I’d been driving the Camaro for a whole day, thinking that it really did not sound that interesting, but it never really occurred to me why. It certainly did not sound like the previous generation V6 model had done, but I put that down to changes associated with the new model. It was only when I was refuelling it just prior to returning it and the conversation I had with the cashier at the petrol station, who asked what I thought, as he said he had one, a 4 cylinder Turbo car, that it dawned on me that perhaps I had one of those and not the V6. I kicked myself – metaphorically – for not looking carefully enough when I had taken the under-bonnet photo earlier in the day and went and had another look. Yes, under that surprisingly packed bonnet there were only 4 cylinders. It develops 275 bhp and is coupled to an 8 speed automatic transmission. It does what is required, but there is no real charm to it. It also seemed to get quite coarse if you push it hard. Not that you would necessarily need to do that in ordinary motoring, as there is ample acceleration available without needing to get even close to exploring all its potential. And at lower revs and when cruising at a steady speed, it was actually quite smooth and refined, with low noise levels. Of course, one of the reasons for manufacturers to move from relatively large engines to smaller capacity turbo units is to improve fuel economy. I covered 156 miles in my time with the Camaro and it took 5.4 gallons when it came to refuelling time. That computes to 28.88 mpg US or 34.51 mpg Imperial, a creditable result, indicative of the fact that most of the miles were driven at a steady speed on lightly traffic-ed roads around Phoenix.
There are three different driving modes available, selected by a rocker switch in the centre console. These are tourist, sport and snow, and as you might expect, they alter the throttle response, transmission settings and steering weight. I left the car in tourist mode for most of my test and even so set, the Camaro was fun to drive. The steering is well judged, being well-weighted and having lots of feel, though I would have to say that the Mustang probably still edges it. Cars like this need to impress on the twisty roads as well as the straight ones, and this Camaro does. It goes round bends well, with plenty of grip, minimal roll and the feeling that you could have a lot more fun than is perhaps sensible on a public road in a rental car. The downside to this is that the combination of a stiff chassis and the 245/50 ZR18 wheels can lead to a rather choppy ride. Suitably effective brakes feature with a nice progressive feel to the pedal. The latest version of the Camaro has moved over to an electronic handbrake, though this is not the issue with an automatic gearbox that it would be were this a manual gearbox-ed car. There’s no getting away from the fact that visibility is poor in just about any direction. The windscreen is quite shallow from top to bottom and because you sit quite low in the cabin, the view forwards is not the best. But in every other direction, it is, frankly, worse. The high waistline means that the view to the side is also limited. The door mirrors are small, which does wonders for the appearance, but limits their usefulness. There are very thick C pillars, so judging any traffic at angles junctions is difficult and you can’t really see much behind you except for the fact that there is a rear-view camera which does meaning judging the back of the car is in some ways the easiest thing to do.
There’s a real technique for getting in and out if you want to avoid banging you head on the roof or catching your knees on the dashboard. This is the sort of car when being not that tall, as I am, is a decided advantage. Once installed, you adjust the seat using electric motors, which feature for both driver and passenger, with 8-way adjustment for the driver and 6-way for the passenger. The seat belt is presented to you through a loop on the top of the seat, so it is not hard to reach behind you to grab it. There is manual adjustment for the telescoping steering column. Duly adjusted for the position I wanted, you really do feel like you are in a sport car, sitting down low. The seat itself, cloth covered in this trim version, is comfortable, with plenty of support in all the right places.
This is, officially, a four seater, but one look at the rear compartment and you might conclude otherwise. There are two very distinct bucket seats back here, separated by the fact that the centre console extends all the way back to the seat cushion and is at the same height as that cushion. There is very little legroom, even with the front seats set well forward, and if they are towards the rear of their available travel, then there is next to no legroom at all. As you sit low in the bucket-style seat, headroom is not as restricted, but anyone over the age of small children will probably be sitting at an awkward angle because of the legroom restrictions. It is not easy getting in or out, either, with just the front seat backrest folding forwards. and you have to get past the seat belt which extends from the pillar through a slot on the top of the front seats. There is a bit more space in the back of a Mustang, and a lot more in a Challenger.
It was only after I got back to the hotel that I realised that the following morning I would need to get my suitcase in it. And that was a challenge with the previous Camaro which looked like it would be as hard with this one. The boot itself is not that large, but the real challenge is the size of the opening slot which is even smaller than that on the Mustang. The boot lid itself is not big and there is an added challenge that the opening is only between the rear light clusters which is quite a small proportion of the width of the car. By turning the case round, I did get it in, and it would then sit in the boot, laterally, with enough space for my lap top bag, but you would not have got a lot more in there. Oddment space in the cabin is equally limited. There is a modest glovebox and an oddments cubby under the central armrest and that is it.
The dash layout of the last Camaro was deliberately retro in layout, but that has changed somewhat for this version, which looks more modern. It incorporates a lot of individual elements from the GM parts bin. The dash moulding is now of a softer touch plastic, and a leather-wrapped flat-bottomed wheel as well as careful use of chrome ringed highlighters do provide some contrast from the large black unit that otherwise surrounds the occupants. It has a higher quality look than its predecessor, but it is still not class-leading, with the latest Dodge Challenger looking more upscale. There is now a curved instrument binnacle rather than the squared-off style of the last car, and there are stock GM dials in the cluster, two of them for speedometer and rev counter with two smaller ones for fuel level and water temperature set in the upper area between the larger dials. Beneath this is a digital display area and you select from the various menus and sub-menus using a button on the left hand column stalk. There is quite a lot of information available here, including a g-force meter. Those column stalks are standard GM items with the serrated ends that I really do not like. The steering wheel boss contains the audio repeater functions and cruise control that are so often mounted here, and these proved easy to use. This version of the Camaro had keyless starting with a button to the right of the wheel where a traditional key slot would be. Centre of the dash is the new 7″ colour touch screen for the MyLink infotainment unit. This is a lot better than the earlier versions of the capability, proving fast and responsive as well as reasonably intuitive, which is just as well, as Chevrolet have eliminated most of the physical buttons. Features offered include not just AM and FM radio but also XM Satellite, Apple Car Play and Android Auto, Bluetooth, a wifi hot spot and there are a couple of USB ports. Beneath this are two very large chrome-ringed air vents which you twist to alter the selected temperature for the automated climate control. Directional control comes from a row of small buttons above these two vents.
There are six trim levels: 1LS, 1LT, 2LT, 1SS, 2SS, and ZL1. Each trim is available as a coupe or convertible. Most buyers should be happy with the entry-level 1LS and 1LT trims. These models offer strong performance plus great convenience features like a touch screen, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto. Entry point is the 1LS and this is available with the 275 bhp four-cylinder engine or the 335 bhp V6. Standard features include a 7-inch touch screen, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, satellite radio, Bluetooth, a Wi-Fi hot spot, two USB ports, remote keyless entry, push-button start, cloth seats, power-adjustable front seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, 18-inch alloy wheels, a rearview camera, and Teen Driver, which lets you set volume and speed limits for secondary drivers. The 1LT trim has the same four-cylinder and V6 engine options as the ILS, and it adds remote start. The upmarket 2LT trim also enjoys the same engine options, but it adds an 8-inch touch screen, a Bose stereo, leather seats, heated and ventilated front seats, and dual-zone automatic climate control. The performance-oriented 1SS trim comes with a 455 bhp V8 engine. It has the same standard features as the 1LS trim, in addition to a sport-tuned suspension, Brembo brakes, 20-inch alloy wheels, and upgraded cooling systems for the engine, transmission, and rear differential. The 2SS trim comes with the V8 engine, and it combines the high-performance gear of the 1SS model with the amenities of the 2LT. It also adds blind spot monitoring, rear parking sensors, heated side mirrors, a head-up display, and a smartphone charging pad. And at the top of the range is the Camaro ZL1, which has a 650 bhp V8 engine. It has the same standard features of the 2SS model, with the addition of a performance exhaust system, adaptive suspension, and Recaro sport seats. Available features include a navigation system, a sunroof, a heated steering wheel, adaptive suspension, a Performance Data Recorder (a forward-facing camera for recording driving footage), and the 1LE performance packages. These optional 1LE packages add a restyled grille, a front splitter and rear spoiler, heavy duty cooling systems, and upgraded brakes and an upgraded suspension.
On the whole, the Camaro is a good car. Based on previous experiences, my expectations for this version were high, and I have to confess to being a little disappointed. Blame the engine. Although it did its job, and the performance deficit over the V6 (in the car’s previous guise) was not as significant as you might imagine. it was just devoid of any character. And the compromises that any Camaro asks of you are still there: pretty terrible visibility and poor packaging meaning that the rear seats are far less accommodating than those of the Mustang, let alone the Challenger, and the boot being simply limiting. I suspect that a V8 engine would make all the difference to the enjoyment of a Camaro now, but clearly that costs more either to buy or to rent, and it will consume more fuel. So if you are looking for the entry level versions of America’s three traditional sports coupes, for me the Camaro ranks at the bottom now, with the Challenger my favourite.