Driven: Camaro 45th Anniversary edition

How we snigger about American cars. All straight-line muscle and knuckle-dragging engineering, right? Quick in the stop-light drag race but show 'em a set of proper corners and it all falls apart, right?

Retro chic, American style
Retro chic, American style
Kind of.

Thing is, 'our' cars have almost got too good. All those decades of expertise, all that high tech and what are we left with? A generation of intensely serious, overly complex Terminator-style machines boasting seven-minute-something Nurburgring laps and yet unable to engage in the five per cent of their performance envelope available to anyone wishing to hold onto their driving licence.

The Camaro, at least in supercharged ZL1 form, (you have to say it 'zee', not 'zed' too...) does in fact boast a seven-minute-something 'ring lap too. But it also manages something the Ms, AMGs, RSes and similar seem to have forgotten about - good old-fashioned entertainment. It's the Hollywood blockbuster to the intense European art-house cinema if you will. You know you probably should nod in silent appreciation at the subtitled complexity. But sometimes it's just nice to stuff your face with popcorn, hoot with laughter and just get swept away by the sheer exuberance of it all.

Not (completely) out of its depth here
Not (completely) out of its depth here
Gee, shucks, etc
And that's exactly what this Camaro does. The 45th Anniversary pack (+£1,500) gave us the excuse to book one in and after marvelling at the usual stuff - overall dimensions, yeehaw engine capacity, LHD novelty, comedy fuel consumption, annoying bonging any time you do ANYTHING so much as open a door or window - the real surprise was it's actually a rather good car.

Not at a rational level, obviously. It drinks fuel, it's massive and yet the rear seat space is less than you'd get in a 911.

But it doesn't take long before you start thinking, hang on, maybe it's actually a lot more relevant than we give it credit for. You see, time spent with the Camaro is just fun. It's a goofy extrovert of a car, all bear hugs and dig you in the ribs banter.

Yup, that's a stick shift right there...
Yup, that's a stick shift right there...
And it's really nicely done. Sure, a lot of it is pure retro pastiche. But it's been carried out with taste and works really well. So you've got classic dials, including a four-pack of supplementary gauges on the transmission tunnel, that hark back to Camaros of old but are bathed in a cool, modern LED glow. And the exterior styling, if perhaps 10 per cent too big, looks fabulous and all the better for being utterly unashamed.

Easy rider
It rolls on 20-inch wheels but there's plenty of sidewall in the tyres so it rumbles over your typical potholed urban tarmac with an easy-going comfort that makes a mockery of S line or M Sport bone shakery. It's also happy to just trundle along at 30mph in sixth, making urban driving much more relaxing than in cars that seem constantly straining on the leash. Now running a Euro-tuned FE4 suspension package (optional to American buyers) with stiffer anti-roll bars nor does it flop about or wallow like some beached whale when the roads turn faster and twistier either. You feel the size on a B-road, sure, but dynamically it's not out of its depth.

Hidden under plastic but the V8 is there...
Hidden under plastic but the V8 is there...
The powertrain is delightfully old-school and muscular too, the flat-sided Hurst shifter snicking round a tight, mechanical gate with precision and the 6.2-litre V8 delivering its 432hp over a broad sweep of revs. A bit more noise wouldn't do any harm - if you're going to live with low teens mpg you may as well get something for your money - but that can no doubt be addressed should you so desire. Likewise a nagging doubt that, just perhaps, a bit more of a kick in the ribs wouldn't go amiss. Something the ZL1will give you, no doubt.

All-American fun
It's just fun, basically. You can indulge in gratuitous blipping, smear a little rubber around the place if you so desire and it's all delivered with easy-going accessibility that brings a smile to your face any time you're in the thing. Sure, you'd be faster in plenty of other stuff. But like a GT86 or BRZ (and this is about where the similarities end) it's a car about sensations, not numbers.

It is what it is and makes no apologies for that. Roll with it though and you find yourself surprised at just how relevant the Camaro has finally become after nearly half a century. For not much more than a fancy hot hatch it's a hell of a lot of car...

6,162cc V8
Transmission: six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 432@5,900rpm
Torque (lb ft): 420@4,600rpm
0-62mph: 5.2 sec
Top speed: 155mph
Weight: 1,769kg
MPG: 20mpg (NEDC combined)
CO2: 329g/km
Price: £35,025 (£36,495 as tested)




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Comments (130) Join the discussion on the forum

  • aston addict 01 Nov 2012

    Stunning car - far more character than an equivalent BMW / Mercedes / Audi and I bet a far nicer sound. Just a pity it's so expensive compared to the cost in the USA...

  • BauerMillett 01 Nov 2012

    Are you sure it had an L99 engine?

  • LuS1fer 01 Nov 2012

    Harumph, call that a review! You haven't even mentioned that it must surely have a sh*t interior.

    Personally, I love American car haters as it reminds me of the Elvis Costello line "Spend all your money getting so convinced that you never even bothered to look".

    I once regarded Yank muscle cars as irrelevant and somewhat comical until I actually bought my first Corvette and I've had an American car ever since. Everything else is just transport. Just to get in of a morning and fire up that V8 is worth the entrance price alone. You'll never get that with a Euroblob.

  • AdeTuono 01 Nov 2012

    BauerMillett said:
    Are you sure it had an L99 engine?
    AFAIK, the L99 only comes with an auto trans.

  • Dan Trent 01 Nov 2012

    BauerMillett said:
    Are you sure it had an L99 engine?
    Camaro press pack said:
    While fuel economy might not be high on the priority list of a Camaro owner, the Active Fuel Management system on the L99 engine automatically shuts down four of the eight cylinders during light load operations, improving fuel consumption by as much as 7.5%.
    Which is interesting! 'L99' does indeed seem linked with an earlier 4.3 engine though. But then the plot thickens further:

    Wikipedia said:
    (For the 4.3 L (260 cu in) Generation II engine of the same RPO, see GM LT Engine)
    The L99 is derived from the LS3 with reduced output but adds Active Fuel Management (formerly called Displacement on Demand), which allows it to run on only four cylinders during light load conditions.
    So it must be true, etc. wink Anyone?!


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