On the down side, it's virtually impossible from some angles to tell the SS apart from the V-6 model. If the base car is wearing the optional wheels and rear spoiler, you'll be even more easily confused. Except for the SS badge in the grille and on the rear fascia, they look nearly identical. Two differences are the SS has three horizontal slats running the width of the opening in the lower front fasica, while the V-6 only has one, and the SS has an air duct fore of the hood. Were we running Chevrolet, we'd have affixed SS badges on the sides of the front fenders a'la '70.
We were able to sample both the V-6/six-speed automatic and V-8/six-speed manual versions on our test drive. Both exceeded our expectations. First, the SS (yes, all V-8 Camaros are called SS). Despite its two-ton curb weight with driver, the thing is a missile. The new Tremec 6060 gearbox shifts like butter and the 3.45 gears get you off the line in a hurry. We think it's an easy 12-second hot rod with the stick and probably can go high 12s with the auto.
Anyone who has followed the development of the car knows it is the first F-car to be equipped with an independent rear suspension. It is what Chevy calls a 4.5 link setup and uses coilover shocks with progressive rate springs and a unique, L-shaped upper control arm that attaches to the knuckle at one end and incorporates a ride bushing in the rear. We can say we experienced no axle windup (hop) during our burnouts and it did put the power down nicely. When we asked what would happen if you mounted a set of drag tires back there and did a 6,000-rpm clutch drop, things got a little quiet in the room. Ah, yes, another potential aftermarket opportunity.
The seats are the best ever offered in an F-body, both for comfort and control (this goes for the base car's seats as well. Even after a day of driving, we were ready to go another eight hours. The bolstering is in all the right places and in athletic maneuvers they do an excellent job of keeping you planted. The variable-rate rack-and-pinion steering is a little light for our tastes, but amazingly accurate. It communicates every nuance to the driver. Bend the SS into a corner and it just takes a set and goes. We were not able to get the SS on a road course and, thus, are not equipped to comment on its behavior at the limit, but on the winding roads of rural Michigan, it was rock solid and confidence inspiring--not to mention surprisingly neutral.
Two interior complaints: The pedal placement is not conducive to heel-and-toe downshifting and the steering wheel would have been better left in a concept car. It's too big and fat in all the wrong places--like at the proper 9-and-3 hand positions. You have to move your hands to 10-and-2 just to hold it without getting hand cramps. These are two errors for a "21st century sports car," as GM calls it. Of course, so is having a ponycar that weighs over 3,800 pounds.
Because these were pre-production cars, none had the complete RS upgrade treatment, specifically its body-colored dash and door appliques. We've showed you pictures of this in the past at www.superchevy.com and it looks interesting. We will say the console lid covering is much nicer in the RS model (the base version feels a little rubbery).
The gauges vary slightly from V-6 to V-8, with the numerals and letters getting different fonts, and the V-8 cluster using a 180 mph speedometer instead of 160. The console mounted gauges are a love it or hate it affair.
As for the V-6, no more will owners of non-V-8 Camaros be stigmatized. This is a world-class engine, a silky smooth, state-of-the-art mill that offers the power of a small V-8 with the fuel economy of a frugal six (29 mpg EPA highway). Chevy is predicting 0-60 sprints in 6.1 seconds and we'd be surprised if we couldn't better that. When you put the spurs to it, the six-speed automatic delivers crisp downshifts and holds the gear right to redline. Mid-14s in the quarter should be achievable.