Chevrolet's the last of the musclecar trio to bring its ponycar back to life. The Ford Mustang's always been with us, though now the new 2010 version mellows its Sixties retro styling cues with some fashion-forward creases. The Dodge Challenger? Reborn in 2008 in hoary SRT8 form, it's the very essence of the Summer of Love original, from its 425-hp V-8 to its broad, flat hood and trunklid. For 2010, the Camaro's the last on the show stand, but like the others, an instant classic. Check out the SS from the rear quarters, and you'll see what gets Camaro fans lusting. The fenders swell, the front end shovels its face full of tarmac (and in SS trim, cuts through the dark with HID headlamps) and the chopped roof squats on top of the menacing wedge like a redneck gun turret. Does it look exactly like a Sixties Camaro? No, but it's so evocative, it's easy to overlook the thick side and tall shoulder that today's safety standards dictate.
Chevy designers have flavored its cockpit with heritage cues, like the 4-pack of gauges that sit in front of the shifter in SS Camaros. The primary gauges sit square-eyed in the space behind the dished steering wheel, and a bladed shift level is a short reach away. Still, in many ways, the Camaro's interior is just plain. There's lots of black plastic to examine at stoplights, and the aqua LCD readouts distract from the overall feel. Order the special interior trim packs and the RS kit and the Camaro SS cabin wakes up with orange trim and stitching and special wheels to compensate for the well-fitted but sometimes dull interior. You can't tweak the Challenger like that, and its interior is far more pedestrian. As for the Mustang, it's tipped over into the modern era, especially when you order its navigation system and confront a big TV screen squat in the middle of its center control stack.
All Camaro - or Corvette? - under the skin
Enough about the look. One glance and you know if you're in or out. It's the driving experience that shatters even a Ford guy's notion of what a Camaro can be. Especially with the Corvette-derived V-8 and a beefy Tremec six-speed manual shifter, the Camaro comes as close to 'Vette performance as Chevy's marketers will allow.
Base Camaros offer what's probably the best all-around engine ever jammed into a Chevy pony car. The 3.6-liter direct-injected V-6 also occupies the engine bay in some versions of the Cadillac CTS, and it's a fine piece, producing a V-8-like 304 horsepower with 29-mpg EPA-rated highway fuel economy that rivals some four-cylinder cars. With a manual transmission, the V-6 Camaro manages 17 mpg in the city, a mile per gallon more if you choose the automatic.