The fifth-generation Camaro was a pretty solid effort. It brought concept-car styling, big power and, late in its run, track-monster special editions like the ZL1 and Z28. The knock on the Gen5 Camaro, always, was its weight. Even the stripped-down Z28, with its lack of trunk carpeting and one-speaker radio (there to play the click of the turn signals) weighed in around 3,800 pounds, which seems to be the threshold where performance cars start getting weight-shamed.
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So the new Camaro, the 2016, starts fresh with the lithe Alpha platform that underpins the Cadillac ATS. In V6 models, the Camaro loses as much as 300 pounds (it’s more like 200 for the V8s), while gaining power and chassis finesse. GM says that the standard-issue V8-powered SS will beat the outgoing 1LE track rat on a road course, which bodes very well for the inevitable string of performance variants. If the Z28 was hounding Porsche GT3s at 3,800 pounds, imagine what it could do with that invisible load of mulch tossed out of the trunk.
The Camaro still looks ready to rip a burnout while blasting some Billy Squier
I didn’t get to drive anything like a Z28, though. The early prototypes on hand at GM’s Milford Proving Grounds were both V6 models, cloaked in camouflage inside and out. If it seems cruel to tease the new Camaro with a mere V6 under the hood, consider that the 2016 V6 will pack around 330 horsepower. The numbers are not finalized, but that horsepower range puts you comfortably ahead of the 2010 Mustang GT rumbling up next to you at the traffic light. And the V6 has a nice growl of its own, depending on whether it’s equipped with the active muffler bypass. Owners can program different levels of aggressiveness for the muffler cutout, including a “stealth” mode, presumably for sneaking out at night for a date with Becky Muldoon.
The V6 is the mid-level car, with base models getting a 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder that GM claims will deliver a 0-60 time in the fives. This hierarchy runs contrary to the Mustang’s, where the EcoBoost four-cylinder is positioned as an upgrade from V6, despite offering nearly identical performance. “It’s good for us that they had to show their hand first,” says Al Oppenheiser, chief engineer for the Camaro. GM keeps plenty of daylight between each power option—the V6 gives you about 60 more horsepower than the four, and the 6.2-liter V8 another 110 horses beyond that (440 total). More cylinders, more power! Camaro Man understand this. Good for GM, keeping it simple.
The Gen5 Camaro didn’t outsell the Mustang because it had great rearward visibility
It’s interesting that GM chose to debut the Camaro on the warped surfaces of the ride-and-handling loop rather than, say, on the nearby Lutzring road course. What they’re saying is that thing is going to work in the real world (they hope). I can now attest that no Camaro ever soaked up a mid-corner bump like this one does—an impression cemented by a back-to-back drive with the 2015 model. The outgoing car didn’t feel thoroughly discombobulated, mind you, but the new one was just that much more graceful. (Yes, a Camaro. Graceful.) On the big hits, the 2016’s suspension wasn’t visiting the limits of its bump stops like the 2015 model did, and diabolical chatter bumps didn’t send it skittering toward the shoulder. Also, that exhaust cutout sounds nice. The 3.6-liter V6 tends to be vocal anyway, so you may as well uncork it.
This may also sound like heresy, but GM ditched the old car’s manual emergency brake after a careful consideration of the ergonomic implications. In other words, the e-brake handle takes away real estate that could be used for an armrest and cupholders. Mind you, Camaro engineers don’t really care about cupholders, except to the extent that they mess with your ability to reach for the shifter, and if you’ve got an e-brake under your right arm, then the cupholders have to go in front of it, and then your 24-ounce can of Monster Xtremeberry is thwarting each reach for the shifter. Well, drivers shift gears a lot more often than they rip e-brake turns (most of the time). So bye-bye, manual e-brake. If you want to do a bootleg turn, you’ll just have to rely on power oversteer.
While the last Camaro had a concept-car interior, complete with ultra-deep-dish steering wheel and quasi-retro design, the new car is more conventional but uses much nicer materials. It’s still laden with some Camaro theatrics, namely the demo mode for the interior lighting that causes the LED accents around the cabin to change color in sequence. Not a feature you’d use on your S-Class, but perfect for the Camaro.
GM worked hard on improving the view out of the front, particularly around the A-pillars, but rearward visibility is still mostly absent. That’s a function of the styling. Hey, it had to look cool, and the Gen5 Camaro didn’t outsell the Mustang because it had great rearward visibility. It sold because it looked bitchin’, and the new one doesn’t deviate much from the formula. It’s a shrewdly updated, 11/12th scale model of the old car. The new double-bubble roof is especially cool—and so dramatically three-dimensional that sunroof cars will need a whole different roof panel. Don’t get the sunroof. Get the bubble.
Don’t get the sunroof. Get the bubble.
Granted, I didn’t get to drive an SS, but you can tell that GM filed off some rough edges but intentionally left a few in play—like the crackling exhaust and the compromised visibility in the name of aesthetics. Under the skin it might be a Cadillac, but the Camaro still looks ready to rip a burnout while blasting some Billy Squier. The moment the SS hits the streets, that’s exactly what I intend to do with it.