Driving Impressions

By May 17, 2013

The Camaro chassis is well-engineered. The rigid structure makes 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. We found the TAPshift manual automatic transmission does what you tell it to do, nothing more. We love that.

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 shines. The Chevy V6 sounds sweet and gets 30 miles per gallon highway with the 6-speed automatic and optional 2.92 rear axle ratio. With the standard 3.27 gear, it accelerates from 0-60 mph in 5.9 seconds, and will do the quarter mile in 14.4 seconds, which is quick in anyone's book.

Camaro LT will also stop from 60 mph in 128 feet, according to GM, but we've heard of the Camaro stopping in much shorter distances. Surprisingly, the SS with its four-piston Brembo brakes doesn't do much better, but the Brembos can be used harder without fade for repeated hard braking of the sort used on a racetrack. 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 versatile sporty engine-transmission matchup. The gearbox is smooth if not buttery, and easily shifts down into first gear for hairpin turns. Chevrolet says the throws are short, yet there's 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.

The Camaro SS is humongous fast, so if you're driving it hard, you're deep into the danger zone with the law or you're on a race track. Its throaty exhaust turns heads. The SS with the manual transmission and 426-horsepower engine revs to 6600 rpm, while the automatic with its 400 horsepower only revs to an underachieving 6000.

Camaro ZL1 delivers supercar performance yet it's quite comfortable for everyday driving on rural roads, around town, and on the highway. At Virginia International Raceway, we found it easy to drive quickly and very predictable, even in some diabolically wet, cold conditions. The car could be drifted easily with power fed in as we accelerated out of the corners onto long, fast straightaways. Braking performance was equally impressive. This is a car that can be driven hard with confidence. Major league fun.

It's hard to say who wins the perennial muscle-car battle between the Camaro, Mustang GT, and Dodge Challenger; those with a favorite aren't likely to change their minds. But a battle of the stats gives the Mustang the edge, with its beautiful new 32-valve 5.0-liter engine. We think it's more enjoyable to drive, too. The Mustang wins the pounds-per-horsepower battle, 8.7 to 9.1 (412/3580 vs. 426/3860), but the Camaro SS still wins in the quarter-mile, 13.0 to 13.2. Not that two tenths of a second makes any difference in how much you enjoy your car.