’16 Chevy Camaro Runs With New Crowd, Sort Of

GM extinguishes the dinosaur that typified the last-generation model of the bow-tie sports coupe. A sixth go-round of the Camaro produces a lighter, faster, more refined and, dare we say, sophisticated animal.

James M. Amend, Senior Editor

November 18, 2015

8 Min Read
rsquo16 Chevy Camaro SS before departing Detroit
’16 Chevy Camaro SS before departing Detroit.

SOMEWHERE ALONG I-90 EAST OF ERIE, PA – Chevrolet Camaro fans sure get their share of grief, given all the stereotypes about their Members Only jackets, mullet haircuts and Newport menthols.

It might be high time to retire those antiquated clichés, because General Motors has extinguished the dinosaur that typified the last-generation model of the bow-tie sports coupe. A sixth go-round of the Camaro produces a lighter, faster, more refined and, dare we say, sophisticated animal.

So put those old thoughts to the curb like a bleach-blonde girlfriend in acid-wash jeans. It’s time to think black turtlenecks, Chukka boots and iced matcha lattes. OK, skip the lattes, but you get the drift – the redesigned ’16 model turns everything you previously thought about the car on its ear.

And just to be fair, the last Camaro wasn’t all that bad. After all, it has sold 549,248 copies in its last run and a mash-up with the Transformers film franchise made the yellow-and-black Bumblebee every boy’s bedroom pinup. GM kept it fresh, too, adding incremental technologies with each special edition and the last one of those, the Z-28, is a flat-out scream to drive.

But the new Camaro, arriving at U.S. dealers in the coming weeks, is such a departure from those old clothes it moves the conversation from Camaro vs. Mustang to Camaro vs. BMW, Audi and Mercedes. Yes, the new Camaro is so well done it conceivably could compete with the highfalutin Germans.

Matting the throttle of an SS variant on the interstate here returns the familiar, deep baritone of GM’s 6.2L LT1 V-8, a two-time Ward’s 10 Best Engines winner making its first appearance in the Camaro. An all-new 3.6L V-6 also is available and a 4-banger will bow in the car for the first time this spring in the form of 2.0L turbo mill.

The 6.2L LT1 is the star, however. And, boy, does it shine on a meandering, 800-mile (128,800 km) road trip from Detroit to Syracuse, NY. That historic exhaust note is accompanied by an exhilarating thrust of power known only to the small-block family, now in its sixth generation of playing playground bully. At 80 mph (129 km/h), the LT1 has plenty of kick left to shove me back in my seat and whisk me past by the masses dutifully obeying 65-mph (105 km/h) speed limits.

If speed limits happen to be your thing, by the way, the Camaro may not be your car. But if you insist, you’ll reap the reward of cylinder deactivation as a standard technology on models with 8-speed automatic transmissions. Whether cruising in the slow lane or puttering about town, four of the LT1’s eight cylinders shut down to conserve fuel. How’s that for next-gen muscle?

Performance Enhancement

My Camaro SS test car was outfitted with the standard 6-speed manual transmission. But to call it “standard” seems like an insult. Short, notchy throws are complemented by a sixth gear that rocks the LT1 to sleep and returns a respectable 22 mpg (10.7 L/100 km) on a leg from Geneva, NY, to Syracuse.

The manual also receives what GM calls Active Rev Matching, which, at the risk of sounding like one of those old Camaro clichés, should immediately be renamed “Freaking Awesome.” Use the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifter to engage “F’n-A,” and the throttle will automatically blip on downshifts to synchronize engine speed with the chosen gear – just like the pros do manually.

It’s a nifty little technology meant to enhance performance driving. I’ll bet it enhances all kinds of performance, because hearing that LT1 bark while whipping through gears in the curves around rural Watkins Glen, NY, I’m begging for an audience to bear witness to my skills.

The redesign also shifts the Camaro to GM’s new Alpha platform. It’s the same bones underpinning the Cadillac ATS and CTS and there’s a striking resemblance. You can toss those Cadillacs around like a rag doll and the Camaro isn’t much different, except you get the pleasure of doing it with a naturally aspirated V-8.

The platform switch shaves 223 lbs. (101 kg) off the SS compared with its predecessor. Combined with a bump in hp of 29 ponies, the car’s power-to-weight ratio improves 14%. As a result, GM touts 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 4.0 seconds for the SS and a quarter-mile in 12.3 seconds. Eagle F1 Asymmetric all-season run-flat tires help enable 0.97 g in cornering and 60-0 mph braking in 117 ft. (35.6 m).

Flogging my SS around rural upstate New York in Sport mode, which amps up items such as throttle progression, steering speed and suspension feedback, the Camaro feels more like a live animal than collection of steel, rubber and plastic. There’s no fifth-gen understeeer here, either, but why get all technical?

GM CEO and confessed Camarophile Mary Barra may have put it best when I asked her what she liked most about the car at this summer’s Camaro Six event in Detroit. “The way it hugs the road,” she replied. Works for me.

The Camaro’s new Drive Mode selector offers a total of eight vehicle attributes to choose from based on four modes: Snow/Ice, Tour and, on the SS model I tested, Track. That means owners can perfectly tailor the car’s driving dynamics to their own tastes, however they might change throughout the day.

Muscled Exterior, Educated Interior

One thing that does not change with the new Camaro is its unapologetic exterior design. An updated fascia, which includes LED lighting for the first time, gives the car a more sinister appearance, but all the old-fashioned bumps, bulges and curves remain. My tester was even splashed in a grimace-inducing bright yellow called “Lemon.” That’s another name GM will have to work on.

But the exterior design is more athletic, as GM this time goes for the cross-fit look rather than the muscle head. The automaker says it put the new Camaro through hundreds of hours of aerodynamics testing and the car indeed seems windswept, especially where the rear daylight opening meets the upper sheet metal of the rear end for a new “fastback” profile.

The classic, oversized rear haunches remain, too, as they should from here on out. But GM designers tinker with the rear fascia for a more contemporary look.

On the whole, retro cues are nicely balanced with fresh lines to bring the Camaro into the 21st century and widen its appeal. Parked outside Cleveland’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame along my drive, the car attracts the attention of a twentysomething Camaro fan boy who begs for a few photos with his phone and a chance to record its exhaust note. A short while later, office types grabbing lunch in the city’s trendy E. 4th Street neighborhood give it a good look-over, too.

The Camaro’s much-maligned interior leaps forward with the new generation, but ironically it also is where most of my gripes lie.

Rear-seat room has never been a selling point of the Camaro and it will not be with the new model, either. It is a catch for grocery bags and the occasional backpack or overnight bag, nothing more. Sight lines are no better this time around, an output of its enviable exterior, although a rear camera helps when backing up. A pair of humps, or binnacles, over the instrument panel cover takes some getting used to, and my tester’s black interior was all-too heavy on the black.

However, the biggest annoyance is seatbelts that slip back between the seat and door. Sure, they’re out of the way as you exit the vehicle, but impossible to reach once you get back inside with the door closed. And the seatbelt handles are too big. They get caught between the armrest of the door and the side bolster of the seat. It’s nitpicking, perhaps, but cover four states in two days and those little things will start wearing on you.

Otherwise, it’s hard to complain about the Camaro’s new cabin. The IP gauges are a pleasant mix of analogue and digital, as well as red and blue lighting. The climate controls are ingenious, with rings around the two center air ducts serving as temperature and fan-speed control dials.

The shifter is in a natural position, the integration of the HMI is excellent and the folks at Chevy finally got a proper steering wheel on the car – a beefy, 3-spoke variety with a D-shaped bottom. My SS also contained bits of metal-like trim for some contrast to the black plastic, while white stitching decorated the dashboard and seats which despite the everyman-like cloth covering are some of the most comfortable for a long haul as you’ll find at this price point.

GM did not go overboard in restyling the new Camaro, choosing instead to pretty much stick to its guns but freshen it to cast a wider net. But a wholesale redo of the guts of the car offers Camaro fans the best of both worlds: a V-8 muscle car with sports car handling.

So pass the Newports and hold onto your latte.

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'16 Chevrolet Camaro 1SS

Vehicle type

Read-drive, front-engine, 2-door, 4-passenger sports coupe

Engine

6.2L OHV DI V-8 with aluminum block, head

Power (SAE net)

455 hp @ 6,000 rpm

Torque

455 lb.-ft. (617 Nm) @ 4,400 rpm

Bore x stroke (mm)

103.25 x 92

Compression ratio

11.5:1

Transmission

6-speed manual

Wheelbase

110.7 ins. (2,811 mm)

Overall length

188.3 ins. (4,784 mm)

Overall width

74.7 ins. (1,897 mm)

Overall height

53.1 ins. (1,348 mm)

Curb weight

3,685 lbs. (1,671 kg)

Base price

$37,395

Fuel economy

16/25 mpg (14.7/9.4 L/100 km) city/highway

Competition

Ford Mustang, Dodge Challenger

Pros

Cons

Latest-gen small-block V-8

Poor sight lines

Feather-light chassis

Rear seats for contortionists

Fresh take on winning design

Where’s my damn seatbelt?

 

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