On The Road Review: Chevrolet Camaro SS/Hot Wheels Edition



The special edition Hot Wheels Camaro

It is a balmy 77-degree September evening as I point the Kinetic Blue nose of the Camaro SS north out of Middleboro, Mass., and head Downeast. At 9 o’clock, the traffic remains relatively heavy around Boston, yet the low-slung Camaro pushes through I-93 traffic without fanfare. With 400 horsepower under the hood, we don’t struggle to squirt around slower traffic clogging the passing lanes.

Four years after its debut, the current Camaro still leads the pony car class sales race and Chevy intends to keep the Camaro out front. Like all automakers, special trims, option packages, and appearance models are added throughout the life-cycle of special interest vehicles like the Camaro to maintain consumer interest. This is evident with this year’s Hot Wheels Camaro.

Commemorating the 1968 debut of the Hot Wheels franchise, this special edition Camaro wears unique Blue Metallic Paint, special 21-inch rallye wheels, as well as Hot Wheels emblems strategically positioned outside, plus Hot Wheels embroidered leather seating and illuminated door sills inside. It’s a lot of payola for appearance pieces, $6,995, as the Camaro’s standard SS package is unaltered mechanically.

As the Hot Wheels Camaro crosses the bridge into Maine, traffic has lightened considerably. The rural nature of living north of the Massachusetts metropolis leaves plenty of open space to ponder your thoughts as the Camaro thrums along, the warm night air still penetrating the cabin. Summer is winding down, yet eight days with the Camaro are a pleasant reminder of why these two-door pony cars remain extremely popular with a vast assortment of consumers. There appears to be no sunset for Camaro, Mustang or Challenger.

On the surface, the Camaro is a large car externally — with a modest interior. The coupe is wide, low, and offers challenged visibility to the right, to the rear and overhead at stoplights via a chopped and channeled greenhouse effect. This is an apparent element of the Camaro’s appeal — its unique styling. Looking out the Chevy’s rear view mirrors, broad sculptured shoulders fill the view — similar to a Porsche or Corvette. Driving a narrow two-lane road, swiftly, makes the driver pay extra attention as the Camaro feels nimble and responsive, but very wide.

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Inside, the engineers made several concessions to the original Camaro’s styling in order to create the retro-effect the designers wanted. The leather seats are all-day comfortable, yet several switches and instruments are not as visible as driver’s might like, hidden by other components. The HID-heads up display on the SS model is very welcome, adjustable for position, brightness, and position too, yet it would be good to ‘evolve’ inside with the next-generation Camaro. The latest Corvette illustrates what is possible, and necessary. Backseat space is best reserved for little kids.

The newest Camaro benefits from Chevy’s updated MyLink infotainment system. Using crisp icons and simple on-screen menus, MyLink should help restore some common sense to dash-control operations. GM was the leader for in-car telematics with OnStar, but relinquished that position to others. MyLink is not a breakthrough like BMW’s or Audi’s systems, but an improvement over what preceded it.

First impressions with the Camaro are reinforced throughout the week together. The 6.2-liter V-8 produces ample torque. A nice, traditional V-8 rumble is evident on start-up but recedes into the background and is rarely evident while driving, unfortunately. Equipped with the six-speed automatic, with paddle shifters, the SS Camaro lacks not only the driver engagement that a three-pedal manual encourages, but also 26-hp; automatic cars come ‘only’ with 400 peak horsepower.

Squeezing the throttle is usually sufficient to create plenty of enhanced momentum, but big leaps in speed require a firm right foot to force the fuel-economy oriented automatic to step down into the proper gear for rapid advancement. The Camaro responds smartly and marches forward with fluid, eye-popping urgency until you cry ‘uncle.’

The Camaro’s size delivers an unexpected benefit — a compliant and responsive ride. Yes, the chassis is stiffer than the family sedan; however, the ride is never polarizing. Impressive bump control, compliant action over undulating surfaces, plus nimble steering feel all add-up to a supremely confident grand touring car. Several times I thought that the Camaro SS performed like a Jaguar XK coupe — smooth, responsive, powerful, and appropriately firm when necessary. Not meant to be hearsay, the Camaro and the Jaguar have a lot more in common than their dynamic feel and mechanical measurements.

It didn’t matter if you were cruising at warp eight or sedately maintaining the pace of traffic, the Camaro SS felt comfortable, capable. The manual gearbox would certainly be more preferable from this vantage point, but it is easy to see why the majority of drivers want the car to handle the shifting chores.

Other Camaro pluses include awesome headlamps (not always a given) with strong low and high beam lamps, plus distinctive daytime lamps, reasonably quiet interior and a decent low-speed turning radius for such a long car. Check out that lower splitter on the front of the Camaro; it protrudes 3 inches, easy, from the grille and supports highway stability.

Camaro buyers aren’t going to quibble over trunk space, rear seat flexibility, or probably not even fuel economy. This is a personal connection car, an emotional purchase — a feel good car. Wearing the eye-catching Hot Wheels blue paint and featuring the all-around goodness of the 6.2-liter SS powertrain, it won’t be too hard to have fun, feel good and look good enjoying the latest Camaro.

Camaro hits: surprising chassis balance and composed ride characteristics, strong performing V-8 engine, pleasing exterior styling, excellent headlights and Brembo brakes.

Camaro misses: seductive V-8 can also be thirsty, pricey Hot Wheels option package, constrained views inside and out.

2013 Camaro Facts

The current Camaro is the best-selling pony car in its class, edging out Ford’s Mustang and the growing sales of Dodge’s Challenger. The Camaro is built in Oshawa, Ontario.

Base LS Coupes start at $23,345 with a six-speed manual transmission and the 323-hp 3.6-liter V-6 shared with Cadillac. Power seats, mirrors and automatic headlamps are included, as are a rear spoiler, 18-inch wheels, cruise control, Bluetooth, XM satellite radio and A/C. LT trim, $25,760, adds fog lamps, aluminum wheels, and specific interior trim. SS coupes, with 426 hp and the manual transmission, 400 hp with the automatic six-speed, start at $32,635 while LT convertibles begin at $30,660. SS convertibles begin at $38,635. The supercharged 580-hp ZL1 model lists for $55,650 and Chevrolet will reintroduce the track-oriented Z-28 late this year or in early spring.

EPA fuel economy estimates range from 18/29-mpg with the V-6 engine, to 15/24-mpg with the 6.2-liter V-8. During the Hot Wheels’ 1,400-mile visit, fuel economy ranged from 18.7 mpg to 21.8 mpg.

The Camaro measures 190 inches long, 76 inches wide, and 54 inches tall. The coupe has a 112-inch wheelbase and base weight is 3,900 pounds. The Mustang is shorter in length by 2 inches, rides on a 5-inch shorter wheelbase, and weighs 350 pounds less. The Challenger is much larger.

Tested Camaro 2SS Coupe stickered for $36,135 plus $8,975 worth of options — Hot Wheels special trim, $6,995, 6-speed automatic, $1,185, navigation system, $795, plus $900 destination — for a total Monroney sticker of $46,010.

Camaro and Hot Wheels Trivia

The Camaro was the second entry in the ‘pony car’ class, going on sale in September 1966 as a ’67 model. Originally code-named ‘Panther,’ the Camaro name is a made-up moniker that marketing agents created. The first generation car was only in production for 3.5 years before the second edition debuted.

The current fifth-generation Camaro is strongly modeled after the 1969 Camaro and debuted in late 2009 after a seven-year hiatus. The public first got a glimpse of the new Camaro’s design as the ‘Bumblebee’ character in the “Transformers” movie series.

The Camaro Z-28 returns later this year with a 500-hp version of the Corvette’s famous 7.0-liter Z06 powerplant.

2013 is the 45th anniversary of the introduction of Mattel’s Hot Wheels car franchise.

The very first Hot Wheels car was a dark blue Chevy Camaro, part of the original 16 Hot Wheels “Custom Cars.” These unique models featured working suspensions with real wheel bearings, redline wheels that were popular at the time, plus custom paint jobs. The Delrin plastic orange track allowed the cars to roll with little friction.

Mattel’s Hot Wheels soon dominated the toy car market and purchased its largest competitor, Matchbox, in 1976. Mattel produces 250 different Hot Wheels models today.

Tim Plouff

Tim Plouff

Columnist at The Ellsworth American
Tim Plouff has been reviewing automobiles in the pages of The Ellsworth American weekly for nearly two decades.