[Ed. Note: Friend of Hooniverse Nick Gregson recently rented a Camaro SS and hit the California roads for a weekend adventure. Click here to read part one of his story. This is part 2, the final piece]
Things got more interesting as we headed towards St Helena. My passenger / navigator had found us a windy backroad that took us to St Helena instead of the freeway, which turned out to be a very tight, poorly paved strip of asphalt that snaked up into the hills, trafficked mainly by large SUVs. However, after turning at a fork, there was no more traffic and I really got a chance to put the Camaro SS through its paces. I discovered by accident that by tapping the Traction Control button twice, the display in the instrument cluster flashed a graphic of a car leaving a set of elevens behind it with the words “Stabilitrak Competitive Mode”. Frankly, I had a hard time finding details about just what this did in the owner’s manual and there are no instructions on how to engage it, but eventually found that it functions as launch control and makes the stability control significantly less intrusive and sharpens other functions, but just what is unclear. The owner’s manual states that “the engine may consume more oil than usual when using competitive mode”. Thinking like a hoon, I knew this looked promising. I made it a point to use it immediately.
Given the utter lack of traffic and a windy strip of asphalt through a beautiful forest before me, I did what any hoon would do: I laid down a patch of rubber from the Camaro’s Pirelli P-Zeros and rocketed into the forest. For such a heavy car, the Camaro handles quite well and always felt composed. Body roll wasn’t awful, but it wasn’t the ‘flat-ride’ feeling I’d experienced driving the 350Z through the canyon backroads of LA county several years ago. After getting used to the paddle-shifters, I actually started to understand just why they’re so useful. I love having my hand on the shifter as much as the next guy, but having both hands on the wheel was really a huge plus as I poured the car through turn after turn at less-than-legal speeds. Using the Tapshift system, I found that downshifts were fairly prompt (moreso than other Manu-Shift automatics I’ve used) and the car was definitely responsive—I never really felt that slop automatic transmissions typically exhibit when put into a performance handling situation. A few tight hairpins elicited short but enjoyable drifts, but getting the Camaro sideways predictably isn’t quite as easy as one might think—with TCS off (which as far as I can tell, leaves Stabilitrak in effect) the car still exhibits some understeer and isn’t quite as willing to melt its grabby 275-series rear tires going sideways as quickly as I’d expected. On the other hand, the car’s four-piston Brembo brakes were fantastic– stopping the rather heavy Camaro is no easy task, and the Brembos do a fantastic job of it. Through turn after turn and heavy application of braking, the brakes never faded and kept us out of trouble. Until I’d really given the brakes a few healthy stomps at speed, I hadn’t been convinced that the Camaro packed stopping power to match its 400hp of GO.
After taking the Camaro to St. Helena and stopping overnight in Bodega Bay, I put the Camaro back onto Pacific Coast Highway and kept the cruise going through miles of farmland in Petaluma, through San Fransisco and onto I-280. Getting through San Fransisco the second time was uneventful, though I have to say that parking the Generation Five in a tight urban setting is pretty difficult-simply due to the lack of rearward visibility- though the back-up sensors are very useful. We kept on I-280 just past the highway to Half-Moon Bay and exited a few miles past the Half Moon bay highway onto Highway 84—another windy, narrow strip of asphalt heavily trafficked by bikers of all kinds that snaked through the hills and out to the coast. Our yellow Camaro sounded fantastic with its exhaust note rumbling through the trees with the windows down and sunroof open. Passing was never an issue—it was simply a matter of waiting for a straightaway just long enough to squeak past the pack of cars ahead of us. Again, the power of the LS3, independent rear suspension and big, meaty brakes really makes this car a joy to drive fast in the corners. While torque sets in pretty early, it comes on far enough away from idle that you can predictably control the onset of power with careful application of the throttle.
As sundown approached Sunday night, the intensity of the drive rose from a swift cruise, escalating into full-blown hoon insanity near Big Sur as Pacific Coast Highway began to grow desolate as the last of the sunlight disappeared. My time with the Camaro was running out, and we needed to be back in Los Angeles by morning. The spirit of the Camaro really began to shine as the road cleared and nightfall set in—the LS3 under the hood churned out enough passing power to get past stacks of vehicles and its brakes were just right to slow the car down enough before we hit the next curve. The factory halogen headlights are acceptable and do a great job, considering that they’re not HIDs—they light up the road pretty well and I never found myself unable to see, even in near blackness. With no traffic ahead of us for miles and visibility for miles ahead with no way for more traffic to get on, I had no problem letting the Camaro off the leash and opened up the throttle. Despite the Camaro’s wide turning radius, the tight hairpins were not an issue, though its long nose is something to take into consideration in order to avoid getting too close to the guardrails on right-hander hairpins. Unfortunately though I didn’t dare to attempt a drift when only a thin strip of guardrail separated me from a long drop into the blackness of the ocean below.
After hours of seemingly endless hairpins and sweepers bordered by 1,000 foot seacliffs, we finally hit the US-101 in San Luis Obispo.
I love performance driving, but maintaining it for a long period of time is pretty difficult—it was a huge relief to see a freeway up ahead. Once back on the highway again, I found myself surprised once again by just how docile the Camaro can be. Unlike many V8-powered vehicles, the factory exhaust does not drone and the cabin remains fairly quiet, even at 80mph. As the night drew on, I did find all of the illumination in the instrumentation and the door panels (yes, those light up) annoyingly bright and had to turn the illumination to its dimmest. Even at speed, the ride the Camaro offered was smooth enough that my passenger was able to catch some sleep in the passenger seat, which is apparently quite comfortable fully reclined.
All in all, the Camaro SS got us back into LA County with plenty of time to spare. The road trip over, there were still a few loose ends to tie up. Hoonage. Real, red-blooded American hooliganism. I figure, what better way to honor what it is to be American than burn some rubber in quite possibly one of the most American cars ever.
I soon found myself on a closed course with the opportunity to really go nuts. I let loose several smoky burnouts, though annoyingly, I found that to keep it going, upshifts were necessary. I once again touched on the car’s lack of predictability in a zero-grip situation—while doing donuts, I found that maintaining the slide isn’t easy with the Camaro—the front end just is not happy with what the back end is doing and it exhibits some hop. You’d think a Camaro, perhaps the most notorious hoon car ever (ever hear “Bitchin’ Camaro” by the Dead Milkmen?) would be the easiest, most predictable thing in the world to hoon—such is not the case. However, the Camaro SS took all the abuse I could throw at it and kept asking for more. For all my abuse, nothing broke, the brakes weren’t warped, the rotors still smooth and shiny even after a hard weekend packed full of heavy braking and hundreds of miles of winding roads. At the end of the trip, I recorded an average fuel economy of about 21 highway and around 17 city, but when we got really aggressive with the car, fuel economy plummeted to around 12mpg. Then again, it’s an almost moot point– we are talking about a Camaro SS here, not a Prius. Noone buys a Camaro SS for its fuel economy, you can be sure of that much.
So, the ultimate question here is this: If I had $30,000 lying around to buy something fast, the Camaro SS would be a serious contender for my money—though not in yellow. For every day life, given my severe allergy to traffic citations, I’d have to opt for a more subtle color… but, if I had I was in the market and had the money, would I buy a Camaro SS? Well, in a word, yes.