In the realm of pony-cars, there are mainly two kinds of people, Mustang fans and Camaro fans. The Mustang was the original pony and provided the name to the segment. It was three years after the Mustang’s 1964 debut before Chevrolet responded with the original Camaro. While the Mustang has been in continuous production for 45 years, falling sales of the last generation Camaro caused GM to discontinue it in 2003. Meanwhile Ford gave the Mustang a new lease on life in 2005 with a full ground up redesign that saw sales surge. Needless to say GM took notice and 2006 brought a new Camaro concept that was a thoroughly modern design that still paid tribute to the 1967 original. The response was overwhelmingly positive and three years later the production fifth generation Camaro hit the streets.
I recently got the chance to spend a week with the 2010 Camaro V6 with the RS package. Remember those fans I mentioned, well I definitely fall into the Mustang camp. I’ve owned two of them including the 2005 model that is my garage right now. I’ve never been a Camaro fan. However, when the new fifth generation Camaro arrived I was struck by its looks. This is a fantastic looking car with the perfect proportions for a sporty car. The hood is long long and rear deck is short with prominent rear haunches that give it an athletic stance.
Thankfully the beauty isn’t just skin deep. There’s a lot of good hardware in the new Camaro. Most of the engineering on the car was done in Australia by GM’s Holden division alongside the Pontiac G8 and Holden Commodore which share the Camaro’s platform. The base engine is a direct injected version of GM’s 3.6-liter twin cam V6 and with 304 hp this is a great engine.
One of the big complaints of people who don’t like the Mustang is the solid rear axle. In older generations of the Mustang, this has caused a problem with wheel-hop especially when hitting bumps while cornering. By using the its Zeta platform for the Camaro, GM was able to give it an independent rear suspension which the Mustang lacks. While independent rear suspension provides theoretical benefits to ride and handling, as always it comes down to execution and integration. Ford has done a remarkable job of refining the Mustangs suspension to minimize understeer and keep the rear wheels under control on rough surfaces and during acceleration and cornering.
Unfortunately IRS adds a lot of weight (typically 150-200 lbs) and the larger Camaro is typically anywhere from 300-400 lbs heavier than a comparable Mustang. The Camaro, especially with the 20 inch wheels from the RS package provides outstanding overall grip, but it seems to be lacking mechanical grip at the front. When you start pushing the Camaro hard it understeers unless you really punch the gas with the stability control off to get the rear end out. It also feels heavy when changing direction and doesn’t seem as responive as the Mustang.
My test car had the 6-speed automatic transmission which provides switches on the back of the steering wheel spokes for manual shifting. Most automatic transmission cars with steering wheel shifting have paddles that allow some flexibility in where you place your hands. The switches are really too small to be particularly useful. The transmission shifts smoothly, but tends to sap some of the joy of the wonderful V6.
My other main problem with the Camaro is the interior. While the 2010 Mustang got an all new interior that feels vastly more refined and upscale, the Camaro is all hard plastics and vast expanses of nothing. Frankly it looks kind of cheap. It’s also hard to see out of the Camaro thanks to a high belt-line and low roof that leaves narrow slits for windows. While the Camaro is fabulous to look at, it frankly isn’t all that impressive to drive. It’s a very good first effort and if it had arrived at the same time as the new generation Mustang in 2004 it would have been an excellent challenger. As it is, it seems a day late and a dollar short. For now at least, even though the Mustang is less powerful than the Camaro, it remains more fun to drive and frankly I remain a Mustang fan.