the verdict: Stars and gripes

If Eighties retro is your thing, you may well love the Chevrolet Camaro - but most will wish it had never left the freeway
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Indy Lifestyle Online
If cars, like jokes, can be lost in translation, the Chevrolet Camaro Z28 is rendered truly unfathomable by its journey across the Atlantic. In America, this macho coupe costs around pounds 13,000, and is bought by the sort of people who, over here, might plump for a Vauxhall Tigra or Ford Puma. On its native wide, endless highways, the Camaro's immense power and hovercraft smoothness have made it an American staple, like hog roast and silicon implants. Point it down any British A-road, however, and things start to go very wrong indeed.

On paper it all looks very impressive. For pounds 24,410 you can get behind a 5.7-litre V8 engine which can generate 284bhp and achieve a top speed of 160mph. It will run for 100,000 miles without requiring a service and, despite its capacity, it can carry you 21 miles per gallon of fuel. But on paper is where this car should have remained.

Just look at the thing. It's as if the Nineties (and the Ford Probe) never happened. With its naff "targa" roof (two glass panels lift out), long overhangs at front and rear, and vulgar chrome wheels, it is stuck firmly in an Eighties time warp. It's the Peter Stringfellow of motoring - and I don't think I've ever been so embarrassed to be seen behind the wheel of a car.

Once inside, the soft, wallowy suspension and numb brakes make you tiptoe around corners, the windscreen distorts the view, and the seats gave me instant backache. I am usually happy with left-hand drive cars, but the Camaro is so big that you never really acclimatise to it.

And they haven't even put it together properly. The Camaro is cheap and shoddy throughout, from the plastics used for the dashboard to the irregular gaps between body panels. But it has now been made available in the UK through 12 specialist dealers (prices start at pounds 18,800 for the 3.8-litre V6). Maybe they can explain the joke.

Call 0845 6012121 for your nearest Chevrolet dealer

Warwick Robinson

37, database administrator, from Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire. Currently a drives TVR Griffith 500

"It's a typically aggressive American sports car but it's not as attractive as a Corvette - the front end looks like a wasp. The interior isn't bad and the seats are nice, but the engine response is nowhere near as quick as my TVR's. It's very large and the feedback from the chassis and steering is virtually nil. It's not a sports car, more a grand tourer. For the price, it's not bad, and I think it will appeal to Essex men in their 30s, or second division footballers, but if I bought one, I couldn't hold my head up at work."

Alan Falkner-Stevens

40, classic American car restorer

Debby Falkner-Stevens

45, housewife, from Newport Pagnell, Buckinghamshire. Currently drive a Fiat Cinquecento

Alan: "This is more refined than earlier Camaros, it's more European, too, and there's a much nicer standard of finish. The ride is much better, more controlled and less jiggling. It would be a great car to tour France in, but I didn't like the overdrive gearbox."

Debby: "It's a lot better quality than some American cars. It's beautiful and very comfortable - there's good headroom. It didn't feel like a big car to drive. It's tremendously good value."

David Tetlow

41, service engineer from Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire. Currently drives a BMW 3-Series

"The suspension is soft and that's OK around Milton Keynes because it's all dual carriageway, but on country roads it was a lot more of a disappointment. I wouldn't buy a left-hand drive car because I drive in cities a lot. Huge pillars obscure your view, but other than that it's easy to drive. It's certainly got some oomph. It felt safe at speed but did tend to float a little - you have to correct the steering all the time. This is amazing value. But it isn't well made, inside it's falling to bits and the roof rattles very badly."

Norman Nuttall

67, currently drives a Rover Vitesse

Paul Nuttall

43, currently drives a Mercedes 560SEC. Father and son, from Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire. Owners of a car storage company

Norman: "It's very good and I thought it would cost a lot more - I was comparing it to the Jaguar XK8, which is twice as expensive. But on modern English roads it's difficult to exploit its power. It's really a weekend car."

Paul: "The performance is pretty good, but I don't think I'd be very happy to be seen in this, I prefer something more discreet. It's not as expensive as I'd thought, though."

Road test

If you would like to take part, write to The Verdict, The Independent Magazine, One Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL, giving a contact phone number, your address and details of the type of vehicle, if any, you drive. For most cars, participants must be over 26, and have a clean driving licence.

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