The base-model Chevrolet Camaro was such a dork for so long. It was weak, slow and generally incapable of eliciting enthusiasm. But now it’s one of those dorks who grew up, sold an app and became a millionaire. The 2017 Chevrolet Camaro 2.0T has taken off the taped glasses and become worthy of your attention.
The small sub-$30,000 turbocharged Camaro isn’t about to unseat the V8 SS as the big car on campus, yet, but it’s finally a solid alternative for somebody who cares more about efficiency than engine sound but doesn’t want something that sucks to drive.
(Full disclosure: Chevrolet Canada wanted me to drive the Camaro 2.0T so badly, it lent me one clean with a full tank of gas for a full week.)
You don’t need a Canadian like me to explain what a Camaro is, or how it’s one of the most iconic American pony cars and is arch nemesis to the Ford Mustang for over 50 years. The best ones, of course, have a V8.
The base Camaro was always especially lame. My aunt owned one. She liked the way the car looked but didn’t care much about speed and handling. Those were the kinds of people that bought base Camaros in the past—they either didn’t give a rat’s ass about performance, or couldn’t afford to.
Today, things have changed. The entry level Camaro comes with a four-cylinder turbo; the same 2.0-liter that powers the Equinox crossover.
Now, before you all start yelling blasphemy with your burning stakes and pitchforks, let me tell you that this four-pot pumps out a claimed 275 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque.
Even in its most basic rental-car configuration, Chevrolet says the Camaro will hit 60 mph in 5.7 seconds. That’s a scant 0.5 seconds behind the V8-powered stick-shift Camaro SS you might have been drooling over 15 years ago.
Electrification and downsizing are inevitable, in many cases even here, and the cars that will have the most difficulty adapting to this new reality are the pillars of American muscle. Carmakers like Chevrolet, Ford and Dodge need to start convincing their consumers that a Camaro, Mustang and Challenger can still be cool, fun, and fast without the gas-guzzling V8 so synonymous with their nameplates. That’s not easy to do, but stuffing a four-banger under the hood that isn’t an abysmal buzz-killer is the first step in that direction.
For purist enthusiasts, a four-cylinder Camaro is the equivalent of a tofu T-bone. No matter how many spices you throw on it, it’ll never be real meat, which makes selling the thing twice as hard.
But Ford proved, with its four-cylinder Mustang EcoBoost, that it can be done. Dearborn’s turbocharged pony car is so good that it killed the V6 outright. And GM wants to market theirs as a genuine sports car, not a muscle or one-trick pony car.
I have to admit, mechanically speaking, that 2.0T with an automatic makes a whole lot of sense. I give credit to GM for manufacturing an engine that pulls hard, is smooth and quasi-free of turbo lag all while delivering decent fuel economy. That automatic gearbox also shifts effortlessly in the background, always giving you the right cog the moment you need it. And the paddle shifters actually work- the car blips through each gear quickly and swiftly, with no unwanted delays.
In that respect, this Camaro feels very much like a four-cylinder BMW. It’s efficient, and puts down power in a clean, no-nonsense manner.
But it doesn’t sound like a Camaro, which is a huge letdown.
There are turbo wooshes and a four-cylinder zing, singing more like a hot hatch than an American sports car. Chevrolet says it’s given the engine a bit of artificial sound enhancement to synthesize some soul, which the driver can decide to deactivate. But even with the added electronic decibels, the exhaust note just doesn’t do the car’s bad-boy looks any kind of justice.
Speaking of looks, this is a nicely-shaped car. It’s filled with creases and folds, an aggressive front end, squinting headlights and a nice low, wide stance. Painted in Summit White with the optional 20-inch black aluminum wheels, people kept asking me if my tester was an SS. Or a new Transformer.
Until I floored it. Then they thought it was a Malibu with a Camaro body.
Unfortunately, things start falling apart the moment you sit inside the 2017 Camaro. Sure, fit and finish is better than decent and the seating position is low like in any good sports coupe. Those front seats are also much more comfortable than anything you’ll find in a Mustang or a Challenger. I’d know, because I happened to have driven both of those cars a few weeks prior driving this Chevy.
But you really can’t see shit out of a Camaro. The cowl is high and the roof is low. So front, rear, and side windows suddenly resemble tiny slits of light through which you’ll be screaming for help in a crash. Don’t be claustrophobic, because you’ll feel as if you’ll be trapped inside a giant metal box in this car. It’s also huge and very wide, so you’ll have a hell of a hard time parking it or let alone positioning it on the road.
And lateral visibility is no better. The sideview mirrors are tiny, and the car’s haunches are so wide that all you’ll see in those reflective devices will be a car. Your car. Why the hell isn’t blind spot monitoring standard in a car like this?
Finally, I know taste is subjective, which is why I won’t consider the Camaro’s hideous dashboard styling with its giant rotary air vents as a disappointment. But I will mention how the screen for the infotainment system slants downwards due to the way the dashboard is designed. So it’s quite difficult to see things in it, especially when you’re backing up. Even the backup camera has limited visibility.
Weird interior aside, the 2017 Chevrolet Camaro 2.0T is a great car for casual driving. It’s comfortable, quiet, refined and generally speaking, there are no unwanted rattles or awkward chassis quibbles when you drive it over the imperfect stuff like you get in a Dodge.
But it remains a stiff car and the four-cylinder model doesn’t get the super-smooth magnetic suspension its V8 sisters get. So in the everyday world, this sucker will beat you up hard if you dare attack that pothole head-on. Sure, the chassis will hold, and the entire car won’t fret. But you might want to have your spine checked after your drive because the Camaro doesn’t give you much cushion.
As mentioned earlier, fuel economy is reasonable. I’d hang around at 26 combined mpg, not bad for a 270-plus horsepower sports car. The rear seat is pretty much non-existent, but to my surprise, the Camaro has a decently sized trunk. The opening is tight but it’s deep and cavernous. There are nine cubic feet of space in there.
It’s no Honda Accord (14 cubes) but it’s much more spacious than a Mazda MX-5’s cargo hold (4.5 cubes). So yeah, if you’re single, don’t have kids to haul around, and your skeleton is healthy, then you can daily a Camaro 2.0T.
With that 2.0-liter sitting far back in its enormous engine bay, the Camaro loses 100 pounds off the V6-powered car. Weight distribution also moves back a bit. That’s the first thing you notice about the car when you throw it in a bend hard- the front end is light, agile and immensely tactile.
The car changes direction with agility and the steering is quick to react, with plenty of heft in it, especially when the car is set to Sport mode. And even under excessive abuse, never did the automatic transmission get in my way. If anything, it actually helped me get better performance out of the surprisingly rev-happy engine.
This will sound a bit weird, but handling-wise, the Camaro 2.0T feels like a small and nimble Japanese or Korean sports car at times, almost like a Hyundai Genesis coupe or even a Subaru BRZ. Here’s where it most feels like its platform mate, the Cadillac ATS, a superb-handling sedan.
I was also satisfied with how tail-happy this little guy was compared to some of its V8 competitors. I still haven’t driven the new Camaro SS, but give this turbo Chevy a good jab at the throttle when exiting a corner with traction control off, and its ass will kick out in a snap. The limits of adhesion are lower than in a Mustang GT or Challenger T/A, which means you can have more fun with it without causing too many scares. Instead, powerslides are graceful, controllable, and almost Germanic in execution.
So yes, when driven hard, this Camaro is a gem. It sounds stupid. But it’s a gem, nevertheless.
Chevrolet will sell you a 276-horsepower, rear-wheel-drive sports car with a six-speed manual for $26,900 ($31,595 CAN). That’s cheap, considering the kind of performance you’ll be getting.
My tester was the 1LT package, which adds that eight-speed automatic, an upgraded, six-speaker sound system with steering wheel mounted audio controls and a remote starter. You can get one of those for $27,695 ($33,145 CAN). The kickass 20-inch wheels are an $800 option ($880 CAN).
By comparison, an entry level Ford Mustang turbo will set you back $26,195, but with considerably more power (310 horsepower) and similar fuel economy, but with about the same acceleration times. Meanwhile, a base, V6-powered Dodge Challenger kicks off at $26,995, but will only sprint to 60 mph in about 6.2 seconds, and will return about 24 mpg along the way.
So among the bargain-basement pony cars, the Camaro 2.0T is more-or-less neck-to-neck with an EcoBoost Mustang but quicker and thriftier than a base Challenger.
The 2017 Chevrolet Camaro 2.0T may lack true muscle car appeal, but it comes through as a competent American sports car that will hold its own against modern hot hatchbacks in a drag race and won’t humiliate itself on a race day weekend. As far as fun per dollar goes, if you don’t mind visiting your chiropractor more often, there’s a lot to like here.
Just like that weird kid you ignored in high school who grew up to run Hooli, the base-model Camaro is something you’re going to want to be friends with now.
Weak engine rumbles notwithstanding, it’s a damn decent sports car, and not a base model anyone should be ashamed of.
(Correction: We originally posited that the 2017 Camaro 2.0T was only 0.2 seconds behind an early 2000s Camaro SS in a 0 to 60 sprint, but later realized a 0.5 second difference is more accurate.)
William Clavey is an automotive journalist from Montréal, Québec, Canada. He runs claveyscorner.com.