HELL, Michigan — Yes, that’s the name. But in truth this rural hamlet 40 minutes northwest of Ann Arbor is far too inviting to deserve its demonic moniker. Here you find leafy two-lanes, weathered hardware stores and laid-back pubs, hidden swimming holes, and some of the best—check that, the only—twisting, undulating driving roads amid hundreds of miles of otherwise pancake-flat farmland. On the other hand, after shaking down the long-awaited 2016 Chevrolet Camaro here, I began to think the town’s name couldn’t have been more fitting. This all-new ponycar is hot.
Camaro fans and holdouts alike, prepare to throw out everything you think you know about Chevy’s two-door sport coupe. The sixth-generation version represents a paradigm shift at the model’s basic core. Previous Camaros have tended to be broad, not lean, and muscular rather than lithe. Even the outgoing, $72,000-plus Z/28—fantastic as it is—runs large. Against its fiercest ponycar rival, Ford’s Mustang, the Camaro has typically felt more like a fat Clydesdale. Straight-line speed and intimidating bodywork, yes, but nimble, tailback-quick moves? No.
The gen-six car is different. First, it’s lighter than before. A lot lighter. The new V-8-powered SS, Chevy claims, weighs 223 pounds less than the 2015 model. The midlevel V-6 Camaro LT drops 294 pounds. And a new, base four-cylinder turbo weighs 390 pounds less than the base 2015 V-6. Significantly, these new Camaros are also lighter than their Mustang counterparts. After driving the 2016 Chevrolet Camaro SS and the V-6 LT (no LT turbos were yet available—see below), I can attest that no previous Camaro has felt as light on its feet.
To pull off this vehicular SlimFast diet, Chevy incorporated significantly more aluminum and ultra-high-strength steel in the gen-six model. Executive vice president for global product development Mark Reuss also credits 9 million hours of computer modeling performed by some 140 structural engineers.
“Despite the weight savings,” he says, “chassis stiffness on the new Camaro is increased 28 percent over the fifth-gen coupe.” Reuss also points to “incredible attention to detail.” A laser-brazed roof, for instance, enhances the smoothness of sheetmetal seams while also saving a pound. Engineers even shaved a few millimeters off suspension bolts to eliminate unnecessary threads.
Sitting in the driver’s seat, no longer do you feel as though you’re peering through a welding mask’s narrow porthole. The new Camaro is conspicuously airy, with far better visibility to the front and corners; cowl height (where the windshield meets the hood) has dropped by almost 1.6 inches—a massive and long-needed improvement. Using a platform shared with the Cadillac ATS, overall length decreases 2.3 inches, height shrinks by an inch, and wheelbase drops to 110.7 inches (versus 112.3 before). You feel an integral part of this car—not consumed by it.
The richly appointed interior (material quality is noticeably improved) is a fresh, modernized update of the traditional “twin binnacle” Camaro look. Directly in front of you, a thick, flat-bottom steering wheel delights the eyes and the fingertips. Climate-control temperature and fan speed are adjusted simply by twisting the outer rings of the two central air vents—a brilliant touch. Pedals are perfectly placed for heel-and-toe downshifting. Available are two 8-inch, high-definition color displays that showcase everything from navigation and infotainment to the interface for Chevy’s next-gen MyLink system, which connects with your smartphone, Pandora, XM radio, and more. Apple CarPlay will be available on the 8-inch MyLink immediately, with Android Auto expected to follow later in the 2016 model year.
The midlevel 2016 Chevrolet Camaro LT is motivated by an all-new, 3.6-liter V-6 with direct-injection and variable valve timing; it makes 335 horsepower and 284 lb-ft of torque. With the six-speed manual, the V-6 LT will hit 60 mph in 5.2 seconds. With the all-new eight-speed, paddle-shift automatic, that time drops to 5.1. The engine makes a nice yowl on its climb to the redline, aided by resonators that pipe induction sounds into the cockpit. (The SS also uses these.) Both the V-6 and the SS (the car showcased here) feature an available dual-mode exhaust that allows drivers to choose a relatively quiet “stealth” sound, a much more aggressive “track” note, or a setting that varies between the two depending on throttle input.
The V-8 Camaro struts into town as the most powerful SS model ever, thanks to a Corvette-based, 6.2-liter LT1 delivering 455 hp and 455 lb-ft of torque. This is a monster of a ponycar: With the six-speed manual, the SS sprints to 60 mph in 4.3 seconds; with the eight-speed auto, that same dash takes just 4.0 seconds. All Camaros benefit from a new front-strut and rear-multilink suspension, but the SS also now offers optional Magnetic Ride Control (previously limited to the ZL1) that automatically reads the road 1,000 times per second and adjusts accordingly. Combining a claimed maximum cornering grip of 0.97 g, the improved chassis, the computer-actuated MR shocks, and increased brawn, the new SS, Chevy says, out-laps the outgoing track-focused Camaro 1LE. Wow.
Notably, all Camaros now offer Brembo brakes. (They’re standard on the SS.) Also onboard is a new Drive Mode Selector that allows the driver to tailor the car’s electronic power steering, stability control system, powertrain responsiveness, and more to any of three settings—Snow/Ice, Tour, and Sport. The SS adds a fourth: Track.
Hustling both the V-6 LT and the V-8 SS through Hell’s angelic country roads proved a revelation. This is the most driver-focused Camaro ever. It fits you like a custom suit—no unnecessary sheetmetal weighing you down, your hands and feet moving easily over smartly placed controls, the car light and direct and quick as you flick the wheel and snap off the shifts. The SS, of course, is the real bad boy, its V-8 nailing you to the seat as it smoothly wails toward its redline, the passing trees a funnel of green, the chassis alive and sprightly as no Camaro before this. Yes, over a sudden bump or with a too-strong jab of throttle the rear end will definitely skip a bit, but for the most part the car feels nothing but pinned down and lovely. Hmmm. “Lovely.” Not a word I’ve ever used to describe driving a Camaro.
The V-6 LT and SS coupes arrive in November. The V-6 starts at $26,695 (including destination), while the base SS will check in at $37,295. A well-equipped SS—including MR shocks, eight-speed auto, dual-mode exhaust, power sunroof, and black wheels—will run an expected $47,480.
The game has changed, gang. The Camaro is now a bonafide player in every dimension—speed, agility, leanness, “aliveness.” No longer is the Mustang the sole purveyor of ponycar sinew. Even the vaunted Corvette now has a serious rival right under the same dealership roof.
General Motors has just taken us to DEFCON 1. Let the ultimate ponycar wars begin.
2016 Camaro: Act Two
This fall’s release of the V-6 LT and V-8 SS coupes is only Act One in Chevy’s new Camaro play. Coming in 2016’s first quarter will be a base Camaro LT sporting an all-new, turbocharged 2.0-liter four making 275 hp and 295-lb-ft (more torque, it should be noted, than the LT’s optional 3.6-liter V-6). Though we haven’t yet had a chance to drive this car, Chevy expects the six-speed manual to sprint from 0 to 60 mph in 5.4 seconds (5.5 seconds with eight-speed auto) and deliver 0.85 g of cornering grip on 18-inch tires. The base LT is also expected to deliver more than 30 mpg on the highway, making it the most fuel-efficient Camaro in history. Look for the price of the turbo model to start below $25,000.
By spring 2016, Chevy will also release new convertible versions. Controlled by the push of a single button, you can raise or lower the power roof while traveling at speeds of up to 30 mph. When folded, the soft top is covered completely by a smooth, power-folding hard decklid.
And the play isn’t over. Stay tuned for Act Three: Chevy in 2017 will release an all-new Camaro ZL1 sporting a supercharged, 6.2-liter LT4 V-8 probably making close to 600 hp. Start saving for your g-suit now.
2016 Chevrolet Camaro Specifications
- On Sale: Now
- Price: $28,490 (LT V-6), $37,295 (SS)
- Engines: 3.6L DOHC 24-valve V-6/335 hp @ 6,800 rpm, 284 lb-ft @ 5,300 rpm; 6.2L OHV 16-valve V-8/455 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 455 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm
- Transmissions: 6-speed manual, 8-speed automatic
- Layout: 2-door, 4-passenger, front-engine, RWD coupe
- EPA Mileage: N/A
- Suspension F/R: Strut-type, coil springs/multilink, coil springs
- Brakes: Vented discs
- Tires F/R: 245/40R-20/275/35R-20 Goodyear Eagle F1
- Wheelbase: 110.7 in
- L x W x H: 188.3 x 74.7 x 53.1 in
- Headroom F/R: 36.6 in/not available
- Legroom F/R: 42.6 in/not available
- Weight: 3,435-3,685 lb
- 5.1-5.2 sec (V-6); 4.0-4.3 sec (SS)
- Â¼-Mile: 13.7 sec @ 102 mph (V-6 manual) 13.5 sec @ 103 mph (V-6 auto) 12.5 sec @ 115 mph (SS manual) 12.3 sec @ 116 mph (SS auto)
- Top Speed: N/A