Review: 2011 Chevrolet Camaro SS
By Charles Krome
I guess I must have been a better person this year than I thought, because Chevy Claus stopped by just before Christmas to loan me a 2011 Chevrolet Camaro SS, along with a full tank of gas, for a week of holiday hot-rodding.
As most people know, the SS is currently at the top of the Camaro range, and I suppose “mine” was at the top of the top: It packed the LS3 V8, mated to a Tremec six-speed manual, which meant I had 426 hp and 420 lb.-ft. of torque on tap; you get a mere 400 of the former and 410 of the latter with the L99/six-speed auto combination.
Needless to say, the acceleration was excellent, with the car pulling strongly right up to speeds I don’t want to mention here, just in case anyone from Chevy—or local law enforcement—might be reading this. But then, superior straight-line performance was what I expected from the Camaro. It was the other aspects of the car that surprised me, and mostly in a good way.
One thing that particularly stood out was how well the car—shod with Pirelli Scorpion winter tires—handled in our snow- and ice-covered subdivision. Provided I used my common sense more than I used my right foot, there was only the very occasional and short-lived loss of traction, and at no time did I feel less than confident in the car’s ability to stay on the road. As a counterpoint to this, however, the Camaro felt notably heavy in hard corners out on the road, likely a reflection of its near 4,000-lb. curb weight. Again, it’s not like the car didn’t feel stuck to the road or wasn’t responsive to steering input, it’s just that I knew I wasn’t driving a Lotus.
Which is perfectly fine. The Camaro is a much more livable package than a Lotus would be, and the cockpit is particularly welcoming. The front chairs are comfortably firm, with enough side support to keep your seat in the seat but not so much that you feel wedged in. The comfort/convenience controls are easy to reach and use, and most are located in the kind of scaled-down center stack I prefer to see in a driver-oriented car. One minor esthetic problem with this: There’s an awfully big swathe of uninterrupted black plastic over on the passenger side of the interior. I also have to pick a nit over the Camaro’s visibility. I’m not the tallest guy in the world, so it was no problem finding a good position for the seat, but even when I reclined the seat-back beyond my comfort zone, I still had trouble seeing traffic lights when I was first in line at an intersection.
Looking out the rear provided challenges as well, but these were mitigated somewhat by a reverse-warning system that can alert drivers to unseen obstacles behind the car. That’s a nice bit of gadgetry, but another thing I enjoyed about the Camaro was actually its relatively stripped-down approach to technology. When I get in a ride like this, I want to drive—not fuss with a complicated nav system or goof around with an in-vehicle connectivity setup. Of course, that being said, I do have to admit I enjoyed the Camaro’s seat warmers when the outside temperature was lurking in the low teens.
But frankly, the biggest surprise with driving the Camaro was how much attention it got from everyone else—this is not a car for introverts. I received calls from the neighbors, the UPS guy chatted me up during a delivery and said he had seen me driving it earlier in the day, my kids wished winter break already was over so I could drive them to school and when I was outside taking pics, random passers-by screamed out their love for the car.
The sheet metal on the Camaro is just that eye-popping. Today’s Mustangs might offer comparable performance under the skin, but the Chevy’s design language makes a much bolder statement. Some people may say the Camaro’s look is too far over the top, but at the risk of sounding like a fanboy here, I’d say it’s over the top in exactly the same sense that the design of the Lamborghini Gallardo is over the top.
You could even make a nice case for the Camaro as a value proposition. Outside of its cross-town rivals, the Mustang and Dodge Challenger, finding another 400-hp production coupe that’s priced in the mid-30s—the up-level Camaro SS starts at $34,295—is essentially impossible. Not too many people are likely to cross-shop the Camaro and the BMW 6 Series, but I’ll point out that they’re basically the same size and weight, with the Camaro offering over 50 more horses for over $40,000 less money.
As far as fuel efficiency, well, I’ll just say the Camaro’s EPA line falls right between the numbers for the Mustang GT and the 6 Series and leave it at that.
My verdict: I’ll be adding the Camaro SS to my lotto list, and hoping I win my millions just after the General figures out how to run the car on universe juice.