2016 Chevrolet Camaro First Drive

Once again, Chevrolet is gearing up to take on the Ford Mustang with an all-new version of its Camaro muscle car.

Ford began selling its sixth-generation Mustang for the 2015 model year and Chevrolet won’t be far behind with the 2016 Camaro, which serves as a replacement to the larger and heavier generation based on GM’s Zeta platform.

This time around, the Camaro is based on the Alpha platform that also underpins Cadillac’s CTS and ATS. That won’t matter to anyone buying the new ‘Maro when it starts arriving in dealers later this year, but the added rigidity inherent to that platform will.

Get the Flash Player to see this player.

In an unusual move, Chevrolet showcased the car to a group of roughly 1,000 owners and a pack of reporters over the weekend at the Belle Isle Raceway in Detroit. The event wasn’t tied to an auto show and it didn’t have the usual media exclusivity that unveilings like this tend to prefer. But that was hardly the strangest part of the debut because GM saw fit to keep the press around for a second day to drive a handful of V6 engineering test mules in the same weekend… on the track.

2016-Chevrolet-Camaro-Mule-9

An Important Caveat

Valuable as the experience was, it’s important to remember that the prototype models we and everyone else at the event drove aren’t necessarily a representation of the new car. Chevrolet could have tinkered with any number of settings in the car without any of us knowing. With that out of the way, the new Camaro seems like it’s going to be an impressive product.

We drove the 2015 V6 for a lead-follow lap around Belle Isle chasing a Z/28 before hopping into the new Camaro for an identical lap. At least from a cursory perspective, the differences are easy to recognize.

The new Camaro is a little bit smaller in every regard compared to its predecessor including a curb weight roughly 200 lbs lighter than the Zeta model. It corners more readily, seems to carry speed more easily during those corners and uses new electric power steering to glue car and driver together better than the old car could. The V6 as a new engine for GM with direct injection and active fuel management that makes 335 HP and 284 lb-ft of torque.

2016-Chevrolet-Camaro-Mule-7

Surface Evaluation

Given the circumstances, it’s almost impossible to objectively evaluate how “good” the new Camaro is, but one thing is obvious. Chevrolet’s new steering calibration is a home run. It’s light at a standstill and progressively stiffer with increased speed with a transition between the two that feels just as natural and intuitive as high-end products from Germany.2016-Chevrolet-Camaro-Mule-14

There will be plenty of equipment choices to make if you buy one, but picking between the six-speed manual and eight-speed automatic will be one of the biggest. V8 models get a beefier six-speed manual from Tremec that includes throttle blipping during downshifts that effectively replaces the need to heel-toe, but the less robust gearbox in the V6 and turbocharged four-cylinder models won’t offer that. Nevertheless, the manual is an easy transmission to manage with predictable clutch uptake and plenty of torque for smooth starts and hearty acceleration.

Despite that, the eight-speed automatic is also a compelling option because it will be able to offer efficient highway driving without sacrificing acceleration. In other words, the automatic ought to let you drive with moxie when it makes sense without needing to all the time.

New Cabin is [Probably] Great

Packaging information about the new Camaro wasn’t part of Chevrolet’s media briefing so it’s hard to tell where the cars we drove will sit in the lineup apart from the fact that V6 versions will sit mid-pack above the turbo four-cylinder and below the V8.

Hopefully the seats at work in the test mules will an inexpensive option on the new model because they are especially comfortable. The old car wasn’t bad, but the new front buckets manage to strike a balance between hugging you in corners and feeling like a Barcalounger. It’s pretty nice.

2016-Chevrolet-Camaro-Mule-11

Outward visibility is still atrocious in the new model. If anything, it’s probably worse than the fifth-generation. The side windows are comically petite and you might as well forget about seeing anything out of the back, but that isn’t a surprise, is it?

Chevrolet said it designed the new interior with a keener focus on the driver. While that’s probably something better debated by you and your significant other, the interior is a big step up over the old car. The new touchscreen interface has a glassy finish that looks handsome on the new dashboard. Similarly, the new steering wheel design is obviously influenced by the C7 Corvette. It’s smaller and the button design is similar to what you get in the Stingray; both good things. Plenty of bits and pieces were missing or ill-fitted in the mules we drove, but that comes with the territory. Turning a blind eye to poor fitment and small flaws, the new design is an immense improvement over the painfully low rent Gen 5 interior.

The Verdict: 2016 Chevrolet Camaro First Drive (Prototype)

Assuming the cars we drove are at – or very close to – production spec, you have a lot to look forward to with the new Camaro. Here’s to hoping it all holds true.

  • roundthings

    There is no excuse for such poor visibility in a re-design when GM knew that was a problem in the old model

  • Mark S

    When you say forget seeing anything out the back, do you mean while driving or just reversing? If reversing only, hopefully rear view camera’s and sensors will help). Hoping the new Gen SS has the handling of the currently 1LE out the box or at least they offer the options to get that 1LE type of handling straight away. Offer magnetic ride control is a big plus for them. Did u test the manual in the V6 or the automatic?

  • Mark S

    Just not sure how GM (or indeed Dodge with the Challenger) can create the Camaro “look” and get good visibility. Hopefully rear view camera’s and blind spot monitors are available.

  • timothyhood

    They mean all of the time.

  • timothyhood

    I agree–the visibility factor is just something you have to decide you can live with if you want this car. To substantially improve on visibility would change the car enough that it would probably alienate fans. MSB is your friend here. 🙂

  • Mark S

    Ah, that is a little disconcerting. I have driven a few vans over the years and never really felt comfortable with no rear visibility. That said plenty of coupes over the years lack rear visibility. The P1 is somewhat hilarious, one minute you have limited visibility, apply the brakes, up comes the air brake and no visibility it seems looking at the vids and reading the lucky journo’s who have driven one.

  • Bobo Spinks

    Geebus, there’s not even a spoiler on back deck of the mules. How hard can it be to see out the back? Maybe if you’re under 5′ 9″ this might be a problem, just can’t “see it” otherwise. Try sitting on an old telephone book, that should help.

  • bd

    Gee, I guess Ferrari, Lamborghini, Koenigsegg, etc. should all dump their designs for new ones which have much greater outward visibility.

  • Darko

    After i lost my job 6 months ago, i’ve been blessed to learn about this amazing site online that was a life-saver… They offer online work for people to freelance from their homes. My last month paycheck after working with them for 3 months was 12000 dollars… Great thing about it was that only thing required is basic typing and access to internet…If this got your attention then try it out by visiting following link>

  • John Zofko III

    The problem with visibility (IMHO) has probably more to do with the fact that the government, in order for crash requirements, has shrunken the windows, and made the door skins taller. This is good for a “chopped” look, and gives attractive proportions to newer cars. However the trade off is the smaller windows obviously means worse visibility. Looking at the car, I can see where the back of the car is so high that the window is small… Add to that headrests, and you lose almost everything…

    The rear window was also an issue with the 1st and 2nd gen cars IMHO. Maybe not to this extreme. The third gen and 4th gen had slightly better visibility due to the rear hatch design.

    John

  • worktoride

    Frankly the A pillar is the biggest visibility issue for me, super annoying and I think a potential problem when you are in town and trying to watch for pedestrians. I like the Camaros otherwise and I was really hoping they would address that problem. Honestly if it was not for that I would be driving a new Camaro right now, but went for a Boss 302 Laguna Seca instead which was my first and only Ford after many Chevrolets including my 64 StingRay.

  • butch350

    Couldn’t get the Government to approve
    it. lol

  • butch350

    The new cabin is “probably” great? Wait until you can tell us it is great. Talk about a slanted article..

  • Ken Wright

    The car sounds sweet! It looks like a big downsize from the current car and this is great.

  • This car will not hold a candle to the Mustang, which is a classic.

  • Tim Larsen

    John… The design was for the looks of the camaro, not crash standards, otherwise all cars would have similar limited visibility. I’ve has a 2011 camaro for 4.5 years, and love the car. You get used to the reduction in visibility pretty quickly.