I’m not above saying that, like many others, I’ve long romanticized the concept of driving a Camaro.
To me, it’s one of those quintessential American cars that perfectly symbolises everything that’s great about driving: endless speed on open roads in the middle of nowhere.
That’s really an image I’ve conjured over a number of years without any experiential basis. In my day job, I tend to find myself behind the wheel of electric vehicles or crossover SUVs. My first and, so far, only car was a 1998 Subaru Forester. My only experience with a classic “muscle” car is a bright yellow Mustang I rode shotgun in throughout high school.
So when an offer landed in my inbox to drive a red Camaro with a black interior for a week, I was all in.
The 2017 Camaro I drove is likely not up to snuff to true muscle-car enthusiasts. It’s the base coupe (there’s also a convertible) with a 275-horsepower, 2.0-litre, 4-cylinder turbocharged engine. That’s an immediate dealbreaker for most who want actual muscle in their muscle car — say, the bonkers 650hp supercharged V8 in the Camaro ZL1. In fact, there are some folks who wouldn’t look twice at the available 3.6-litre V6, which makes a mere 335hp.
However, I wasn’t testing the Camaro for someone with a deep appreciation of muscle cars who is looking to make a new purchase. I was approaching it from the perspective of someone who wants a little extra speed but might be shy to take a real plunge. Maybe this is your very first sports car.
The Camaro starts at $US30,405, but options like the eight-speed automatic transmission (yes, this Camaro can be had stock with a six-speed manual) and additional safety tech bumped the price $US38,130. We had the LT with the $US1,950 RS package, so we at least got our hands on the sportier 4-cylinder.
I took the car upstate to the Dia: Beacon museum in Hudson River Valley. It didn’t necessarily match the vibe of the rest of the parking lot — I spotted a lot of Honda Civics and Subaru Outbacks — but the highways were empty and I had plenty of winding roadways to explore.
Downshifting in manual mode will raise the engine’s blood pressure, and that certainly helps with bouts of speed. Still, you can feel a bit of a lag when you really punch it. There’s this tugging feeling that prevents acceleration from feeling as smooth and potent as it would in a car that wasn’t getting boost from a turbo, but rather from two-to-four additional cylinders under the hood.
That being said, the lag really isn’t so perceptible that it’s an outright dealbreaker. Keep in mind that for a $US30,405 base sticker, you’re compromising on power with the weaker engine. And the 0-60 isn’t exactly wimpy, at 5.4 seconds. In some worlds, a lighter, peppier Camaro performs better duty as a true sports car.
The Camaro is a dream to drive once you hit the legal speed limit. It had amazing handling on narrow roads with twists and turns. Low to the ground and tight to the pavement, the suspension rewards when you press the car into a corner, but it isn’t race-car stiff. My bones weren’t vibrating every time I hit a bump or pothole.
As someone who was nervous to drive a Camaro for the first time, I was surprised by how easy it was to manage behind the wheel. The entire experience was downright effortless. I got to really book it without feeling like I was fighting with the car. I had the style without too much power for a beginner to handle, but still enough oomph to have some fun.
Inside, this base-ish Camaro doesn’t feel cheap. It has a hot red paint job (that’s the actual colour’s name) and a jet-black interior. You do not sit in a land of endless plastic, and and leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter add a premium feel. The dashboard is clean and evocative of the Camaros of yore, and there’s no attempt to overly jazz up the interior to match head-turning exterior, a good move.
The Camaro does theoretically seats four, but I wouldn’t attempt to put adults in the back. Even throwing a backpack in the rear took up the whole seat. Trunk space is also limited at 9.1 cubic feet, so this isn’t a great car for hauling cargo. If you want to bring a kid along, it will do the trick. But as with many vehicles in this segment — 2+2 sport coupes and convertibles — you’ll be buying a two-seater.
The rest of the coupe isn’t at all fussy. The Camaro has an eight-inch touchscreen infotainment screen running Chevy’s MyLink system. It supports Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and it comes with Sirius XM radio. There’s the usual Bluetooth connectivity, along with USB and AUX ports to plug in. You can also pay extra for a 4G LTE wifi hotspot, operating via General Motors OnStar setup. GM offers the feature across its entire range of vehicles.
The real takeaway is that the Camaro 2.0 Turbo is a great beginner’s sports car and a perfectly acceptable entry point for the the whole Camaro experience and the realm of rear-wheel-drive machines. There’s no steep leaning curve, the car is tossable in a way that beefier-motored versions don’t want to be, and sure looks nice. The turbo four is heretical, but it’s up to the job, even if it takes a few gears to come into its own.
(Business Insider’s Matt DeBord also drove the car, and he found the paddle shifters behind the steering wheel and the manual mode to be completely disappointing — just give him that old-school six-speed stick.)
The price is attractive and if nobody looks close or has been fixated on Camaro’s since childhood, they’re not going to know or care what’s under the hood. If you’ve always wanted a Camaro but thought it was just too much car, this one is definitely worth a look.
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