Thankfully, the pod between speedo and tacho contains a digital speedometer and that is easy to read. The control stalks are nicely weighted, and the buttons on the steering wheel spokes, for such as cruise control and XM Radio are instinctual, and don't require you to take your eyes off the road. The view out is fine, despite shallow windows, and all-around visibility is good, despite thick C-pillars. Being able to see the car's wide hips in the door mirrors is also a major boon in tight parking lot maneuvers.
So the trade-off for the stiff ride is supposed to be sharp handling, and contrary to some reports, it works. Yes, on corners tighter than 90 degrees, the big V8 does send the nose wide, but that feeling is exaggerated to the driver because the steering rack ratio just seems plain slow.
Once the outside front tire does start scrabbling, you have the option in the auto – whose semi-auto mode is, aggravatingly, governed by buttons on the back of the steering wheel spokes, instead of paddles – of clicking down an extra ratio mid-turn, and, if the traction control is off, using the gas to pivot the car on the nose.
You wouldn't want to do the same in the manual, of course, because the speed with which you depress the clutch and shift the lever is unlikely to equal the speed of the auto box in a down change, and because the slow steering means on tight bends you want both hands on the wheel for full control. Thankfully, though, the steering does have a fair amount of feel.
But given that the manual has 426hp and the auto has 400, and both have six ratios, it's easy to pick the right gear for turns you know, and you can use a surfeit of throttle as you hit the apex in order to counteract the understeer (even with traction control on, if you're prepared to be thuggish with the gas pedal). On longer, faster turns there is mild turn-in understeer but this can easily transition to gentle exit oversteer should you wish, because when you plant the loud pedal and the nose should be at its lightest, the car is well balanced – for fast road use, at least.
However, the SS does have one curious trait, more pronounced than in any other high-performance car I've driven: the rear suspension feels much stiffer than the front. The body-roll seems to emanate entirely from the stern, while the 20-inch rear tires are digging in, ready to gun you out of the corner at an impressive rate. Like I say, at road speeds, it's not a problem, but a major thickening of the front anti-roll bar would be the first mod to make if you wanted to use your Camaro on track.
Whatever else, though, the setup leaves the driver with a feeling of utter security, and that rear-end stability is one of the areas where the Camaro has the edge over the standard Mustang GT. Although the Ford changes direction more adeptly, its live rear axle could never feel as secure as the Chevy's i.r.s. setup at such an early stage of any given corner, especially if the road is rough. In a Mustang, the enthusiastic driver is going to wait for the outside rear to settle before getting back hard on the gas. (The counterpoint is that I'd be willing to wager the Mustang's softer rear end makes it easier to drive fast in the wet.)
So what are the other plus points for the SS when compared to its most direct rival? Well, of course one is the $ per hp ratio: for approximately an extra $3k, you have another 111hp and that's enough to counteract Camaro's 270lb weight penalty and translate into stronger acceleration off the line (according to Road & Track magazine, the SS is 0.7sec quicker to 60, and 2.2sec quicker to 100 than a Mustang GT). You also get an extra gear ratio and of course the automatic has the semi-auto option. The auto's L99 engine also shuts down four cylinders when on a constant cruise, in order to save gas.
I also reckon the Camaro has better steering feel, better noise-suppression, better brakes (the Brembos are seemingly tireless, and have excellent feel) and better headlights (in terms of distance reached). Even more subjectively, some feel the Chevy is better looking, though the only true comparison will be when the Camaro is as common and therefore familiar as the Mustang.
That's something the Camaro deserves to be. In SS form, it offers a great driving experience, is excellent value, and it has enough areas of superiority over the Mustang to make it a true rival in a way that the Dodge Challenger couldn't hope to emulate. If you have $30k to spend and don't need more than two seats, Chevy has produced a “must-try” machine.