There’s an advantage to being near the bottom end of the automotive media food chain. By the time most manufacturers let us at their press fleets, the big guys have long since established readers’ opinions for them. We’re not part of that crucial first round of reviews where manufacturers learn whether their latest products meet the grade. In the case of the 2010 Camaro LT (that’s V6 in Chevy-speak), that’s a very good thing.
Our Camaro in LT2 spec with the RS package came with all the exterior bits to make it look like an SS, save an SS badge. This means you get 20″ wheels (8″ wide in front, 9″ in the rear), halo HID headlights with LED running lights, a spoiler and an RS badge. It features a 3.6L DOHC direct-injected V6 making 304hp (the 2011 is rated at 312hp). To my formed-in-the-90s car brain, that’s an astounding amount of power for the base version of anything. Despite its hearty helping of horses, the 3.6L sports a woefully inadequate engine note for a sports car. It’s clear Chevy’s development team spent plenty of time tuning the exhaust note (which sounds great), but forgot that someone might care what the car sounded like from anywhere but behind. From all three other sides, you might as well be standing next to a generator.
My tester came with a six speed auto controlled by wheel-mounted shifter buttons. The wheel features tab things marked with “+” and “-” that look like they’d be the tops of paddles, but the actual shifting is accomplished with disappointing plastic buttons mounted behind the spokes. The steering wheel’s transgressions continue as, with things dialed in for my rather average 5’11” height, it blocks the speedometer from 30 to 80mph. Furthermore, the only good way to grab it is an underhanded, bottom-of-the-wheel grab. Ok for cruising, but not so much for actual driving.
Chevy calls this particular hue “Inferno Orange”. The color is so brash, “Asshole Orange” might’ve been a better name. Wherever you go, you’ll be “that asshole in the orange Camaro”. As in, “that asshole in the orange Camaro cut me off” or “that asshole in the orange Camaro bought me flowers”. For example, over a Sunday lunch I told a friend I’d taken the Camaro for a drive that morning, she asked “to where? Hooters?”
I didn’t go to Hooters, but instead went for a spirited drive through the mountains of the Angeles National Forest. In automotive media “spirited drive” is a euphemism for anything from a barely superlegal tour to a tail-out, brake scorching, tire melting, press fleet manager stressing-out affair.
I’ll come right out and say that I didn’t get anywhere near the Camaro’s limits. Actually, I can’t be too sure of that because the more you push it, the less the Camaro talks back. Last March, Jalopnik’s Wes Siler when he said the Camaro confuses grip with handling. And I believe he was talking about a stickshift SS when he said it. Removing over 100hp and the clutch doesn’t help. Between the wide stance and huge, grippy tires, there’s no sensation of speed, no back that you’re approaching the limits of grip. Maybe I just wasn’t going fast enough, not pushing it hard enough, but the fact is I didn’t want to.
Unsure what the car would do if I overcooked it, I decided to keep things at medium-fast. At that speed—”fast” to people who don’t know what they’re doing behind the wheel—the Camaro’s quite pleasant. The brakes never fade or chatter and the ride’s neither too stiff nor too soft. The V6 has just enough power to get you going fast, but not so much that you can get yourself in trouble with your right foot. With the windows cracked on a pleasant summer morning it makes a decent touring car. Luckily the scenery of the recently scorched forest wasn’t too great, so my inability to see it through the gunslit windows wasn’t a drawback.
By now, it should be obvious I’m not a fan. Luckily for Chevy, I’m a terrible judge of a product’s mainstream commercial viability. Having raved about the 4Runner Trail and questioned the justification for the Limited’s existence, I’ve seen at least 8 times as many Limiteds as Trails since my review. With that in mind, rather than continue on a cranky diatribe, I’ll get on to what’s good about the Camaro and try to offer some constructive suggestions for improvement.
- I still absolutely love the shape. I spent an embarrassing amount of time just staring at how the roof transitions into those hips.
- In gray powdercoat, these are among the best looking OEM wheels I’ve seen.
- A couple of ergonomic issues aside, the interior’s not bad. Ours featured matching orange accents on the doors and seats which, while ridiculous, offered a great departure from the typical acres of black plastic.
- The radio has a nifty feature: the presets are band-independent. #1 can be FM, #2 can be SiriusXm and #3 AM, or any combination thereof. While it takes a little getting used to, the ability to switch between presets without having to navigate an extra tier of menu is a nice touch when that damn Weezer song comes on again.
- With this engine paired to these tires, it’s extremely unlikely Junior will manage to wrap it around a tree. While numb, the car always feels planted. No dive, no body roll. Just…flatness.
- In keeping with the tires, the brakes felt up to spec for this engine and its likely buyers. They didn’t vibrate and barely smelled after my ham-footed foray through the forest.
- Based on all of my griping, there may be hope for the mythical manual-equipped V6 with the bottom-spec 18″ steel wheels and lesser tires.
The To-Do List:
- Keep everything the same, but scale it down by 20%. It’s unnecessarily big. I’m not suggesting that Chevy pull it down to a snug fit on my 150lb frame, but deciding not to comfortably accommodate the over-300 crowd might be an acceptable tradeoff. This doesn’t feel like a pony (compact) or muscle (midsize) car, it feels like the modern equivalent of a Personal Luxury Coupe, but without the usefully large back seat.
- Add a glass roof option. The Mustang has this and probably doesn’t need it. The Camaro feels like a WWII pillbox. Letting some sky in would go far to alleviate this sensation. Obviously, the perpetually-rumored convertible would address this as well. T-tops are almost too obvious.
- Work on that engine note. Add some headers, a different intake or one of those sound-tube things that over-insulated cars employ. Firing up a car like this (even with the V6) should excite the driver. As is, it’s remarkably disappointing.
- The seats need rib and thigh bolsters and lumbar support. If my dad’s 1988 Mustang GT had these , there’s no excuse for their absence 22 years later.
- Loan us an SS with a manual transmission, as I suspect 122hp and a third pedal might cause me to forget many of my complaints.
The biggest problem with the Camaro is that it’s not a proper pony or muscle car. By definition, both of those are still useful as cars in every day life. I could think of nothing more unpleasant than to drive a Camaro in LA’s worst traffic, the kind where seeing what’s going on down the road and engineering a quick lane change can make a big difference in forward progress. The terrible visibility makes preparing for lane changes an exercise in leaning one’s head all over the cabin, trying to see what’s over there. The high sills make avoiding parking lot curbs a challenge, to say nothing of parking within the lines. The back seat is basically useless and while the trunk isn’t short on space, its tiny opening will complicate the insertion of anything bigger than an overnight bag. Cross-shopped with anything around its $31,705 sticker price, this V6 Camaro would come off the most stylish, but the least livable.
In the end, my friend’s Hooters reference was a great choice. Alas, Hooters’ combination of mediocre grilled meats and tepidly scandalous outfits left over from a 1986 aerobics video has no appeal for me. If you want food, go to a good restaurant; if you want boobs, go to a strip joint where you can actually see them. Worst of all is dealing with others’ excitement at the idea that going there is some kind of naughty indulgence. And yet, they’ve built a thriving nationwide restaurant chain on this premise. The Camaro RS is the perfect car for the many Hooters customers who buy into the hype and don’t know what they’re missing. Who am I to judge if they’re happy? Hell, the color even matches.