2011 Chevrolet Camaro Driving Impressions

Like the Pontiac G8, the Camaro's chassis was developed in Australia, where the Ozzies aced it. The structure is rigid, helping make the turn-in precise for a car this size; the grip is secure, and the damping is solid and supple, with both the V6 (FE2 suspension) and firmer V8 (FE3). The front suspension uses struts, and the rear is an independent multi-link that's rubber isolated.

The Camaro is a hefty car, 3860 pounds for the V8 and 3800 for the V6, so the handling couldn't be called nimble, just secure and satisfying. The new Mustang is nearly 300 pounds lighter, and feels it.

We never encountered a harsh moment with the ride, in either the LT or the SS. We spent week in a 426-hp SS in the Pacific Northwest, and before that one day driving way out east of San Diego, where we had the chief designer, Canadian Gene Stafanyshyn, riding shotgun and giving us the whole backstory. He's the guy you can thank for the true programming of the TAPshift manual automatic transmission. It does what you tell it to do, nothing more. We love that. Stafanyshyn said he too hates manual automatic transmissions that shift on their own.

One especially nice thing about the transmission is that when you're in sixth gear on the freeway and lightly accelerate, it won't kick down when it doesn't need to. It uses its sufficient torque.

The Camaro LT with its 3.6-liter V6 is the shining surprise of the line. The sweet-sounding, 7000-rpm V6 that gets 29 highway miles per gallon is the future. It accelerates from 0-60 mph in 5.9 seconds, and will do the quarter mile in 14.4 seconds, which is hot in anyone's book. Stafanyshyn said the secret is the spark ignition in this version of the Cadillac engine.

The LT will also stop from 60 mph in a superb 106 feet, as measured by Motor Trend magazine, or 128 feet according to GM. Surprisingly, the SS with its four-piston Brembo brakes doesn't do much better, but the Brembos can be used harder without fade. And the vented rotors are huge, 14 inches front and 14.4 inches rear on the SS, compared to the LT's matching fronts and 11.8-inch rears.

The V6 LT with a 6-speed manual gearbox is the most usably sporty engine-transmission matchup. The gearbox is smooth if not buttery, and Chevrolet says the throws are short but that's relative. Overall it shifts nicely, including easily down into first gear for hairpin turns. The good news is that there is a Hurst short-throw shifter available as a dealer option. We'll take it. We tested it in the Shelby Mustang, and it made a world of difference.

Two 6.2-liter V8 engines are offered in Camaro SS models: the L99 comes on cars with automatics, the LS3 is paired with manual gearboxes. Both engines are derived from the LS3 that debuted on the 2008 Corvette, with an aluminum block (with cast iron cylinder liners) and aluminum cylinder heads. The L99 is rated at 400 hp and 410 pound-feet of torque. The LS3 develops 426 hp and 420 pound-feet of torque. The L99 features the fuel-saving Active Fuel Management System, which saves fuel by shutting down half of the engine's cylinders during certain light-load driving conditions, such as highway cruising.

The throaty 6.2-liter SS gets attention. The Chevy V8 is an old-school two-valve engine that sure works in the Corvette. The Camaro SS is humongous fast, so if you're driving it hard, you're into the danger zone with the law. You can drive it good, just not hard. No one will bust you for loud mufflers, though; we were deflated by the civility of the exhaust note. True, it rumbles, but sometimes a mere rumble isn't enough. And we were slack-jawed at the 6000-rpm redline (with the automatic), so low it felt like the engine was being prevented from working. But the horsepower peaks at 5900 rpm, so the redline was right. The good news is that the SS with the six-speed redlines at 6600.

The 2010 Camaro wins the muscle-car battle against the Dodge Challenger and Mustang GT, but the 2011 Camaro gets knocked off by the new Mustang, because of the Mustang's lower price and its beautiful new 32-valve 5.0-liter engine. The Mustang wins the pounds-per-horsepower battle, 8.7 to 9.1 (412/3580 vs. 426/3860), but the Camaro still ties from 0-60 in 4.6 seconds, and wins in the quarter-mile, 13.0 to 13.2. The Camaro costs $1300 more than the Mustang but it's still a steal. If you need to beat the new Mustang GT, wait for the Z28 and blow that Ford out of the water with a supercharger pumping 560 horsepower.

The 2011 Z28 is not here yet, but GM has confirmed that it will be available by the end of the year, with its supercharger on the V8, like the Cadillac CTS-V, and should at least match that monster 556 horsepower and 551 pound-feet of torque. Best guesses are that it will add about $8000 to the price, remaining a spectacular muscle-car deal.

The prices and incentives shown above may vary from region to region and are subject to change. Inventory is subject to prior sale. Vehicle information is based on standard equipment and may vary from vehicle to vehicle. Please contact us via phone or email for specific vehicle information. All prices plus tax, title, license, dealer adds and documentation fee.

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