Driving the cartoonishly cool 2010 Chevrolet Camaro SS is like mowing your lawn naked: passersby will gawk and ask questions, and you'll probably be having too much fun to notice. Either that or you won't see the gawkers in the first place, thanks to the Camaro's extraordinarily high beltline and enormous rear blind spots.
But compromised sight lines seem a reasonable price to pay for the Camaro's killer exterior styling, which made even our long-term Nissan GT-R supercar look comparatively mundane down in the company garage. Throw in rear-wheel drive, a 426-horsepower V8 (400 hp with the automatic) and a capable chassis, and you've got yourself a certifiable thrill ride no grassy yard or exhibitionist streak required.
Measured against rival performance coupes, the 2010 Chevrolet Camaro SS doesn't always come up roses. The six-speed manual transmission's tall gearing means downshifts are required with unbecoming frequency in hard driving, and there's no performance rear axle option à la the Ford Mustang GT and its available 3.73 ratio.
Also, the Chevy lacks the classic V8 exhaust rumble that both the Mustang GT and the Dodge Challenger R/T have in abundance. And while the Camaro SS is a willing and well-balanced dance partner on twisty roads, it can't break it down like an Infiniti G37 coupe or BMW 135i.
Nonetheless, this Camaro has more all-around appeal than just about any performance car in the $30,000-$40,000 price range. For the muscle-car crew, it's got a burnout-ready combination of big V8 power and rear-wheel drive. For the image-conscious, it boasts one of the most inspired and distinctive shapes on the road today. For automotive enthusiasts of all stripes, it offers scintillating speed and reasonably sure-footed handling. Small wonder that the 2010 Chevrolet Camaro SS is flying off dealer lots, even in these tough times.
Transmission choice determines the power output for the 2010 Chevrolet Camaro SS. Our test car had the hefty yet precise six-speed manual, so it was treated to the full-bore 426-hp 6.2-liter LS3 V8; opt for the six-speed automatic and you'll be downgraded to the still-formidable 400-hp L99 V8.
At the test track, our Camaro SS roared from zero to 60 mph in 5 seconds flat en route to a 13.1-second quarter-mile at 109.4 mph -- a whopping 7 mph faster than the last Mustang GT we tested. On our slalom course, however, the Camaro swapped places with that 'Stang, snaking through at 65.8 mph to the Ford's 68.4. Braking performance was beyond reproach: Our Camaro's Brembo binders hauled it down from 60 mph in just 111 feet.
In the real world, the Camaro SS is really fast. Constant vigilance is required on the highway, as felonious speeds are shockingly easy to attain thanks to the Corvette-derived LS3 V8's rare combination of force and refinement. Our only complaint concerns the manual transmission's relatively tall gearing, which had us downshifting into 2nd with Honda-like frequency on twisty roads -- not exactly what you'd expect from a Camaro SS. Perhaps Chevy will see fit to offer an optional shorter rear axle ratio in the not-too-distant future.
In the handling department, the 2010 Chevrolet Camaro SS acquits itself quite well for a 3,894-pound muscle car -- the couchlike Challenger R/T, for example, doesn't stand a chance -- but it's ultimately outdone by the nimbler and more tossable Mustang GT, not to mention the G37 and 135i. Part of this deficit is due to the Camaro's elevated beltline and cowl, which sap driver confidence by making it impossible to see the corners of the car.
The Chevy would also benefit from more responsive steering: Our test car was beset by a noticeable delay between steering input and response, which further eroded our eagerness in quick transitions. Overall, though, the Camaro SS handles well enough to satisfy most shoppers in this segment, and in true muscle car fashion, its enormous V8 power alone is bound to win over some naysayers.
Hop behind the 2010 Camaro SS's wheel and you'll immediately notice one of its most obvious flaws — the wheel itself. We concluded that whoever designed this deep-dish contraption must not have human hands, as the wide rim just isn't shaped and contoured properly; give the standard nine-and-three hand position a shot and you'll see what we mean. Otherwise, the Camaro SS is an impressively comfortable sport coupe.
In typical GM fashion, the air-conditioner had no trouble contending with triple-digit California heat. The front seats are well-cushioned and supportive, the ride is adequately compliant despite the 20-inch wheels (mandatory on SS models), and neither wind nor road noise is objectionable at legal speeds, though we do object to the V8's oddly subdued exhaust note.
The rear seat lacks headroom, so its agreeable contours will likely be lost on adult riders, but we bet most Camaro drivers would rather have more style and less passenger space than the other way around. Bottom line: For such a cool and capable car, the Camaro's comfort easily exceeds expectations.
The new Camaro's control layout is a mixed bag. We applaud Chevy for giving the Camaro a distinctive interior design instead of copying the Challenger's rental-car aesthetic, but the result is not always user-friendly. The lowlight is the tiny climate-control buttons, which are difficult to make out at a glance. On the other hand, the big rubberized knobs for fan speed and temperature are models of convenience and quality.
Standard on our 2SS tester was the uplevel Boston Acoustics audio system, which sounded about how you'd expect: not particularly sophisticated, but plenty loud and punchy. The USB port in the center console storage box made hooking up our iPod a cinch, and we found the head unit's integrated iPod controls to be satisfactory.
In our real-world functionality tests, the 2010 Chevrolet Camaro SS managed to score a passing cargo-hauling grade despite its compact 11.3-cubic-foot trunk and tiny opening. Our standard suitcase slipped in without issue, and we didn't even have to remove the driver from our golf bag to make it fit — the trick is simply to load it diagonally. As for our rear-facing child safety seat, we did successfully wedge it into the Camaro's backseat, but the front passenger won't be pleased with the meager amount of legroom that's left over.
Design/Fit and Finish
The new Camaro's bold exterior styling has been the driving force behind both its early sales success and its starring role in the movie Transformers. We suppose there are better-looking cars on the road, but most of them cost a lot more than this attainable Chevy.
Inside, the Camaro gets high marks for creativity but low marks for materials quality, where it's outshone by both the Mustang and the Challenger. Fit and finish on our test car was mostly solid, but we noted a persistent squeak from the driver-side B-pillar and a misalignment where the driver door panel met the dashboard.
Who should consider this vehicle
The 2010 Chevrolet Camaro SS is a muscle car with crossover appeal. If you want a ride that turns heads, goes fast and handles well for a reasonable price, put this one on your list. Shopping options are both plentiful and alluring at this price point, though. In particular, be sure to check out the smaller and more maneuverable Ford Mustang GT.