Fifth-Gen Camaro Suspension - Suspension 101

A beginners guide to fifth-generation suspension tech: How it works and what you can change

Justin Cesler Jun 9, 2011 0 Comment(s)
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Whether you are a long time aficionado or a first time Camaro owner, driving the fifth-generation Camaro is a breath of fresh air. Developed by General Motors atop the Global Rear Wheel Drive platform (now referred to as Zeta II) specifically to compete with the best road cars in the world, the Camaro features a unique fully independent multi-link strut front suspension and a first-in-class 4.5-link independent rear suspension (IRS) out back. This suspension system was derived from the Holden-built G8's and GTO's, but is unique to the Camaro for 2010. Now, we understand that the idea of an independent rear end may not be comforting to everyone, but it is hard to argue with the enhanced feel, increased control and fantastic ride that the IRS offers. Of course, like anything in our hobby, what came stock from General Motors can always be modified to work better depending on your driving preferences. On the following pages we have set out to explain how each piece of the puzzle works and what, if anything, can be changed to help you perfect the new Camaro. As we step through each piece, with the help of BMR Fabrication, we encourage you to explore your own driving style and goals to see if a particular upgrade, or set of upgrades, would be beneficial.

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Chassis Stiffening
Before you make large changes to the actual suspension of a vehicle, it is important to build a solid and safe foundation. On the fifth-gen Camaro, even with its sophisticated chassis, there are some areas that can be greatly reinforced, which helps all of the components function properly once out on the road. First and foremost, we recommend reinforcing your foundation with a triangulated subframe connector like this one from BMR Fabrication. By tying the front subframe, the carrier bearing location and the rear subframe together, you will reinforce the Camaro's chassis, helping solidify the handling and increasing response. To further stiffen the chassis, the stock driveshaft tunnel brace can be upgraded, removing the stamped factory piece for a boxed steel unit. Like the Camaros of every generation, these simple bolt-on modifications will immediately increase your driving experience while reducing rattles and flex.

Bushings
If there is one area on the Camaro that can stand the most improvement, it is the factory rubber bushings. Designed by GM to minimize body motions and dampen road imperfections, the factory bushings' only job is to soak up most of the ride, transforming the cabin into a plush piloting experience. While that detached road feel is certainly pleasurable to most of the motoring public, as enthusiasts, we require an enhanced level of feedback from the chassis, something cheap rubber bushings were never designed to do. Fortunately, many (if not all) of the factory subframe, differential and suspension bushings can be changed out for aftermarket polyurethane or solid components. Replacing these will net the driver the most "bang for the buck" in suspension feel and quality. Many of the issues that plague the Camaro including wheel hop, vague input/feedback and cornering instability can be traced back to deflection within the factory bushings and many can never be eliminated without addressing these areas first.

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Front Suspension
Up front, the Camaro features a unique "multi-link strut" arrangement, similar to the Pontiac G8, which omits a traditional upper control arm. Instead, the Camaro relies on a strut-mounted spindle, which acts in conjunction with the front lower control arm and radius rod (also known as the front trailing arm) to control the front suspension. Similar to a traditional MacPherson strut system, GM chose this "dual ball joint strut system" for several reasons, including reduced cost, weight reduction and space savings within the fifth-gen engine bay. As a nice addition, GM chose to incorporate both a quality radius rod and direct-acting stabilizer bar to help solidify the front suspension along with giving enthusiasts control over camber, caster and toe without having to step up to aftermarket adjusters. For all of its good points, the factory multi-link strut system can be modified to work even better under all conditions, including everything from daily driving to all-out racing.

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Front Struts
The front struts on the fifth-generation Camaro act as the cornerstone of the entire front suspension. First and foremost, the strut assembly, made up of a spring and shock, are solely responsible for keeping your tires planted on the asphalt during a variety of conditions, including changes in road conditions, vehicle dynamics and cornering forces. Struts, as a secondary function, also serve to control NVH (Noise Vibration Harshness) within the cabin and control the springs from bouncing out of control, making for a nice, smooth ride. The fifth-gen Camaro comes with a set of quality front struts, but the factory progressive-rate springs leave much to be desired. Built as a compromise between handling, comfort and ride height, the factory supplied springs are decent, but can't compete with any of the aftermarket spring offerings. BMR, for instance, produces two versions of its lowering spring, giving the customer a choice between a 1-inch or 1.4-inch front drop, both of which come in more aggressive 220 lbs/in spring rates. If adding just a lowering spring isn't enough for you, consider a set of aftermarket coilovers, which will give you the ability to adjust compression (the rate at which a shock compresses with the spring) and rebound (the rate at which it returns to its natural state).

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Lower Control Arm and Radius Rod
Without an upper control arm in place, the fifth-gen relies on two separate lower control arms to properly locate the strut. Up front, the majority of the workload is placed on the front lower control arm (FLCA), which is tasked with locating the spindle both laterally and longitudinally during any and all suspension travel. To help keep the spindle in place under heavy acceleration or braking, GM also incorporated a radius rod (aka front trailing arm), whose sole responsibility is to assist the lower control arm with fore and aft movement of the spindle. As far as the aftermarket can currently tell, both of these pieces do a great job in stock form and probably do not need to be replaced in even the most radical of builds. That said, there are major improvements to be had in replacing the factory bushings, in both the FLCA and the radius rod. Specifically, replacing the FLCA bushings with a polyurethane unit will help limit deflection of the arm, which will promote better steering response and feel with minimal-to-no increase in apparent NVH. Improving the radius rod bushing is perhaps more important, as it undergoes tremendous lateral loads during braking and can deflect in stock form, resulting in a jumpy or binding feel when under deflection and a vague steering and brake feel under normal driving conditions. Upgrading these two bushings alone will help both driver confidence and road feel.

Front Stabilizer Bar
The front stabilizer bar, also known as the sway bar, is responsible for controlling roll resistance. During heavy cornering, the stabilizer's first job is to reduce body roll, giving the Camaro a solid road feel without leaning like an old Suburban (or fourth-generation F-body) during cornering. Secondly, and just as importantly, the stabilizer bar helps tune the handling balance of the Camaro, giving it under- or oversteer depending on the design of the bar. From the factory, GM offers two options, giving the V-6 an FE2 Sport stabilizer bar (22.2x4mm) and a larger FE3 performance option for the V-8 powered cars (23x4.2mm). Either way, both stabilizer options still leave the Camaro with a hint of body roll and an annoying understeer bias. Luckily, the addition of aftermarket stabilizer bars is one of the easiest and fastest ways to see major improvements in both roll resistance and neutrality. BMR Fabrication offers a hollow 29mm, three-way adjustable front bar, which can increase front stiffness from 98 to 214 percent. Be careful here however, stiffer is not always better, stabilizers must work in conjunction with the rest of the system to maximize performance.

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The Rear Suspension
One of the biggest design changes from previous Camaro models is the new "4.5-link independent rear suspension" that is found exclusively on the new Camaro. Unlike a typical independent suspension, the Camaro relies on an innovative L-shaped upper control arm, which is tasked with controlling both lateral and longitudinal movement of the suspension. Below the upper control arm, GM uses a mix of components to help keep the tires planted, relying on a traditional lower control arm, rear trailing arm and rear toe rod to promote predictable handling under any circumstance. To keep everything level, the rear also uses a stabilizer bar, which is matched to the factory front unit, resulting in a predictable - albeit understeer happy - balance throughout. Much like the front suspension, the rear is also double-isolated from the chassis through the use of rubber bushings and rides on progressive-rate coilover struts, both of which help keep the ride smooth and quite.

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Rear Struts
Mirroring the front struts, the rear of the Camaro is also outfitted with a pair of coilover units, which perform admirably in stock form. These, like the front, are in charge of keeping your wheels on the road during any and all circumstances and do so using both the spring's stiffness and the shock's dampening and rebound control. As you may have guessed, the stock units are a compromise of NVH, ride quality and control and can certainly be upgraded if you are looking for maximum performance. Just as with the stock units, you can upgrade only the springs to a more aggressive 460 lbs/in, 1 or 1.4-inch lowering spring (with BMR) or you can upgrade the entire assembly to an aftermarket coilover unit, which will allow you to finely tune the shocks' rebound and compression to your liking. Either way, you will notice a big improvement over stock on your very first drive, along with a major aesthetic improvement.

Upper and Lower Control Arms
Both the upper and lower control arms on the Camaro are built from stamped steel and feature rubber bushings on the chassis side, to help isolate the cabin from NVH, and ball joints on the hub to allow for articulation. These two arms work together to locate the wheel during vertical movement and seem to do an ample job in stock form. However, like the front suspension, both of these arms come from the factory with soft rubber bushings and there are major advantages to be had just by changing them out to a polyurethane or solid bushing. The latter will result in much more NVH inside the cabin, but can help in certain high stress racing conditions. We also recommend replacing these bushings to help control wheelhop during heavy acceleration and improved stability and predictability while pushing your Camaro to the limits.

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Rear Trailing Arm
The rear trailing arm of the fifth-gen is responsible for helping the upper and lower control arms properly locate the hub/wheel during acceleration, braking and cornering. In stock form, the rear trailing arm is very supple, which leads to deflection under heavy cornering or acceleration, which can dramatically affect dynamic alignment, resulting in unpredictable handling or, more noticeably, wheelhop. Unfortunately, replacing just the bushings isn't enough to completely solve this problem, so replacing the entire arm is usually the best course of action. We have seen immediate improvements in handling and acceleration by changing out the rear trailing arm to an aftermarket unit.

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Rear Toe Rod
The rear toe rod does exactly what it says, and is in charge of setting static and dynamic toe of the rear wheels. Toe, or the measurement of a wheel's leading edge compared to parallel, has a major effect on both tire wear and initial turn-in response and can help fine tune a suspension system to your needs. Besides being a weak, stamped design from the factory, which has been known to deform under cornering loads, the rear toe arm is adjusted by an eccentric bolt (eccentric meaning the head is not in a straight line with the body), which can have a tendency to slip during high-performance driving, severally compromising toe angle while out on the track. To fix these problems, many aftermarket companies have released new toe rods, ranging from street-style boxed units that retain the factory eccentric bolt to rod-ended adjustable versions for the serious track enthusiast.

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Rear Stabilizer Bar
The rear stabilizer bar, like the front, controls roll resistance and the Camaro's overall balance. The FE2 V-6 suspension package comes with decoupled, hollow 21.7x3mm bar, while the FE3 V-8's come with larger 23x3mm pieces. The factory tuned the rear bars to work in conjunction with the front, giving the Camaro understeer and some, although slight, body roll. Replacing just the rear stabilizer bar with BMR's 25mm adjustable unit will improve the Camaro's balance, giving it a much more neutral character without much of an increase in roll resistance. Paired with a quality front bar, adjusting the rear will both increase roll resistance and balance, giving you the ability to perfect the handling of your Camaro. At its stiffest setting, the BMR bar can add 301 percent stiffness to the rear of your Camaro, a change that is immediately apparent.

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Driving Impressions
After spending a couple of days with the BMR Fabrication R&D Camaro, I was anxious to get it out on the road and stretch its legs. Immediately, before even leaving the Camaro Now world headquarters parking lot, we noticed a big improvement in chassis stiffness and feel. Whereas a stock Camaro luxuriously glides across the pavement, the BMR-equipped Camaro felt tight and responsive. I could feel the road beneath me, but the supercharged Camaro still felt comfortable and refined, just as I expected from a chassis as well designed as this. Over speed bumps, the Camaro exhibited none of the stock slop that I am used to and the chassis felt stiff and confident.

In standard driving situations, such as stop-and-go traffic and the morning commute to work, the stiffer bushings, rod-ended toe links and aggressive R compound Toyo tires did conspire to bring some additional NVH into the cabin, but it was still within this author's comfort zone. Standard driving maneuvers felt much more predictable and stable, while aggressive traffic light and passing acceleration felt crisp and nimble, without a hint of wheelhop, especially when compared to a stock fifth-generation Camaro. However, during tight, low speed cornering, the Camaro still suffered from its considerable heft. Initial turn-in felt vague and once the chassis had finally settled I was already beginning to exit the corner. Overall, the BMR suspension performed admirably at low speed, with little body roll and good on-throttle bite, but unfortunately the Camaro was just never designed to be nimble in these types of situations.

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Fortunately, at speed, the BMR Camaro really came alive. In moderate to fast corners (60-100 mph) the Camaro responded perfectly to both throttle and steering input. Initial turn-in was still a little heavy for my liking, but once settled the Camaro had loads of grip and no feeling of insecurity. Unlike other highly modified performance cars I have driven in the past, the BMR Camaro did not feel twitchy in the corners and it demonstrated an ability to maintain a solid line throughout. When stringing multiple corners together, the Camaro felt solid, calm and agile, transferring weight perfectly and settling quickly, helping give confidence to the driver. During post-apex throttle-on, the Camaro never tried to slide or unload, even with 550 rwhp on tap, something a stock Camaro could only dream of.

Overall, I was impressed by the BMR equipped Camaro and walked away with a new respect for the fifth-generation chassis. During our testing the Camaro continuously impressed me, challenging me to push it harder and faster as I became more comfortable behind the wheel. On an open road course, with moderate to fast corners, this Camaro would be capable of dominating any car in its class, providing the grip and feel that a professional or club driver would require. For a road warrior, the increased road feel, tight chassis response and nimble maneuverability will be sure to bring a smile to your face. The BMR Camaro felt much more like a tight pony car than a rolling sofa and I had a lot of fun behind the wheel, even in boring conditions. It's safe to say that there is a suspension upgrade available to suit any style of driving and I encourage you to explore some options on your way to Camaro nirvana.

Sources

BMR Fabrication
Thonotosassa, FL 33592
813-986-9302
www.bmrfabrication.com

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A beginners guide to fifth-generation suspension tech: How it works and what you can change
Justin Cesler Jun 9, 2011

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