- Shattering SS performance
- Tasty Alpha bits, like steering
- Magnetic dampers—amirite?
- Will the turbo four feel right?
- Really skimpy rear seat
- Styling may not be different enough
The 2016 Chevy Camaro finally shuffles off its muscle-car coil and earns true sports-car credentials.
Muscle-car fans have feasted on the new 707-horsepower Hellcat and are just tucking into the 526-hp Ford Shelby GT350. But they won't be able to pass up the final course: the 2016 Chevrolet Camaro, on sale now in Camaro Coupe form and coming early next year as a soft-top Camaro Convertible.
The new Camaro hasn't strayed at all from the classic muscle-car formula, or in truth, all that much from the styling of the fifth-generation car sold from the 2010 model year through 2015. What's underneath is quite different, though: it's now based on General Motors' Alpha architecture, meaning it has a lot in common with Cadillac's ATS and CTS. Those underpinnings mean it's time to stop calling the Camaro a muscle car. Like the Mustang, the Camaro's exceptional handling give it a fuller performance profile that catapults it past previous Camaros and into an entire new performance realm.
From a first glance, it's not as easy to identify the 2016 Camaro as new. The attitude is the same, just slightly smaller, with adjusted proportions that alternate between bawdy and bulky. No Camaro since the first one has had truly lyrical looks, but some of the sharpest and most awkward passages of the fifth-gen Camaro have been resolved in the sixth-generation car. It's sensitive to the approach angle: from the side, the new Camaro's details can be quite striking and well-honed, but from others can seem stubby, foreshortened. The powerful haunches are intact, balancing out the tall nose and its slim grille as best they can. The menace? It's all there, all intact, especially in dark colors.
The cabin's a bigger departure in the correct direction. The thrifty feel of the last-generation car has been chucked along with the last few nods to heritage that don't work in a modern environment. The cockpit has fewer seams, better materials, and a more cohesive look that blends in big touchscreens, digital gauges, and a nifty pair of gimbaled air vents that cycle through climate controls with a twist of their trim rings. It's a fresh take that should still look contemporary for years.
This generation's Camaro gets its first turbocharged 4-cylinder in history, but as of yet, the only versions we've driven are the mid-range V-6 and the shattering, V-8-powered SS. The four's good for 275 hp and up to 30 mpg highway. The V-6? It's rated at 335 hp and 284 pound-feet of torque, good enough to punt the Camaro to 60 mph in about five seconds, behind a soundtrack with its best sounds amplified and ushered into the Camaro's cabin. On its stock 18-inch wheels, with either a rev-matching 6-speed manual or a paddle-shifted 8-speed automatic, the Camaro's middle-child powertrain is lusty enough to dust off the highest-performance Camaros of just a decade ago.
For the first model year, the ultimate Camaro will be the SS, and it's a formidable performance weapon. Stuffed with the Corvette's LT1 V-8, rated at 455 hp and 455 lb-ft of torque, it's a sensational piece of hardware, with 60-mph times of four seconds just within reach at the far end of the throttle pedal's swing.
With any powertrain combination, the Camaro can be tailored to individual driving styles via a new Drive Mode Selector. Like similar systems, it allows drivers to fine-tune the characteristics of the car's steering, stability control, shift timing, and throttle progressions. Sport, Tour, and Snow/Ice modes are joined on the Camaro SS with a Track setting—and Chevy lets drivers customize those system settings individually, to create their own drive mode.
Its suspension has a double-pivot, control-arm and strut design as in the Cadillacs, with the same attention to weight reduction that makes suspension members look like flying buttresses instead of solid pieces. And in the rear, the five-link design can be fitted with GM's excellent Magnetic Ride Control adaptive dampers, on the Camaro SS options list for the first time this year.
Electric power steering is standard on the LT and SS, the only models to be offered this year. Four-piston Brembo brakes are standard, tucked behind 18-inch wheels and Goodyear Eagle Sport tires. Twenty-inch wheels with Eagle F1 run-flat tires are an option on the Camaro LT, while SSs get standard 20-inch versions of the same tire.
With either gearbox and the magnetic dampers, the Camaro SS finally breaks free from its muscle-car mortal coil. It's a true sportscar, skimming over instead of pummeling down pavement, turning in adroitly with a degree of responsiveness that eluded all but the best versions of the fifth-gen car.
Much of the credit for the Camaro's excellent handling goes to its downsized, light-weighted footprint. It's now a part of GM's Alpha family of cars, which includes the Cadillac ATS and CTS. The platform switch helps it drop up to 200 pounds in some trim levels, but more critically, it's the suspension and body design—engine rails, trunk floor, steering gear straight from the CTS-V--that let it keep its classic stance while elevating its handling to a new level.
The switch doesn't help its accommodations, though. Some 2.3 inches shorter, on a wheelbase down 1.6 inches, the Camaro gives up on having a back seat, for the most part. Passenger and driver will actually fit better in front despite a roof height lower by an inch—engineers have found more room by sculpting the headliner and increasing the range of motion of the front seats. It's possible for tall drivers to race this Camaro with a helmet and to sit fairly upright. The rear seats won't hold much more than a backpack, and the trunk is shallow and narrow, but for two passengers, the Camaro's cockpit has never been more comfortable or better trimmed or better organized.
No crash-test data is available yet, since the Camaro is so new. Past versions have performed well, and the new car has more safety technology, like forward-collision warnings, blind-spot monitors, and a standard rearview camera. It needs the latter, too—outward vision is even worse to the rear, and a set of available parking sensors are an option we'd consider essential.
All Camaros come standard with power windows, locks, and mirrors; Bluetooth with audio streaming; an AM/FM audio system with a 7.0-inch touchscreen, six speakers, two USB ports and an auxiliary jack; Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (late availability); hardware for in-car 4G LTE data services (subscription for data required separately); cruise control; keyless ignition; power front seats; 18-inch wheels; and driver-selectable drive modes.
Given all that, the Camaro is a tremendous value, even at the intimidating SS level. Prices for the turbo coupe start at $26,695; for the V-6, at $28,490. The mighty V-8-powered SS with the 6.2-liter V-8 begins at just $37,295, and with the highly recommended magnetic dampers and other key options, falls in the mid-$40,000 range—a few thousand shy of where Ford's Shelby GT350 gets started.
Contrary to what you might be expecting, fuel economy doesn't swing dramatically for the Camaro's three different powertrains. The most frugal option: a turbo four married to an 8-speed automatic manages 25 mpg combined, according to the EPA. Contrast that to the 6.2-liter V-8's 20 mpg combined performance when equipped with the same 8-speed. The V-8 even manages 28 mpg on the highway, thanks to cylinder deactivation technology.