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By RON SESSIONS | Contributing Editor
Staying in shape is never easy, especially as the decades pile on. Chevrolet’s Camaro, rippled and muscular in the 1960s and early 1970s is now approaching the Big Five-Oh. Fifty years of mullets and burnouts and cruisin’ were great, but where to go from here?
The 2016 Chevrolet Camaro aims to hang with a trimmer crowd. In a sense, the current car, the Generation-5 Camaro introduced for 2010, is the Biggest Loser version of the original First-Gen 1967-69 car. Although the overall styling theme is inspired by that first Camaro, the Gen-5 car is huskier in every dimension and more than 800 pounds more influenced by gravity. Safety and emissions gear, plus comfort and convenience items such as air conditioning and power assists added over the years have contributed to the added girth, but the car is just bigger.
Downsizing without sacrificing…too much
The new Gen-6 Camaro aims to reverse that trend. It nips more than two inches in length, tucks 0.8 inch in width and trims 1.1 inches off the top of the 2015 model. That may not sound like much, but the new Camaro is visibly smaller and at least 200 pounds lighter than the Gen-5 car. It now shares chassis components and powertrains with the weight-efficient Alpha platform which also underpins the sporty Cadillac ATS and CTS.
At launch this Fall, the new car will be available with a 275-hp 2.0-liter 4-cylinder turbo (the first 4-cylinder Camaro in 34 years), a 335-hp 3.6-liter V6 and, being a Camaro, of course a small-block V8, this one a 6.2-liter rated at 455 horsepower. The 2016 Camaro will come in base LT and uplevel SS trim.
Walk-up Grand Prix test drive
Our driving exposure in the 2016 Camaro thus far has been limited to just a few minutes behind the wheel of a pair of V6-powered cars. But those minutes consisted of two fairly hot laps of the Detroit Grand Prix circuit on Belle Isle, where we could drive with enthusiasm and without worrying about speed limits, traffic and the gendarmes.We first piloted V6 iterations of the current 2015 car, followed by the new 2016 Camaro. In just a couple hundred feet it was obvious that General Motors has created in the Gen-6 car a lighter, livelier and more nimble sports coupe. Chevrolet, of course, put its best foot forward for this first look, so the 2016 cars we drove were V6-powered LT models with the Drive Mode Selector (more on that later) set in Sport Mode for max performance and most were equipped with the great-sounding new dual-mode exhaust.
It’s amazing what losing a few hundred pounds does for the new Camaro. A stiffer body aided by the use of structural adhesives at key weld joints helps give the car a cohesive feel, allowing the revised suspension (now with greater use of weight-saving aluminum) do its job with greater precision.
Precise, naturally weighted electric steering and firm, easy-to-modulate Brembo 4-wheel disc brakes are willing partners. On the gas, turning left, turning right and on the brakes, the 2016 Camaro is smoother in transitions, building confidence, carrying more speed out of the turns.
“Camaro”. That’s Italian, right?
Equipped with the dual-mode active exhaust, the V6 sounds absolutely Italian. At wider throttle openings, the exhaust switches to low-restriction mode, which cues an intoxicating blatt from the brass horn section. Another cool engine sound, the low-frequency “whomp” from the intake system, is piped into the area just ahead of the steering column of V6 cars.
A Drive Mode Selector allows the driver to tailor the engine sound and as many as six other attributes such as steering effort, automatic shift points, throttle response and Magnetic Ride Control shock settings with the push of a console-mounted button.
Tailored, not hindered
Sizewise, the 2016 car’s cabin is more intimate. Like a good-fitting suit, Chevrolet’s tailored the car around the driver and front passenger. Almost two inches came out of the interior’s width. The driver can actually reach across to the glovebox without unbuckling. The rear seat is even smaller than before, but who sits in the aft section of a Camaro anyway?
Rearward vision is just as terrible as in the Gen-5 car, but the Camaro now comes with a backup camera and rear parking sensors are available. However, the big blind spots created by the previous model’s forward roof pillars shrink considerably in the new car. But the important dimensions—front seat headroom and legroom—are generous. And the cabin layout is now much more logical and space-efficient. The door trim panels, for example, are scalloped out to create elbow room.
The top of the instrument panel steps down to create more of an open feeling out in front. The center console is now thinner yet more functional, with a space-efficient electric parking brake, a shifter offset from the dual cupholders and innovative center ventilation outlets that double as climate-control temperature and blower-speed controls.
This time, the Camaro’s infotainment is built-in, not added on. The 2016 car is available with a high-def 8-inch color touchscreen with Chevrolet MyLink connectivity. There’s even an available inductive charger for cellphones, iPods and the like.
Fifty is the New Thirty
Another benefit of lower mass is improved fuel economy. To that end, the both the Camaro V6 and V8 will be available with Active Fuel Management systems that turn both engines into 4-cylinder powerplants when cruising under light load to conserve fuel. And all three Camaro engines, including the new 4-cylinder turbo will be available with a choice of 6-speed manual or new 8-speed automatic transmissions.
In just a couple hundred feet it was obvious that General Motors has created in the Gen-6 car a lighter, livelier and more nimble sports coupe.
Chevrolet is predicting the 275-hp turbocharged four will accelerate from zero to 60 mph in less than 6 seconds and be EPA-rated at more than 30 mpg on the highway. We have no reason to doubt those claims based on the Gen-6 Camaro’s new, more-efficient layout.
The 2016 Camaro is just a coupe for now, but sunroof-equipped cars and a convertible are sure to follow. As will limited-production ultra high-performance variants like the Z28 and ZL1 that will battle for horsepower bragging rights with Shelby Mustangs and Challenger Hellcats, oh my. And it will be a lot easier to do now that the Camaro’s been working out at the gym.
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