Another business trip, another airport, another rental car. Arriving in Cleveland on a sunny but cool day, I did the usual thing of running my eyes up and down the row of available cars, trying to choose one I’ll like. Compact SUVs, minivans, dull sedans…Oh hey, there’s a Camaro! A shiny, white hardtop version sat before me, looking inviting. First question: will my gear fit? A moment later I knew that it would, although the big Pelican case just barely slipped through the opening. The trunk itself is spacious enough, but be warned that large items may not make it inside.
I didn’t have far to go, but it was enough to tell if I would like this car. My customer was about an hour from Cleveland and my hotel was half an hour from my customer, and I had two days with the customer then home the third day. Not enough time for a full review, but I’d definitely have enough time with the Camaro to get an impression of it. So what did I think? Read on, intrepid car-fan!
First impression: It’s a bit claustrophobic inside. Not cramped by any means -unless you try to get in the back seat- but the black interiour surfaces coupled with high, small windows, makes for a feeling of being very contained. Most of the controls are easy. The temperature controls were a bit less intuitive but it didn’t take me long to figure them out, and in fact once I did, I had to admit that they were rather clever in terms of avoiding clutter: the chrome trim-rings around the two central vents double as the knobs to control the temperature and fan-speed. Give them a twist to adjust, and small LED displays next to them will show you the results. The ergonomics are good, even for my big tall physique, but between the small windows and high, dark dashboard, I definitely felt like I was sitting way down low, more so than revealed to be true when getting in and out.
With all the usual adjustments made, I was down the road. I’ll admit that I gave it a throttle-punch before I was actually on the public road, as there’s a long drive around the rental car center to get to the road, and the Camaro gave me a taste of what was to come. Its engine makes a fun growl, not too loud but no doubt groomed through careful application of acoustic engineering and judiciously-placed resonators, enough to be interesting without becoming an onerous drone after too long behind the wheel. The acceleration was good too- clearly not a high-performance variant, since you never get those in rental fleets, but definitely sufficent to give you some grins. Enjoyable handling too- no issues with traction, and the torque was pretty much where I wanted it and being rear wheel drive, did not result in any directional instability.
At freeway speed, the Camaro is easy to drive but does require a little bit of attention as the steering is just a bit quicker than most cars. Braking is quite good too, as I learned when I saw an old car that needed to be photographed after a quick U-turn. Everything works as it should. But there’s no escape from the claustrophobic impression, even in broad daylight, as the windows all seem barely better than gun-slits and the rear quarter windows are so small and the trim around them so deep as to make them completely useless and pointless in every regard except for maintaining a passing resemblance to the first Camaros of the late 1960s. But no worries; the car is still fun enough to take your mind off the poor outward visibility and you do get used to it.
There aren’t a lot of curves in Northern Ohio, and barely anything that registers as a hill- so I couldn’t get too crazy with the Camaro, but it told me enough via the posteriour-trouser interface to make me wish that there had been some more interesting geography around. But in this easy type of surroundings, this is car that you can easily guide over the countryside all day long. It’s easily maneuverable, responds well, and doesn’t ask too much of the driver at a moderate pace, and it’s not difficult to keep on top of when things gets a little more spirited.
Of course the inevitable question comes up: how does it compare to the Mustang? I recently drove a few Mustang convertibles, so it was easy to draw some conclusions. Let’s get that poor visibility out of the way first. Even with the limited windows of the raised convertible top, the Mustang is still easier to see out of. Ergonomics are a draw, at least for me. Cargo space -as if you really cared, in cars like this- is about even. The Camaro definitely sounds better. Another advantage I give the Camaro is that it has a LOT fewer menus and settings to figure out. It has a mere three driving modes (each easy to understand the use of), as opposed to the four or five basic modes in the Mustang, followed by two or three more each for the steering and transmission. The Camaro has livelier acceleration. On paper it seems like the better car, but in real life it’s more subjective. The Mustang still FEELS better overall to me, and if I could have it with the Camaro’s engine, I’d seriously consider never taking it back to the airport.
If you have a chance to try a Camaro, go for it. This is a car that has come a very long way in fifty years, and its hiatus from 2002 to 2010 was worth the wait for what came after. I definitely recommend it.