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Car Corner
2010 Camaro Test Drive

October 1, 2009
By Scott Lewis

My son and I visited New York recently and when we saw the 2010 Camaro in the rental lot we turned around and paid for the upgrade.

We picked the car up on a Thursday night and returned it on Monday morning. So instead of just a quick drive from the dealership I put 200+ miles I put on it over 4 days.

Let me start by telling you that i am a huge Camaro fan. I have been for a long time. I have owned a 1993 Camaro Z-28 and a 1967 Camaro RS Convertible. So I have high hopes for the new 2010 Camaro, and may also be a bit prejudiced.

I live the new Camaro. It looks great from every angle on the outside. But you will pay a price for its styling. The Camaro makes quite a few compromises.

You can guess that since this was a rental that it was a V-6 car with an automatic transmission. Power from the V-6 is adequate, but I felt it was lacking. My 93 Camaro had 275 hp and weighed a little more than 3,500 lbs. The 2010 Camaro weighs about 300 lbs more and has 304 hp. So you would expect the performance to be close. Not really. See the 93 had about 50 lb/ft more torque than the 2010 and you could feel that off the line. The V-6 in the current car feels strained by the weight. If I didn't know better I would say the torque convert in the transmission was too loose and was slipping in an effort to get the engine into a higher RPM range to get the car to move. At low speed and moderate throttle it doesn't feel like a performance car.

You really have to rev it out to get anywhere near the 6.0 second 0-60 times. Half throttle will just feel like an ordinary car. I tried putting the trans in sport mode and in maintains gears longer, which helps, but it still feels like it should be quicker. And the shifts themselves are as soft as any car out there. Nothing sporty about it. Maybe a shift kit will help. Does anyone make one yet? The manual mode doesn’t help either. One gear downshifts while cruising increase engine speed and noise with no increase in thrust. You have to push the pedal enough for at least a two gears downshift to get any thrust increase and that comes with a significant increase in noise.

Overall, I blame the transmission for most of the performance issues with this car. I would really like to try a manual equipped car to see how it drives. There is enough power for the average person. If you are buying this car for style than it is fast enough. I would prefer less noise and more push in the mid range of highway passing at 50-80 mph. I am sure the V-8 does not have this problem.

I really want to like this car, but its performance makes me want to test drive a 2010 Mustang. The problem there is that the Mustang with a V-6 is a dog, and you would have to compare this car to the V-8 Mustang which hardly seems fair. Hopefully I will get the chance to do that. in the mean time let's see what else the Camaro has going for it.

The ride is excellent. Even over pot-holed NY streets it was never a problem. The ride was as good as my BMW 335i and grip was amazing. The tires so much grip that I could not get them to squeal no matter how fast I took a corkscrew on-ramp. The car corners fairly flat as well. However, steering response is slow and the car just feels heavy. It reminds me of the drive I took in a Challenger STR8, a big heavy cruiser. Nimble is just not in the new Camaro’s vocabulary.

Again, if you buy the Camaro for style you will not be disappointed, but if you are planning to carve up some serious back roads you may want to step up to the V-8 powered car, but I suspect it will still be laden with heavy steering and little to no feel.

I really wanted to prove the 29 MPG this car gets on the EPA highway cycle. I could not. But this was as much a problem with New York traffic as anything else. The first morning I averaged 24 mpg in the suburbs of Long Island. That dropped to an average of 19.9 mpg with a drive out on the island in rush hour traffic. I drove out to New Jersey the next day and maintained the 20 mpg overall for the first tank of gas.

I filled up in New Jersey before driving back to Long Island. I reset the mileage assuming this was my best chance… it was around 11:00 PM on a Saturday. Sure enough the trip computer climbed its way up to 28.4, then bounced between 28.1 & 28.4 for about 5 miles. There is no instantaneous mileage readout to help me hypermile the car, so I think this was as good as it was going to get. At this point the GPS had me switch from the Garden State Parkway to the New Jersey Turnpike. I have not lived in New York in over 20 years and it was too late before I realized the GPS was taking me through the Lincoln Tunnel and Manhattan rather than the bridge to Staten Island. Oops. I spent 2 hours in gridlock traffic before we emerged on Long Island. The total trip took 4 hours 15 minutes back to the hotel. The average for the entire trip from Jersey… 20 mpg.

So, I averaged 20 mpg the entire time I was in New York. If you live there you can compare that to what you get with your own car. In Texas I am sure I could average 25 mpg, and would love to see if I could break the 29 mark on a trip to Dallas (I hit 31.7 mpg in my BMW 335i on my way to Dallas a couple of months ago, and it is rated at 27 by the EPA).

This interior of the car is both the best and worst of the car. As for the bad... this car has the worst visibility of any car I have ever driven. To the rear is a joke. The view out the rear view mirror looks like looking through a tunnel. Forget looking over your shoulder as you back up, there is nothing to see but the interior of the car. The A pillars are also huge and create blind spots on either side of the windshield. Plus the side windows are so narrow they add to the claustrophobic effect the interior provides.

Rear seat legroom in non-existent with the front seats all the way back. I am 5' 10" and I had the seat pretty far back. A friend that is 6' 3" rubbed his head on the headliner, but the car was equipped with a sun roof which clearly took up 1 – 2 inches. Without a sunroof my friend would just fit, but I could not see him driving a car long term he could just fit in. Up to 6 feet you will do fine, above that you should get a long test drive before buying.

I like the interior. Yes, the gauges on the front of the console are virtually impossible to read quickly, but who cares. You can read them once in a while. So racing this car is out, but for everyday driving I found most of the gauges to be acceptable… except the speedometer. The orange pointer is so wide that it is difficult to accurately tell how fast you are going within less than 5 mph. 60 or 65? Stare long enough to see if it is 65 when you notice that cop car while your in a 55 zone and it could be too late. This is all about style. You sacrifice practicality for style with almost everything about the Camaro.

Speaking of practicality and its effect from styling… the truck is a nice size trunk… with a tiny opening. You will not be carrying large objects. Not for a problem with the size of the trunk, but for the hole you must stick them through. We could not load our two soft luggage bags at the same time. Stick one bag in and slide it to the side or back then put the next item in. You can keep doing it this way until you have a month’s work of clothes in the trunk.

The interior lighting it excellent. At maximum the dash lights are too bright late at night. This is a good thing. On almost every car I have ever driven I always leave the dash fully lit. I turned down the lighting on the Camaro. I really like the mood lights in the doors that come on with the dash lights (and dims with the dash lights as well). This is style that didn’t cost anything in practicality.

And now for the seats. The seats in the Camaro were by far the most comfortable seats I have ever experienced in an automobile bar none. I know this because when we ended our 4+ hour drive back from Jersey my back felt as fresh as when we left. You should know I have Class 2 bulging discs in my back. When we drove to Dallas in the 335i I played with the lumbar support quite a few times during the trip (also about 4 hours or so). I did not have to touch the Camaro’s seat controls once during the 4 hour drive. That’s good because there was no lumbar control for the Camaro. Fortunately I didn’t need it. How cool is that.

Now for some serious quibbles about the interior. This car fails the "left elbow test" worse than any car I have driven. What is the left elbow test. Well, when I had my 93 Camaro I could rest the tip of my left elbow on the top of the door panel... with the window up. It stayed there perfectly and I could reach the steering wheel perfectly. When I finally sold that car there was a dent in the door fabric where my elbow was.

The 2010 Camaro has a door sill that is so high I can't rest my arm on it and reach the steering wheel. And that would be a reach down. No problem, just rest my left elbow on the armrest. Nope. The armrest is so low that you can rest your elbow on it and reach up to the steering wheel. You are left with keeping your elbow in your lap and holding the very bottom of the wheel. Not good at all.

Next, it took a while for us to find the release lever to flip the seatbacks forward. There are located in the middle of the back of the seat in the back. But you can hardly reach them because the seats are too far back to get your hand back there. This is just plain bad design.

The door handles are also awkwardly placed and hard to use. More compromises for style.

The stereo was nice. You have 6 presets per "page." You can configure it to have 1 - 6 pages. So you can have up to 36 presets. And it is very easy to switch between pages and the presets. I really liked it. The satellite radio did not work that well. I don't know enough about these new Sirius/XM radios, but this one would give a momentary pause going under almost every overpass, no matter how short it was. And it did not make sense because when we were in the tunnels we had satellite receptions for a decent amount of time into the tunnel.

Generally speaking the stereo is good enough. It has to be because there is no way to replace it with something else. It is designed specific to the car and replacing it with anything else would look like crap.

Conclusion

The Camaro is the most comfortable, least practical Camaro I have ever driven. All that means nothing. This car is acceptable for its purpose. It looks great and can be enjoyed for miles and miles.

Would I buy one. If I were single I would have to test drive the Mustang. I would also test drive a manual transmission with the V-6 in a Camaro to see if that makes up for the mild performance problems. Then there is the V-8. So, I don't know if I would buy one, but it would be on my short list of cars if I did not need a back seat.

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