The traditional appeal of muscle cars has been as much about their looks as their actual performance – and that holds true today. While it might be great to brag about how fast a certain car can charge to sixty miles per hour, most of the time it’s going to be sitting still, gracing a driveway or parking spot.
Finally, a muscle car is available that offers the sheet metal swagger with a bit less actual muscle underneath. When Chevrolet brought back the Camaro last year as a tribute to their design of the late 1960s, it made sure that the muscular look was applied to both the model with the base engine as well as the upgrade with the V8.
The last time the Camaro graced showrooms (before being killed off after the 2002 model year) you could spot the V6 RS model right off the bat. It was missing the more powerful SS model’s wheel and tire package, exhaust extensions, stripes, and other things. That car also had a rather weak engine that didn’t provide much in the way of driving thrills.
That’s all changed with the updated Camaro. The body is exactly the same with both the V6 LS/LT and V8 SS models, and if you opt for the RS package (a trim option that dates back to the first Camaro of 1967, and not to be confused with the designation of the base car sold from 1993-2002) you get all the good stuff in the less powerful car with the 3.6 liter V6.
But even that’s not much of a sacrifice. Thanks to modern technology, the engine that comes standard in the Camaro produces a healthy 304 horsepower thanks to lots of high-tech tricks, including direct fuel injection. And unlike in the past, you can get a thoroughly modern 6-speed automatic transmission, including paddle shifters on the steering wheel. For purists, manual gear shifting is handled with a 6-speed stick, just as in the V8 SS model.
Looking at the numbers, the V8 is obviously way ahead in the power contest, with a staggering 426 horsepower. It also loses a little bit on the economy scale, checking in with 19 mpg overall compared to the V6 model’s 21. And the big number makes a big difference too, as the sticker price for the SS is around $7000 more than a comparable LT model. Depending on your age, the V8 could also cost a lot more to insure.
The option that really makes the LT into a looker is the RS package, which includes massive 20” wheels and tires that really fill out the Camaro’s fender wells. Super-bright HID headlights and a rear spoiler round out the $1800 option, which seems expensive but really give the V6 Camaro that muscular look.
The car is plenty quick, thanks to both its 300-plus horsepower and smooth-shifting 6-speed automatic. The one place it can’t match the SS is in the sound, as there’s just no way a V6 can make that deep V8 rumble. The exhaust note of the smaller engine is by no means unpleasant, and even sounds exotic in its own way, but it’s the one dead giveaway to your neighbors and co-workers that you bought the less expensive model.
In addition to having plenty of power to get along, the Camaro LT is a very comfortable and well-equipped car. Though getting in and out is a little awkward compared to a more practical sedan (that’s pretty much true of any low-slung 2-door car), once nestled inside it’s just fine. The back seat walks a fine line between “cozy” and “cramped” for anyone bigger than a child, but nobody really buys a Camaro for back seat room anyway.
I first drove the new Camaro model last summer; a V8 with a manual transmission. While that car was great fun to drive, it was also equipped with a sunroof which steals precious headroom, so I never could get comfortable. The V6 I just drove had no sunroof, so headroom was adequate. The car still has pretty bad blind spots to the rear, but that’s a result of its design. Parking by a curb requires extra caution to avoid scraping up those expensive aluminum wheels.
Technically, you can get a new Camaro for as little as $22,680, but I don’t even think I’ve seen one of those, known as the LS. It has just the basics, including steel wheels painted black instead of the more attractive aluminum ones. For another $1200, the 1LT loses the “stripped” look and is probably much more common. The one I drove was the 2LT which includes a neat little gauge package at the front of the console, just like the ’69 Camaro had as an option.
So for $26,875 – or about $30,000 with the RS package and other desirable options – you can have a 2010 Camaro that really looks the part of a modern muscle car. It might not have the bigger engine that people might assume it does. But they’ll also assume you spent a lot more money too.
I’ll see you down the road.
Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7. He’s also a car enthusiast and owns several classics. Dave can be reached at TVCarz@pacbell.net.