The Camaro was always my favourite classic muscle car. The lines of the 60s and 70s models were cleaner, more elegant than the Mustang...

The Camaro was always my favourite classic muscle car. The lines of the 60s and 70s models were cleaner, more elegant than the Mustang, and down in Australia, we only got the Charger, not the Challenger, and it was more cumbersome and clumsy-looking than the Camaros of the time.

Fast forward a few decades and all three are back in vogue with retro styling, the same muscular philosophy and the same throaty growl. But while the Camaro of old was clean and beautiful, it’s the ugly duckling of the trio now.

It’s a polarizing car with fans who love it with a passion. A passion so intense it overwhelms detractors and forces them to admit they’re wrong. As I’ve just done.

In certain lighting the Camaro is an attractive car – but unfortunately it can’t always be night time. The yellow and black stripes are eye-catching but the rear haunches are overwrought and clumsy. Especially with the imitation vents carved into them. Even the taillights are awkward. For me, the modern Camaro hits all the wrong notes.

And now for a rare admission: I’m wrong. The Camaro is adored by so many for exactly the things I don’t like about it. It’s a polarizing car with fans who love it with a passion. A passion so intense it overwhelms detractors and forces them to admit they’re wrong. As I’ve just done.

My aesthetic opinion was further devalued as I drove – everyone under 25 took a good long look, as did every man over about 45, and a handful of people around my age. Kids loved it – as Mark Stevenson pointed out in his review of the 2015 Chevrolet Camaro convertible, it’s handy to have a hero car from a movie to market you. Incidentally, the Camaro convertible looks far worse than this hardtop edition. The convertible is just plain gross.

However, the black 20-inch rims are hot as hell as is the subtle front splitter and nicely sized rear wing. What a pity the cool, matte black hood is ruined by the fake louvres.

Under that hood, however, is a thing of pure beauty. A 6.2L V8 capable of 426 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque all routed through a six-speed manual gearbox! Manual! Yay! That engine sounds, feels and even looks spectacular. It’s the heart and soul of the car. It’s like my wife always says, “a big heart can turn even the ugliest of brutes into a prince.”

And this engine – oh my. My daughter cackled with glee every time I mashed the loud pedal, and even tried to wind her own window down every time we went under a bridge or underpass - luckily this was a coupe, so her little ears were protected! From the moment I got in it I was a fan. The dual-mode exhaust (a $940 option) gives the Camaro a neighbour-friendly purr at low revs, and howls like a wounded bull when you wind it up.

The clutch pedal is firm but too vague. Again the engine rescues the Camaro from this flaw, because you can quite easily let the clutch out slowly and gently from idle, with zero throttle and the Camaro gets going with no lurching, juddering or fuss whatsoever. The shift lever itself is crisp and mechanical, slotting home with a purposeful thunk. The pedals are well spaced, so you can obnoxiously and needlessly blip the throttle rev-match while braking.

Speaking of, the SS 1LE gets upgraded four-piston Brembos all around to help haul the 1,773 kg chassis to a halt. Keeping it in check around corners and over bumps is a fully adjustable multi-link strut front suspension with progressive-rate coil springs and in this 1LE SS package a 27 mm stabiliser bar. Out back, a five-link independent setup takes charge, coupled with a 28 mm stabilizer bar and unique SS driveshafts.

Those driveshafts plug in to a limited-slip diff, again an SS upgrade over the base Camaro. The package results in a delightfully tail-happy little muscle car. Gas it up and you’ll experience a progressive, linear slide from the 285/35R 20-inch Goodyear Eagles. It’s easy to control, and fun to play around with. The Camaro drives beautifully but does transfer some of the harsher bumps into your backside.

Find some corners and the Camaro only adds to its charm. It is rewarding to hustle with a well-balanced chassis and excellent feedback through the wheel. It’s nimble, and corners flat, keeping those wide tires stuck to the pavement. Grip is excellent, bordering on marvelous.

Mid-corner steering corrections can be executed with your choice of steering input or throttle – I frequently chose the latter and paid the penalty with sore cheeks from smiling too much. In those moments the Camaro is fantastic, then you slow down and the underdone interior comes back to haunt you.

You may be surprised by the lack of leather seating, but these performance cloth units are surprisingly supportive and comfortable if not heated. Even the lack of heated seats is forgivable, again thanks to the engine. No wires in the seat to heat your bum? No problem, three minutes into your drive your heart will be racing anyway.

The greenhouse is narrow and so rearward visibility is non-existent but a pleasant side effect of the shape of the window line is the lack of wind noise. Driving with the windows up there is hardly any wind noise, but even with them down the Camaro’s interior remains wind-noise free and peaceful.

Well, not peaceful. Engine noise still intrudes, and there is the not-insignificant matter of a cheap interior complete with rattles and ticks. The SS Performance Package thankfully includes a suede-like microfibre shift lever cover and steering wheel to help dress up the otherwise bland and outdated cabin a bit. The steering wheel alone is a work of art, and feels beautiful to hold. Ignore the rest of the dashboard, console and centre stack and it feels premium and sporty.

Sadly, the instrument cluster is standard cheap and tacky Chevrolet fare, and the blue trip computer screen nestled between the gauges is downright ugly. This, more than anything, is where the Camaro’s ageing process is most evident.

Which brings us to the crux of the Camaro’s issue. The Ford Mustang and the Dodge Challenger have both had recent refreshes that vaulted them into the present, and relegated the Camaro to the rear of the field. Both of those also have a lower price of entry, $28,495 for the Challenger and $24,999 for the Mustang to the Camaro’s base of $30,545.

The Camaro does beat those two in the fuel economy stakes at an EPA rated 14.7/9.8/12.4 L/100 km city/highway/combined. The Mustang is on par with 15.7/9.4/12.4 and the Challenger lags behind on 16.8/10.2/16.8. I finished my week in the Camaro on 14.2 L/100 km. It’s a hollow win for GM however – I can’t see anyone making their muscle car selection based on fuel economy.

A more valuable victory, the Camaro is a better driver than the comparable Mustang and Challenger trims. It is more comfortable on long trips than the Mustang, and more lithe and agile than the Challenger. It fits the driver nicely. Wrapping you in an extremely capable, if tinny and rattly cocoon.

Still, the Camaro is now in need of a revision.  The movie cachet is wearing off, as is the initial buzz generated by the retro-muscle car reintroduction. It has become tired and while the engine still holds its thrill and charm, the progress made by the other two in terms of interior quality and driving sophistication makes the Camaro an ever-more-difficult proposition.

The grumbling and the growling of the engine might warm your heart, but it’s not unique. Both the others have just as exciting engines. And while you can upgrade to an even more ballistic Camaro powerplant in the 580 hp/556 lb-ft supercharged ZL1, the Challenger has the 707 hp/650 lb-ft Hellcat.

So as big as that heart is and as good as it is at hiding the Camaro’s flaws it can’t eclipse the bright lights shining over at Ford and Dodge. Yet….



Model Tested 2015 Chevrolet Camaro SS 1LE   Destination Fee $1,655
Base Price $39,090   Price as Tested $46,470
A/C Tax $100  
Optional Equipment
SS Performance Package (20-inch wheels, performance tires, rear spoiler, sueded steering wheel and shift knob, 3.91 axle ratio, performance suspension) - $3,675, dual-mode exhaust - $940, rear vision package - $600, bright yellow paint - $415.