General Motors Corp. unveils the production version of its highly anticipated ‘10 Chevrolet Camaro, a revived muscle coupe the auto maker desperately needs to reestablish its image as a manufacturer of stylish, enjoyable passenger cars.

GM calls the new Camaro a 21st century sports car that reflects the heritage of its name, while keeping with the design and technology of the concept model.

Ed Welburn, vice-president-design, says the new Camaro’s styling reflects a thoroughly modern, contemporary execution over its first-generation predecessor that bowed in 1966 as a ‘67 model. The new rear-wheel-drive model also captures many of the design elements that helped the concept car steal the 2006 North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

“It lives up to every aspect of that car,” Welburn says of the inevitable comparison between the two versions, “from the full-width grille to proportions of the vehicle, the tight overhangs and plain-view shapes.”

The new Camaro rides on a 112.3-ins. (285.2-cm) wheelbase, measures 190.4 ins. (483.6 cm) long, 75.5 in.s (191.8 cm) wide and stands 54.2 ins. (137.7 cm) tall.

Curb weights range between 3,741 lbs. (1,700 kg) and 3,913 (1,779 kg), depending on trim level and powertrain combinations. The 4-passenger coupe retains the 2+2 seating configuration of its predecessors.

Inside, the production Camaro continues to build on the concept by retaining cues such as a deep-dish steering wheel and strong, properly placed gauges.

The interior design execution is “far more harmonious (and) contemporary than the original concept,” Welburn, who owns a first-generation Camaro, says during yesterday’s Webcast unveiling. “A strong design, very well-executed.”

The new Camaro hits the streets early next year, with production start set for Feb. 16 at the auto maker’s Oshawa, ON, Canada, assembly plant. GM says the car will feature a thoroughly modern powertrain lineup and suspension.

The auto maker will offer LS and LT trim levels with a 3.6L V-6 engine with direct injection and variable-valve timing, mated to either a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic transmission. The combination, which also appears on the ‘08 Cadillac CTS, delivers 300 hp and 273 lb.-ft. (370 Nm) of torque and requires regular gasoline.

GM also revives the Camaro’s SS model with a 6.2L V-8, which features cylinder deactivation on automatic-equipped combinations and a 6-speed manual transmission. Expect upwards of 422 hp and 408 lb.-ft. of torque (553 Nm), depending on the transmission. The model will require premium fuel.

Ed Peper, GM North America vice president-Chevrolet, says V-6 models equipped with automatic transmissions should achieve at least 26 mpg (9 L/100 km) on the highway, while V-8 models will reach 23 mpg (10 L/100 km) highway.

The RWD coupe also receives front- and rear-independent suspensions, a relatively uncommon setup for vehicles in the segment. LS and LT models get a “sport” level tuning of the suspension, while SS models receive a “performance” level suspension that includes a lower ride height.

GM tunes each suspension to match the performance capabilities of their respective powertrains, as well as their wheel-and-tire combinations. “That’s what I mean by a 21st-century sports car,” Peper says.

Peper also says marketplace buzz over the new Camaro’s upcoming launch exceeds anything he’s seen in his career, a buildup intensified by a starring role in the “Transformers” film last summer. “We’ve had more than 600,000 hand-raisers who want to know more about this great vehicle. The wait is almost over.”

GM ceased Camaro production at its St. Therese, QC, Canada, assembly plant in 2002, closing a 35-year run for the vehicle.

Today, the auto maker needs the revived Camaro to punch up its image in a passenger-car market dominated by import rivals and help resuscitate a struggling North American business that led the company to announce a third round of restructuring initiatives last week.

jamend@wardsauto.com