Holden Special Vehicles (HSV) has released the Series II update for the iconic Chevrolet Camaro muscle car.
Distinguished by a bold new nose, sleek tail-lights, and updated 20-inch wheels, the big news is under the floorpan rather than under the bonnet.
Power from the 6.2-litre V8 is unchanged, but for 2019 the Camaro gets a 10-speed auto – replacing the eight-speed from the original batch of 550 cars imported last year.
It’s trimmed the 0–100km/h from 5.0 seconds to 4.8 seconds on our timing equipment, and improved open-road fuel economy when you’re not standing on the fast pedal.
It’s the same 10-speed auto used in the Ford Mustang released during that model’s update in 2018.
General Motors and Ford split costs and shared development so they didn’t have to pay over the odds to get a 10-speed auto off the shelf from an outside supplier. Although the gearboxes are the same, the calibrations are unique – and they’re behind engines with different characteristics.
The Mustang’s 5.0-litre V8 has 339kW of power and 556Nm of torque, while the Camaro’s 6.2-litre V8 has the same peak power (339kW) but a heap more torque (617Nm).
While we’re comparing these two iconic US muscle cars, let’s get price out of the way.
Ford charges $3600 more than the manual for the Mustang with 10-speed auto – to $66,890 plus on-roads – while HSV adds $2200 to the manual Camaro for an RRP of $89,190 for the 10-speed auto version.
There’s a $22,300 difference between the two because the Mustang goes down the US production line with the steering wheel on the right-hand side, gaining the cost efficiencies of mass production.
The Chevrolet Camaro arrives in Australia from the US factory in left-hand drive before it is remanufactured into right-hand drive by Holden Special Vehicles in Melbourne. More than 400 unique parts and 100 man-hours go into each conversion; the first of its type certified to meet modern regulations and crash test requirements.
When you consider the multi-million-dollar investment in tooling, parts and engineering to make the changes to meet 'full volume' safety and compliance standards, it’s a miracle the Camaro doesn’t cost more.
Of course, at this price the Camaro won’t be for everybody, which is why HSV has modest sales projections compared to the Mustang.
At its peak in 2017, Ford Australia sold more than 9000 Mustangs driven in part by pent-up demand and back orders from the previous year. By comparison, HSV imported just 550 Camaros last year and it plans to bring in about 1000 this year now that the Series II model has arrived.
The $90,000 price is a chunk of change, but it’s worth noting that’s how much a HSV Clubsport sedan cost in its final days.
Not everyone can compromise to a two-door muscle car, but HSV reckons there will be enough buyers to make the Camaro program worth the effort.
Why hasn’t HSV touched the engine? The cost of recalibrating the V8 to eke out a bit more power – and re-validate emissions tests – would be cost prohibitive. Besides, Chevrolet has done such a good job in the first place.
For the 2019 model, standard equipment includes a head-up display reflected onto the windscreen in the driver’s line of sight, a new digital rear-view mirror (which gives a broader view of traffic behind you and in adjacent lanes), and forward crash alert.
Unlike the updated Ford Mustang, added tech such as radar cruise control and autonomous emergency braking are not available, but blind-zone warning and rear cross-traffic alert are standard.
The infotainment system has been updated, but still lacks embedded navigation. Instead, the high-resolution touchscreen comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Whereas the Mustang has a customisable digital widescreen dash, the Camaro has a large digital display between two analogue dials.
And while the Mustang has a manual park brake, the Camaro has an electric park brake operated by a small switch in the centre console.
Interior packaging of both cars is on par, although the Camaro’s driver’s seat has better adjustment and sits lower. There’s also a memory seat function, which the Mustang lacks. The Camaro’s two back seats are better suited to briefcases or kids, but at least they have decent sculpting.
Boot space is also not a strong suit: the Camaro (258L) has a smaller boot than the Mustang (383L), and the boot opening of the Camaro makes it hard to use the available space.
However, it’s worth making a couple of points here. If you want to carry cargo, buy an SUV. And both the Camaro and the Mustang have a bigger boot than the latest Toyota Corolla hatch (217L to 333L depending on the model).
Service intervals are 12 months/15,000km for the Camaro, but unlike the Mustang, there’s no capped-price servicing program.
Warranty on the Chevrolet Camaro is three years/100,000km versus the industry standard of five-plus years.
On the road
In this era of downsized and turbocharged engines, the sound of a V8 is becoming rare, which is why the Camaro delights the senses the moment you crank the engine or, in this case, hit the ‘start’ button.
The large-capacity 6.2-litre has a deep bass. Even at idle with your foot on the brake, it feels like it’s champing at the bit. The engine itself is relatively muted by old-school standards, but the exhaust is pure 1970s muscle car.
It starts with a deep growl before climbing through the rev range to a sharper, V8 Supercar-like pitch. Best of all is the crackle between gear changes, up or down, if you’re in the right rev range and there’s a bit of unspent fuel available.
The 10-speed auto can be activated by the paddle shifters on the steering wheel, or you can leave the gearbox to its own devices.
The biggest improvement (apart from a broader spread of ratios) is the fact that the gearbox will now shift down when you want it to – even if it puts the engine precariously close to the rev limiter. It’s superb, and even as a lover of manuals, this would get my vote if faced with the choice.
The grip from the 20-inch Goodyear Eagle F1 tyres is profound. The rears are wider than the fronts (245/40/20 versus 275/35/20), which is another reason carrying a spare is a challenge. Thankfully, they’re run-flat tyres so you should be able to limp home if you cop a puncture.
Despite the massive wheels and relatively low-profile rubber, the Camaro does an incredible job of soaking up bumps and thumps. It sits flat in corners and recovers quickly from rises and dips in the road. It also is surprisingly good in bumpy bends, despite the wide tyres and sports suspension.
The steering has a precise yet fluid feel, and is well weighted. The flat-bottomed steering wheel has meaty hand grips.
The brakes pull up well and are fade-free even with enthusiastic use thanks to four-piston Brembo calipers front and rear, clamping 345mm discs up front and 339mm at the rear.
Visibility is still not brilliant, particularly the front corners of the car. The wide and raked windscreen pillars can at times obscure your vision in corners – or at pedestrian crossings. You soon learn to adjust your view by shifting your head left or right.
The side mirrors are aided by blind-spot warning lights, but the biggest improvement for visibility comes via the cabin mirror, which now has the option of a camera view at the flick of a switch.
In one mode, the rear-view mirror works just like a conventional type. But by moving a small and discreet lever (similar to the tab that switches between ‘day’ and ’night’ on most mirrors), the glass turns into a camera display. There is a tiny camera lens embedded into the centre post of the rear spoiler. It projects a wider view into the mirror in the cabin.
The system was originally designed for vans and SUVs, which can have limited visibility. It works a treat in the Camaro because you can see more of the cars behind you – and traffic in adjacent lanes. With this solution, it’s as good as any car.
The camera works extremely well at night, too, and headlights don’t flare or dazzle the lens. We weren’t, however, able to test it in the wet, although we suspect the spray may obscure the lens.
As before, the cabin has options for two-dozen ambient light settings accessed via the central touchscreen.
The quality of the conversion is so good, I almost forgot to mention it. The dashboard is made by the same company that did Toyota Camry dashboards and has been completely redesigned for right-hand drive.Numerous local suppliers manufacture new parts that replace left-hand drive components. No angle grinders here.
There were no squeaks or rattles to speak of, the headlights were perfectly adjusted, and all the infotainment, driver, and seating controls worked perfectly, as they should.Indeed, this is as close to a factory-built right-hand-drive Camaro as we’re ever going to get.
Contrary to reports some years ago that Chevrolet was considering a factory-built right-hand-drive Camaro – and despite the success of the Mustang – the reality is that the business case simply does not add up for General Motors.
Sales of the Camaro in the US were down by 25 per cent from 2017 to 2018 (to 50,963 deliveries), and the muscle car segment in general has taken a hit in North America.
Although the Mustang is the top seller in its class, sales of the fast Ford were also down – by 7.8 per cent (to 75,842) over the same period.
While it will be easier for Ford to continue with a right-hand-drive Mustang with the next generation because most of the behind-the-scenes engineering work has already been done, it’s a much greater challenge for GM, which needs to start with a clean-sheet design.
GM’s resources have already been stretched to include an urgent facelift on the 2019 Camaro; there will soon be a 2019 Series 2.5, for the want of a better description, with a less aggressive nose.
As much as Aussie enthusiasts might like a more affordable Camaro, GM has no appetite for spending tens of millions of dollars on a factory right-hand version, when the same money could be spent on mainstream models that would deliver higher sales volumes and bigger profits.
GM is apparently so happy with the quality of the engineering rework, it plans to leave the right-hand-drive Camaro to HSV.
The only signs that this is a converted car: the driver’s side mirror has a wedge behind it; and the infotainment touchscreen is angled slightly away from the driver. I actually didn’t notice the central touchscreen until someone mentioned it, so for me it was a non-issue.
When it’s all said and done, however, the Camaro is all about how it makes you feel. It’s as if someone has created a modern muscle car with the comfort, performance, grip and safety we’ve come to expect in the 21st century – cloaked in the sound and rumble of the 1970s.
Given the target market – cashed-up baby boomers with fond memories of hero cars they couldn’t afford when growing up – Chevrolet and HSV have nailed the brief.
The 2019 Chevrolet Camaro 2SS will hit the right note among Aussie muscle car enthusiasts who miss homegrown V8s.