Typically, when automakers invite the media to drive their latest products, the discerning journalists get the opportunity to rack up 100 to 200 miles on the product. While 200 miles provides a solid baseline for which to judge said automobile, nothing quite compares to simply being handed the keys with no plan. That’s exactly what Chevrolet did with the 2016 Camaro launch, which yielded over 900 miles of road traveled, spanning five states. Suffice to say, we got to know the new Camaro really, really well – and it’s no longer a great pony car.
Perspective means a lot in the context of discussing a product. In reviews of the fifth-generation Chevrolet Camaro the phrase “it’s a great pony car” or “it’s the best pony car” were often utilized. The condition of “pony car” was applied as a metric for which the revived car was rated; a byproduct of the pent up excitement for the car’s return. Though those conditional statements were not inaccurate; the fifth-gen car was a great pony car, and a decent performance car in general. However, this sixth-generation car is of a higher pedigree.
Our trip started out in Nashville, where the keys to an equal split of V-6 and SS trim Camaros were distributed at random. Despite the finger-crossing and optimistic thoughts, we didn’t end up with possession of an SS with the manual transmission. While our inner car guy desperately wanted V-8 power, this served as an excellent opportunity to test GM’s latest variation of their 3.6-liter V-6.
Dubbed the “LGX” for those who know GM’s RPO codes, the new 3.6-liter hammers out 335 horsepower and 284 foot-pounds of torque, and there’s a damn good reason this review is starting off by talking about the engine: because the heart of this car is one of its best attributes.
GM’s 3.6-liter V-6 has been around the block for awhile now, with variations that started out with port-injection, then direct injection and now the LGX is adding Active Fuel Management to the mix. Additionally, the 3.6’s combustion system has been revamped with technology borrowed from the new Gen V Small Block V-8.
The redesigned engine pairs with Camaro’s lighter, more dynamic chassis to form a V-6 pony car that is insanely fun to drive. Departing Nashville, it was hard to stay out of the throttle of this car. Throttle response is very aggressive, and the V-6’s low end grunt brings the balance of the chassis out in spades. For anyone who’s driven a Cadillac ATS with the 3.6-liter – you’ll reminisce behind the wheel of this new Camaro, because they feel similar.
In fact, the dynamics of this Camaro were so appealing on the first leg of this trip, we changed routes to get off the interstate and onto some of the back roads that run from northeast Arkansas up through the Ozarks in southern Missouri. It was here, where cell service was spotty at best, that the sixth gen Camaro validated itself.
With the drive mode in “sport” and the windows down, the Camaro navigated the two-lane twisty roads with intoxicating enthusiasm. Apexes proved little challenge for the smaller Camaro, with a steering rack that is arguably better-tuned than the Cadillacs. On-center feel is fantastic, and there’s enough weight behind the rack for the driver to have an easy time keeping control during aggressive maneuvers. There isn’t as much road feedback in the rack as Cadillac’s because Camaro does not have the pricy, complex multi-link front suspension.
The abundant elevation changes in the Ozarks brought out the car’s composure. The chassis always felt sure-footed, with tight control on up/down motions and body roll. We did note that the suspension seemed too harsh over rough surfacing; specifically, it felt like too much of the jarring was translating into the body, but this problem is probably alleviated by upgrading to the optional magnetic ride control suspension.
Throttling out of a corner is sure to put a grin on the driver’s face. The V-6’s sweet spot is accelerating from the 40-60 mph range, so with a couple downshifts on the eight-speed automatic and the engine is revving at around the 4,000 mark. The fall colors surrounding us turn to a blur as the blissful exhaust note echoes off the cliffs of the Ozark Plateau. Yes, GM finally made a V-6 engine that sounds really good.
Both V-6 and V-8 models offer six-speed manuals or eight-speed automatics. We’ve sampled enough of GM’s new eight-speeds already to draw some conclusions. First, they are significantly faster and smoother than the company’s six-speeds. Second, they are also more intelligent, but not perfect.
After over 900 miles in this car, we can definitively say the eight-speed was great about 90-percent of the time. It’s quick to react and is very smooth, especially on upshifts. The 10-percent problem area occurred in two specific conditions. During times of necessary downshifts, such as an on-ramp, it would sometimes hesitate to give up a couple gears. We also noted a few times it engaged performance shift mode when our driving habits were anything but performance oriented. Subsequently there were times in the Ozarks it did not engage performance shift mode when we were driving aggressively. Go figure.
Our journey out of the Ozarks took us to St. Louis, where the Camaro got to experience some urban driving. It was while driving on a six-lane interchange in traffic that another attribute of this car shined through: lack of visibility. Those hoping this issue from the fifth gen was corrected will be disappointed because visibility is actually worse this time.
We constantly found ourselves leaning forward and back to look around the A-pillar before turning, and there’s virtually no visibility out the back window. We’re, of course, noting this for safety reasons, however would we change the car’s design over this? Probably not. A rear-view camera is standard on the car, so there’s that, right?
As strange as it seems, the worse visibility is supplemented by a cabin that feels less like a coffin than the previous car. The dash feels a bit lower, while controls are slightly less obtrusive, though the standard touchscreen is at a strange angle that takes some getting used to.
Throughout the journey nothing about the interior annoyed or was burdensome. Material quality is greatly enhanced over the fifth gen, and Chevrolet’s MyLink infotainment system is lightning fast. Though you may not use MyLink much as the 2016 Camaro is offering Android Auto and Apple CarPlay to project your smartphone onto the screen; an integration that worked flawlessly during our trip.
Of course all of the other gadgets are in tow with this car, including OnStar’s 4G LTE connection, something that also proved valuable during the road trip. However, as a Camaro, aren’t all of those things secondary to the car itself?
And that brings us to the end of this journey. Over the course of those 900 miles, we were fist-bumped, thumbed up, chased down and visited with about this Camaro by random people. It’s a car that serves as a conduit to conversation and is famous because it is, in fact, an icon. While the adorning fans along the way loved the car for it’s design and history, we came to love this car because it isn’t just a great pony car anymore…it’s a world-class performance coupe.
Oh, and yes, we can’t wait to drive the SS even more now.