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Sixth-gen Camaro gets nipped and tucked, learns some manners
The sixth-generation Chevrolet Camaro is lighter, faster, quieter and smarter than all that came before. It’s better put-together, now rides on Cadillac underpinnings and, for the first time, has a better power-to-weight ratio (8.09 pounds per horse) than its mortal enemy, the Ford Mustang (8.51).
The historically heavy and brutish pony car is dangerously close to being called sophisticated. Why?
For starters, Chevy trimmed a lot of fat. In fact, the V6 model is 294 pounds lighter than last year’s car, the V8 223 pounds less and the new turbo four 390 pounds lighter than the last V6. General Motors did this using aluminum where possible, and the car sits on the Cadillac ATS’ rear-drive chassis, making the Chevy’s body-in-white 20 percent lighter than when it sat on the old Zeta platform. No part was left unchecked: The wheels are a half-inch wider but 6 ounces lighter, and extra threads were trimmed off long bolts.
The exterior loses some visual mass. The headlights and grille are narrower, the air intake is more pronounced and sleek, and LEDs replace the old-school fog lights. In back, the bumper protrudes a bit more while the taillights tilt upward. The new Camaro is now tailored into a slim-fit suit—it’s cut close around the thighs and midsection, but makes you feel tall, lean and good-looking.
More-modern engines are available under the power-domed hood. The base model’s four has an aluminum head, direct injection and turbocharging to make 275 hp and 295 lb-ft. The dual-overhead cam V6 delivers 335 hp and 284 lb-ft, up 13 hp and 6 lb-ft over last year’s.
Finally, the hot SS trim, having worked with slightly detuned Corvette engines most of its life, now lays down 455 hp and 455 lb-ft, only a few ticks behind America’s favorite sports car—the last SS arrived with 426 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque. All are offered with a Tremec six-speed manual. Those putting money down on an automatic get GM’s new high-tech eight-speed.
Historically, pony cars haven’t been the best handlers; they didn’t “go around corners” quite right. The SS aims to end that talk with double lower ball joints, MacPherson struts and an antiroll bar in front, and an independent five-link in back.
GM’s Magnetic Ride Control is optional on the SS—thankfully, it was installed on our tester. “Oh, your Ferrari has iron particle-filled adjustable shocks? So does my Camaro.”
The SS is quiet when cruising, restrained even. In sixth gear, there is little muffler noise; even at 120 mph, you can have an easy conversation with the well-dressed passenger next to you. Now, we’re not saying you should, but you could.
As good as Magnetic Ride Control is on the track, the street is where the optional suspension ($1,695) really shows its worth. Many of the curvy roads in mid-Michigan are also wavy, giving each corner a chance to bound and rebound independently. Even on the gas, at least with the wheels pointed straight, everything feels stuck to the road.
Compared to the old Camaro, gen six seems light and fleet of foot. Steering is quicker, more responsive. It certainly doesn’t hurt that this SS weighs 3,685 pounds (the old car was 3,908).
Since this is such an important car for GM, we decided that a standard road test wouldn’t be enough. Accordingly, we took the Camaro to Michigan International Speedway to shake it down at high speeds and hard angles on a beautiful, sunny fall day.
On the track, the SS puts down 45.1-mph runs in consistent, well-balanced fashion through our tight, 490-foot slalom course. The traction control kicks in a little too much when fully on, but a double tap of the button sends it into competitive mode, which allows help only when the car gets too sideways.
Steering weight is medium in sport. That, the throttle, shift patterns and the shocks all adjust with the drive modes. There is no under-steer really, just buttery smooth, predictable tail-wagging, becoming more fun as the tires warm up.
At no point do we feel like the car wants to go all the way around. It just takes a little steering correction and maybe a tiny lift off the gas pedal. On the 200-foot skidpad, we pull 0.87 g, but we sense that the car is capable of pushing even further.
Power comes on smooth and linear like the Corvette and, without boost, stays that way to the 6,000-rpm peak. Chevy claims a quarter-mile time of 12.5 seconds; we got close, logging our best run in 12.7 seconds at 112.8 mph. The dual-mode exhaust ($895) opens up at about 3,500 rpm and gets loud—the only time the car acts uncivilized for us. Clutch effort is just about right, but the catch point is a little broader than we’d like. The new stick shift and linkage are great, a full step ahead of the outgoing car’s setup. Throws are short and crisp, with no flex. The cupholders are offset, so a couple 20-ounce pop bottles won’t intrude on your shifting.
The SS starts at $37,295, including destination. The V6 is $28,490 and the turbo four $26,695, making it competitive with the Blue Oval. Unlike the Mustang, though, the four-banger is the base engine, and the V6 is the upgrade. The eight-speed automatic will set you back $1,495, if you’re interested in that type of thing.
Sophistication is borne on the inside. That means a new set of clothes isn’t enough. But when a car’s guts are as buttoned up and as smoothed out as the exterior, then we have something to talk about.
In the ’16 Camaro, we can talk about it at 120 mph.