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2010 Chevrolet Camaro not just a throwback

Hope you're not tired of retro-styled cars just yet because one of the best just arrived in showrooms.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Hope you're not tired of retro-styled cars just yet because one of the best just arrived in showrooms.

The 2010 Chevrolet Camaro is a visual rendition of the 1969 Camaro but with a sinister flair provided by bulging fenders and large wheels. A windshield and side windows give passengers the feel of being behind gun slits in a military vehicle.

The new Camaro is substantial, too. The base car, with V-6 and manual transmission, weighs nearly 3,800 pounds, which is akin to a Chevy Colorado Crew Cab pickup truck.

At 75.5 inches wide, the Camaro is wider than many sport utility vehicles. And with 304 horsepower in the base model, it offers much more power than base versions of the Ford Mustang and Dodge Challenger.

Unfortunately, though, the new Camaro received only four out of five stars for driver and front passenger protection in federal government frontal crash testing and only four stars for driver protection in side crash testing.

Major competitors — the Ford Mustang and Dodge Challenger — received five stars across the board.

In addition, starting prices for the Camaro — $23,040 starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, for a base model with 304-horsepower V-6 and manual transmission and $31,040 for one with 426-horsepower V-8 and manual — are higher than those of the major competition.

Specifically, the 2010 Ford Mustang coupe with 210-horsepower V-6 and manual transmission has a starting retail price of $21,845. The 2010 Mustang GT with 315-horsepower V-8 and manual starts at $28,845.

The Dodge Challenger, another American muscle car that returned in retro form to the market in recent years, has a starting retail price of $22,945 with 250-horsepower V-6 and $30,945 with 372-horsepower V-8. It comes with only an automatic transmission.

The new Camaro, which started production in March with 14,000 orders on file, is built on a modified rear-wheel drive platform borrowed from the Australian affiliate of Chevy's parent company General Motors Corp.

But it's clear in driving and riding in it that detailed work was done to the suspension. Struts with coil springs handle things up front. In the rear, a well-designed, independent, 4.5-link configuration works great to even out road bumps and maintain control during spirited driving.

In city traffic, the ride can feel compliant without being soft and mushy. In twisty mountain roads, the car can feel taut and well-managed without being hard on passengers.

Brakes in the test Camaro, the mid-level LT, worked well, too. I just wish the steering felt more precise.

Engines and transmissions are engineered for fuel economy and strong power.

The 3.6-liter, double overhead cam V-6 with direct injection and variable valve timing that's in the base LS model as well as LT has enough "oomph" to move the sizable Camaro forward easily. Torque peaks at 273 foot-pounds at 5,200 rpm, which is more than what's in the V-6s of the Mustang and Challenger.

In the tester, an optional Hydra-Matic 6L50 six-speed automatic transmission delivered the power smoothly, and the car always felt responsive.

Six speeds, rather than four or five, help get the most out of every gallon of gasoline, and the test car was rated the highest for any Camaro at 18 miles per gallon in city driving and 29 mpg on the highway.

This compares with the top Mustang rating of 18/26 mpg and 17/25 mpg for the top-mileage Challenger. Plus, regular gasoline is OK in the Camaro.

Fuel mileage drops when the Corvette-derived 6.2-liter, overhead valve V-8 is under the hood in the Camaro SS. This powerplant, which can be had with manual or automatic transmission, ratchets up the sporty factor with as much as 420 foot-pounds of torque at 4,600 rpm.

The fuel mileage rating from the federal government declines to 16 mpg in city driving and 24 or 25 mpg on the highway, depending on the transmission.

Both engines sound wonderful, with just the right exhaust notes.

The Camaro interior includes cues from 1960s Camaros — notably deep-set gauges with thick needles and old-style lettering and numbering. I'd forgotten how difficult it can be to pinpoint exact speed with this kind of speedometer, which has tightly spaced hash marks.

A long glance is needed, too, for auxiliary gauges because they're at the bottom of the center stack on the dashboard.

The combination of roofline that hugs the windows and high body side sills made me fill constrained inside. Front headroom of 37.4 inches is less than the front-seat headroom of the Mustang and Challenger.

Behind the steering wheel, I never saw the leading end of the hood. But more distressing was the fact that when I sat in the front passenger seat, I had no height adjustment, so I could look at the front of the dashboard and a bit at the hood. I wound up with a backache while riding there and straining to sit up taller to see out.

The interior also comes with a lot of hard plastic.

Getting in and out of the two back seats of this 4.5-foot-tall car is challenging for adults, and the test car didn't allow front seats to automatically slide forward. Once in the rear seats, I felt confined with just small triangle-shaped side windows to look out of and headroom of 35.3 inches.

There's 11.3 cubic feet of cargo room in the trunk. But items must be lifted over the rear body and fit through a rather small, rectangular trunk opening.

Production of a Camaro convertible is planned for 2011.