8 Oct 2013

2013 Chevrolet Camaro first drive review

Matt Hubbard reviews the 2013 Chevrolet Camaro

2013 Chevrolet Camaro

I recently attended an industry driving day, organised by the SMMT (Society for Motor Manufacturers and Traders).  There were cars from almost every manufacturer to test for half an hour each.

The event was held at a posh hotel in Hampshire.  I arrived to see, either side of the hotel's entrance, a £167,000 Bentley Continental GT Speed and a bright yellow £35,000 Chevrolet Camaro.

My son would have disowned me if I hadn't driven Bumblebee.  The Bentley could wait (I did get to drive it later in the day, thankfully).

The Camaro is stunning to look at.  A 2-door, 4-seat coupe from the old school - but that still looks great in 2013.  Long and low, square and wide with a power bulge in the bonnet and recessed grille and headlights.  This was designed to look great, not to reduce drag.

Inspect the car in its yellow-with-a-black-stripe finery and proportions just look right, even if they are far removed from the European or Japanese idea of a super-coupe.  Everything is squared off and sharp.  Bulges sit atop the wheels.  The glazed area is low, like it was created by a hot-rodder.
2013 Chevrolet Camaro

Climb inside and the steering wheel looks just like the one in the Camaro's European distant cousin, the Astra VXR - even though, on closer inspection, it isn't.

That stylish steering wheel is a portent for the rest of the interior.  Us Brits generally have the mindset that American cars look great, have huge amounts of power, handle like a barge and have terrible interiors.

The Camaro's interior is up there with the European manufacturers.  Plenty of leather, sensible layout, a touchscreen, lovely seats, a nod to Americana (even though it's made in Canada) with some dials under the heater controls.  It's a nice place to sit.
2013 Chevrolet Camaro

The engine sounds majestic, as you might imagine from a 6.2 litre V8.  It produces 432bhp and 419 lb ft of torque, driven through the rear wheels.  It weighs 1769kg and does 0-60mph in 5.2 seconds.

These figures aren't outrageous.  I've driven plenty of cars with a higher power to weight ratio.  Trouble is you sit on the wrong side of the car - on the left.  And it's a manual.  And visibility is terrible.  And its quite wide, at 1.9 metres.  And I was going to drive it on pokey English back roads.

I set off with a co-driver in the passenger seat, which turned out to be both a blessing and a curse.

The Camaro has a nice turn of speed, but changing gear with your right hand, whilst holding the wheel with your left, takes some getting used to.

It's naturally aspirated so delivery is linear and doesn't cease until 6000 rpm, and makes a great sound whilst doing it.  The chassis was better than I anticipated.  Steel bodied with multi-link suspension the Camaro is no slouch round corners, as well as in a straight line.

That's when you judge a corner properly.  I'm sure on track it's a hoot but on the road the lack of visibility and left hand drive adds a level of fear to the exhilaration of driving it.
2013 Chevrolet Camaro

I thought my road placement was OK - I was inches from the hedgrows to my left, whilst the co-driver was squealing, "We're on the white line," and, "Ooh, that was close."

The A-pillars are beefy, as they are on pretty much all new cars.  Some manufacturers, such as Volvo, twist the pillar so the driver sees the narrower edge.  Chevrolet haven't, so you see the wider profile.  This makes turning out of junctions 'interesting'.

Back to the road and we hit some back lanes.  The Camaro feels fine, and is great fun to drive.  It's pretty refined and that V8 makes for some great point and squirt action.  It would be a super-cool car to tour long distance - although the 20mpg consumption might get a bit tiring.

The gearbox is a 6-speed and works better with a smoother action than most European General Motors' gearboxes.  It's a sign that the clutch and gearbox are smooth and easy to use that I hardly took any notice of them as I threaded the Camaro between the hedges.

Come across another car on a back road and that driving position and lack of visibility come to light again.  You have to unlearn everything you thought you knew and relearn it, quickly.  I'm not the best in the world at parking manoeuvres but can judge distances at speed with a high degree of finesse.  In the Camaro I was slowing much more than usual just to make sure I didn't clip a wing mirror.  My co-driver appreciated that too.
2013 Chevrolet Camaro

The Chevy Camaro is quite an impractical proposition for UK buyers, but you would get used to sitting on the left and you would relearn to judge distances.  The 20mpg fuel consumption is pretty poor, but no worse than my old Audi S4 used to deliver.

But for £35k you'd be hard pressed to find another car with as much sheer force of character and, to utilise a cheesy old phrase, as many smiles per mile.

It looks great, its interior is good, its engine is fantastically grunty, people will stare in appreciation at you and little children will cry out "Bumblebee!"

You wouldn't buy a Camaro with your sensible head on.  You might consider one if you believe the competition is a little too staid and clinical.  A Boxster is £5k more, a VXR8 a full £10k more and a 428i M Sport costs the same.  You might consider any or all of these, or maybe an imported Mustang - but even that would cost £40k.

Most people wouldn't go for the Camaro, but some would.  The dynamic experience isn't vastly inferior  to European machinery and it's cheap for what you get.  If it were available in RHD it would sell a good few units a year but in LHD only it's destined to play a bit part on UK roads, which is a shame because, despite its flaws, I liked it a lot.

Article by Matt Hubbard