Once again, Chevrolet is gearing up to take on the Ford Mustang with an all-new version of its Camaro muscle car.
Engine: 3.6L V6 makes 335 hp and 284 lb-ft of torque
Transmission: six-speed manual or eight-speed automatic
Fuel economy: TBD
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.