The Chevrolet Camaro coupe – made right-hand drive (RHD) by HSV in Melbourne with a higher volume ceiling and more accessible entry price than other operations have offered – is here.
Why is it so exciting? For one, it expands the range of options for those who still desire a V8-powered muscle car with American DNA. Given the huge sales success of the Ford Mustang, this demand is very real.
The Michigan-made, 339kW LT1-powered Chevy with bimodal quad exhausts ticks these boxes.
Second, it gives General Motors a brawny offering to fill the giant hole in the landscape left by the death of the Aussie-made VF Commodore and Ute, and their HSV GTS and Maloo derivatives – even though Holden itself had little to do with getting the car here.
Third, the extent to which HSV has invested in putting the steering wheel on the right-hand side in the absence of an official Chevy RHD offering – a new factory, 130 hours per car, 357 bespoke parts – makes it the most ‘Australian’ performance car on sale today.
Fourth, the mainstream arrival of such a quintessentially American, and storied, nameplate into our strong performance car market is clearly a big thing for car enthusiasts of all stripes. Which obviously includes us here at CarAdvice.
Now that we’ve set the groundwork, let’s get to digging. First, positioning.
While the Camaro 2SS is clearly an obvious Mustang GT rival, all that localisation work and amortisation isn’t cheap. As such, the Camaro is a significant $20,000 more than its Ford rival, which comes from the US in RHD already. Thus the Chevy is priced at $85,990 before on-road costs.
Clearly it’s at a disadvantage against the ’Stang, so unless you’re a dyed-in-the-wool Chevy fan, why buy one? Look, we're not going to defend high pricing, but they're not gouging.
The conversion work involves a lot of new parts modelled off engineering information and CAD data provided directly from GM. New bits include the dash support, heater box and HVAC plumbing, steering rack, complete body wiring harness and instrument panel. The seats get reworked, and even the HID headlights get pulled down and modified.
Read more about this process from our factory line tour. It’s well worth your five minutes.
Then consider the scarcity factor. The first shipment of Chevy Camaros totals just 550 units, with similar numbers likely to drop each year. Ford sold more than 9000 Mustangs in 2017 alone… What price for exclusivity? And to play devil’s advocate, what other hardcore V8 performance cars are you getting for this dosh? A BMW M2?
Then again, it's pricier than HSV's dearly departed final-run Maloo super-ute with its 410kW of force-fed muscle...
This black hue here doesn’t show the car’s lines fully, and frankly it's not the highest-quality factory paint job out there. But that muscular bonnet, big haunches, quad pipes and Chevy Bow Tie badge all look the part. Being American, it’s a big car, too. It’s actually about as long as a Nissan X-Trail SUV.
It’s tighter inside than you may think despite this. The sunroof eats into the head room, and the outward visibility is frankly shocking. That C-pillar is massive. The blind-spot monitoring (BLIS) system helps, but we wish the rear camera was a 360-degree one instead.
The driver's seating position is classic low-slung coupe. Not low enough to make getting in and out a chore, but still such that you physically peer at the road ahead from between the two instrument panel humps, and over the long bonnet. Those big vents are never out of eyeshot.
The level of equipment is generally okay, nothing more. Standard fare includes BLIS, rear cross-traffic alert, keyless entry, heated/cooled leather seats with driver memory presets, an 8.0-inch digital instrument cluster, Bose nine-speaker audio, 7.0-inch touchscreen, climate control, 24 interior ambient lighting colours, wireless phone charging, and a sunroof.
There are also seven airbags, though no ANCAP rating. HSV does do its own crash testing, internally, to check that its conversion doesn't mess with the onboard systems and that it meets Australian Design Rules.
The dash layout is clean and the quality quite good. Better than the Mustang's. The downward-facing screen is a little strange, but the layout is pretty elegant in its own way, and the seats are super comfortable. Indeed, at idle, the two things you notice are the lumpy idle of that V8, and the smell of cowhide.
Everything is really easy to operate, proving buttons for basic audio functions and ventilation are a good thing. I love the way you adjust the temperature by simply turning the knurled silver vent surrounds.
The lack of sat-nav grates, though there’s Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, so that sort of makes up for it. There are also a few squeaks coming from the passenger-side door trims, though I presume this press car has probably had a hard time in its very short life so far.
That said, there are a few minor conversion quirks. For instance, HSV understandably hasn’t flipped the console alignment, meaning your elbows rest in the cupholders.
The embossed detent for the Bluetooth microphone doesn’t make its way from left A-pillar to right, so two holes get drilled in instead. The sunroof switch still resides on the other side of the car. All easy details to live with in the grand scheme.
The important ergonomic issues are good. The steering wheel has plenty of reach and rake adjustment, and is appropriately placed. HSV even widens a section of the driver’s footwell to allow space for a footrest, whereas LHD cars would have a narrower space.
There’s also not much storage up front, though you can chuck your stuff on the pokey back seats easily enough, because let’s be honest, you’re rarely carrying four people are you?
What about the engine? The Chevy’s 6.2-litre LT1 naturally aspirated donk has a 1200cc bigger displacement than the Mustang. It matches the Ford’s 339kW peak power output (that’s 455hp) and makes more torque, a potent 617Nm.
It’s channeled to the rear axle by an eight-speed automatic gearbox with a paddle manual mode. HSV isn’t offering the US-market six-speed manual… Yet. The 0–100km/h dash is dispatched in a few tenths more than four seconds.
It’s one quick mother, provided you’re not too busy trying to hang the arse out and leave a rubber trail behind you, and provided you're loading up before take-off lest you get bogged down in the initial torque hole. That's why we'd love the self-shifter.
There’s nothing like a V8’s rumble and lumpy idle that shakes the whole car. This is a cracker of a drivetrain; it sounds properly ferocious in Sports mode under heavy throttle thanks to its bimodal exhaust, and happily revs out to its 6500rpm redline. Indeed, it’s at its best under a heavy right foot, because peak torque arrives at 4400rpm.
It’s also a kitten around town. This gearbox is really smooth, for one. Indeed, while it could use a little more snappiness initially, it's a lovely enabler for daily driving. It also has cylinder deactivation, as displayed on the instruments, meaning you can cruise on highways at 1500rpm with four cylinders asleep.
I drove 150 clicks from Melbourne to Bendigo at 110km/h and averaged a ridiculously good 8L/100km. Even pushing harder, I rarely got above the low teens. Overall, my 650km loop with every type of driving style yielded 11.7L/100km. That's absurdly good.
The chunky wheel is nice in the hand, and the digital instruments here can be adjusted to show all manner of mechanical data, from tyre pressure through to oil reserves.
The days of American muscle cars that handle like boats are largely over (Jeep Grand Cherokee Hellcat excepted). Sure, it’s not a BMW-esque scalpel, nor is it as composed over crappy B-roads as an Aussie-tuned VF Commodore SS was, but it’s a pretty good balance – even on 20-inch wheels shod with Goodyear run-flat tyres with fixed dampers.
It only gets hard-edged over some of the roughest tarmac.
The steering is pretty heavy and resistant in all modes, but that suits the car. Feed into a series of bends and there’s actual feedback from all corners of the car. As we've said previously, it doesn’t convey Porsche-like levels of clarity, and has a strangely over-assisted moment just off centre, but then becomes settled and progressive.
As you cycle up through the driving modes, the rejigged stability control allows a touch of rear-end playfulness without letting things get out of hand.
It’s got independent suspension all round, big and reassuringly effective Brembo brakes at each corner, and a limited-slip diff. It’s a big, fairly heavy performance coupe, but is far more competent in corners than its reputation suggests. Just like the ’Stang is.
From an ownership perspective, multi-stage validation of vehicle systems and an on-road shakedown before delivery are designed to detect any niggles that might emerge, and a three-year warranty offers buyers a level of protection not usually seen for converted cars.
The complimentary inspection is due at one month. The first service is due at 12,000km or nine months (whichever occurs first), and then every 12,000km or nine months after that.
Clearly, the Chevy Camaro by HSV isn't the perfect solution for Australia. Naturally, we'd prefer GM just make the damn thing RHD, but it has decided that in this generation it's not viable. As a fallback, this thoroughly developed and even locally crash-tested for ADR compliance solution is instead a better (and cheaper) option than other conversion jobs.
And it's impossible to argue that it's not a worthy addition to the performance-car fold.
There are plenty of cashed-up enthusiasts out there, and in a landscape where you see Mustangs on every second street corner, the Chevy starts to make some sense, if you're using the right-hand side of your brain. Plus, 86 grand doesn’t buy you anything European with this kind of muscle and presence, right?