My drive of a 2016 Chevrolet Camaro prototype was all-too brief because I crashed it into a wall (oops!) and got kicked out of the event, but I think I can tell you a little bit. But first, let us pause for reflection. After all, it’s not every day a new Camaro comes out. The nameplate’s nearly 50 years old and this is only the sixth one.
The Camaro has had a fascinating evolution, and one that always kind of reflected the times it was in with each generation, more so than a lot of cars. It went from 1960s classic muscle badassery to 1970s malaise that still kept tons of lovable T-Top charm, to 1980s angles and fuel injection and low power ratings to a sleek rocket of a 1990s car that still looks striking today.
And then it died after the 2002 model year, falling victim to a crumbling sport coupe market as SUVs took over everything and as General Motors entered what was perhaps the worst and most poorly-run chapter in its history. But the Camaro never left the world’s hearts, and after years of delays, we got the fifth-generation in 2009.
I think the case can easily be made that that Camaro was the best one ever, because it advanced the American muscle game in ways we never thought possible. It brought us variants that have been astounding — the stuff of legends.
It produced the Z/28, a track monster that can scare the crap out of Porsches in competent hands. It gave us the terrifyingly fast ZL1, the Camaro that can run flat out with exotics. Even the 1LE SS is a first-rate muscle car with some decent moves in the corners.
It may not be your favorite, but you’re deluding yourself if you don’t think it pushed the Mustang and Challenger and Charger to be better cars. Competition is a good thing.
So as we find ourselves in 2015, where does the Camaro go from here? Lighter, faster, more high-tech, and more fuel efficient. This is a good time to be a car enthusiast. Maybe the last great era before driving becomes something done only by Chinese-made Uber pods and not humans. This Camaro looks poised to do great things.
The big news is that it’s more than 200 pounds lighter. Exact weight specs aren’t out yet, but if that’s true it will put a Camaro SS around 3,700 pounds, pretty much on par with the current 2015 Ford Mustang, historically the smaller and lighter contender.
How did it lose the weight? The lighter and stiffer Alpha platform, for one, that underpins the superb-handling Cadillac ATS and CTS. Structural rigidity is also up a full 28 percent.
But like any good late-night infomercial, wait, there’s more! The Camaro engineering team shaved off weight in some unexpected places. The instrument panel housing is now lighter aluminum, not steel. The front suspension links are now aluminum, and the rear suspension links are steel but with lightening SPEED HOLES that shave off a full 26 pounds, just like on the ATS.
It’s the same approach Mazda took with the 2016 Miata. Cut little amounts of weight where you can and the numbers add up.
But if you’re reading about the Camaro, you probably care more about power than weight and handling, don’t you? There’s now three engine choices instead of just two. A turbo four, a V6 and a V8 for the SS. Unlike Ford, they go in that order, because GM thinks that makes more sense to buyers.
The base 2.0-liter turbo four does 275 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. GM says that one will do zero to 60 mph in well under six seconds. From there you step up to a new 3.6-liter V6 rated at at 335 hp and 284 lb-ft of torque. The big gun, the Corvette Stingray-sourced LT1 6.2-liter V8, does 455 horsepower and 455 pound-feet of torque, and it’s already posting better lap times than the last SS 1LE.
I know it’s gotten a lot of shit on the Internet for how it looks, but in person it’s very attractive. Remember how Avengers II was a lot like Avengers I? That’s what they did with the Camaro’s design. The first one made a shit-ton of money, so they didn’t want to mess with the formula too much. Only unlike the Avengers sequel, there’s actually signs of character development here.
There’s also more visual differentiation between the three models, like the SS’ hood vents and horizontal LED bars.
The first lap I did was in a fifth-generation V6 Camaro. Like I mentioned earlier, the outgoing Camaro produced a lot of heroic variants. Let’s be honest, its base V6 version won’t be remembered as one of them.
Out on Belle Isle it felt chunky, full of body roll and brake dive, lacking confidence on the road. Don’t get me started on the plastic-fantastic interior, which hasn’t exactly aged well.
It doesn’t take much wheel time to realize what a dramatically better car the new V6 Camaro is. The cars we tested at Belle Isle may have been mules, but inside, they closely resembled the production car.
Finally, on the inside, the Camaro looks like something an adult might drive. The display screen is big and clear. Soft-touch materials replace the oceans of hard plastic on the doors and dash. The flat-bottom steering wheel is a great addition. It’s a brighter, more fun place to be than the old Camaro’s dark, tank-like cabin.
On the track the car instantly felt lighter, more nimble, the steering more dialed-in. The V6 has a nicer and more prominent growl, too. It may not be the most hardcore option, but it sounds good, and it puts down some solid power. That V6 is a much more palatable choice in the new car than it was the old one, but I’d still want the V8 SS instead.
This is America, dammit. There are rules here.
It didn’t feel quite as agile to me as the as the ATS, or certainly the ATS-V, but remember that it’s going to be the SS that gets all the track goodies like an optional Magnetic Ride suspension.
There was maybe a little more understeer than I anticipated. Just a bit.
It’s hard to judge the 2016 Camaro with my time in it being so short. But I have no reservations in saying that it already seems like a better car than the one it replaces in every way, both on paper and in short practice. Unlike other consumer products, like your smartphone, there’s never a guarantee that a new car will be superior to its predecessor. No one has to worry about that with the Camaro.
Someone else at GM told me this generation has to the potential to do for the Camaro what the Stingray did for the Corvette. That’s a hell of a claim to make, but I think I believe it.
It may be a while until I get to test out that claim, though...
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