AUSSIES have been without a rear-drive V8 from General Motors for a year now since the cessation of local production of the Commodore.
Some V8-hungry buyers have been satiated by Ford’s sixth-generation Mustang that launched locally in 2016, and it has quickly become the country‘s most popular sportscar.
But what about the General Motors faithful, those who swear loyalty to the legendary LS V8?
Like before, it is Holden Special Vehicles (HSV) that is coming to the rescue and flying the flag for General Motors' performance hero in Australia.
Unlike before though, the new rear-drive, V8 kid on the block is a sleek two-door coupe. The iconic Camaro, imported from Chevrolet and converted to right-hand drive by HSV.
Is this still a winning formula in 2018 or has the world moved beyond the simple pleasures that HSV and the Chevrolet Camaro can offer?
Price and equipment
There is no escaping the fact that the Chevrolet Camaro's $86,990 before on-roads pricetag is high, but let’s try and give that some context.
Go back five or 10 years when there were no factory right-hook versions of America’s muscle cars available locally, some importers were charging upwards of $120,000 to import and convert the likes of the Chevrolet Camaro, Ford Mustang and Dodge Challenger.
So while the $86,990 Camaro may be $21,000 more expensive than its Ford Mustang GT Fastback rival – and about as much as premium offerings such as the $81,000 BMW 430i – it is more affordable than before.
And, unlike with the smaller outfits of the past, the HSV-converted Camaro also complies with Australian Design Rules (ADR) regulation for added peace of mind.
Also of note is that only 550 right-hand-drive (RHD) converted Camaros will be made available in Australia and New Zealand (at least for now), with about 70 per cent of stock already accounted for, making the Chevrolet muscle car a rare sight on local roads.
There is no denying that exclusivity and rarity are important in the sportscar space, and while Ford’s Mustang has proliferated across the country and can be found on nearly every street corner, there won’t be nearly as many Camaros around.
Standard equipment includes drive-mode selector, Brembo brakes, 20-inch wheels, HID headlights, LED daytime running lamps, bi-modal exhaust system, power-adjustable front sports seats, 7.0-inch MyLink infotainment touchscreen, nine-speaker Bose sound system, digital instrument cluster and head-up display.
Other features such as dual-zone climate control, sunroof, wireless smartphone charging, keyless entry and start, lane departure warning, reversing camera, and blind-spot monitoring.
From the second you step into the Camaro, you can tell that HSV has done an outstanding job reworking the dashboard, electrical plumbing and steering wheel to suit the Australian market.
At first glance, it even looks like it comes straight out of the Chevrolet factory that way and, we’re sure that if you didn’t tell anyone that it had been converted from left- to right-hand drive, they would just assume the Camaro is a factory right hooker.
Scratch a bit deeper though, and the Camaro’s LHD origins become a little more evident and a little bit annoying.
For example, the centre console is still in LHD configuration, meaning the cupholder gets in the way of the shifter and the lid opens on the far side.
The sunroof button is also still situated to the left of the vehicle, obscuring the view of the switch and forcing the driver to reach over to operate.
Are we just nit-picking? Absolutely, but it would be remiss not to mention these small niggles.
Other conversion oddities to note are a few blanking plates where the seat-memory and boot-release buttons resided on the passenger door, but these parts have a great fit and finish that could almost be OEM.
While HSV has done a fantastic job on the reworking the interior of the Camaro, it’s a shame that Chevrolet passed a few questionable design choices.
For example, the wireless phone charger is positioned behind the centre console instead of the usual position in front of the shifter, so it becomes a bit of an effort to twist and contort your torso to get your smartphone in place.
The door pockets are also comically small, the centre console bin is shallow and the cupholders don’t really accommodate anything larger than a small drink from McDonalds (we checked) – so storage solutions in the Camaro aren’t exactly plentiful.
Central climate control air vents are also positioned low down, instead of at face level so air is blown upwards.
We found the infotainment system to be average at best, with a small screen angled downwards that requires long, hard presses to register any inputs.
Also of note is that the MyLink system forgoes built-in satellite navigation, instead opting for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility.
Another noticeable shortcoming of the Camaro is its severe lack of visibility from the driver’s seat.
With huge side-view mirrors and massive A-pillars, objects and traffic can get obscured in some situations, meaning driver’s should be cautious when pulling away from intersections.
Rearward visibility doesn’t fare any better unfortunately with the tapering window line offering little in the way of outward vision.
The good news however, is that the front seats are plush, supple and supportive with heating and cooling functionality, making extended jaunts behind the wheel an absolute pleasure.
The digital instrumentation is also excellent, displaying clear readouts of speed, tyre pressure and fuel consumption, while the steering wheel is also clad in soft-touch leather and sports multi-function buttons for infotainment control.
We wouldn’t bother with the rear seats though as the pews are raised, significantly compromising headroom, while legroom is also deficient, with the front seats locked in a comfortable position for adults.
Engine and transmission
Ah, now we get to the reason for why the Camaro exists in Australia.
Powered by a 6.2-litre naturally aspirated LT1 V8, the Camaro pumps out 339kw of power at 6000rpm and 617Nm of torque from 4600rpm.
Fed to the rear wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission, the Camaro can accelerate from zero to 100km/h in around 4.0 seconds.
So, how does this new muscle car contender compare with its Ford Mustang arch rival?
Over in the blue corner, the Mustang is fitted with a 5.0-litre naturally aspirated Coyote V8 that outputs 339kW/556Nm in facelifted form introduced earlier this year.
Points to the Camaro for a larger displacement engine and more torque then.
Powered by the same engine as the Chevrolet Corvette, the Camaro's engine has a bit of a lazy character, taking a while to come on song after a stab of the throttle.
With power and torque figures available further up the rev range though, the Camaro rewards those who stay on the throttle and love higher engine speeds.
The transmission is a real gem too, shifting smoothly and smartly, and quickly reacting to dabs of throttle with a gear kick down.
It even has a manual mode for those who want to do-it-yourself, but the steering wheel mounted paddles are cheap feeling and the up/down on the shifter is the wrong way around.
We found it best to leave the transmission to its own devices.
Four different driving modes also affect the Camaro’s character, sharpening throttle response, adding some weight to the steering and tweaking the transmission, but the Snow/Ice setting probably won’t get much use here in Australia.
Tour is the default on-road mode, but the more hardcore Sport really sharpens things up and brings the Camaro to life.
Finally Track is for those wanting to cut a few laps, but seeing as we were not in a circuit environment, we did not sample this mode.
Fuel economy was nothing to write home about, and after just four days in the car and 400km of mixed travelling, we averaged 14.0 litres per 100km.
Official fuel figures stand at 11.5L/100km.
Ride and handling
In years past, if you wanted a car with sharp handling and pinpoint precision, muscle cars were very low down on the priority list.
However, in recent times the muscle car scene has really evolved and caught up with the rest of the sportscar world, adopting ‘cutting edge’ technologies like an independent rear suspension setup!
While the Camaro is no Mazda MX-5 or even Volkswagen Golf GTI , it’s certainly more of a scalpel than a sledgehammer when the roads get a bit twisty, contradicting its circa-1650kg kerb weight and muscle car heritage.
Turn in is sharp and instant, while the rear pivots (or steps out) in a manner that feels both natural and controllable.
Fitted with 20-inch wheels shod in 245/40 and 275/35 rubber front and rear, you’d think the Camaro would grip like a monkey to a banana, but it is surprisingly easy to get the rear wheels to break traction.
Coming away from the lights is easy enough even when stamping on the throttle, but trying the same technique with the tiller turned will quickly light up the rear.
Diligence is the name of the game with the Camaro, rewarding patient drivers who are careful with inputs and follow the tried and true mantra of slow in, fast out.
While ride comfort is far from rock hard, it could be better. Largely it is great, even around town on Melbourne’s usually substandard roads, so points for America’s softer suspension preference.
Safety and servicing
The Chevrolet Camaro has not been crash tested by the Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP), or Euro NCAP.
However, as part of the remanufacturing process, HSV was required to crash-test the converted Chevrolet Camaro to meet Australian Design Rules and verification.
While the Camaro would likely not receive a full five-star ANCAP safety rating due to its lack of autonomous emergency braking (AEB), safety equipment fitted includes blind-spot monitor, reversing camera, rear parking sensors, lane-departure warning, seven airbags and tyre pressure monitoring.
In US crash testing, the Camaro scored a maximum five-star overall rating in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) testing with four-stars in the front crash, and top marks in side crash and rollover testing.
All Chevrolet Camaros sold in Australia come with a three-year/100,000km warranty.
Service intervals are every 12,000km or nine months, whichever comes first.
We don’t envy the Camaro as the second-to-market and more expensive muscle car in Australia, but the Chevrolet is every bit as deserving of success as its Ford Mustang rival.
Packaging issues such as the limited visibility and naff infotainment system aside, HSV should be commended for delivering such a polished and high-quality conversion.
With a stonking V8 engine up front, engaging dynamics and rear wheel fun, HSV is well and truly back in form with the Chevrolet Camaro.
Ford Mustang GT Fastback automatic from $65,990 before on-roads
Factory RHD means the Ford Mustang is cheaper, but also more common. Ford’s 5.0-litre V8 pushes out as much power as the Camaro, but is down on torque. Whereas the Camaro feels like a wrestling an animal in the corners, the Mustang is a little more civilised.
Infiniti Q60 Red Sport from $84,990 before on-roads
The only premium brand to offer something spicy at a comparable price to the Camaro, the Infiniti Q60 Red Sport is powered by a 298kW/475Nm twin-turbo V6. With rear-wheel traction, and a boosty powertrain, the Q60 can feel a little edgy in the wet and the corners.