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It’s now on sale officially in the UK, so would you want to buy one?

So why subject a Chevrolet Camaro to a full road test, and why now? After all, we first drove this iconic American muscle car in the UK two years ago, almost to the week, and in similar mechanical specification. 

Then, however, it was available only as a grey import, whereas now the Camaro is officially offered for sale directly through Chevrolet’s resurgent dealer network. Priced at £35,025, it looks conspicuously good value, too. 

The Camaro is likely to be bought for its nostalgic aura

Unlike other modern Chevrolets, there is nothing ‘designed for Europe’ about the Camaro. It is a brawny muscle car in the truest sense: a two-door coupé in left-hand drive only and equipped with a 6.2-litre V8 engine.

We’re not road testing this car in the belief that it’s going to sell in large numbers in the UK. Ultimately, it is the mechanical spec that gives us the most compelling reasons to assess it. That engine, a six-speed manual gearbox, rear-wheel drive and a limited-slip differential sound like an absolute giggle, giving all the reasons we, or you, should need to lavish attention on it. We’re testing it in its standard guise, apart from optional 45th anniversary badging.

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DESIGN & STYLING

Chevrolet Camaro bonnet hump

Chevrolet parent General Motors isn’t shy in pointing out the Camaro’s current domestic market sales lead over the car’s long-time rival, the Ford Mustang. Last year, the Camaro outsold the Ford Mustang by some 18,000 units, making it North America’s most popular sports car. This success was no doubt aided by the Camaro's wealth of engine and body options, which includes a cabriolet also set for Britain.

The General is slightly less quick to admit that its Yankee Doodle good-time girl isn’t actually built in the US any more – particularly when every Ford Mustang comes emblazoned with stickers about being ‘made with pride in the USA’. GM’s factory in Oshawa, Canada, is now home to Chevrolet’s pony car, which turns 
45 years old this year.

The Camaro is 100 per cent American muscle

However, in every other discernible way, the Camaro is 100 percent American muscle. That includes the most important respect: it’s powered by the descendant of the most famous V8 engine that the world has ever known – the ‘Chevy small block’. Go for an automatic transmission and your Camaro will come with a 400bhp ‘L99’ V8; with a six-speed manual, like our test car, you get an ‘LS3’ V8 with a slightly higher compression ratio, ‘big bore’ over-square cylinders and a headline 426bhp. Mounted longways in the nose, that engine drives the rear wheels via a standard limited-slip differential.

Modern muscle car design has developed a long way beyond live rear axles and leaf springs, mind. The all-steel unitary body of this fifth-generation Camaro is suspended independently at both ends by differing multi-link arrangements. And as part of the 2012 model-year revision, the SS version of the car, on which the UK-spec Camaro is based, has a more focused chassis tune, with progressive-rate springs, tighter damping and stiffer anti-roll bars than before. It also gets rack and pinion steering with variable hydraulic assistance levels.

It’ll need every scrap of extra body control to deal with the challenge of British roads, though. Full of fuel, the Camaro weighed 1775kg on our scales – a full quarter of a tonne more than most of its European rivals. And it’s as big as it is heavy. At more than 4.8m long, it’s almost 600mm longer than a Nissan 370Z and more than 70mm wider. Can any sports car come back from that kind of start?

INTERIOR

Chevrolet Camaro interior

A few things generally prevent us from recommending a car of American origin, and chief among them is usually the interior plastics. So it’s a relief that Chevrolet has taken a leaf out of the latest Ford Mustang’s book and given the Camaro an interior that’s capable of holding the exterior’s promise

It has a perceived quality of which to be if not proud then at least not ashamed. You can still find nasty plastics if you look hard, and some mediocre ones even if you don’t, but the design and layout are interesting enough to hold your attention. Attempts to meld some classic Camaro cues with a modern theme are moderately successful, and we’ll happily take the odd ergonomic idiosyncrasy, such as the confusing heater controls, if it means a cabin that’s as appealingly designed as this.

You can still find nasty plastics if you look hard

Aside from the steering wheel being on the inconvenient side for overtaking and ride quality, the driving environment is fine. The steering wheel and seat adjust for all but the most unusually sized drivers. 

There’s sufficient rear cabin space for kids or even small adults, provided those in the front aren’t particularly tall. The boot, meanwhile, is capacious for the class and its 1200mm minimum width is the equal of the maximum for most cars of this type.

In the cabriolet, the canvas roof does a great job of insulating passengers from road and wind noise. When the sun is out, the roof can be lowered in 20 seconds, but does require a lock handle to be adjusted manually in both directions.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

6.2-litre V8 Chevrolet Camaro engine

Fourth gear tells you most of what you need to know about the Camaro’s performance. At MIRA proving ground, the Chevrolet was happy to be slotted into fourth gear at 20mph; so flexible is it that you can accelerate with foot buried in carpet. Just 33.7sec later, it passed 140mph. 

By comparison, the Nissan 370Z – the closest thing to a brawny coupé that Europe or the Far East has to offer at the Camaro’s price – won’t take fourth gear until you’re into the 20s and, over a one-mile straight, runs out of puff before it reaches 130mph.

The LS3 motor is a brawny, lusty performer

A long-sling gearshift and no electronic launch trickery meant that the Camaro needed a relatively unremarkable 5.6sec to reach 60mph in our hands, but we’re confident that it could have dipped to or under its claimed 5.2sec had we not been under instruction to be particularly mechanically sympathetic to what is one of the first official Camaros in the UK. Suffice to say that in any gear, at any speed, you’re unlikely to be disappointed by the available poke.

Surprisingly, the cabriolet doesn't suffer too greatly for its increased weight, at least according to Chevrolet's figures. It claims identical 0-62mph times for both coupe and cabriolet.

So the LS3 motor is a brawny, lusty performer, but don’t necessarily assume that a huge amount of noise and drama come with it. Modern emissions and noise regulations mean that the Camaro emits merely a muted burblea Subaru Impreza of a decade ago would out-threaten it at idle. Things improve markedly through the lower mid-range, where the promising woofle you expect becomes present again at up to and around 3000rpm, but you’ll still have to listen harder than you might expect to get the full benefit. Only above 4000rpm and on big throttle openings does the Camaro make full noise. In truth, although we’d sometimes have appreciated more vocality, its natural audio is in keeping with the natural response of this big, honest motor.

Good pedal feel is central to the brakes’ fine performance. A sub-2.7sec 60-0mph time is a fine result, particularly in a car of this size.

RIDE & HANDLING

Chevrolet Camaro 45th Anniversary Edition

If any performance car can get away with giving a bigger nod towards ride than handling, it’s a muscle car such as the Chevrolet Camaro’s. It would be unreasonable to think that a car whose kerb weight is 1775kg and whose width is 1917mm would prove as lithe and nimble as, for example, a Porsche Cayman.

And so it proves. However, on the road, the Camaro does display some admirable qualities, combining a reasonable degree of body control with a ride that is, on the whole, very sound. From that point of view, it makes a fine grand tourer, a bit like a rawer, more involving and less sophisticated Jaguar XK

For all its comfort, this is a car that steers with conviction

Nonetheless, for all of its comfort, this is a car that steers with conviction, turns willingly and displays a good degree of cornering capability. And although you wouldn’t necessarily choose a Camaro for a track day, if you did find yourself on one, you might be taken aback by just how capable it is.

There’s some roll, obviously, but the Camaro settles quickly and, from that point onwards, displays an impressive degree of cornering prowess. It’s able to soak up bumps and, while not immune to them, ably communicates how its body is being shifted around. 

On the whole, it eventually understeers gently before being open to the idea of having its line tightened with the throttle. In the wet, it is as sideways and adjustable as you’d hope and expect. In the dry, though, it surprises with its keenness and tenacity. It’s possible to send it into a big slide, but it takes more provocation than you would expect of a 426bhp V8 car.

Chevrolet has gone to great lengths to ensure the Camaro cabriolet can match the dynamism of the coupe. Whilst various braces and supports have added to the weight, they have also created a very stiff structure that only offers the merest hint of scuttle shake on the roughest roads.

Ultimately, as with the performance, the Camaro displays a good-natured, big-hearted character that makes it a charming thing to rub along with.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Chevrolet Camaro muscle car

Undeniably, there are several reasons why buying a Chevrolet Camaro would seem to make little practical or economic sense. Even if we ignore, for a moment, that the steering wheel is on the wrong side of the car, the 6.2-litre V8 engine – considered big now even in the Stateside lineup – is about as well suited to life in the UK as a grizzly bear. That it struggles to serve up 20mpg should not be a surprise (even if this does limit the car in a way that it does not in America) but its veritable soot-stained 329g/km CO2 adds £1030 to the Camaro’s asking price 
in first-year VED, and then a whopping road tax liability of £475 per year on top of that.

However, for potential fans of the American Way, there are some palliative points to make. Although the Camaro is not cheap to run, it is also not prohibitively expensive to buy. In fact, at £35k, there is no more affordable way to seat yourself at the wheel of a 400bhp-plus V8. It is also a modest price to pay for exclusivity – Chevrolet will not sell many Camaros (the car is available to buy from only six dealerships nationwide) and the company will not go to the trouble of importing many. The same cannot be said of a Nissan 370Z or even a Cayman.

Its 329g/km CO2 emissions add £1030 to the Camaro's asking price

Even carrying a £5k price premium, the Camaro cabriolet looks good value at a whisker over £40,000. Though perhaps not direct rivals, it should be noted that Mercedes asks £57,095 for a four-seat, V8 cabriolet in the form of the E500.

VERDICT

4 star Chevrolet Camaro

We have struggled to imagine the circumstances in which the answer to the question ‘what sports car should I buy?’ would be ‘a Chevrolet Camaro’. But to dismiss it so quickly would be an error. Rephrase the question as ‘do you think I should buy the Chevrolet Camaro I’ve been tempted by?’ and the answer would be a more resounding ‘yes’.

As long as you understand what you’re buying, you’re unlikely to be disappointed by the Camaro. Mediocre fuel economy, the location of the steering wheel on the left-hand side and interior plastics that wouldn’t look out of place in a Korean supermini aside, there is little to be disappointed about. This Chevrolet is honest, straightforward, likeable and surprisingly capable. It’s a muscle car that does a passable impression of being both a rewarding driver’s car and a leggy GT – and we like it very much.

Look beyond the obvious frailties and this car is a charming companion

Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes. 

Chevrolet Camaro 2012-2015 First drives