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Cruising coast to coast in a Camaro

Yellow V6 soft-top was a fun, reliable ride from St. John's to Victoria.

I spent this past summer driving the V6 soft-top version of the new Camaro across Canada, from St. John’s, Nfld., to Victoria, B.C., following the length of the Trans-Canada Highway for a book project. Because I started and finished at my home in Cobourg, Ont., I wound up driving a total of 28,000 km in three months.

So how was it? It was a hoot!

Around southern Ontario, the $35,460 car is not unusual — owners wave at each other on the highway, and another one will usually be along in a few minutes. But away from large urban centres, the Camaro was a huge draw, turning heads and provoking comments. The car I drove was yellow with a thick black stripe on its hood and trunk. “Bumblebee!” yelled every kid we passed, remembering its star appearance in the movies.

Review: 2012 Camaro SS Convertible

In Newfoundland, where it rained for a solid week, the car slipped and slithered on its wide tires — 18-inch is standard, but mine was fitted with 20-inch Pirellis. I tried driving with the top down in all weather except rain, and was successful until the temperatures dropped into the single digits. Even with the heater on full blast and an optional air baffle behind the front seat, the wind sucked through and froze my brain. Fortunately, it started to rain, so I put the top up and all was warm.

In New Glasgow, N.S., a sport bike pulled up behind me at the lights and I heard the passenger ask her pilot, “Is that the new Camaro?” I heard him reply, “Yes, but it’s just the six-cylinder…” He could tell by the smaller exhaust pipes. I turned around in the topless car and yelled back at the motorcyclists, surprising them both. “It’s got four more cylinders than your bike, and 200 more horsepower!” We all chuckled over that.

It would have been the most common question in the three months I drove the car: “Is it the six, or the eight?” They’d usually look a little disappointed when I told them it was the six, worth about $9,000 less than the muscular SS version, but I’d always explain that I had to pay for my own gas. People sympathized with that.

In fact, the V6 consumed an average of about 11.9 L/100 km, which I thought fairly reasonable for a sports car. But on the way home from Victoria, driving most of the way in hot weather with the roof up to protect my skin from the sun, the consumption improved dramatically to 9.9 L/100 km. When the roof is in place, the car is considerably more aerodynamic; not quite as much fun, but more efficient.

It was good to keep the roof down in the mountains, as much for the twisting roads as the scenery. The Camaro is no Corvette canyon carver, nor MX-5 hairpin hurler, but its stiff suspension keeps it sure-footed on curvy roads. When everything straightened out again, I’d set it back on cruise and smile a little to myself.

The four-seater was large enough for me, with a month’s worth of luggage and equipment, and still large enough when my 12-year-old son climbed in for the second half of the drive, heading from Ontario to the west coast. The roof takes up some space in the trunk when it’s folded open, but there’s still more room than you might expect back there. We also slung a suitcase onto the back seat, which has less room than you’d expect. My son could sit there if we picked up an extra passenger, but no sane adult would spend much time being buffeted by its wind.

Out on the Manitoba prairie, an SS version of the new Camaro pulled alongside on the Trans-Canada, goading us to race. There was no other traffic so we both slowed and then I gunned it, feeling the 278 lb.-ft. of torque pushing us back in the seat. It was no contest, of course. The V8 had 420 lb.-ft. of torque and left us in his dust. We waved goodbye to his squared-off taillights.

Somewhere in the middle of nowhere, with the car parked outside that night’s motel room, I received a cheery e-mail from the PR guy at General Motors. “The rear tires are a little low on that Camaro — you might want to put some air in them,” he messaged. As the owner of the car, he had an iPhone app that alerted him to this kind of stuff, even though he was thousands of kilometres away. The Camaro’s come a long way since its previous generations.

It’s also come a long way since the poor quality of the previous assembly plant in Sainte-Therese, Que. When we reached the west coast and dipped the front wheels into the Pacific in both Vancouver and Victoria, my Oshawa-built car had never even hiccupped. I had the oil changed at 18,000 km, but that was it. Aside from a rock in the windshield on the prairies, it cruised through Canada with total confidence, camera phones clicking in its wake.

After reaching the ocean, we turned around and headed home again. I was looking forward to the drive.

Mark Richardson is the author of Canada’s Road — A journey on the Trans-Canada Highway from St. John’s to Victoria, to be published next spring by Dundurn.

Fifth gen’s a charm

It’s one thing to build a car, but quite another to build an icon. After four decades and four generations of the Chevrolet Camaro, it was a coup for the General Motors plant in Oshawa to assemble the fifth generation.

The fourth generation, never as popular as its predecessors, had been built at GM’s Quebec plant in Sainte-Therese, outside Montreal. Dwindling sales caused by poor quality and a stuttering North American demand for sports cars meant the last of those Camaros was built in 2002, after which the plant was demolished.

But since the spring of 2009 when the first of the new Camaros came off the line in Oshawa, the car’s been a success story for General Motors — a bright spot in its fight against bankruptcy later that year, and a continuing best-seller now that it’s exported overseas.

The fifth generation is reminiscent of the original model that debuted in September 1966, with its prowling headlights and long, creased hood. There are several versions available: the basic 3.6-litre V6 coupe lists for $27,965 and makes 323 horsepower (more than double the power of the basic 3.8 L that debuted in 1966); the 6.2 L V8 makes almost 100 more hp; and the ZL1 is a supercharged V8 that’s good for 580 hp and retails for a not-coincidental $58,000.

  • Cruising coast to coast in a Camaro
  • Cruising coast to coast in a Camaro
  • Cruising coast to coast in a Camaro
  • Cruising coast to coast in a Camaro
  • Cruising coast to coast in a Camaro
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