Chevy has dropped some serious coin bringing its sixth-generation ponycar onto the Alpha platform, and restrained the urge to make the SS variant wholly subservient, from a performance standpoint, to the all-conquering Corvette. From an early date, Chevrolet promised us that the Camaro SS would deliver better laptimes than the outgoing Camaro 1LE—if you remember, that was a Camaro SS with a bunch of ZL1 handling bits bolted on. Now that the 2016 Camaro and its specs have been revealed, this seems like a highly plausible claim—one we're dying to test for ourselves.
Read on to find out what the 2016 Camaro will be all about—including its new turbo four-cylinder powertrain, new transmissions, and other changes.
It's a reality of the business that pictures don't always convey the gravitas of a new car. In person, fully uncovered, the 2016 Camaro is a more lithe, more sinewy animal than its predecessor—especially apparent when they're parked next to each other, as they were during our very early preview back in March. It's a more pronounced effect than the very minor changes in dimensions would lead you to believe. The wheelbase is 2" shorter, and overall length is a hair over 2" shorter as well. But mainly, it looks lower and wider, because it is.
The interior is where things really get good. Gone is the awkward concept-car layout, which was retro-inspired but left most reviewers (and buyers) cold. Instead, think about the C7 Corvette's unabashedly forward-looking interior design language draped across an ATS-sized dashboard. Instead of an imposing slab, it's an angular, contoured, and ergonomically well-thought-out space. And it's a well-lit space, too. Chevy's interior design team was very proud of the user-switchable, multi-color LED signature lighting inside. Apparently buyers love this sort of gewgaw.
The most unusual element of the interior is the placement of air vents in front of the shifter instead of up on the dash. The temperature controls are integrated into the vent rings. It's unusual, but part of a broader interior repackaging to deal with the overall reduced interior space and dash refinements. It's easy to get used to.
Boosted Down Low
This isn't the first time in Camaro's history that there has been a Camaro available with a four-cylinder under the hood—some may remember, and wish they didn't, the 2.5-liter Iron Duke that cursed the third-generation cars. But it's the first credible attempt to make the I4 something more than a penalty. Like the Alpha platform underneath its skin, the 2-liter turbocharged LTG is borrowed from the Cadillac ATS. Unlike the ATS, which can be had with the Malibu's naturally-aspirated 2.5-liter, the turbo mill is the base engine for the Camaro.
With 275 hp at 5600 rpm, and 295 lb-ft from 3000 to 4500 rpm, GM is estimating a sub-6 second 0-60 run. That being said, the focus is on fuel economy, with the company hoping to tease 30+ mpg highway out of the 2-liter Camaro.
Unlike arch-competitor Ford, Chevy has put the turbo I4 at the bottom of the range so—according to the company—it won't confuse consumers. Chevy feels the progression from I4, to V6, then V8, is a more natural one to consumers—a bit of a snub to Ford's placement of a neutered V6 model below the midrange EcoBoost Mustang.
A "new" 3.6-liter V6? Didn't the 5th generation car have one of those? Well, yes, but GM claims the LGX is a brand-new design that shares virtually nothing with the old LFX engine. The block is the same externally, but the bore has been enlarged and it has cylinder deactivation for the first time. All told, it makes 335 hp at 6800 rpm and 284 lb-ft at 5300 rpm.
At a preview event at GM's Milford Proving Grounds, I got a chance to sample preproduction V6 cars in both manual and automatic. Only a few laps were permitted of the Ride and Handling loop, but it was immediately apparent that the V6 provided plenty of juice to get the lighter, nimbler Camaro moving swiftly.
A Serious Diet
Depending on the options, transmission, and engine choice, the Camaro will be 200 lbs lighter—or more—than a similarly-configured 5th-generation Camaro. That's not only because it's nominally smaller, but also because the Cadillac ATS-derived Alpha platform has been gone over with a fine-toothed caliper. Soft wheel arch liners saves a few pounds, a heavily-revised rear multi-link suspension saves 26 lbs … the list goes on, and on. Chevy really gave the platform engineers some leeway to scrape away mass—an effort that certainly cost money. It's something Old GM might not have been willing to spend on, but with CAFE restrictions making New GM tug at its collar, though, I don't think there was much choice.
Subjectively, it's not only lighter on the scales, it's lighter-feeling. And on a short drive route in a V6 pre-production car, it acquiesced to directional changes with considerably more willingness than the previous car—just as an ATS 3.6 feels less massive and more nimble than a 5th-generation V6 Camaro. So it's not just marketing; the mass reduction really makes a palpable difference.
Speaking of handling, this is as good a time as any to mention that the SS will be available with the excellent Magnetic Ride Control, as an option—that's ZL1 technology trickling down to the SS.
Good news on this front: Every engine option will have a complimentary manual transmission. You may exhale. For the SS, it's a Tremec TR6060 that has a new Active Rev Match system; for the V6 and turbo I4, it's a TR3160.
The TR3160, which also sees duty in the ATS, was revised for the Camaro. A drivetrain engineer told me that the shift knob height is reduced, new bushings are fitted, and a thicker shift boot is employed to provide drag which improves shift feel. I didn't have an ATS handy to compare it to, but the manual-equipped preproduction V6 shifted positively, with good weight and feel.
Two automatics are offered: The SS gets the 8L90, which sees duty as a transaxle in the Corvette. It's a stout, quick-shifting 8-speed with paddle-shifters. The V6 and I4 models both get a slightly less stout 8L45—still an 8-speed, but providing a claimed 5 percent increase in fuel economy thanks to its lighter construction for use with lower-output engines.
Sleight of Sound
There has to be a catch somewhere, and it'll make induction noise purists cringe. The turbo I4 will lean on several sound enhancement technologies to prevent it from sounding like a tractor motor. All of them will get active noise cancellation operating through the speakers; Bose-equipped examples will also get enhancement that cranks up the good 2-liter sounds—which can be user-disabled, thankfully.
The V6 and V8 models don't get away scot-free, either. Induction resonators will passively direct engine compartment sounds into the cabin.
On the other hand, the V6 and the V8 both have available dual-mode exhaust systems, which feature electronically-actuated valves that increase exhaust flow (and volume) under acceleration. The system opens up more in "track" mode, and can quiet things down in a user-selectable "stealth" mode. I didn't get a chance to hear the V8 clear its throat, but our pre-production V6 models both had the performance exhaust fitted. The tuned exhaust note was highly distinctive; think , but less cartoonish and throatier.
Of Course There's a V8
And it is a serious piece of equipment. It's the LT1, which you may know from such blockbuster hits as the Corvette C7 Stingray. You'd think, due to brand pecking orders and corporate rules that Chevy would have to detune it a little for the Camaro SS. Strangely, you're wrong.
Chevy has given the Camaro SS's V8 almost complete parity with its C7 counterpart. Both LT1s will make 455 hp at 6000 rpm. The Camaro SS will be down 5 lb-ft, but the torque peak is 100 rpm lower—455 lb-ft at 4400 rpm. That may be due to the Camaro's unique tubular "tri-Y" style exhaust manifolds. That's surprising, as early company estimates showed a 15 hp penalty for the Camaro's LT1 when compared to the C7's output figures—no complaints here.
The proof will come with a comprehensive road test and our independent instrumented testing, comparing this new Camaro to the legion of serious performance cars we've had seat time in. But first impressions are important, and the new Camaro is leaving a good one. The Mustang GT set the tone for this round of the ponycar wars, but the Camaro is bringing some serious firepower to the fight. This is a good time to be an enthusiast of American muscle.