Meet the New 2016 Chevrolet Camaro
Before we jump into the 2016 Chevrolet Camaro, a thoroughly modern rework of America’s most popular muscle car, we need to answer a question: What good is a 21st century muscle car, anyway?
In an era where Americans have forsaken cars for SUVs, especially those with just two doors, sports cars in general command a fraction of the market they once held in their late ‘60s and early '70s heyday. Compared to the volume of Chevrolet’s other passenger cars and pickups, Camaro production is a side line.
But the reason for this new Camaro lies beyond any spreadsheet. For starters, there’s Motown bragging rights: since its 2009 rebirth, the Camaro has annually outsold the Ford Mustang. Just under two-thirds of the 500,000-odd Camaro buyers in those years were people whose previous vehicle was not a General Motors product. And mainstream Chevy owners rarely drive cross-country to show off their customized cars and watch a new model get unveiled, as several hundred did today in Detroit.
All of which explains the strategy behind the 2016 Camaro. It’s not a revolution or a reboot; all of the features that made the previous-gen Camaro a hit have been preserved, and Chevy engineers have addressed some weakness and moved to counter Dearborn’s latest volley.
Start with the engines. There’s now three choices, all of them new to the Camaro. The SS now features the LT1 6.2-liter V-8 from the Corvette Stingray, tuned here to about 455 horsepower and 455 lb-ft of torque to give its Kentucky cousin just a little breathing room. The new 3.6-liter V-6 now makes 335 hp and 284 lb-ft of torque. And a new entry-level trim employs the corporate 2-liter turbo four-cylinder with 275 hp and 295 lb-ft; all three can be matched to either an eight-speed automatic or six-speed manual (which has rev matching when guiding the SS.)
These choices were designed in large part to counter Ford’s decision to make the Mustang’s Ecoboost four-cylinder turbo the mid-level choice of its range. While the Camaro’s four cylinder will be outgunned by the 'Stang’s base 300-hp V-6, Chevy engineers are betting that those buyers aren’t shopping purely on spec sheets anyway, and that those who are but can’t make the jump to the traditional V-8 will prefer the Camaro V-6 and its 20 extra horsepower over the turbo pony car.
As for the style, in person the new Camaro looks slightly smaller, as if its sheetmetal had been vacuum-packed over the chassis. There’s more Stingray influence in the lines, but the real difference is the change in the chassis underneath to GM’s updated Alpha setup. While that’s technically the same chassis as the Cadillac ATS, only 30 percent is shared with the Caddy; Chevy engineers needed a wider track width for the performance they wanted. (Only two badges carry over from the previous Camaro.)
That swap means the new Camaro weighs 200 lbs. less on average than the old model; in the V-6, that’s closer to 300 lbs. The new SS supposedly outhandles the previous 1LE upgrade trim, and even the 4-cylinder will hit 60 mph in under six seconds — quicker than the original 1967 Camaro SS. “You’re going to immediately feel the mass differential in the car,” says chief engineer Al Oppenheiser.
About those weak spots: The interior on the older Camaro wasn’t popular at launch and hasn’t aged well, but the new one comes off as far more sleek and thought out. For those who still prefer disco, the LED light strips in the doors and dash will change colors based on driving modes, and cycle through the rainbow for “car show” mode. GM designers took note of complaints about poor visibility up front and lowered the dash, moving the vents to the bottom of the center stack with trick controls around the bezels.
All of these changes did not fix one deficiency in the Camaro: Rear visibility, which was poor in the current model, not only failed to improve but may have gotten worse. Yes, backup cameras are standard and warning aids are optional, but sitting in the old and new back-to-back, I could almost swear the rearview mirror got smaller.
That won’t matter to the Camaro true believers, who prefer to think of the accelerator as the main tool for controlling what’s behind them. While many details including pricing weren’t released yet, and the new Camaro won’t start rolling from its new home in Lansing, Mich., until late this year, the 2016 edition should not just answer its fans’ questions, but a few prayers.