GM Gets Back in the Joy Business
Sunday, May 10, 2009
I missed the entrance to the Ohio Turnpike and stayed on Interstate 75 South for too long a stretch -- a 200-mile error realized only when I entered Kentucky.
But instead of getting angry, I laughed and did what should have been done in the first place: I pressed the OnStar communications button and asked for the proper route to my home in Northern Virginia. The information, with turn-by-turn accuracy, was downloaded to my car's communications system within a minute.
I should've done that before setting out from the Detroit metropolitan area. But I was too giddy to embrace common sense.
I had flown to Detroit a day earlier, ostensibly to get an update on the Chevrolet Volt plug-in electric car at the General Motors Technical Center in nearby Warren, Mich.
But the real reason for my trip was parked in one of the Tech Center's side lots -- low-slung, sexy, bright chrome yellow. It was a 2010 Chevrolet Camaro coupe, the 2LT version equipped with GM's 304-horsepower V-6 engine.
I could've chosen the 426-horsepower V-8 Camaro SS. But that would have been asking for a speeding ticket on top of a higher cost for gas.
Besides, the hype was that GM, in resurrecting the rear-wheel-drive Camaro, had given it a V-6 engine that beats all others in power and fuel efficiency. I'm a sucker for that kind of boast. I figured I'd give it a try.
The hype was right. The car had me from the moment I keyed the ignition.
I've been doing this long enough -- driving as many as 35,000 miles annually since 1982 -- to know when a car feels right. The Camaro 2LT coupe, with an interior done in perfectly stitched black leather and outfitted with all of the extra engine- and performance-monitoring gauges that would make any driving enthusiast happy, felt right from the beginning.
Even the exhaust note, the way the gases sound exiting the tailpipe, was right. It was low, guttural -- masculine without a hint of misogyny. I drove from the Tech Center to my hotel, packed my stuff and hit the road.
I followed several construction detours out of Detroit, paying more attention to the Camaro's build quality and performance than to the direction in which I was driving. I remember feeling a bit of sadness and regret.
Had GM built this kind of Camaro all along, an affordable car with knockout looks and first-class road manners, it wouldn't be in the trouble it's in today. Earlier generation Camaros and their Pontiac Firebird siblings were fast. But they were also heavy, clumsy body-on-frame things that experienced some difficulty taking tight corners.
This Camaro, by comparison, was something else altogether. It was tight, relatively light and gifted with the ability to make a tight U-turn on a narrow street without touching a curb left or right.
Long trips in earlier Camaros left me worn out. But after driving several hours in the wrong direction in this one, I wanted to drive some more.
Several of my peers in automotive journalism have extolled the new Camaro as the best muscle car available -- better than the Ford Mustang and Dodge Challenger, considerably more fun to drive than the estimable Hyundai Genesis coupe. I join them in that assessment . . . and leave you with this thought:
The federal government, to which GM is beholden for billions of dollars in emergency loans, seems determined to take a strong hand in running the company, going so far as to tell it what kinds of cars to make.
That, perhaps, is a right of ownership given that the federal government now owns a major stake in GM. It's also fair that the government demand that GM make cars that make sense for conservation of the fuel we all need and the air we all breathe.
But here's hoping that the government leaves some room for creativity and fun and that it keeps in mind those of us who love driving well-crafted automobiles such as the new Camaro, the kind of car that invites driving for the sheer joy of driving.