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May 26, 2009 - Autos

Robert Eckaus
The Autotragic Camaro SS

GM has handicapped the new Chevrolet Camaro SS with the optional automatic transmission with 26 less horsepower than the six speed manual version. This is an unusual decision in this day and age. The automatic has come a long way, why penalize a halo muscle car that is making its return after a seven year absence?

The Camaro SS automatic is rated at 400hp and its engine is called the L99 vs. the manual called the LS3. The LS3 is also in the Corvette and the Pontiac G8 GXP. The L99 has an Active Fuel Management System that shuts off cylinders when power demand is minimal. However it also redlines 600rpm lower than the manual and is EPA rated at 25mpg vs. the manual's 24mpg. Granted it is an impressive switch since automatics are almost always rated lower. But the appeal of this car is horsepower. Would buyers of $32k muscle car coupes really care that their automatics get slightly worse mileage than their manual counterparts? No.

"Autotragic" is a moniker for cars with an automatic transmission for several reasons, past and present. Reasons included power loss due to the indirect connection to the engine, sluggish shifting, less gears and in the past, even a lesser horsepower rating than the "stick shift" counterparts. Of course consistency on the dragstrip is an advantage, but it is unsuitable for road circuit racing. Slushbox is another nickname for the automatic tranny...

Even in the nineties, the automatic transmission wasn't exactly a big performance penalty and cars like the Corvette and Camaro, while slower than their manual counterparts, still had good performance figures. The Toyota Supra twin-turbo was also considered a strong performer with what was considered one of the stoutest automatic transmissions on the market.

Today automatics have up to eight forward gears (Lexus) and the power loss gap has closed from decades past with lock-up torque converters among other advances. Mercedes has only offered an automatic for years in their cars. From the early 350hp or non-supercharged E55 to the 670hp twin turbocharged V-12 SL65 AMG Black Series, these cars are fully respected and have a lot of credibility on the street and even on the drag strip.

Another oddity about the Camaro horsepower downgrade is its corporate siblings, the Corvette and Pontiac G8 GXP, both share the same engine but the automatic version has the same horsepower rating. The reason most likely has to due with the technology and hardware for the cylinder deactivation. It sure isn't due to reliability, the G8 and Corvette frame the Camaro in horsepower and weight, and this transmission isn't on the hairy edge longevity. That would be a disaster. Years of Corvette drag racing seem to support this. Currently the "fast list" is on page 205. Look at all the automatics ("A6" means automatic in the list).

What owners of $32k muscle car coupes with a modern paddle-shifted automatics do care about is horsepower. Penalizing the automatic is a mistake. Put the technology in trucks and SUVs if it works in those heavier vehicles, or develop it to equal the manual in horsepower output. But when it comes to the best "bang for the buck" on the market today, don't create the need for an asterik for years to come when potential buyers and owners consider the Camaro SS.

More at cartruthblog.blogspot.com

Keywords: chevy, camaro, ss, pontiac, G8, GXP, Mercedes, SL65, black, series, toyota, supra, corvette, l99, ls3, autotragic, slushbox
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