2010 Chevrolet Camaro(Photo: General Motors)

Plymouth, Mich. – A time has come for all true gear heads to go into denial. Put reality on hold. Dismiss from your mind all thoughts of economic and environmental meltdowns. Allow one thought, and one thought only, to occupy your brain. The Camaro is back.

2010 Chevrolet Camaro(Photo: General Motors)

Not that the rebirth of Chevrolet's iconic pony car should come as any great surprise. It first appeared as a concept in January 2006. Barely six months later, GM okayed it for production. Camaro loyalists have had plenty of time to anticipate the nameplate's return.Like the fourth-generation Camaro, which ran from 1993 to 2002, the 2010 is built in Canada. The first full-production 2010 cars came off the line in Oshawa, Ont., on March 16, almost seven years after assembly of the last '02s ended in Boisbriand, Que.It must be said that the Gen-4 car was not universally loved. For the Camaro's reincarnation, the designers mined far deeper into the past, drawing inspiration from the first-generation Camaro that ran from 1967 to 1969. In particular, the 2010 honours the 1969 Camaro - the one that introduced the "gills" on the rear body-side, and that's widely considered to be the most iconic of all Camaros.

Gallery: 2010 Chevrolet Camaro
Chevrolet Camaro: a 35-year history

Look back, think forward

2010 Chevrolet Camaro(Photo: General Motors)

"My favourite view of the 2010 car is looking backwards ... at the shoulders, in the rear-view mirror," says Ed Welburn, GM's head of design.Still, Welburn cautions, "it was important to be inspired by Camaro heritage, but there was no need to do a reproduction." To wit, GM is pitching the 2010 as the 21st-century sports car. Yes, you can still get it with a bellicose pushrod V8 - but it also has a thoroughly modern independent rear suspension. Not to mention available Bluetooth connectivity and a USB port for your iPod.At the heart of the 2010 is GM's rear-wheel drive Zeta architecture that also supports the Pontiac G8. But this is no G8 coupe with Chevrolet badges. For Camaro, Zeta's wheelbase was shortened, the A-pillars pulled back, and the front axle pushed forward, all to ensure the proper long-hood, short-deck proportions. At 4,836 mm, the 2010 is just 38 mm longer than the '69 model.Another key consideration was big wheels that fill the wheel wells. Even on base models, there are no skinny rims lost in black holes. Wheel diameters range from 18-inch on base, to 20-inchers on the V8-engined SS models.

Nothing basic about the Camaro

2010 Chevrolet Camaro (Photo: General Motors)

No under-achieving base engines, either. The entry-level 3.6-litre V6 (LS and LT models) is a cutting-edge DOHC 24-valve direct-injection unit with variable valve timing that churns out 304 horsepower. That's only six fewer than the 5.7L V8 in the last of the Gen-4 Camaros. The standard manual transmission and the optional automatic are both six-speeds. The same tranny choices are available in the SS V8, but there are different versions of the 6.2L small-block, depending on the transmission. With manual transmission, the LS3 V8 generates 426 hp and 420 lb.-ft. of torque. Teamed with the automatic, the V8 wears an L99 designation and features fuel-saving cylinder de-activation technology, along with a "milder" state of tune that yields 400 horses and 410 lb.-ft. Whichever powertrain, the Camaro is capable of surprisingly good fuel economy. The V6 is rated at less than 10 L/100 km for combined city/highway driving. The V8 weighs in at just under 11 L/100 km. Neither version falls foul of the U.S. gas-guzzler tax.

Faster than it feels

2010 Chevrolet Camaro (Photo: Jeremy Sinek, MSN Autos)

GM claims a 0-96 km/h time of 6.1 seconds for the V6, which is plenty quick. For the V8 the benchmark sprint time drops to a neck-wrenching 4.7 seconds. At anything less than maximum effort, however, the SS doesn't always feel like a car that can demolish the 0-100-km/h dash in less than five seconds. The reason: its supremely tall gearing. The manual, in particular, is so long-legged that it can reach almost 130 km/h in second gear; shift up into sixth at 120 km/h, and the revs settle at just 1,700 rpm. The LS3 V8 certainly sounds the part. Its exhaust, less restrictive than the L99's, emits a rich, multi-textured basso profundo rumble. Yet, in its own way, the lighter, finer timbre of the L99's voice is just as satisfying - especially when you're "manually" paddle-shifting the auto-box, and the engine automatically throttle-blips your downshifts. As we expect from GM, the automatics are as smooth as they are responsive. The V6 and V8 engines each come with their own unique manual gearboxes, yet their shift actions feel remarkably alike; a little slow from first to second, but otherwise smooth and concise. Clutch take-up is progressive, the driveline nicely cushioned.

Ride, handling, no compromises

2010 Chevrolet Camaro (Photo: Jeremy Sinek, MSN Autos)

If you get the sense that GM has taken the best of a classic pony car and polished off the rough edges, the ride and handling confirm it. Whether it's the FE2 base suspension, or the sportier FE3 setup of the SS, the chassis nails a sweet spot between comfort and control. My mid-March drive through Michigan encompassed some truly awful roads, yet none could derange the suspension's composure or the body's structural rigidity.Even the base car corners flat and taut - in fact, it might even be the best-handling Camaro of the bunch. You can pick your path with fine precision through steering that is clean and frictionless in feel, albeit perhaps a little light for performance purists. Bigger tires and more weight on the V8s add some effort to the helm, but also slightly dull its responsiveness off-centre.Then again, if you want the freedom to hang the tail out, you'll want an SS - and not only because it has more power with which to break loose the rear wheels; all Camaros come with standard stability control, but only the SS includes a competitive/sport mode that dials back the nannying to allow a more, um, expressive driving style. In similar vein, the SS with manual transmission also has a Launch Control function for perfect starts, every time.

A comfortable fit ... if you fit

2010 Chevrolet Camaro (Photo: General Motors)

Moving to more practical matters, the worst thing about the interior is that there isn't much of it. Front-seat headroom is in limited supply, and there isn't much of any kind of room in the back seat - even by the lowered expectations of sporty coupes. Same story for trunk capacity.That said, the combination of available eight-way power seat adjustment, plus standard tilt and telescopic steering, should make comfort easy to find for all but the tallest specimens of the species. My midsize male frame felt very much at home.You can make up your own mind about the aesthetics of the sparse, retro look of the dashboard. Functionally, the compact, dense centre-dash grouping of the audio and HVAC controls works quite well. And if the low-resolution speedometer calibrations make it hard to read speed with any precision, you can call up a digital speed display instead on the trip computer.Nitpicks aside, this first sampling of the new Camaro has been a bitter-sweet experience. The car itself, I like a lot. GM has masterfully blended classic muscle-car character and performance with 21st-century user-friendliness and social responsibility. The bitter part is the fear that current 21st-century realities will deny Camaro the success it deserves.

2010 Chevrolet Camaro LS/LTPrice: $26,995-$31,595Type of vehicle: RWD sports carEngine: 3.6L, 24-valve DOHC V6Power/Torque: 304 hp/273 lb.-ft.Transmission: Six-speed manual (opt: six-speed automatic)0-100 km/h (est., manual): 6.4 secondsFuel consumption (city/hwy.): 12.3/6.8 L/100 km (auto: 11.4/6.9 L/100 km)Competition: Dodge Challenger, Ford Mustang, Hyundai Genesis Coupe, Mitsubishi Eclipse

2010 Chevrolet Camaro SSPrice: $36,995-$40,995Type of vehicle: RWD sports carEngine: 6.2L 16-valve OHV V8Power/Torque: 426 hp/420 lb.-ft. (automatic: 400 hp/410 lb.-ft.)Transmission: Six-speed manual (opt: six-speed automatic)0-100 km/h (est., manual): 4.9 secondsFuel consumption (city/hwy.): 13.2/8.2 L/100 km (auto: 13.2/7.9 L/100 km)Competition: Dodge Challenger, Ford Mustang, Hyundai Genesis Coupe, Infiniti G37, Mazda RX-8, Nissan 370Z

PREVIEW SUMMARY

PROS
- Loads of go for the dough
- Surprising fuel economy
- Sweet ride/handling compromiseCONS
- Cramped rear seat
- Tight trunk
- It's the right car at the wrong time

More related Autos articles:

Research a new Chevrolet
Chevrolet Camaro: a 35-year history
GM invests in fuel-efficient Cruze
Road test: 2009 Chevrolet Cobalt LS XFE
Road test: 2008 Chevrolet Cobalt SS Coupe Road Test