness the unveiling of the Camaro Concept. To say the General made an impression would be an understatement. The media went nuts over it, and the Internet was on fire with all the Camaro fanatics asking one thing: How long will we have to wait to get into the new fifth-gen?

More recently we were invited to take part in the '10 Camaro media drive in San Diego, California. This was an excellent opportunity to get into the first production models, not only to look with our eyes but with our hands, logging serious miles through a number of road conditions. While this was technically a one-day affair, we were invited to scope out the Camaros a day early, given the entire afternoon to check out the rides of our choice and drive them at our discretion.

With my bags dropped off and camera in hand, I raced to grab a set of keys. I loved that there were 15 Camaros ready to be driven. However, only five were V-8s. The remaining 10 were V-6 variants. Since all the V-8s were already checked out, with a waiting line, I headed straight for the fully loaded Victory Red V-6 LT with the manual six-speed and the optional RS package. This baby was a looker, and I can unequivocally say that the RS upgrade is a must, with its high-intensity discharge headlamps, a spoiler, and larger, 20-inch wheels.

Before you take any digs at the V-6, let me tell you I was far from disappointed, especially with its 304hp/370-lb-ft mill. We're talking about 304 horses, more than enough steam to challenge most out-of-the-box stockers, including the 210hp Mustang V-6 and the 300hp V-8--there's something to think about!

Knowing I had two hours to get familiar with the Camaro, I started by heading 10 miles north to my old college, University of California San Diego. If anything was going to be an indicator of how today's youth would take to it, this would be the place to show it off. Whether people were enamored simply of its bright red hue or they knew what was really in front of them is hard to say, but from the second I got in the car, it was hard not to find someone staring at any given moment. On campus it was no different, with heads turning to focus on the Camaro. After making my way through the main entrance, I headed straight over to a few select areas that would lend well to photography. Not more than five minutes into the session, a crowd started to form, and it was only a matter of time before campus security showed up, wondering what was going on. Yep, it was time to move on and head back to the beach area, but not before making a quick stop by the marina for a few more images.

The following morning, everyone met up for the presentation, which featured several key members from the development team. From there, we partnered up with other folks from the media; in my case, I hung out with former Hot Rod Feature Editor Jeff Koch. While Koch was out making sure we got the keys to a V-8, I went into the garage where Sangyup Lee, one of the lead designers, discussed the Camaro's skin.

With the formal introductions handled, we packed up our gear and jumped into the Red Jewel Tintcoat SS that Koch had secured for us. Knowing we had a 140-plus-mile route planned out in three separate legs, I sat shotgun, playing navigator with the supplied maps, and had ample time to check out the interior in greater detail and enjoy the ride. During the second leg, we jumped into a Rally Yellow V-6, but it was the third leg that got me pumped up.

By this point, I was seriously beginning to wonder if I was going to get my chance at flogging a V-8. Quite honestly, it couldn't have worked out better. After a day and a half, I was pretty well versed with the V-6s, so getting to drive the V-8 last was really the right way to end this experience. For this final leg, I found myself behind the wheel of a Silver Metallic SS with the six-speed. Unlike the earlier sections, this portion of the cruise had several stretches of desolate road, including very tight corners that seemed never-ending.

The instant I hit the go pedal, I could feel the difference. Everything about the car felt better over the V-6. Maybe it was more mental, but I certainly liked how the ride felt. It was definitely firmer over its V-6 counterpart, but not so harsh that it would cause any discomfort or wear you out during those long driving excursions. Another area that felt a bit more refined was during clutch engagement and the overall feel of the TR6060 six-speed. The shifts just felt a lot more solid, and it slipped right into gear with little argument. And of course, there's no mistaking the healthy LS3 tone; personally, I could go for a little more noise, but I certainly understand that not everyone wants to wake up their neighbors at the crack of dawn. Still, it'll be easy enough to modify should anyone else want to.

I will say that the 304hp V-6 felt great and pulled well from 4,000 rpm and all the way to 7,000, but I felt much more at home with the 426hp V-8. Acceleration is healthy. As for the people I've read complaining about its weight, I strongly suggest they get in the seat and take one out for a spin. Having a curb weight of 3,849 for the manual is up there, but you also have 426 hp to help you forget about that. Then again, you have to keep it in perspective and realize that many of our favorite muscle cars were never lightweights. Take the Chevelle and second-gen Camaros, for example. Unless you're building a dedicated race car, nobody wants a stripped-down rattle can. The fifth-gen is comfortable and unbelievably quiet, keeping road noise to a minimum when you have the windows up.

You see where I'm going with this? That's right: This is a performance driver. Of course, with the acceleration, you'll need improved braking. While some say it is standard fare for the SS to come equipped with antilock four-piston Brembo discs on all four corners, I say they're anything but standard fare. Mash the brake pedal and you're coming to a halt, very quicklike.

Considering the roads we were taking, we were able to take full advantage of the entire package. The combination of handling, braking, and acceleration made for a very enjoyable but spirited ride, which never felt out of control. Through some of the tighter sections, I simply kept it in Second gear, braked before the turn, and was able to roll into the throttle and smoothly accelerate out without ever missing a beat.

Sadly, the time came when I had to relinquish the keys to the folks from GM. Obviously, everyone who had the opportunity to take this media drive will have varying opinions, but I am sold on the new Camaro. The production model looks remarkably close to the concept vehicle that was initially presented, and it is packaged incredibly well and competitively priced. If you're in the market for a fifth-gen, you won't be disappointed. You can take pride knowing that you're purchasing a piece of automotive history in the making.

BY THE NUMBERS
  LS LT SS
Starting MSRP $22,995 $24,630 $30,995
Engine 3.6L direct injection V-6 3.6L direct injection V-6 6.2L V-8 (LS3, L99)
Transmission Hydra-Matic 6L50 Hydra-Matic 6L50 Hydra-Matic 6L80
  6-speed auto w/ TAPshift 6-speed auto w/ TAPshift 6-speed auto w/TAPshift
  Aisin Warner AY6 6-speed manual Aisin Warner AY6 6-speed manual TR6060 6-speed manual
Horsepower 304 @ 6,400 304 @ 6,400 426 @ 5,900 (LS3); 400 @ 5,900 (L99)
Torque (lb-ft) 273 @ 5,200 273 @ 5,200 420 @ 4,600 (LS3); 410 @ 4,300 (L99)
Fuel Economy (mpg) 18/29 automatic; 17/29 manual 18/29 automatic; 17/29 manual 16/25 automatic; 16/24 manual
Curb Weight (lb) 3,719 automatic; 3,722 manual 3,719 automatic; 3,722 manual 3,902 automatic; 3,849 manual
Length (in) 190.4 190.4 190.4
Width (in) 75.5 75.5 75.5
Height (in) 54.2 54.2 54.2
Wheelbase (in) 112.3 112.3 112.3
Turning Circle (ft) 37.7 37.7 37.7
0-60 MPH (sec) 6.1 6.1 4.7
60-0 MPH (ft) 132 (18-in tire); 128 (19-in tire) 132 (18-in tire); 128 (19-in tire) 123 (20-in tire)
Quarter-Mile (sec) 14.5 @ 96 mph (manual)
14.5 @ 97 mph (automatic)
14.5 @ 96 mph (manual)
14.5 @ 97 mph (automatic)
12.9 @ 111 mph (manual)
13.2 @ 105 mph (automatic)
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