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Sometimes, it’s best to leave the time machine parked

Published in blog.hemmings.com

Ad courtesy of Lov2XLR8.no.

Imagine this: It’s 1990, and you’re fresh out of college, trade school, or the military, looking to buy your first new car. You come from a long line of bow-tie loyalists, and you’ve always wanted to own a Camaro, but you’re working with a limited budget. The point of entry, as seen in the ad above, is the $10,995 Chevrolet Camaro RS.

That kind of money isn’t going to net you a V-8, but it will fund a 3.1-liter, multi-port fuel-injected V-6, up 300 cc (18-cu.in.) in displacement from the year before. As a result, the output is increased as well, growing from 135 horsepower and 160-lb.ft. of torque in 1989, to a more respectable 144 hp and 180-lb.ft. in 1990. As a result, your new Camaro RS can dash from 0-60 mph in around 9.0 seconds, and get through the quarter-mile in 16.7 seconds, at a trap speed of 83 mph.

Those numbers may not stand up to legendary Camaros of yore, but the five-speed manual transmission provides a reasonable amount of entertainment, and insurance is cheaper than it would be for a V-8 Camaro. On the other hand, the V-6’s fuel economy of 15 mpg city and 24 mpg highway (18 mpg combined) is identical to the 5.0-liter V-8, so there’s no cost savings at your weekly fill-up.

Fast forward 30 years, and now it’s your son’s (or daughter’s) turn to buy his first new car. Of course, it’s a Chevrolet, in keeping with family brand alliances, and since he doesn’t want an SUV or pickup, a Camaro is what he’s shopping. How does today’s base Camaro LS stack up against the 1990 equivalent?

First and foremost, there’s price. The $10,995 you paid in 1990 is the equivalent of roughly $21,600 today, and that isn’t enough to get you behind the wheel of a 2020 Camaro in any form. Today, the point of entry for a Camaro is $25,995, which buys you a coupe powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, with a six-speed manual transmission. As it turns out, that’s not necessarily bad news.

The base turbocharged four in the new Camaro produces 275 hp and 295-lb.ft. of torque, enough to get the LS model from 0-60 mph in 5.4 seconds (according to Chevrolet), and through the quarter-mile in 14.1 seconds, at 103 mph (according to GM Authority). The 2020 Camaro is roughly 400 pounds heavier than its 1990 equivalent, making the performance improvement that much more impressive.

The four-banger is a fuel-sipper, too (track days and autocross sessions excluded, of course), delivering 20 mpg city and 30 mpg highway (23 mpg combined). That’s considerably better than today’s 6.2-liter V-8, which when paired with a manual transmission returns 16 mpg city, 24 mpg highway, and 19 mpg combined.

We often hear that “kids today don’t have any new cars to aspire to,” but we’d beg to differ. The Camaro doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and similar performance-oriented choices, priced comparably, are available from other manufacturers (domestic and foreign) as well.

Like the “Video + Music” store in the ad, the 1990s are long since expired. As today’s entry-level pony cars demonstrate, perhaps that’s a good thing.