THE Aussie muscle car may be dead but the Australian performance enthusiast isn’t, and there are still a few solid offerings from the USA to embiggen the spirit of any V8 fanatic.
Chrysler has had its 300C here for quite some time, and while the platform is as old as the hills, that Hemi V8 engine is still a thing of beauty. Ford jumped in early and delivered the 5.0 Mustang to an audience who were hungry for something new, and found a market willing to gorge themselves. GM is a little late to the party; Holden doesn’t seem to have any interest in playing the performance game these days, so it’s left HSV to do what it can. Right now the HSV stable includes got two pick-ups in the shape of the Colorado-based SportsCat and the massive Silverado – and of course, the new Camaro.
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From ground level, the Camaro is so sharp it’ll give your eyes papercuts. It is a beautiful machine from every angle, but it doesn’t say HSV anywhere on the outside. The only place we found HSV was on the build plate, and the glossy brochure inside the car. It might be a small thing, but if you’re going to pay $85,990 (before on-road costs) you probably want the HSV name to go with it.
HSV in Clayton is doing all the conversion work, and there’s a fair bit more involved than just plucking the wheel from the left-hand side and putting it on the right. They pull these bad boys right down and build them back up to suit, with a new wiring harness, instrument panels, firewall mods and a stack of individual parts to make it right, and it looks perfect. Lift the bonnet – or hood in American parlance – and everything looks factory, which is just about the highest praise anyone can give.
Up front there’s a 6.2-litre LT1 that produces 339kW and 617Nm, and the engine is one of the best things about the car. It’s got direct injection, variable valve timing (Chevrolet calls it Dual-Equal Cam Phasing) and active fuel management, which all means it does more with less. More power with less fuel; it’s the ultimate win-win.
The 8L90E eight-speed transmission is flawless, but also a little disappointing in that it only comes in automatic form. Don’t get us wrong; we love a slick slushbox as much as anyone, but having a car like this with no option to work your own stick seems to be a major oversight. Naturally it comes with flappy paddles tucked behind the diminutive steering wheel and you can also nudge the shifter across to sports mode if you want, but that’s not quite the same as having three pedals.
Climb into the Camaro and you’ll feel like you’re sitting on the ground; the seating position is low and so is the roofline. If you’re over six feet tall, you’re going to be rubbing your head on the roof. The seats are covered in leather and are as firm and sporty as you would imagine in a car like this. It is a little tight across the shoulders, but I’m a wide bloke so that’s a complaint I have in many cars. The back seat is basically non-functional; I tried to slip my thin GoPro case behind the seat and it didn’t fit. No one is going to want to be in the back – ever!
On the road the suspension is firm, like really firm. Country roads will not be your friend in this car. On the track it would be awesome, and we reckon that’s where this car will really shine: track days where you can really use the sharp electric power steering and make full use of that very stiff suspension. There are four different suspension modes, according to the button on the console, but we couldn’t feel much difference between them. It was firm, firm, firm and really bloody firm.
Inside there are 24 different colours of interior lighting available to the driver through the interactive screen, but we really don’t care about that and we feel most car enthusiasts will be in the same camp. What we do care about is the brilliant nine-speaker Bose stereo; it is one of the best sound systems we’ve ever experienced. You will need it though, because the road noise inside this car is truly atrocious. You’ve all heard the noise a seashell makes when you hold it to your ear; well, amplify that by 1000. It really hit home when I was on a phone call using the Chevrolet MyLink system and the person at the other end asked if I had the window open. Nope, the car is just that loud inside, and no it’s not engine noise. I pulled over to the side of the road and they immediately said: “Oh, yeah, that’s better.”
The engine is glorious, and the Bi-Modal exhaust sounds fantastic on the upshifts, but more than five seconds of that at any time will see you well on the wrong side of the law. So most of the time you’ll be listening to the drumming roar of the rear cabin area, or cranking up the stereo. We recommend the latter option – or maybe buying a Mustang instead.
Don’t get us wrong, there’s a lot to like about the Camaro, but there are also a few key areas that need work, and at this price point there really shouldn’t be. Hopefully we’ll see some improvement to the car down the track. Or maybe we’ll just take it to the track.