The American road trip is an institution, a free, open, majestic exploration of this vast, great nation, in which the participants are able to make their own choices, seek their own experiences, and delight in the secrets and hidden gems dotted throughout the landscape. It’s the reason why, when tasked with travelling from Los Angeles to Las Vegas this past month, our editor and I chose to drive through the desert -- to have our own miniature road trip.
Our 265-mile journey began in downtown L.A., at a Hertz rental location. There, we had our own Sophie’s Choice as we struggled to pick between the models in Hertz’s Adrenaline Collection, a range of high-performance muscle cars that includes the Dodge Challenger R/T, Ford Mustang GT Premium, Corvette Convertible, and, our selection, the Chevy Camaro SS -- in convertible guise, naturally. We chose the Camaro for its good looks and the 6.2L V8 throbbing under the hood. What better way to drive cross-country?
After fighting to put our suitcases in the rear seats -- the Camaro sadly lacks any semblance of usable trunk space with the roof down -- it was out onto the open road. The V8 pulled effortlessly, negotiating the L.A. traffic with ease, aided by the all-around visibility offered with having no roof. Its suspension, while on the firm side of comfortable, dispensed with the scarred road surfaces and pockmarked freeways, combining with weighty steering that provided confidence at every speed, but also didn’t hinder maneuverability when parking.
After a pit stop at Rancho Cucamonga on the outskirts of L.A., where we filled up on the West Coast’s greatest fast-food stop, In-N-Out Burger, it was into the main portion of our drive. Putting the Camaro’s roof up to shield from the hot afternoon sun, we started eating through the miles and, emulating Priscilla, became two queens of the desert -- though sadly without the costumes.
The Camaro made for an exceedingly comfortable companion. At highway speeds, it’s quiet, smooth, and its 426 horsepower engine makes overtaking a breeze. It retained its composure right up to… ahem… just 65mph, officer. Efficient air-conditioning dispatched the worst of the desert heat, leaving us free to marvel at the view.
And what a view. The Mojave Desert is a sun-scorched, arid, but also achingly beautiful place. Rocks rise out of the sand, cacti line the roads, and mile after mile the horizon stretched in every direction, occasionally broken by bright red, incredibly dramatic mountain ranges, but often uninterrupted save for sand dunes as far as we could see.
After 150 miles of easy driving, we encountered slow traffic. Then stopped traffic. For 90 minutes we sat in 120-degree heat, an accident further down the road bringing us to a grinding halt. While frustrating, it also gave us time to explore the Camaro’s cabin -- and it came up somewhat short.
It has a very capable entertainment system, with Bluetooth audio and calling, and Sirius XM included, but it’s housed within a touchscreen package that feels cheap, like an average aftermarket effort. Compounding this is the dash, which, while nice to touch for the most part, devolves into some pretty cheap plastics the farther you get from the main console. Some sacrifices evidently had to be made to reach the $30,660 MSRP, but cheaper cars than this have higher-quality plastics. The Camaro’s saving grace, however, is its seats. Deep buckets, they hugged in all the right places, holding around tight bends, and keeping snug on long straights. In our five-hour drive, I didn’t feel any fatigue or numbing of limbs, and the leather remained cool and comfortable.
When the traffic cleared, the roof came down again for the final blast toward Vegas. Gradually, mountains and sand dunes gave way to small pockets of civilization -- casinos, motels, the occasional shopping outlet. As the sun slowly sank, we blasted down our last long stretch of highway, and Vegas finally came into view, like a desert oasis in the distance. Just in time, too, as the Camaro’s engine had liberally drunk almost an entire tank -- though it drains noticeably faster with the roof down, due to the increased drag.
It was here that we had our most memorable moment -- turning onto the Vegas Strip, in a muscle car, with the roof down, rolling through the lights and crowds and casinos. The Camaro, its muted V8 roaring between stoplights, had carried us through the desert with ease. Cargo space and a mismatched interior aside, it’s an incredible piece of machinery -- and it looked effortlessly cool with the Vegas lightshows bouncing off of its exterior. Our road trip was a success, and a memorable one at that. And we have the Camaro, and the stark beauty of the Mojave, to thank for it.
Special mention must go to Hertz for providing our Camaro. Their Adrenaline Collection is a drool-worthy roster of high-performance cars, and sits alongside the Prestige Collection, which offers luxury sedans and SUVs. Both guarantee to elevate your rental experience above the norm, and come thoroughly recommended.