Cigar Aficionado

You don’t see many American cars cruising the San Diego strand, but when I rolled up in a new Chevrolet Camaro SS the reborn muscle car drew more stares than the tanned California girls sunning on the sand—and for good reason. While the General Motors designers have stayed true to the pony car’s heritage, they’ve avoided the overwhelmingly retro approach taken by some of Camaro’s competitors.

It almost didn’t turn out that way; the new sports coupe nearly didn’t make it to market. GM had wisely pulled the plug on an earlier effort and ordered a top-secret shoot-out between its top designers in hopes of coming up with something better. It worked, with the Camaro concept vehicle turning into the big hit at the 2006 North American International Auto Show. The pony car is back in Detroit in January 2010, this time in production trim.

What’s particularly impressive is that, at a time when the headline writers would have you believe that fuel economy is all that matters, Chevy can’t keep up with demand for the 2010 muscle car. But there’s a Camaro for everyone, including a “base” 3.6-liter Direct Injection V-6 model that gets an unexpected 30 miles per gallon on the highway, even while turning out a solid 305 horsepower.

Serious performance fans will turn to the V-8-powered Camaro SS. Its fast-beating heart is a 6.2-liter rocket that makes a whopping 426 horsepower and a screaming 420 pound-feet of torque, catapulting you from 0 to 60 in just 4.7 seconds. The V-8’s six-speed transmission comes in manual or automatic. The latter package adds something called cylinder deactivation. When power demand is low, fuel flow is cut to half the cylinders, so despite those impressive numbers, you’ll get a thrifty 25 mpg on the highway.

Memory has a way of giving everything a rosy glow and it’s easy to forget just how much of a handful the ’69 Camaro—to which the new model pays tribute—was to drive. It was great at straight-line acceleration, but not much else, especially scrubbing off all that speed. The 2010 sport and V-8 packages get not only 20-inch wheels and tires (otherwise, you can opt for 18s or 19s), but big Brembo four-piston brakes. That’s a major plus, as is GM’s StabiliTrak stability control system, standard on all models.

On the SS, you also get Competition Mode, which shuts down the various brake-based systems for maximum track performance, and Launch Control, which is designed to get maximum torque to ground when you’re ready to blow off the kid driving a Mustang GT in the next lane.

The 2010’s cabin has a lot going for it, as well. The seats are snug yet comfortable enough for long trips and it’s packed with high-tech goodies, including satellite radio, Bluetooth and OnStar.

If you want to nitpick, the instrument panel sits high enough to reduce forward visibility a bit.

For right now, Chevy has put a hold on an even higher performance model, but after a brief delay, the Camaro convertible is back on track and ready to make an appearance about a year from now.

It’s great to see that even in an era when mileage matters, performance doesn’t have to disappear. No wonder the new Camaro is in such short supply.