In the world of four-cylinder diesels, of which Northern Ireland roads are overrun with, some American V8 muscle is definitely king. Its a curiosity and a head turner. Small boys stop on their bikes and give you the thumbs up and old people bump into each other at the thunderous v8 firing past. And the driver, that would be me, grins until it hurts.
I was tasked with best man duties for a good friend, who unsurprisingly, loves cars. He has a soft spot for American muscle, so what sort of best man would I be, if I didn’t lean on my motoring contacts to bring something interesting to his big day. A few calls later and I had got hold of this fine machine. A 2011 Chevy Camaro SS. The car actually belongs to another good friend who had recently returned from living in California and had the wherewithall to bring his ‘daily driver’ back home.
The Camaro has ultimate road presence. When I first laid eyes on it, I couldn’t get over the dramatic flared arches and the sheer width. In contrast to it’s bulging sides, the front bumper is mostly a black void with mesh and lights, ready to consume all in its path. The back end is tame in comparison, with understated optional tinted rear light clusters. The black coachwork is tastefully complimented by the inferno orange stripes on the bonnet and boot, as part of the factory options on this SS special edition.
The wheelbase is white line to white line in our comparatively small, european parking bays. The midnight silver 20″ alloys are shod with Hankook rubber, with a generous 45 profile on 285 section rear tyres. This is what I would call stance. In fact it goes to show the incredible size of the Camaro. Those 20s look fairly mild and you wonder if even larger rims would suit it’s voluminous wheel arches.
Naturally it’s left hand drive, and after relocating my jaw my next port of call was jumping in the wrong side to fire up the monster beneath. Like a gunshot conjures the image of birds fleeing from trees and horses bolting, on ignition the whole forecourt resonated with a deep cacophony of v8 thunder that would embarrass a VXR8. Oh, and it’s a 6-speed manual, so props to the owner for that sensible, un-American choice.
Inside is a different story entirely. First of all this is a 2+2. Believe it or not, rear dimensions are similar to that of an Audi TT. Its a tight squeeze. The driving position is relatively high and visibility is surprisingly narrow due to the angle of the glass. The price of that dramatic pillar line.
The two tone red and black leather reeks of quality, giving great comfort and support and emblazoned with the SS logo. The equipment is cutting edge, invluding a fighter jet-inspired heads-up display. Nestled in the centre console are a cluster of gauges showing gearbox oil temperature, oil pressure, and engine oil temperature. However, as they are hidden under the climate controls, you can’t see these when driving.
By contrast to this opulence, the dashboard and door cards are of base quality and at total odds to the rest of the package. This is probably the biggest compromise in the car and an area that was listed under the ‘cost savings’ tab of some spreadsheet over at Chevrolet. It’s a stereotype of USDM cars for sure, thankfully as there is so much else to love you can literally look past that cheapy dash.
I’m left with some parting instructions: “I’ve never seen it driven by someone else…. give it plenty”.
And so I familiarise myself with the controls. Shifting gears right handed, I pull out and gun it. My phone bleeps. It’s the owner. “Awesome.”
The 6.2L V8 pulls from idle with surge of torque. It’s that chunk of performance the likes of the E92 BMW M3 (the vee eight) is missing, and makes the Camaro immensely satisfying to launch and also very effectively hide its near 1.8 ton mass. Immediately I notice the lightness of the controls. This was unexpected, with greatly assisted steering at low speed and a light clutch. The gearbox surprised too. I was expecting to phone in the gearchange, but it was precise and well weighted. Not the snick of a Honda or Impreza box, but not the lazy throw of an elder M3 either. [I was informed after tesing this car in fact had a Hurst Short Shift kit fitted – well worth it].
Progress then is a gift and speed climbs effortlessly with a thumping soundtrack. The restrictive California-spec exhaust was ditched for a bespoke stainless system (not many Camaro SS systems on the shelf here) and so there are pops and bangs a-plenty. Gearing is long, and if you stretch out to the 6,200 rpm limit you will see 45mph in first, and second will take you past the national speed limit. With 425bhp and 420lb/ft torque on tap I have no doubt that this car is every bit capable of the 180mph indicated.
I take it easy though. Catch up behind some traffic, and the daunting bulk of the Camaro and my proximity to the verge of a County Antrim B-road makes overtaking a perilous prospect. The HUD is great at being non-intrusive, although it seems to be rendered by minecraft with it’s pixelated appearance. I also am unable to listen to the dulcet tones of Pete Snodden on Cool FM. The US spec radio skips the even frequencies so Q-Radio on 96.7 immediately precedes Radio 1 on 99.7. Sounds are pleasant though as the door woofers are Boston Acoustics items.
There are all sorts of home comforts pointing to the fact that this is a GT car: cruise, bluetooth, heated leather, steering wheel controls. It’s a nice place to be on a long journey, and the valve controlled exhaust is quiet in the cabin when you are light with your foot. The suspension is very compliant with some of our worst B-roads with that large tyre profile no doubt playing it’s part. An indicated 18.5mpg shows on the binnacle computer, which is 22.5mpg in our money. Considering the performance on offer and from such capacity I think that’s pretty impressive.
Push on, and some interesting chassis characteristics come to the fore. Off the line, the factory fit LSD locks nicely to extract every last morsel of traction from the road, and when it breaks the steering naturally centres on the direction of travel, responding quickly to any driver inputs with ease. In other words, it inspires confidence to have fun and that’s key to any decent front engined, rear drive no matter what size or weight. Plus a big-ass V8 roaring slide is just, well…hilarious! The rev limiter does arrive with a bang, and you soon realise that this car’s mid-range is the sweet spot.
The light steering coupled with the compliant suspension and large sidewalls does allow for some pitch and lean, but this is not a leaf-sprung boat here either. It can cover ground at serious pace and deliver enough feedback to make it a very enjoyable experience. There is no stereotypical yank tank handling here.
When I finally arrive to collect the male side of the wedding party, the car is the centre of attention (apologies in advance to the groom). They heard me coming; they saw me coming and they surely knew when we were leaving. It was the big event, before the big event.
The Camaro SS is a very special car to have here in Northern Ireland. Rare, fun, brash and bold, as a package it really is a pleasure. Not as a daily, but as a guilty pleasure it’s top of the tree. I think I’ll talk about it for years to come.