One of the most-awaited – and ultimately successful – new-car introductions in recent years, despite the near collapse and subsequent restructuring of its manufacturer, a resurrected rendition of the classic Chevrolet Camaro hit the streets running in early 2009 as a 2010 model. Not only was the car a hit, even playing a recurring role as “Bumblebee” in the Transformers movie series, it ignited a good-old-fashioned horsepower war with its Motor City rivals.
Convertible versions joined the line for model-year 2011, adding the allure of open-air motoring to this already admirable ride, with the promise of even greater performance for 2012 with the new Camaro ZL1 (see below). Modest adjustments for 2012 include a newly standard rear spoiler and RS-package taillights, a revised instrument panel and fresh steering wheel design. A 45th-Anniversary Special Edition Package includes custom striping, badges and assorted finishes, with a Carbon Flash Metallic paint treatment.
The current Camaro comes wrapped in broad-shouldered styling that pays homage to the original. Unlike one of its main competitors, the Dodge Challenger, the Camaro doesn’t merely mimic its heritage bodywork; it takes it to the next level, remaining both familiar and contemporary at the same time. It remains low and wide, with a broad V-shaped front end treatment, long hood and short rear deck, pronounced wheel arches and a profile that narrows to the “B” pillar, then flares out dramatically to the back end.
It’s no mere retro-poseur, however – the Camaro rides on completely contemporary underpinnings. The LS and LT versions pack a 3.6-liter direct-injection V6 engine that, for 2011 generates 312 horsepower and 278 pound-feet of torque. This power plant gets several design revisions for 2012 that bump its power rating up to 323 horses. Either way, the V6 should be sufficient for most buyers. By comparison, the aforementioned LT1 V8 in the previous generation could muster “only” 275 horses, which seemed quick even in the late 1990’s.
On paper the V6 engine should feel faster off the line, but it’s weighed down by the car’s sheer bulk. It does, however, get up to speed adequately and treats the driver to a deliciously throaty exhaust note. Thanks to modern engine technology the V6 gets what amounts to impressive fuel economy – it’s rated at 29 mpg in (we assume polite) highway driving. In our tests we got a solid 21-mpg in mostly lead-footed city driving.
An Alsin-sourced six-speed manual transmission is standard, and it’s far easier to work than the Camaro’s clumsy stick shifts in earlier eras. Still, the clutch-averse can alternately choose a six-speed automatic gearbox that includes steering wheel-mounted manual “TAP shift” controls. Unfortunately, as they’re affixed to the wheel instead of the column, it’s awkward to shift gears while steering.
Those with a need for speed will likely seek out the SS model, which blows the doors off the original with an authoritative 6.2-liter V8 engine. Again shared with Chevy’s Corvette, the V8 generates a rousing 426 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque with the standard six-speed manual transmission. Unfortunately, those choosing the automatic gearbox are penalized with a slightly weaker 400-horsepower/410 pound-feet version of this power plant that comes with a modestly lower compression ratio (10.4:1 vs. 10.7:1) and an Active Fuel Management System that automatically shuts down half the cylinders at cruising speeds to help boost its mileage.
As if that’s not enough muscle, ostensibly as an answer to the Ford Mustang’s Shelby GT500 model, the 2012 Camaro offers a new ZL1 coupe variant with a sophisticated aluminum 6.2-liter supercharged V8 engine that’s estimated to pro- duce a tire-screaming 550 horsepower and 550 pound-feet of torque. A beefed-up Tremec-supplied six-speed manual gearbox is only available transmission with the ZL1. Chevy wasn’t divulging performance figures as of this writing, but we’d expect to see a 0-60 mph time way under five seconds. Aside from plentiful ZL1 badges inside and out, this version is visually distinguished by a black carbon fiber hood and all-black interior treatment.
A nearly ideal front-to-rear weight distribution and a fully independent suspension at all four corners delivers steadfast cornering prowess without beating its occupants up severely over bumps in the road. The suspension actually swallowed up pavement pockmarks and potholes in our urban environment much better than we expected – this is typically a sports suspension’s weak spot. Keeping a tight rein on its 400-plus raging horses, the SS receives its own performance-oriented setup with a slightly lowered ride height, albeit with a somewhat rougher ride. Eighteen-, 19- and 20-inch wheels and tires are available.
Four-wheel antilock disc brakes are on hand across the line for sure stopping power (albeit with a tough of brake fade just before coming to a stop), with the SS receiving larger rotors and four-piston aluminum Brembo calipers that can stand up to racetrack-caliber wear and tear. Steering is responsive, but the Camaro’s variable-assist power setup is a little on the light side and doesn’t quite provide as much direct road feel as some enthusiasts might prefer.
StabiliTrak stability control is standard, and on the SS it includes an adjustable Competitive/Sport mode that delays intervention to afford more aggressive driving. What’s more, the latter includes a Launch Control feature with the manual transmission that enables smile-inducing, tire-squealing takeoffs. A new FE4 suspension package is optional on the SS for 2012 that includes revised suspension geometry with reshaped stabilizer bars repositioned outboard of the shock mounts, retuned dampers and specific 20-inch wheels and performance tires. Chevy says it results in more effective body control and more precise response in aggressive driving.
The top ZL1 comes with a version of the Corvette’s self-adjusting Magnetic Ride Control system that utilizes metal-infused “magneto-rheological” fluid in each of the car’s shock absorbers, the stiffness of which is affected by a magnetic current. Reacting in real time to road and handling conditions, this system helps the car maintain top handling abilities without subjecting the car’s occupants to a punishingly harsh ride in the process. It includes “Tour” and ”Sport” driver-selectable settings that accentuate either ride quality or flat-out handling abilities as desired. The ZL1 rides on specific 20-inch wheels and Goodyear Supercar F2 tires.
The Camaro’s cockpit is reminiscent of the original, though its deeply cast round gauges, deep-dish steering wheel and combo of horizontal and round air vents are oddly out of place alongside the more-futuristic center stack of controls. Worse, many of the interior elements have a cheap feel to them – better quality plastics would have gone a long way, here. Six airbags and the latest version of the OnStar communications system are standard for safety’s sake. Other thoroughly modern available features include a Bluetooth hands-free cell-phone interface, rear parking proximity warnings and a premium Boston Acoustics audio array. A head-up display that projects the vehicle’s speed and other pertinent information is newly offered for 2011 on LT and SS models, while a backup camera display that’s integrated into the rearview mirror is added to the options list for 2012.
Entry and exit is reasonably easy for a low-slung car of this character, though it’s still a bit of a climb in and out. Front seat comfort is good, with just enough lateral support, but not so much as to squeeze the kidneys on a stout middle-aged frame. Rear seat room is woefully inadequate, however. Cargo space is on the small side – though it seems adequate for a pair of overnight bags – and loading is hampered by the flat trunklid design; still the rear seatbacks fold down to maximize its capacity. Still, we don’t expect many will buy a Camaro for making trips to the ware-house store.
The Camaro comes away a winner in many ways, and continues to impress even a few years removed from its launch. Its chief adversaries among retro-styled muscle coupes, the Ford Mustang and Dodge Challenger, have since upped the ante with added horsepower and performance of their own, which means a wealth of choices for enthusiasts who have enough discretionary income to indulge their vehicular desires.
Chevrolet Camaro Quick Facts
Engine: 3.6 Liter V6, 6.2 Liter V8 6.2-liter Supercharged V8
Horsepower: 312 @ 6,400 rpm (2012: 328 @ 6,800) 426 @ 5,900 rpm, 400 @ 5,900 rpm 550 @ NA
Torque: 278 @ 5,200 rpm 420 @ 4,600 rpm, 410 @ 4,300 rpm 550 @ NA
City/Highway: MPG 16/24-18/29
Transmission: 6-Spd Manual, 6-Spd Automatic
Wheelbase: 112.3 in
Overall Length: 190.4 in
Width: 75.5 in
Height 54.2 in
Curb Weight: 3,769 lbs
MSRP: $22,680 – $39,650 (ZL1 $50,000 est.)
Did You Know?
The original Chevrolet Camaro was conceived as a Ford Mustang fighter when it debuted for the 1967 model year, and continued in various iterations before production ceased in 2002. While it remained a raucous ride throughout its 35-year initial run, in its fourth generation it eventually became a bargain-priced alternative to a Chevy Corvette, offering a version of that model’s LT1 5.7-liter V8 engine. The current generation was first shown as a concept car at the 2006 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Interest in the show car was so great the recast Camaro was approved for production a mere seven months later, in August of 2006. The 2012 ZL1 takes its name from the code number assigned to the 427-cubic-inch, all-aluminum big-block engine developed for Corvette Can Am series race cars in the late 1960s; it assumed a brief but meaningful place in Camaro lore by finding its way into a small number of production models for the 1969 model year. The original ZL1-powered Camaros are highly desired as collector cars, given their exceptionally low production numbers and the fact that most they ordered, used – and essentially trashed – as drag racers.