Engine: A healthy, rubber-burning six life
The 3.6-liter bent six that lives under the Camaro's hood is equipped with a host of modern features: dual overhead cams, direct injection, four valves per cylinder, and variable valve timing are all present, and they help the compact, all-aluminum engine produce 304 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque. Think about that for a second - three hundred horsepower in a base Camaro. That's ninety horsepower more than the base V-8 found in a 1967 Camaro, and just ten horsepower shy of the eight in an '02 Camaro Z/28. That's one hell of a strong V-6 - especially in light of the fact that the 4.6-liter V-8 in a Mustang GT produces four horsepower less. (In case you were wondering, the V-8 in the 2010 Camaro SS is set to produce some 422 hp.)
The 3.6-liter's 300 hp and 273 lb-ft are readily apparent from behind the wheel, though their impact is a little hampered by the Camaro's 3760-lb curb weight (that figure drops to 3740 lb if you opt for a manual transmission). Things feel a little soft off the line, but the six is at least flexible enough to pull cleanly and strongly from just above idle in almost any gear, and it's remarkably linear across the rev range. Most important, unlike previous Camaro sixes, it's also fun to smack around; running the engine to redline (7000 rpm) is satisfying, involving work, and it belies the powerplant's relatively pedestrian roots. You have to cane the base Camaro in order to generate real speed, but you don't necessarily mind, because it ends up being fun. Testing wasn't permitted during our drive, but our best stopwatch guess has 60 mph coming up in around six seconds, depending on how aggressively you launch the car.
The V-6's noise signature was still being fine-tuned (largely through the use of different mufflers, though intake noise also filtered into the mix) at the time of our drive, but it's safe to say that this engine sounds better and more aggressive here than in any other GM application. A slight bit of rasp makes its way into the cockpit, but most of what you hear is a throaty mix of induction honk and moderately loud growl, and as the tach needle climbs across the tach, it takes on a harder-tinged, sharper, more metallic note. It sounds largely like someone stuck a megaphone up the tailpipe of a G8 - louder, hollower, and a little meaner, but not by much. Surprisingly, road noise is almost nonexistent, as is wind noise, so most of what you hear ends up being engine and driveline.
Transmissions: Welcome to the machine
The two transmissions we drove are, conveniently, the only two transmissions that will be offered when the V-6 Camaro goes on sale next year. There's no CVT or twin-clutch gearbox, thankfully, just a six-speed Aisin AY6 manual and a version of GM's corporate six-speed automatic, the Hydramatic 6L50. (A Tremec 6060 six-speed, like those found in the Corvette and the Pontiac G8 GXP, will be the sole manual offered for V-8 Camaros, while the automatic's specification changes slightly, to a Hydramatic 6L80.)
For an Aisin - not typically the most involving and intuitive of gearboxes - the six-speed manual we drove felt surprisingly chunky, boltlike, and mechanical. The big, golf-ball-shaped shift knob and short, direct shift action feel like a nod to pony cars of yore. It's a nice touch, one that makes you feel like something more substantial than a V-6 is lurking under the hood. The long-travel clutch is direct and easy to operate smoothly, and after a few miles, you feel largely at home, ripping off glasslike, whomping downshifts without a second thought.
The six-speed automatic largely feels like it does across the rest of the GM lineup, though it benefits here from tweaked shift patterns. Shifts are smooth and largely unnoticeable, though the transmission tends to err on the side of fuel economy and low rpm when it comes to gear choices. It's not always completely in sync with what you want (even though it does, admirably, downshift during braking for corners), but it does the job well enough.