Blog: Chevrolet Camaro RS, Better With Time?

By Chris Martens

August 04, 2010

When I wrote down first impressions of Chevrolet’s V-6-powered Camaro RS about a year ago, my comments had a somewhat negative slant. True, the car was fresh looking and evocative as could be, but it also had a lot of rough edges and basic design-related flaws. Among these were the car’s inherent weight, numb steering, an often maddening automatic transmission, and visibility that left a lot to be desired, not to mention somewhat shaky build quality. But over the past year it seems to me that GM has sorted out its manufacturing processes for the Camaro and (perhaps) implemented some subtle tuning changes that have changed the RS for the better, I’m starting to see the car in much more positive light.

For starters, let’s begin where buyers’ will—with the Camaro’s styling. Even after a year or so on the market, the Camaro still looks fresh and inviting, perfectly channeling the essence of everything that made Chevy’s 1969 Camaro both an instant and an enduring hit. Then and now, the swoop of the roofline and the arc of the wide-set rear fenders manage to look right, accurately reflecting the car’s ability to fit monstrously sized rims and tires without appearing “overstuffed.” Mustangs (and I say this as a former owner of a classic Mustang) have a different and more angular appeal, but they never quite seem to nail down the roguish, swaggering, and yes, voluptuous look that the Camaro so easily achieves. Say what you will about the Camaro appearing cartoonish, but the fact is that Chevy may very well have figured out how to dial in just the right amount of visual excess—giving their car a certain evergreen quality in the process. All I know is that our bright yellow tester drew far more than its share of appreciative glances.

Then, there are matters of build quality and core, day-to-day performance. Where our first sample of the RS exhibited occasional rattles and shakes, the current sample seems far more buttoned-down, achieving a significantly quieter and more solid feel than the earlier sample. Off-the-line acceleration seemed better, too, showing more of the performance potential promised by the V-6’s just-over-300-horsepower specification. Grip, as always, proved plentiful, though tempered by considerable understeer, while the car’s independent rear suspension kept things feeling planted during spirited corner—even when pavement surfaces became sketchy. As a result, our RS felt noticeably more fun to drive and more complete than the earlier sample had. While it will never have the rumbling or lunging capabilities of the V-8-powered SS models, the RS now feels like a different but no less viable alternative (especially for those who want to have fun on a budget).

As you would expect, core design flaws do remain. Yes, the back seat is painfully tiny. Yes, the instrument panel and center console gauge cluster are over-styled to their functional detriment. Yes, the automatic transmission’s shift lever fails to provide manu-matic controls, so that you’re left to use Chevy’s weirdly placed, back-side-of-the steering wheel upshift/downshift buttons. These, in turn, too often cause a panel-mounted readout to display the dreaded “shift denied” message (one that made me so frustrated that I began to fantasize about giving the designer/programmer of the system a small electroshock every single time that blasted message came up onscreen). Yes, the steering wheel seems too large and feels too numb, offering so little centering force that, if you steer the car a few degrees off center and let go of the wheel, the car will often keep right on turning without ever centering itself. And yes, visibility is limited to the front and sides, and abysmal to the rear.

But while these flaws are real and should probably be addressed somewhere on down the line, they don’t change two central facts; the Camaro is just plain fun to drive and also emotionally satisfying to admire in the driveway. In a sense, one could argue that this car functions something like the automotive equivalent of the fountain of youth, encouraging drivers of all ages to tap into their inner teenager. Better still, the V-6 model lets you balance your fun with admirably restrained fuel consumption, so that you can enjoy feeling like a teenager and a semi-mature, responsible adult, all at the same time.