The Chevrolet Camaro is a fast, proper rear-drive V8 performance car that looks good, is easy to drive and feels solidly built. It might struggle to rein in a Ford Mustang GT when compared dollar for dollar, but if you’re after a sharp handling muscle car with presence then you’re in the right place.
It invades Australia from The States in MY18 2SS form. The ‘SS’ means a new generation 6.2-litre V8 hides in its bonnet while the ‘2’ means it's fitted with premium interior equipment.
General Motor’s Alpha rear-drive platform underpins the lighter, stiffer chassis and everything comes wrapped in a retro-inspired design. This all costs a pretty penny, though, as Holden Special Vehicles converts each car to right-hand drive in Clayton. The resource needed to import, convert, and comply one helps explain why it is priced at $85,990 before on roads. That’s $20K more than the Mustang.
Despite this, more than 400 people have told HSV they want one sight unseen. In showrooms, they’ll discover custom made parts on everything above the centre stack’s HVAC buttons. HSV has also widened the original passenger footwell for the driver, swapped the sole electric power seat to the right side, laid new wiring looms, and modified the firewall.
But you wouldn’t suspect all this when you sit in one. The interior feels and looks factory built. The dash panels fit snug. The air conditioning and heating obey commands, even if our pilot cars had some gurgle due to be silenced for production, and all the screens function as they should.
It’s cosy inside. The sixth-generation Camaro is smaller in every way to the fifth-generation and skinnier than a Mustang or VF Commodore (just). The back seats almost press against the front seats and it’s easy to touch elbows with a passenger.
Good ergonomics persist, though. The seat lowers far enough and the steering wheel pulls out and lifts high. The pedal stagger is set perfectly and there’s enough room down there for a footrest.
Prod the starter button and its LT1 V8 rouses to life with a vicious bark that gurgles like a small-block ought to. The bi-modal exhaust’s noise is more seductive outside than it is inside, but the bark comes close to matching the car’s bite.
In Europe a 2SS is claimed to hit 100km/h in just 4.4 seconds; a believable fact when you flex your right ankle. The Camaro squats gently and blasts forward. Its V8 pulls through its mid-range smoothly, hitting its torque peak at 4400rpm fast before delivering all its power at 6000rpm.
Once you reach 6400rpm the GM 8L45 eight-speed transmission will grab next gear. The changes are quick. But the urgency vanishes when you pluck a paddle early, as upshifts take twice as long in manual mode.
There’s more to this engine than impressive figures, however. While it shares a basic architecture with an LS3 it debuts new cylinder heads and an overhauled rotating assembly. Direct injection also allowed engineers to ratchet up its compression ratio.
Desperate to sip less fuel, it shuts four cylinders off during cruising. You won’t feel them switch, but you will notice the throttle pedal soften at cruising speeds.
AFM, as it’s called for Active Fuel Management, endures in all Tour, Sport, Track or Snow/Ice drive modes that change the stability, throttle and transmission maps. The exhaust and steering can be set separately.
The suspension would also change with the modes if Aussies scored the magnetic dampers optional in America. But they haven’t been fitted to the Argentinian core vehicle HSV starts with on the production line. Why Argentina? It offers the most Australian compliant parts and is why each car here has an automatic and sunroof.
Our planned test route was short with only a few challenging corners, but it was enough to demonstrate the Camaro’s sharp and friendly handling. It feels wieldier than any Commodore while sitting flat and stable. You have a great sense of grip at each axle and the front-end responds keenly without upsetting the car’s poise.
While the original steering rack mechanisms are cased in a new housing, the wheel is a good size and lines up straight with the column and driver’s seat. The front wheels also track true off centre and with good accuracy. The ratio quickens too fast when you reach a quarter turn of lock, but at least the heavy weighting feels appropriate once you’re hooking in.
Ride comfort sits somewhere between a Holden Commodore SS-V Redline and HSV GTSR W1 on firmness. It’s bearable, but adaptive damping would help inject more compliance into the mix. The suspension lets small vibrations creep into the cabin over gnarled surfaces and its 20-inch wheels bounce over potholes.
The brakes comprise four-piston Brembo calipers that clamp front 345mm and 339mm rear discs, so they’re strong, but we'd prefer more finesse and feedback. They sit within 20-inch Goodyear Asymmetric 3s measuring 245mm wide up front and 275mm wide out back. We’re salivating to explore their limits more and you can bet a more aggressive road test is on the cards with full acceleration testing.
HSV has given it the best possible chance when that time comes, as the local conversion takes nothing from its original package. There’s plenty of standard equipment, including Apple CarPlay on the awkwardly tilted centre screen and wireless phone charging, though a relatively quiet exhaust and one-dimensional ride on passive suspension leave it vulnerable against the Mustang. Comparing them is a bit apples to oranges stuff, though, even if the two are direct rivals back home.
If the measure of a muscle car is how it makes you feel, then it has some great ingredients. The handling promises to be special and that engine is refined yet powerful. It might be a while before HSV rolls up its sleeves to do its own special edition, however, there’s nothing here to turn starved GM fans off. This is a V8 rear driver with an LSD for under $100K. That calls for celebration.
HSV’s venture at the very least is a small victory for local manufacturing. It keeps supplier chains open, production lines running, and injects excitement back into select Holden dealers. And something about that feels better than anything you’ll find on a spec sheet.
Tested and rated on MOTOR reviews
2018 CHEVROLET CAMARO 2SS SPECS:
Engine: 6162cc V8, OHV, 16v
Power: 339kW @ 6000rpm
Torque: 617Nm @ 4600rpm
Compression ratio: 11.5:1
Combined fuel consumption: 11.1L/100km (claimed)
0-100km/h: 4.4sec (claimed US spec)
Rating: 4.0 out of 5 stars