It was a picture perfect day in Maui, the kind you always dream of when you’re stuck doing something uninteresting back home. Compared to the dreary mid-winter weather we’d left behind a couple of weeks prior, the sun was shining so brightly that we almost questioned its authenticity as the warm morning air blew through the open window of the bus we were on, caressing our faces and causing the Hawaiian shirt of our driver to flutter in the wind. We had already been camping around Maui for a week in an old Volkswagen camper, but that morning we’d given the keys back and were en route to the Hertz counter to collect something a little more location appropriate. Like seemingly every other tourist, we had a shiny V6 Mustang Convertible waiting for us at the end of our ride.
As we walked through Hertz’s impressive lineup of vehicles, I couldn’t help but notice several V6 Camaro convertibles spread about the rows of new Mustang’s. Given we’d already had a Mustang for a week on Oahu, I grandly requested of our rental consultant that we have a Camaro instead. ‘That’s your red one over there’ he smiled and said as he handed over the keys to a 426hp 6.0 V8 Camaro SS Convertible.
Given I’m under 25 and technically not allowed to rent a V8 for another year (we had tried on Oahu), I wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible before his supervisor noticed the mistake. I enlisted my girlfriend Chantelle’s help to cram our over-stuffed bags in wherever they fit and we fired up the big V8 and headed for the gate, Chantelle slightly bemused as to what the rush was. A short prod of the accelerator answered her questions, and she looked at me with a knowing smile. We stopped a little way down the road to lower the top, and as we took off along the Maui coast road, the CD player serendipitously swapped to Ball Park Music’s It’s Nice To Be Alive.
Possibly the single best thing about the Camaro is its concept car styling, a product of GM Holden’s Melbourne design studio, which is bang up-to-date yet simultaneously retro and makes almost everything else on the road look outdated. Its edgy headlights lead into a high beltline, which does a brilliant job of masking its enormous size. At over 6ft tall I still sunk into the cockpit, so much so that the top of the frameless door sat at about my shoulder height.
Like its techno styling, the chassis and suspension also do a brilliant job of masking the fact that at over 1,800kg the Camaro is simply a big, heavy car. The chassis it shares with the VE Commodore hides the mass well on twisty roads, but just like the frumpy girl who only posts headshots of herself, there’s no masking the inertia when you really get stuck into it. It’s not necessarily bad, it’s just no Elise and it elicits a special aim, brake and squirt driving style reminiscent of many modern muscle cars. A little over-exuberance on the right pedal will see the tail gracefully break out into a smooth, controllable slide before the stability control kindly steps in to stop the party. Agile it isn’t, but it still brings a smile to your face nonetheless.
The big six litre V8 provides bucket loads of torque to help you in almost any situation, but to be honest I expected a little more forward thrust given its size and rated power. Maybe the car’s mass slows it down, or maybe the rental versions are sneakily detuned, but either way I felt it should have had more to give. The SS is fitted with fuel saving cylinder deactivation technology, which stops firing 4 of the 8 cylinders when the engine is under light load. It sounds oddly unique when cruising on 4 cylinders, and the slight hissing noise that accompanies the kick back into V8 power is loud enough to turn heads on the sidewalk. Setting the transmission to sport mode will give you the full eight cylinders at light throttle openings, but I didn’t really notice any significant fuel savings by using cylinder deactivation in normal mode. Consumption was still alarming, so you might as well use sport mode and enjoy the V8’s torquey response.
The muted L99 LS3 V8 provided a great soundtrack to the twisting tropical roads, especially under hard acceleration and deceleration from higher rpm’s, when you can just hear it crackling and popping if you listen carefully. However this is definitely a car crying out for a louder exhaust and a free flowing induction as it felt positively strangled at higher rpm. The ratios in the six speed semi-automatic transmission make perfect use of the torque, easily letting the Camaro cruise in 6th gear around town. The SS comes with shift buttons on the back of the steering wheel which are ideal for twisting roads, and the computer controlled heel-toe blip on downshifts is addictive, especially when down changing from above 4000rpm.
The Camaro is the first car I’ve driven with a head-up display, technology straight out of fighter jets that projects a small digital display onto the road ahead of you. It’s brilliant around town as it allows you to monitor your speed without taking your eyes off the road and in manual mode the gear indicator is useful, but on twisty roads it was often distracting and sometimes downright dangerous, especially over crests when the display neatly obscured the bit of road you’re aiming for. I think the technology is good but it needs some refinement for sports driving; all the useless information could go and be replaced with a simple gear indicator and a big shift light.
The cockpit turns into a sci-fi wonderland at night, with red and blue illumination throughout the cabin. Retro references to the legendary Camaro’s of the 60’s are everywhere, from the curved plastic door/dash panel, the thick needled tacho and the brilliant angled gauges in the lower consol. The local Hawaiian radio stations, which seem only to play either reggae or American pop-rap, make good use of the Bose stereo’s subwoofer, nicely setting the mood for late night cruising. Slicing the ridge roads with Tupac’s California Love blasting in the Camaro just feels so right, even despite my obvious whiteness.
And I think that really sums it up. The nerd in me wants the Camaro to be lighter, wants it to have more power and use less fuel. But the nerd in me is kind of missing the point, because this car isn’t built for nerds. It’s built for real people who just like to enjoy living. I was initially confused by this car, and it took a little while to ‘click’ with me. But one evening at about 10pm we were driving home from dinner, top down with the warm night time air caressing our faces. We could hear the ocean crashing in the distance matched against the roar of the V8 as I blipped it down into second gear, the sound reverberating against the rock wall to our right. It was exactly then that the Camaro made total sense to me. It doesn’t particularly excel at most tests we usually measure sports cars against, but it excelled at the one thing that matters most. It’s all about how a car makes you feel, and right now sitting in rainy Adelaide, I’d give just about anything to be behind the wheel of that Camaro again.