Six Shooters: We Find the King of the Affordable V-6 Coupes
From virtually every angle, the 2010 Chevrolet Camaro is a gorgeous car. Its C-pillar, in coke-bottle profile, looks even more rakish than that of the 1969 Camaro, which served as its designers’ inspiration. Its deep grille is like a fierce smile and the rear-view accents huge rear quarter-panels and extreme tumblehome — the way those quarter panels flare out from the greenhouse. It’s more than a retro reference to the original Camaro. It’s an homage to the Bill Mitchell era of exuberant styling, when General Motors divisions needn’t be bothered with outside competition. They competed with each other to dominate the North American market.
Subjectively, the 2010 Camaro is the best-looking new model of this old breed of pony/musclecar. And in V-8 form, it beat the updated Ford Mustang and Dodge Challenger in our June cover story comparison.
Taking the more economical V-6 is no penalty. The 3.6-liter gas direct-injection DOHC engine makes just 11 fewer ponies than the Mustang GT’s aging 24-valve, 4.6-liter V-8, though the Camaro carries the burden of a couple hundred extra pounds. Considering the ill timing of launching a new, large coupe as its maker is on the ropes for more government loan guarantees, and as consumers pay more attention to emissions, fuel-price swings and their pocketbooks, the Camaro V-6 stands a better chance of becoming a sales success than does its more powerful and more expensive SS V-8 sibling. Ford traditionally sells a lot of V-6 Mustangs based on style and image rather than on performance. The six-cylinder Camaro, available well equipped for under $30K (higher, with the RS package) should rival the V-6 Mustang in popularity.
Enter the spoiler. In the 1970s, the four-cylinder, rear-drive Toyota Celica forced its way into the Mustang/Camaro/Firebird/Challenger/Cuda sandbox just as insurance companies, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries choked our V-8s below 200 horsepower.
Today’s spoiler comes from South Korea, not Japan. The 2010 Hyundai Genesis Coupe, with rear drive and turbo-four or V-6 power, is about eight inches shorter than the Camaro, or half a foot shorter than the Mustang. Although it shares components with the Genesis sedan, it’s been designed specifically to be too small to take the sedan’s optional 4.6-liter Tau V-8 in its engine bay. Like the Celica of a generation back, the Genesis Coupe is meant to dazzle musclecar fans with fancy footwork its bigger, heavier competitors can’t match.
Nevertheless, Camaro and Genesis Coupe appeal to similar buyers, those who value style and the ability to drive stylishly fast over a useful back seat or trunk space, with gas mileage that won’t embarrass those owners. The Genesis V-6 with six-speed manual gets a manufacturer’s estimated 17/26 mpg, while the Camaro V-6/six-speed manual combo manages 17/29 mpg.
Asking for V-6/manuals landed us a Track Package version of the Genesis Coupe and a preproduction, non-RS Camaro with the 2LT package, shod with 19-inch all-season performance tires. The Camaro came with the Inferno Orange interior package, handsome polished five-spoke wheels, and a sticker a couple of grand off the Hyundai’s.
Even on metro Detroit’s war-zonelike roads, the Hyundai’s track package suspension wasn’t overly stiff. It’s busy on expansion-strip pavement, but doesn’t crash over bumps and potholes like some extreme sports cars. The two cars scored similar numbers for our track testing, but achieved them in very different ways.
“The Camaro feels way heavier,” tester Markus writes. “It reached a higher top speed on the figure-eight, but clocked a slower overall time, thanks to the Genesis’s slightly better transition cornering and the Camaro’s stronger acceleration. Its 7000-rpm redline and taller gearing means no 2-3 upshift, or 3-2 downshift was necessary.”
On the highway, the Genesis Coupe’s way shorter top gear ratio translated into higher revs at cruising speeds, helping explain lower highway fuel mileage.
Reality bit the Camaro in acceleration testing at Chrysler’s Chelsea Proving Grounds. It kept up with the Genesis to 50 mph, then needed an extra tenth of a second to make 60 mph. By the quarter mile, the heavy Chevy was 0.2 second off at a trap speed of 98.3 mph, versus 99.8 mph for the Hyundai. The Camaro’s mushy-feeling, single-piston caliper disc brakes surprised us, too. In the 60-to-0-mph test, its 107-foot stop beat the Genesis by seven feet. Markus remarked that, on Chelsea’s road handling course, “both cars are fun to drive, easy to slide around in the tightest twisty turns. But the Hyundai bites harder on initial turn in and rotates a bit more eagerly.”
The dynamic subtleties amplify in real-world driving, where runoffs consist of curbs, ditches, trees, and hills. The gearbox in our bright-yellow Genesis coupe feels fairly slick and positive, although every near-redline upshift in the acceleration testing was attended by a big belt squeak, the type an air conditioning compressor often triggers, even with the A/C off.
The Camaro’s shifter feels clunkier, with too vague a detent for reverse. Both tackle the “oops, that’s reverse, not first” problem, with the Camaro’s digital message center registering a big “R” and the Genesis letting out a beep. Chevy equips the Camaro with a proper handbrake, a rare thing in a GM car these days, but the handle is long and you have to pull it up, hard, to engage the parking brake. It may seem picky, but a shorter, better-feeling handbrake is one of the refinements Ford boasts about with its 2010 Mustang. And the Camaro’s dead pedal is poorly positioned in relation to the working pedals. The Genesis’s dead pedal has a good spatial relationship to the clutch pedal, and the pedals are easier to heel-and-toe than in the Camaro’s.
Finally, the Camaro’s bucket seats are too wide between bolsters. Anyone under 250 pounds will find his back sliding across the seatback in esses. (Does Chevy know its customers too well?) The Camaro offers a much more entertaining view from the driver’s seat, though. The Hyundai is all function over form, with a bland, but well-built black interior featuring decent midlevel materials and good fit and finish. Unlike in the Camaro, you won’t slide around in the seat while cornering fast. And you can easily see the road ahead from its sloping hoodline, whereas the Camaro has acres of long, flat bi-level hood in the view ahead.
On our road test loop in Ohio’s Hocking Hills, both the Camaro and Genesis were fun to drive. “Surprisingly confident for such a big car on all-season tires,” Markus says of the Camaro. Drive the Genesis second and it’s like discovering smaller, foreign-car handling in the ’70s after driving late-’60s musclecars.
“Feels much more geared to the road,” Markus says of the Hyundai. “Lighter steering feel, crisper turn-in, great power.”
The Genesis has poor on-center steering feel, which drains confidence a bit in left-right-left transitions. You’ll forgive that if you drive the Camaro afterward. Steering is far too numb lock to lock, as if engineers chose the 1969 Camaro as its model for that component, too — the last thing you want when you’re trying to hustle a 3800-pound coupe this large around a two-lane with trees in the “runoff.”
While the Camaro doesn’t have excessive understeer, it’s the kind of car that seems to be waiting for a break in the curves so it can be run up through the gears on a long straight. The Genesis wants to play. Even with electronic stability control on, you can feel the rear tires on the Hyundai give up some lateral grip to the throttle. It’s rewarding when you reach past its limits, where the Camaro can feel a bit scary.
The Coupe’s big half brother, the Genesis sedan, came to North America last year with compromised chassis tuning to try and overcome its home market’s predilection for soft, cushy sedans. This made us wonder whether Hyundai had it in itself to make a real, enthusiast’s car. Wonder no longer: The Genesis Coupe — at least with the Track Package — while not perfect, proves Hyundai can do it.
Your humble Detroit bureau’s predilection was to give the new Chevy Camaro the benefit of the doubt. It has far more visual appeal than the Hyundai Genesis, and that’s why people buy sport coupes. Meanwhile, GM has downsized itself into underdog status. The Camaro’s sibling, the Pontiac G8, ends production this year. That makes the Camaro GM’s only North American-market Zeta-platform car. It’s a pre-reorganization present to baby-boomers who’ve been waiting seven years since the demise of the F-Body. After a five- or six-year run, GM’s rear-drive business likely will revert to Cadillac and Corvette.
The Hyundai Genesis, sedan and coupe, look ready to thrive, if only in low volume in light of fuel economy and emissions regulations. While the Camaro scored slightly higher real-world fuel economy than the Genesis, Hyundai’s numbers will get better when it adds such technology as gas direct-injection. The 2010 Chevy Camaro is a beautiful tribute to our automotive past. If there is a future for rear-drive sport coupes, it’s in a car like the Hyundai Genesis.
FIRST PLACE: Hyundai Genesis Coupe
Best viewed from behind the wheel, where it handles entertaining roads more like a sports car than a pony- or musclecar.
SECOND PLACE: Chevrolet Camaro
Powerful, refined V-6 and enough style to lend some to Hyundai, its weight and size make it less entertaining on second- and third-gear roads.
By Todd Lassa