Any Camaro fan will tell you that what really matters is beating the Ford Mustang. That won’t be easy.

The 2016 Chevrolet Camaro will face five key challenges when it goes on sale in the fourth quarter of this year:

  • Performance
  • Fuel economy
  • Ergonomics
  • Styling
  • Interior comfort

If it wins on those fronts, this all-new Camaro could earn Chevrolet new customers and help establish it as a go-to brand for 21st Century performance.

“There’s a renewed interest in performance,” Autotrader senior analyst Michelle Krebs said. “Sales of passenger cars have been falling as SUV rise, but good old Detroit muscle cars have bucked that trend. They’re benefiting from an influx of new vehicles and technology.”

Lighter and more fuel efficient, the 2016 Camaro aims to break from the old muscle car image by offering world-class handling and fuel economy.

Surpassing the old model is nice, but any Camaro fan will tell you that what really matters is beating the Ford Mustang. That won’t be easy.

“The last Camaro deserves a lot of credit,” said Eric Noble, president of the Carlab, a product development consultant in Orange, California. “It went toe to toe with the Mustang and put Chevrolet in a strong position.

“The new Mustang has upped the game significantly, though, particularly in terms of dynamics and technology.”

Here’s what the 2016 Camaro needs to win:

Performance – The Camaro sheds at least 200 pounds for all models. That should improve acceleration and handling significantly.

Chevy’s small-block V8 and 3.6L V6 engines are powerful and efficient. The optional eight-speed automatic transmission is an asset the competition can’t match.

A 50/50 front/rear weight distribution would be the crowning achievement in chassis engineering, if Chevy can deliver it.

The big question will be whether the 2016 Camaro’s 270-hp turbocharged four-cylinder base engine can match the Mustang’s 300-hp base V6.

Fuel economy – With every model at least 200 pounds lighter than the car it replaces and a new eight-speed automatic transmission, each of the new Camaro’s drivetrains could be the most fuel efficient in its segment. The addition of cylinder deactivation to GM’s stalwart 3.6L V6 engine should boost highway fuel economy substantially, creating a yawning gap between it and Ford’s V6 base model.

The fact that the engines will require premium gasoline for maximum performance and mileage is a drawback, though. The Camaro must beat the competition by more than 1 mpg to overcome it.

Ergonomics – Even the outgoing Camaro’s fans admit the car’s sightlines are poor, largely due to a high beltline and narrow windows. Those proportions are part of what Camaro fans like, though. It’ll be a major challenge for GM’s designers to combine it with first-class visibility.

The addition of a standard backup camera is overdue. Making blind spot and cross-traffic alert standard would have been nice, too, but they’re options.

The addition of a big touch screen for Chevy’s user-friendly MyLink system is a definite plus. MyLink’s excellent voice recognition gives the Camaro an advantage over many competitors.

Styling – Did the new Camaro evolve enough? The new car is 2.3 inches shorter, 0.8 inches narrower and 1.2 inches less tall than the 2015 model, but its profile is nearly identical to the outgoing car.

This guarantees Camaro fans will recognize the ’16 model, but the new car could look old before its time.

Interior comfort – Nobody ever bought a Camaro for its rear legroom, but the car must be comfortable for two people and capable of carrying four without too much whining. The trunk has to be big enough to car a couple’s bags for a weekend getaway. That’s particularly important for the convertible model that’s likely to arrive early next year.

Mark Phelan is the auto critic for the Detroit Free Press.

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