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By RON SESSIONS | Contributing Editor
Road trips are special. Especially when you’re driving something new and interesting and the road takes you to new places. Which is what I just had the chance to do in a 2016 Chevrolet Camaro SS.
The mission: Motor from Bozeman, Montana to Seattle, Washington in about 36 hours.
Easy, squeezy. Stay on I-90, the 3020-mile long (America’s longest) interstate that connects Boston to Seattle, and I’d log about 700 miles.
But interstate travel would bypass a lot of worthwhile attractions. So I went with Plan B, which interspersed 80-mph (the posted limit) freeway blasts with zigs and zags over two-lane blacktops snaking to Alpine switchbacks, Native American battlefields, an early 1900s railroad boom town, the one-time biggest copper mine in the world and the largest wind farm I’ve ever seen. The added 300 miles were well worth it, as you will see.
The machine: A 2016 Chevrolet Camaro SS. It’s all new this year, trimmer and lighter than last year’s version but packed with more power, better handling and an all-new driver-centric cabin with the latest in infotainment and safety gear. That said, generally speaking, if you were to seek out the best mount to tackle Rocky Mountain twisties with snow in the forecast, it probably wouldn’t be a fat-tired, 455-hp, rear-wheel-drive muscle car.
But Chevy was one step ahead and had already replaced the SS’s meaty 20-inch Goodyear Eagle F1 summer tires with four Pirelli Sotozero winter skins. So after checking that the StabilTrak stability and traction control systems were switched on and with brooding clouds looming over the Rockies, I rumbled out of Bozeman in the general direction of Seattle.
Or so I thought. A moment’s distraction juggling SiriusXM channels and I ended up going east on I-90 instead of west.
Up and over the snowy Bozeman Pass took me to Livingston, Montana, gateway to Yellowstone National Park (the road to which was unfortunately closed). Livingston’s historic district near its early 1900’s vintage Northern Pacific railroad station is thick with eateries, boutiques and hotels. Lurking in front of the Murray Café and Hotel, the black on black (with black 20-inch alloys) Camaro SS looked badder than Bret Maverick at a blackjack table.
Accelerating back onto the I-90 onramp heading west, the SS sounded badder than Dale Jr. taking the inside line at Daytona too. The dual-mode exhaust is the perfect complement for the SS model’s powerful LT1 V8 (same engine as in the Corvette).
It’s quiet when cruising but authoritative when you punch the accelerator and it bypasses the mufflers.
Also new this year is a quick-shifting 8-speed automatic that provides a wide gear-ratio spread for great part-throttle response and effortless cruising.
The next stop heading west was Butte, Montana. This hardscrabble town was once the epitome of Big Copper and home to the mile-deep Mountain Consolidated mine, the world’s largest producer. The U.S. is no longer the King of Extraction, evidenced by Butte’s pockmarked streets, but the Camaro’s Magnetic Ride shocks did an outstanding job of controlling body motions while filtering out the harshness of economic decline.
Leaving Butte, I motored south to Divide, Montana, gateway the Continental Divide and the Big Hole Battlefield. With precise dual-pinion, rack-mounted electric steering, the SS followed the 2-lane blacktop that knifed through a narrow river valley and eventually topped out near the 7251-ft Chief Joseph Pass on the Continental Divide near the Idaho border.
Along the way, the Big Hole battlefield was a stark reminder of the Nez Perce tribe’s 1877 loss to the U.S. Cavalry and their subsequent removal from their historic homeland.
Near Missoula, I rejoined I-90 for the westward dash to Coeur d’ Alene Idaho, Spokane, Washington then on into Seattle. It was time to fast forward to the 21st century and make some time. Nightfall had come and I was appreciative of the SS’s high-intensity-discharge headlamps piercing the inky darkness.
Spend a couple days in a car and you begin to notice things—like how comfortable and supportive the 2016 Camaro’s front bucket seats are, the new, thinner windshield pillars help outward visibility and how easy it is to use the new model’s climate control switchgear. Still, the low seating position and thick rear roof pillars conspire to block the driver’s view to the rear, which makes the Camaro’s standard blind-spot monitoring system a huge help in traffic.
My last stop before auguring into Friday rush-hour freeway traffic in Seattle was Puget Sound Energy’s’ 273-megawatt Wildhorse wind farm near Ellensburg, Washington. The 455-hp (about 0.3 megawatt) Camaro SS felt large and in charge on the highway and thanks to Active Fuel Management (it idles four cylinders under low-load cruising and is absolutely imperceptible in transitions) helped the big 6.2-liter V8 achieve a noteworthy 22.8 mpg average fuel economy for the trip.
But pausing for a moment with Chevy’s sports coupe beside the magnificent, whirring 221-ft tall wind turbines, each with a wingspan greater than a Boeing 747, there was no denying that our transportation, our technology and our way of life has really come a long, long way.