We’re standing outside an industrial warehouse near the intersection of Edsel Ford and Chrysler freeways in Detroit, not far from GM’s Hamtramck Assembly Center. What few windows the building has have been draped in tarps and taped up from the inside. All the doors are locked tight. We really want to get in, not just because it’s 40-something degrees and raining, but because we know the Reliable transport truck parked outside has unloaded two 2016 Camaros, sans camouflage, and they’re waiting for us inside.
While never a huge departure from the established ponycar class, each previous Camaro generation came as a completely different style. The second-generation Camaro was much more European than the first, and the third was far lighter and compact. From the spy photos we’d seen of the 2016 Camaro, we expected a car very similar to the outgoing fifth-generation. From a distance, that may be the case, but the 2016 Camaro is entirely new, with only two emblems carrying over from 2015. Still, when we first saw it in the flesh, we immediately recognized the metallic charcoal gray car as a Camaro.
We spent more than 10 hours in and around two versions of the 2016 Camaro, photographing them from all angles, and then spoke with Aaron Link, lead development engineer for the sixth-generation Camaro. Link has been involved in developing the LSA-powered Cadillac CTS-V and has been on the fifth-gen Camaro team since just after its launch, when he worked on the development of the 580hp ZL1 Camaro. Here’s what we took away.
Not quite as dramatic as the Corvette’s shift from C6 to C7, the Camaro’s progress is a lot like Porsche’s recipe for a 911 redesign: keep the style, trim some fat, and hone in on the handling. With such a positive response to the Camaro’s styling and strong sales for each of the past five years, Chevrolet knew it had something special and didn’t want to throw everything out, even though a new platform and powertrains were on the way. We were told that nearly every exterior dimension is within 2 inches of the previous model. Indeed, if you were to add the new sixth-gen to your garage, we’re pretty sure it could borrow your fifth-gen’s custom-fit car cover.
The car’s overall profile is similar, but lower and with an even more pronounced fastback look. Side windows are still short—at around 10 inches tall from the top of the door to the roof—and the trunk opening is still quite small, both concessions to the sleek design. When asked about the outward visibility, one of the fifth-generation Camaro’s biggest criticisms, Link admitted, “It’s certainly a hot button with people. Every time we’d do a clinic or styling exercises that have a bigger daylight opening, people universally said, ‘No, don’t do it. Don’t compromise the style.’” The sixth-generation car does have better forward and downward visibility, along with a roof-mounted frameless rearview mirror to help reduce blind spots.
Super Sport cars get a more aggressive front fascia with a larger lower grille opening, brake cooling ducts, and unique LED daytime running light (DRL) treatment. We were told this fascia was developed with downforce in mind, while LT models will get a more subdued fascia with a smaller grille opening that reduces drag. The SS also gets a unique hood with two vents running parallel on either side of the hood bulge. Along with removing heat from the engine compartment, they also reduce lift. They’re farther forward and not as square as the “ice-cube trays” on the 1968 SS, but there’s a hint of the classic in their design.
At the rear, the taillights also evoke 1968, as horizontal elements are divided into two sections. The rear fascia are identical on LT and SS, although rear spoilers differ, with SS getting the taller of the two. Both the Bow Tie on the rear edge of the decklid and the SS emblems on the right edge of the decklid are carryovers from the 2015 model, but a new “banner” fender emblem, similar to those on the 2015 Commemorative Edition, pays homage to the tricolor badges that were on the noses of Camaros beginning in 1970.
The move from Zeta to the Alpha chassis gave Camaro more flexibility in design, thanks to a lower cowl height. It’s similar to the chassis developed for the 2013 Cadillac ATS, although the front wheels were pulled forward to, as Link put it, “extract the sports car” from the platform. The Alpha platform is also more mass-efficient, resulting in a body shell that’s 136 pounds lighter than the previous generation while being 28 percent more structurally rigid. A solid foundation allows engineers to focus suspension geometry on maximizing handling without compensating for chassis flex. We asked what the Camaro team was shooting for on the sixth-generation: “The dynamics of the [fifth-generation] car evolved to be pretty damn good,” Link said. Trying to keep that handling and move it to a smaller, lighter package was the priority. “There were constraints on Zeta that we couldn’t overcome, ever.”
Not only is the Alpha weight-efficient, the 2016 Camaro is 2.3 inches shorter in length, 1.1 inch shorter in height, and the body is ¾ of an inch narrower with ½ of an inch narrower front track width, and 1/3 of an inch wider rear track width. The weight savings in the body shell also translated into less mass needed in the suspension and brakes, for less unsprung mass and better suspension response and steering feel. Front suspension uses a Macpherson strut with geometry that’s unique to Camaro. Chevrolet says the double-pivot lower A-arm design provides a more precise feel in conjunction with a quick-ratio electric power-steering system. Front control arms and links are aluminum, while a new five-link rear suspension uses steel links with lightening holes. Overall suspension weight was reduced by 26 pounds, which helped add up to more than 200 pounds of weight savings overall compared to a 2015 fifth-gen car.
Like the C7 Stingray that promised to match the performance of the C6 Grand Sport package, the 2016 Camaro SS looks to record better lap times than the previous-generation SS 1LE, which is still in the running for the best bang-for-your-buck ponycar on the market, even as it ends its production run. Part of that improved performance likely comes from Magnetic Ride Control, the active suspension used in the Corvette and the fifth-generation ZL1 Camaro, which is now available for the first time in the Camaro SS. Toggling between the Snow/Ice, Tour, Sport, and Track modes changes the throttle progression, automatic-transmission shifting, power steering, and stability control, as well as the ambient lighting, dual-mode exhaust, and Magnetic Ride Control if equipped.
Brakes are still on the large size with Brembo calipers and rotors available on LT and standard on SS models. Buyers of the LT package cars can opt for 12.6-inch front rotors with four-piston calipers and 12.4-inch rear rotors with single-piston sliding calipers. Camaro SS is equipped with 13.6-inch front rotors with and 13.3-inch rear rotors, all with four-piston fixed calipers. The LT cars will wear 18-inch wheels with Goodyear Eagle Sport all-season tires; SS cars will use Goodyear F1 Asymmetric 2 run-flats. The cars we photographed both used 245/40R20 sizes front and rear.
Chevrolet is offering three engine choices at launch, each paired with eight-speed autos or six-speed manuals. The base engine is a 2.0L, turbocharged, direct-injection four-cylinder—option code LTG—which is the same engine you’d find in the Cadillac ATS and as a crate engine from Chevrolet Performance. It’s rated at 272 hp in both of those applications and has a broad torque peak producing 290 lb-ft between 3,000 to 4,600 rpm, with 90 percent of its torque available at 1,700 rpm. We’ve driven this engine in heavier applications than the 2016 Camaro and it feels stronger than 270 hp should, thanks to that torque production. Chevrolet claims this engine will propel the Camaro from 0–60 mph in “well under 6 seconds” while returning better than 30 mpg highway. That should make it slightly quicker than a V6 Challenger.
Next in the engine line is a direct-injection, 3.6L V6 producing an estimated 330 hp at 6,800 rpm and 285 lb-ft of torque at 4,800 rpm. While the displacement is the same, this is an all-new engine architecture with wider bore spacing and a larger bore and shorter stroke than the previous 3.6L. A 3.6L, twin-turbo version of this engine powers the Cadillac ATS-V, which is also on the Alpha platform. We’re not saying that Camaro has a twin-turbo V6 in its future, we’re just saying that it fits in the engine bay and makes 455 hp. Link said it was kicked around during watercooler talk, but its output was close enough to the LT1 that a high-feature V6 might only serve to muddy the waters.
Back to reality, this new 3.6L will mark the first time that a V6 Camaro has offered Active Fuel Management (AFM), disabling two cylinders under light load for improved fuel economy. With the 2015 Camaro V6 already rated at 30 mpg highway with the outgoing V6, we think this could be the second sixth-generation Camaro powertrain to return better than 30 mph highway.
No surprise, the SS will come with the awesome, direct-injected LT1 V8 with an estimated 440 hp and 450 lb-ft of torque. “The small-block V8 belongs in this car,” Link told us. It’s similar to the LT1 found in the Stingray, although the Camaro application means that 20 percent of its components are new, including tri-Y tubular exhaust manifolds. Automatic-transmission SS models will use AFM like the Stingray, shutting down four cylinders to run as a V4 under low-load driving conditions. We asked about any special engineering for the LT1 in the Camaro and Link pointed to the air/oil separator as, “an unsung hero of the car. We developed a legit air/oil separator for the LT1. That was near and dear to my heart. I spent a lot of time on that one.” As all Camaro LT1s will be wet-sump engines, Link told us the air/oil separator is cleverly packaged, so it’s hard to appreciate in the car. Its function is to keep oil out of the airbox and throttle-body—and therefore the combustion chamber—avoiding pre-ignition.
Link was excited to point out the amount of cooling across the board on the 2016 Camaro. The radiator did shrink compared to fifth-gen, but the addition of outboard coolers and a high-powered electric fan in combination with improved airflow resulted in an overall cooling package that’s very efficient. “Water temp on these cars is just phenomenal, we’ve been really pleased.” Even during hard driving, cooling is consistent with “zero spark retard.”
When we asked Link what options he’d be checking when he gets a 2016 Camaro of his own, he was quick to answer. “The one I gravitate to is the LT1 manual with the optional exhaust and magnetic dampers. The trim? 1SS, 2SS, I could go either way. For canyon-carving or a weekend track car, that’s a pretty sweet package.”
As for its chief competition, Ford places the Mustang’s 305hp, 2.3L, EcoBoost, four-cylinder turbo as a premium engine above the 300hp, 3.7L V6 that’s offered in base models. Chevrolet says its four-six-eight-cylinder engine progression makes more sense and will allow buyers to pick either the four or six on any LT trim level. Link told us, “We don’t limit your options, you can get 1LT or 2LT on both and RS package on both. We’re not gonna penalize somebody that wants one engine over the other.”
The added power of the LT1 along with the lowered curb weight might put the Camaro SS in a bit higher performance bracket than the Mustang GT, more in line with the Challenger SRT 392. We’ve already been bench racing around the office.
Like the Corvette, the Camaro will feature Active Rev Match in the SS, which uses a Tremec TR6060 six-speed, same as the fifth-generation Camaro. Active Rev Match blips the throttle on downshift for smooth shifting without any need to heel-toe. The 2.0L and 3.6L both use the Tremec TR3160 six-speed manual that doesn’t offer Active Rev Match. For the automatic-equipped 2016 Camaro, 2.0L and 3.6L models get the 8L45 eight-speed transmission that has more aggressive gearing than the 8L90 that comes with the SS. “We’ve had a lot of people jump out of the four- or six-cylinder cars with the eight-speed autos with smiles on their faces. The eight-speed works really well with the torque of those engines.”
The tachometer and speedometer are analog, positioned at either side of the instrument panel, with the area in between reserved for an 8-inch digital display that is customizable. It can be tailored to show a lap timer, lateral acceleration, oil pressure, oil temp, trans temp, audio-track listing, or navigation prompts and looks to be a direct descendent from the C7 Corvette Driver Information Center (DIC) that we all enjoyed. Since both cars we photographed were well-optioned, the main difference we noticed was that 2.0L and 3.6L cars use a 160-mph speedometer, while the SS gets a 200-mph speedometer.
The HVAC controls are arranged below another optional 8-inch touch screen, with four round vent pods in the dash, two near the doors and two in the center console. The aluminum bezel surrounding the middle two vents control the temperature, keeping the interior free of clutter. That’s sort of the theme inside, as dash buttons are minimized and the door panels are streamlined, with handles forward and high near the A-pillars with accent lighting running along the seam between black door trim and upholstery-matched trim.
The available 8-inch touch screen allows users to toggle between audio, navigation, and menu screens for car personalization, including 24 different accent lighting color options. Ambient lighting can also be linked to driving mode, with Snow/Ice, Touring, Sport, and Track modes resulting ice blue, blue, red, and orange lighting, respectively. Accent lights in the door panels are joined by lights in the cupholders, around the touch screen, and in the doorsills. Like the Corvette, it seems that the DIC is more customizable than the touch screen. We weren’t able to find any sort of performance menu, although the cars we photographed weren’t production spec.
We had no problem fitting our tallest editor—at 6 feet, 3 inches—in the front seat of the new Camaro. It’s only in the back seat where you’ll notice the reduced wheelbase. As with the current S550 Mustang, the rear seat won’t be comfortable if tall front-seat occupants need to have the seat adjusted far aft. Tall drivers and front-seat passengers will appreciate the upholstered center-console pads that protects against banged knees.
Final numbers on weight, SAE certification on engines, and pricing have yet to be determined, and we haven’t had the opportunity to test Chevrolet’s claims that the 2016 Camaro SS will leave the 2015 SS 1LE in its wake. Link told us the suspension tuning is still ongoing, although he did offer that when it comes to Milford Proving Grounds lap times, “We are beating [the fifth-generation 1LE] with the same driver on the same day.” It looks like there are plenty of salvos left from Chevrolet in the ponycar war, and we can hardly wait to get seat time in a 2016 Camaro SS, in particualar.
|Tremec TR3160 6-speed manual (2.0T and 3.6L)||Tremec TR6060 6-speed manual with Active Rev Match (6.2L)||Hydra-Matic 8L45 8-speed automatic (2.0L and 3.6L)||Hydra-Matic 8L90 8-speed automatic (6.2L)|
|Gear ratios (:1)|
|Final Drive Ratio||3.27||3.73||3.27 (2.0L) 2.77 (3.6L)||2.77|
|2016 Camaro||2015 Camaro|
|Front track (in/mm):||63.1/1,602||63.6/1,616|
|Rear track (in/mm):||64.2/1,631||63.9/1,622|