The Camaro is a funny thing because it’s so many different things to so many people. To some, it’s a drag strip terror. To others, it’s something for topdown Sunday cruises. To me, the latest Z/28 and 1LE models are amazing performance cars – the maddeningly amazing Z/28 is a track day special for the history books, and the 1LE is well-priced, track-ready and entirely competent carving laps around any road course.
Fittingly, a bright red, six-speed 1LE was my transportation for my pilgrimage the 2016 Camaro introduction in Detroit. Chevrolet celebrated the launch by bringing Camaro owners together on Detroit’s Belle Isle, a beautiful island on the Detroit River, which is also the home of Motown’s annual IndyCar race.
I can’t imagine how they pulled off this event because countless historic Camaros were on display. From the earliest and most collectible original Camaros to the iconic Penske Camaro piloted by Mark Donohue in the Trans Am series. Even two Camaros made famous by legendary Canadian racer Ron Fellows were on display.
Absorbing the depth and breadth of Camaro history prior to the unveiling was an amazing experience, and meeting so many owners who are uniquely enthusiastic for their own Camaros made it clear there’s a lot of enthusiasm for Chevy’s pony car.
From a business perspective, over 60 percent of fifth-generation Camaro buyers came from other, non-GM brands, and if this sixth-gen Camaro is going to have the same level of success, it had better be good. Plus, the new Mustang has impressed us right out of the gate.
For Chevrolet, that meant the sixth iteration had to be developed with an innovative approach. It’s so important to the company that GM North America President Mark Reuss introduced the new model.
Gone is the old, heavy Zeta platform. The new car is based on the modern Alpha platform – the same one that underpins the Cadillac ATS and CTS. As a starting point, the new Camaro is nearly 90 kilograms (200 pounds) lighter than the outgoing model, plus its chassis is 28 percent more rigid. For a car with sporting intentions, this is key to improved handling. More aluminum is used in the construction of the car and the new suspension assemblies are markedly lighter than before. Reuss also made it a point to mention that aerodynamic lift has been reduced by 30 percent.
Visually, the new car has those unmistakable Camaro proportions and appears big, blocky and muscular, with the details executed with modern design flair. However, the new Camaro is both shorter and narrower than the outgoing model, but in person it has the same presence. Without seeing them side-by-side, it’s difficult to say just how much smaller the new Camaro will appear on the road.
Inside the cockpit, gone is the retromodern flare, swapped for a thoroughly modern dash and instrument cluster. With the smaller dimensions of the new Camaro, driver and passenger sit closer to one another, which necessitated the deletion of the handbrake lever. It has been replaced by the post-modern electronic parking brake switch. Sorry, no more e-brake turns, my friends.
The biggest difference, though, is seating position and driving fifth- and sixth-generation Camaros back-to-back made it obvious. With the old car, you sit a few inches off the floor, wishing the seat would adjust lower, even if it’s half-an-inch. Just like its Alpha platform cousin, the Cadillac ATS, the sixth-gen Camaro has you seated virtually on the floor and, while you have height adjustment, the new seating position is a little racier. Perhaps most importantly, it gives you better sightlines out the low roofline. Ergonomics are infinitely better and materials are of a much, much higher quality. It’s beyond just an incremental improvement and really sets some new standards. I can’t imagine anyone complaining about this new Camaro’s interior. Secondary controls are simple and straightforward, but the real test of their functionality will be when we get to test a production model.
Drivetrains are thoroughly revised with four-, six- and eight-cylinder engines. The base engine is GM’s familiar 2.0-litre turbocharged four and, in Camaro guise, is set to make 270 horsepower and 295 lb-ft, which is enough, Reuss said, for the four-cylinder Camaro to be capable of sub six-second 0-97 km/h times.
The volume engine will undoubtedly be the V6 – GM’s well-regarded 3.6-litre high-tech six that sees use across GM’s product range. We’ve enjoyed it in other General Motors vehicles for its flexibility and fun factor – and for a V6, it sounds pretty good, too. Chevy says it makes 335 horsepower and 284 lb-ft in the Camaro.
Our favourite motor is the most powerful of the lot and it’s a good one – the 6.2-litre LT1 V8 even trumps the Mustang with 455 horses and 455 lb-ft. Better yet, you can spec it with either a Tremec six-speed manual or GM’s superb eight-speed automatic. The V6 and four-cylinder Camaros are available with eight-speed auto or six-speed manual boxes, as well.
There is nothing like a back-to-back driving comparisons between old and new vehicles, which is exactly what Chevrolet did. First, I had a go with a typical fifth-gen V6 around the Belle Isle circuit; and, since it wasn’t a 1LE like I’d driven to Detroit, it was roller coaster levels of fun, with lots of body roll and, despite a lack of handling precision, I was able to keep it off of the concrete walls.
From there, I hopped into a sixth-gen prototype Camaro fitted with the V6 and the eight-speed automatic and the differences were apparent by the first turn. The new car turns in markedly better than the old one, handles transitions with ease, steers with remarkable precision and feels much lighter on its feet. It’s so good that the handling of the fifth- and sixth-gens feel entirely unrelated. In fact, GM says its new SS is faster around any given road course than the venerable, outgoing 1LE.
I’m an unvarnished fan of the current Z/28 and 1LE Camaros, and rightly so. They’re simply fun to drive! But driving the 2016 Camaro prototypes shows the new car has so much promise that it’s going to bring a real fight to the modern pony car wars. Mustang, you had better watch out.
BY THE NUMBERS
$87.32/HP (CALCULATED W/ EST. BASE MSRP)
N/A L/100 KM (AUTO – COMBINED)
2016 Chevrolet Camaro LS
BASE PRICE: $31,000 (estimate only)
ENGINE: 3.6-litre V6
HORSEPOWER: 355 hp @ 6,800 rpm
TORQUE: 284 lb-ft @ 5,300 rpm
CONFIGURATION: Front engine / rear-wheel-drive
TRANSMISSION: 8-speed automatic
DRY WEIGHT: 1,590 kg (estimate only)
FUEL ECONOMY RATINGS (NEDC CYCLE; COMBINED): N/A
WARRANTY (MOS. / KM): 36 / 60,000
ALTERNATIVES: Dodge Challenger, Ford Mustang