Back in 1990s, Volkswagen had an advertising campaign built around German word “fahrvergnügen,” which loosely means “driving pleasure.” Apparently the whimsical ads worked on me, because I keep hearing it every time I get into a new car.
We recently had the pleasure of driving two cars loaded with fahrvergnügen, the 2013 Chevrolet Camaro SS with the 1LE track package, and the Nissan 370Z Touring coupe with the Sport Package. The Camaro SS and the 370Z don’t often get matched side-by-side; Camaros are forever measured against the Ford Mustang, while the 370Z usually ends up against light-footed imports such as the BMW 1 Series. But both of the cars we had were priced at around $40,000, could hustle from 0-60 mph in a little over 4.5 seconds, and get through the quarter mile just slightly north of 13 seconds. Which makes for the better sports car?
Our Camaro SS with the 1LE package came to us in Rally Yellow, with a matte black hood and black 20-inch wheels. It oozed testosterone, and the goosebump-inducing exhaust note gave a satisfying burble when down-revving from high RPMs. Packed with an assortment of handling hardware including suspension bits from the ZL1, and riding on super sticky Goodyear Eagle tires, the Chevy zipped around corners and up/down freeway on ramps with reckless abandon, thanks to the confidence-inspiring grip. It’s almost too much car to fully appreciate on the open road, though; I felt that unless I was willing to do something really stupid (which I wasn’t), then I was not going to find out this car’s handling limits on city streets.
But going fast or slow, the Camaro SS got noticed. I picked up my 12-year-old son and two of his friends from their soccer practice, and after a few hard launches and fast corners I had three young lifelong Camaro fans. Dropping my daughter off at her elementary school also elicited a ton of stares from the boy students. Of course, not everyone was a fan. One of the more conservative moms at the school pointedly asked me if I knew what kind of, ahem, women I would attract if I was single and was driving this car. My response – “I don’t know, I guess women who love fun cars.”
Our 370Z Touring Coupe came to us in stunning Midlight Blue with gorgeous 19-inch forged wheels. It’s not only one of the best looking Z cars, but was a hoot to drive. Performance felt similar to the Camaro’s, but the smaller footprint of this car made it more nimble in turns. Grip was ferocious, and even with the traction control off there was minimal wheel spin from the Bridgestone Potenzas during full-throttle takeoffs. But highest on the fahrvergnügen scale with this car was Nissan’s world class SynchroRev Match. Downshifting is an absolute delight as the system “blips” the throttle to match engine rpm for a smooth transition to the lower gears. I bet more Americans would drive manuals if every stick shift car downshifted this effortlessly.
But these cars are not without their drawbacks. The look-at-me styling of the Camaro is not for everyone, and its shiny plastics inside look cheap for in a car that starts above $32,000. It’s like peering out of a medieval helmet with the limited visibility up front, and while size is not a problem out on the open road, the Chevy does feel bulky when parking in a crowded lot. The trimmer 370Z on the other hand has no back seat, and the tiny cargo space in the hatchback won’t carry more than a few bags of groceries. While side and front visibility of the Z are fine, the view out the rear is very limited. Nissan also needs to muffle the clunking sound coming from the clutch pedal when it’s released quickly.
So which one of these fine cars would I buy? It’s a tough call, but the Camaro edges out the Z because it’s more practical; with a family I need space for my wife and kids. If I weren’t concerned about passengers then I would get the Nissan. It is a fantastic driver’s car, and those SynchroRev Match downshifts were something I would enjoy for a long time.
But that’s just me. If you are in the market for a car like this then you really should drive both and make your own decision. Either way, fahrvergnügen could be in your future for years to come.