The 2010 Chevrolet Camaro V6 sits, engine ticking, in the middle of a dangerous intersection of perception.
Heading in from one side is Muscle Car Blvd. Dotted with neon signs and its pavement scarred with melted rubber, this road is enthusiastically patrolled by car-guy elitists. It bears a sign reading "V8s only." The quick-stop oil change location is long closed, "DIY 4-Life" spray-painted across the dusty windows. Entry-level sport coupes tread lightly here.
Dead ahead lies Vanity Lane. It is patrolled by secretaries, retired secretaries and the fashionistas to whom a car is no different from a handbag — a world where style is substance. Here one little faux pas, one misguided association with, say, a mullet haircut, will shatter the illusion of high style. It's here that you find the entry-level Corvette with automatic transmission, the old Lexus SC coupe and the ever-lasting Mustang V6.
At least, that's the way it's been. And the product planners for the 2010 Chevrolet Camaro V6 have anticipated this. So the car sits there with its engine tick-tick-ticking at the intersection of past perception. Then a moment passes and with a quick rev of its 304-horsepower, direct-injection 3.5-liter V6, it unexpectedly tears away in an unfamiliar direction — Complete Car Canyon.
The first step to recovery, they say, is admitting you have a problem. While GM never has been so bold as to admit that its dead-reliable pushrod V6 engines never fired the imagination, it nevertheless hasn't been shy about the merits of its High Feature V6, a DOHC direct-injection 3.6-liter V6 with variable valve timing. It has been used across the GM line and even graces the engine bay of GM's most high-profile passenger car, the Cadillac CTS.
Here in the 2010 Chevrolet Camaro V6, this engine makes 304 hp at 6,400 rpm and 273 pound-feet of torque at 5,200 rpm. When hooked up to the optional ($1,185) six-speed automatic transmission as in our test car, the Camaro delivers a very impressive EPA rating of 18 mpg city/29 mpg highway. During our real-world testing, we netted 21.3 mpg over some 1,100 miles, while the best tank over the course of a 412-mile freeway blitz came to 25.8 mpg.
As we've experienced before with direct-injection hardware, the GM DI V6 ticks relentlessly at idle like an over-wound pocket watch. The V6 responds quickly to the throttle and revs freely, and the exhaust note through the twin tailpipes has a smooth authority that Nissan's VQ V6 has never managed. The sound is more liter-bike motorcycle than commuter car.
Out here on our own Complete Car Canyon, the corners are long with sweeping transitions, and the pavement is impeccably smooth, so it's perfect for the 2010 Chevrolet Camaro V6. But if the pavement is cracked anywhere near an apex, this Camaro goes jittery even with its independent rear suspension, and the steering feels frighteningly numb. Maybe it's the car's hefty 3,872 pounds, or maybe it's the FE2 suspension calibration that comes with every Camaro V6, or maybe (probably) it's the 20-inch Pirelli P Zero tires that are part of the optional Rally Sport package.
This FE2 suspension setup has softer antiroll bars and a fractionally wider track than the Camaro V8. It's unflappable on the highway, well-planted on sweeping corners and frustratingly sluggish and unresponsive with understeer when the road winds too tightly. And the steering lags a half-step behind the driver's inputs, just like in the Camaro V8. Nevertheless, our 2010 Camaro 2LT recorded 66.1 mph in our slalom test, eclipsing the mark set by the V8-powered Camaro SS.
Though its single-piston, sliding-caliper brakes seem pedestrian compared to the fixed six-pot Brembo units on the Camaro SS, this car comes to a halt from 60 mph on its 245/45ZR20 front, 275/40ZR20 rear Pirelli P Zero tires in only 109 feet — 2 feet shorter than the SS. Pedal feel is a little soft, and there's very little feedback, though, which is good for commuting but not for fast driving.
It does well on the skid pad with an 0.83g performance, though you're using your arms to control understeer from the front tires rather than drifting the rears. We know this is supposed to be a safe, every-driver's Camaro, but c'mon! Give us enough power to drift the rear tires a bit during hard cornering.
And while we're on the subject of breaking the rear tires loose, the 2010 Chevrolet Camaro V6 will do it under hard acceleration from a dead stop, but doing so is not the fastest route to 60 mph. Without wheelspin, we hit 60 mph in 6.7 seconds (6.4 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip) and cross the quarter-mile in 14.8 seconds at 94.1 mph. This is not bad, but we can think of a similar rear-wheel-drive coupe with similar power, similar weight and a similar price that does the business a tick faster — the 2010 Hyundai Genesis Coupe V6.
It's been said before, so if you're already up to snuff on the insanity of the Camaro's interior, maybe you should just skip ahead. But if you work for General Motors in a design studio, this section should be required reading. And if you work in human-factor engineering at GM, print this and tape it to every employee's computer monitor.
Inside the Camaro's cabin there are exactly two things executed acceptably: the turn-signal stalk and the iPod integration. The former is simple and quite acceptable, while the latter is nothing short of genius — a thumb wheel and an Enter button do everything your iPod does as quickly and easily as Apple intended. Everything else here is wrong. Examples follow.
Let's start with rim of the steering wheel, which is apparently designed to be held at 12 o'clock with one hand or holding it only with your fingertips as you would while reading a newspaper on a crowded train. There is no way to grasp this wheel with an emphasis on driving, nor in a way that doesn't risk some kind of terrible injury if the airbag goes off. Holding the steering shaft in your teeth would be more comfortable. At least the steering wheel tilts and telescopes.
The auxiliary four-pack of gauges on the center console are a nifty throwback, but they're obscured by your arm and the fan speed control knob. The HVAC looks great in close-up pictures, but the labeling is poor and the buttons would be intimidated by Chiclets. The 2010 Chevrolet Camaro is also one of the few modern cars where the dials are not lit at night.
Let's talk shift buttons. Now, we understand that shift paddles are little more than elongated buttons, but the idea here of just reverting to simple buttons to shift the automatic transmission is not a good one. They're rigidly mounted to the wheel and just too darned small. We frequently would go to shift gears and instead ended up tapping the back of the wheel like an idiot until we finally found them. Then we had to wait too long for the transmission to shift, though we have to admit that the action was smooth, at least. Well, smooth except for the banging off the 6,700-rpm redline while searching for the damn button.
But you're saying to yourself, "Inside Line, you just hate America. Save that they're mounted to the worst steering wheel ever conceived, buttons aren't so bad. Even Mercedes uses buttons!" And you're right. Partially. We appreciate the effort here to make the buttons function correctly; upshift on the right, downshift on the left. But the tabs, molded into the wheel plastic with a plus sign on one and a minus sign on the other, could not have been OK'd by anyone who had ever: 1) driven this car with them; or 2) driven a car with real shift paddles.
So lean, more flexible GM, get on the ball and fix this. And while you're at it, fix the steering-wheel shift buttons on the Corvette, too.
A Challenger Approaches
Riding as it does on GM's Holden-derived Zeta platform, one would expect the 2010 Chevrolet Camaro V6 to ride similarly to its platform mate, the dearly departed Pontiac G8 — a vehicle we've frequently compared to the last-generation BMW M5. But as the miles in this Camaro wore on, we thought not of the Pontiac G8, nor of the Dodge Challenger V6 or Ford Mustang V6, nor even the Nissan 370Z. Instead the Camaro V6 made us think of the Cadillac CTS.
This 2010 Chevrolet Camaro 2LT V6 in Rally Yellow starts at $27,430 (including $750 destination fee). Add together all of the options that make this car a comfortable and cool cruiser — the automatic transmission, the RS package and the spare tire — and you're looking at a $30,115 Camaro. That's some $5,000 less than a base-model Cadillac CTS. (Of course Camaro owners will spend $5,000 annually on bodywork, since there's no Cadillac-style rearview camera to cope with the Chevy's dismal rear visibility.)
So is the 2010 Chevy Camaro a budget sport coupe with legitimate chops, or a budget-price Cadillac CTS coupe for the cash-conscious? Depends. What street do you live on?
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
Lead Senior Editor Ed Hellwig says:
I should have hated this Camaro. It was a V6. It had an automatic. It was bright yellow.
Yet after my brief time behind the wheel, I kind of liked it. Not the color, I'll always hate yellow cars, but I did like the way it drives.
Unlike the castrated Mustang V6 and overly soft Challenger SE, the Camaro V6 still feels like a real Camaro. It has torque, it snaps gears and doesn't completely roll over in turns. The exhaust note could use some work, but at least there's some noise to remind you of the 304-hp V6 under the hood.
It's still a comfortable car, too. Decent seats, quiet when you're off the throttle and capable of soaking up bumps without getting sloppy. In other words, it's a well-sorted coupe that doesn't have to make excuses for the fact that it's not the V8. Had it not featured a pair of giant, backlit slabs of shiny plastic on each door, this Camaro would have really impressed me.
Still, it's a solid effort. Dodge and Ford should be worried.
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