Everyone wants to talk about the 2016 Chevy Camaro SS. This makes sense. It’s the one with the V8. But after a 1,000 mile road trip across the west, I can tell you the smart money’s on the unofficial “Working Man’s Edition;” the 1LT V6. Cloth seats, stick shift, 335 horsepower of essential Camaro for the enthusiast driver who doesn’t need rainbow ambient lighting to feel good about their car.
Yes, the V6 Camaro is finally a Camaro you won’t feel bad about owning.
(Full Disclosure: Chevrolet flew me and Jalopnik videographer Mike Roselli to Bozeman, Montana and gave us the key to a 2016 Camaro with the stipulation that we’d return it two days later in Seattle, Washington. We did.)
The 2016 Camaro comes in quite a few flavors, from a 2.0-liter, 275 HP turbo four-cylinder we’ve yet to drive, to this V6, to the SS’s 455 horsepower 6.2 V8—all with a lot of room in between for appearance and trim packages.
The car we spent 1,000 miles poking around America in was the quintessential Jalopnik-spec car; a base model 1LT with just the V6 engine upgrade, the deluxe styling RS package, and some four-piston Brembo brakes all ringing up just a hair over $30,000.
If you look at the 2016 Camaro from the side, or through a pair of drunk goggles, it’s hard to tell the car’s even new. But it is an improvement overall. Compared to the outgoing 2015 Camaro, the new face has a lot more squint to it and the tail’s much sharper.
This car’s predecessor was notoriously hard to see out of, and peering though the new Camaro’s stealth jet-style angles is still a challenge. Rear blind spots are big, who the hell knows what’s directly in front of the grille.
The design feels like it’s maturing though; Chevy’s dialed back the pseudo-retro shouting of the old design and turned the Camaro into a sharp, modern, attractive sports coupe. The RS package really does a lot to push the car upmarket with HIDs, LEDs and a nice little lid spoiler on the truck though I’m not crazy about that “RS” badge haphazardly slapped on the rear bumper, but otherwise, it’s a win—and very much a Camaro.
Stepping inside, we find a cabin that’s significantly updated from the old car, even if our cloth-seated tester was definitely on the basic side. The 1LT Camaro is plain, but at the same time it doesn’t feel expressly cheap. I mean, if you’re weighing this against a used BMW M3, your nostrils will curl at the abundance of cloth and plastic, but I chose to appreciate the simplicity of the design.
A flat-bottomed steering wheel and some extremely cool air vents are what you’re going to focus on anyway, and they really give the interior just enough theatre to make driving feel fun at the legal limit.
The infotainment screen is angled, which I hated as soon as I sat down but grew to appreciate when I realized it reduced glare dramatically. I’m thrilled to report that the old Camaro’s ghastly and worthless retro square gauges are gone. Some things are best left in the past.
The front seats aren’t aggressively bolstering, but they’re comfortable enough and I managed to make it around most corners without falling out of the car. The rear seats are useless for anything other than a couple backpacks. You couldn’t even fit a kid back there. Or make one.
I do have to mention the air vents. Aesthetically pretty neat, but functionally amazing. To increase temperature you move the whole frame of the left vent one direction or another, while doing the same to the other side adjusts fan speed. To seal either side, just give it a light nurple.
Whichever designer(s) at GM so brilliantly tucked function into form on this HVAC rig get a gold freaking star. It’s one of the cleanest pieces of human-machine interface I’ve seen on anything I’ve driven. It’s a proud day in America when somebody can write that about a base model Camaro.
Now let’s peek under the hood, and try to stifle any disappointment you may have at cylinder count.
The short story is this: the V6 Camaro has more power than you need to have a lot of fun on the road without risking arrest for reckless endangerment. 335 horsepower and 284 pound-feet of torque is significantly more powerful than the Camaro SS V8 you had a poster of in high school. (I mean, assuming you’re a middle-aged adult.)
It won’t suck your guts through your rear end when you mash the gas, but it’s quick. While it doesn’t have much charge left into triple digit speeds, you’re probably not going to be on the back straight at Road Atlanta in this Camaro anyway.
The Camaro’s manual gearbox is effective, but still a little behind the crisp satisfaction of the six-speed in my ten-year-old Honda. The throws might be a little long for someone seeking a real racy experience but the shifter ergonomics in general felt very nice on twisty roads and highways. Its clutch is also forgiving and well balanced in resistance.
What I’m saying is; you won’t bust a femoral artery keeping it in neutral in traffic. Do the right thing and get the stick.
We put a lot of miles on this new Camaro on highways and twisty roads alike, and I came away impressed with its ride and handling as well. The car’s posture is comfortable. That means it’s not going to slice an autocross course up the way you could in a stiff-bodied sports car but the Camaro’s also a lot softer on your ass through potholes.
On Washington’s gloriously crooked Road 821 just north of Yakima, the Camaro and I really came to an understanding.
What I mean is the vehicle outdrove me all the way up the mountain. I’d have to move my personal and posted speed limits a decent way to unsettle the car, and since Jalopnik has had some tough luck with Camaros lately I thought it best to back off and enjoy the scenery.
But that’s what really makes this car great; there’s enough sport in its springs to be satisfying, but its really designed to be compliant at a “spirited” not “seat-staining scary” kind of pace. And in an actual car in reality, that’s where most of your driving is going to be.
With a good soundtrack to boot. $895 gets you an optional “dual-mode” performance exhaust on your V6 Camaro. In Chevy’s words; it “utilizes a vacuum pump, along with twin valves located in the tailpipes, to provide refined tuning at low rpms, and a more aggressive exhaust sound at high engine speeds.”
In reality, it makes the mid-range sporty coupe sound like a freaking Porsche and is a close second as my favorite thing on the Camaro.
You don’t flip a switch to turn it on, you scroll to “Sport Mode” (as opposed to normal “Tour” or throttle-limiting “Snow/Rain.”)
At idle there’s just a hint of burble. On the gas, you get a nice and ferocious hiss through the mid range. And in the canyons? Oh baby, get the milk ‘cause we’re about to start pouring snap-crackle-pop.
Now for a letdown: the brakes stop the car just fine, which is a little disappointing for big $2,175 optional Brembos. I’m sad to say I haven’t driven the regular brakes which might be dreadful, but I can tell you the four-piston upgrade is a little on the soft side for brand-name calipers. $3,175 gets you more aggressive six-piston brake calipers, which I wasn’t able to try either.
I would probably recommend getting the standard brakes and upgrading on the aftermarket if you’re really underwhelmed.
So what other manual shift coupes can you buy with $30,000? The Ford Mustang feels more agricultural to me, though that car’s got plenty of redeeming qualities of course. At this price you’d be getting an EcoBoost turbo four Mustang, not the rental-grade V6; your choice on how you want to go there.
A used BMW M3 might require more attention to maintenance, and frankly it’s got a completely different personality.
I don’t have a lot of experience with older Camaros, but the new one is fun to drive and nice enough to be proud of. You start with a front-engine, rear-drive, six-speed manual coupe with a limited slip differential at about the same price as econobox sedan.
Spending $1,500 gets you another 60 horsepower and probably a fair bit of smoothness in the V6. For another $2,000 you get beautiful 20 inch wheels, HID headlights and LED taillights that really bring the car on-level with the slicker European stuff. You could stop there and really have a pretty solid car for $30,140 sticker, or spring for the exhaust and still get what seems like a decent deal in the context of what’s on new-car lots.
Best of all, a basic V6 Camaro doesn’t get in the way of the drive.
It’s obvious the car’s biased toward usability and not performance. I think that’s why I liked it so much. In 1,000 miles through some of America’s prettiest terrain we had some charges up to full throttle. The occasional fear-inducing powerslide. Maybe even a few more panic stops than I’d be willing to admit.
But for most of those miles we just drove. And the base-model Camaro really helped us enjoy that.
If you want to attack the asphalt with blinders on and red-mist your way to a bad driving record, the V6 Camaro is just going to make you look like a tool. But for getting a lot out of every drive for pretty short money, this car seems hard to beat.
Images by the author, Michael Roselli, Chevrolet
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