When Chevrolet offered up the chance to participate in its 48-state 2016 Camaro drive, it wasn’t a hard decision to accept the invitation. Media types like us would be handed the keys to a fleet of new sixth gen cars, driving them in two-day legs through all 48 contiguous states.
We previously had a chance to drive pre-production cars at the Belle Isle introduction last spring, briefly wheeling the V6 model around the road course there, but this would be an opportunity to experience the new 2016 Camaro in a way that was closer to what ownership would be like. So, videographer Jonathan Fraser and I packed our bags for Detroit, where we would pick up “our” car and make our way to Nashville, four states and more than 500 miles away.
Along the way, we’d meet up with LSXMag editor Don Creason at his Kentucky home, shoot some photos and make a video or two, and find out what it’s like to eat up miles behind the wheel of a 2016 Camaro.
Luck Of The Draw
The first order of business the morning of our departure was the random draw for car assignments. With the base turbo four-cylinder apparently not ready for a bunch of yahoos like us to drive in the wild just yet, the possibilities were the 335 horsepower V6 we’d driven previously or the new 455 horsepower LT1 V8 in the SS, and either an 8-speed automatic or 6-speed manual.
As luck would have it, we pulled the key for a 1LT V6 with the 8-speed; almost an exact match for the car we’d hustled around Belle Isle at the sixth-gen unveiling. Making lemonade of the situation, it would allow us to make a direct comparison to our previous experience. We liked the Camaro we’d driven on the track a lot, especially compared to the fifth-gen V6 they turned us loose in just before. The sixth-gen is a far easier car to drive once you get up to 7/10ths pace; where the outgoing model felt like it was fighting you as you pushed it harder, the 2016 Camaro was easy to immediately get comfortable with and get down to the business of trying not to let the lead car (a fifth-gen Z/28 with a professional driver) simply disappear far ahead.
Yet to be answered was the question of what the Camaro is like in the real world, so we set out to discover how it performed when we had time to do more than just adjust the seat and go.
A Car For Middle America
The V6 model occupies an interesting spot in the new Camaro lineup. Since the fourth-gem launched in the 1993 model year, many a Camaro shopper has gone into the dealership with V8 aspirations, only to learn that their credit score puts them in V6 territory. With the 275 horsepower turbo four as the base engine for the sixth-gen, a new wrinkle has been added to the desire-versus-financial-reality calculation.
At least for the time being, a 2016 Camaro without any options will be rarer than pan-seared unicorn.
On the other hand, stepping up from the turbo four to the V6 will cost you a mere $1,495, coincidentally the same price as the optional automatic, making an unadorned 8-speed turbo four the same price as a similarly-stripped manual transmission V6. Where, then, will the disappointed-but-determined would-be Camaro SS buyer land —T4 or V6?
For enthusiasts, the answer is an easy one. Roll up to the local cars and coffee in your new turbo Camaro, and you can probably say it’s the engine you wanted in the first place with a straight face. For everybody else, it’s not that simple. As good as it is, the V6 is not going to inspire lust. And it is very, very good — the direct injection V6 clobbers anything you could get in a factory fourth-gen in terms of horsepower, LS1 included, while returning excellent fuel economy.
But What’s It Like To Drive?
Out in the world, there’s nothing to dislike about the V6. With Chevy paying such extreme attention to weight reduction, 335 horsepower and 284 lb-ft make the Camaro feel quick, and the new chassis is light on its feet, which couldn’t really be said for the outgoing model. The automatic transmission paired with the V6 (as well as the 2.0 turbo) is the new 8L45, a downsized version of the 8L90 available in the SS and Corvette Stingray.
In the C7, we absolutely love the quick-shifting 8-speed gearbox, and actually prefer it to the manual. In the Camaro, it’s merely good, and we suspect this has more to do with programming than the fact it’s the fun-size version of the new transmission architecture. Over the course of our drive, we didn’t experience any indecision at intermediate or highway speeds (an issue that plagues some other brands’ 8-speed automatics) and the ratio selection at any given time seemed appropriate to what we were doing, but manually shifting via the steering wheel mounted paddles wasn’t rewarding in the way enthusiasts will hope.
From The Driver’s Seat
No matter which variation new Camaro owners take home, they’ll get an improved interior that’s a comfortable place to roll the odometer. The first things you notice are the flat-bottomed steering wheel (ostensibly for knee clearance, but mostly just a styling touch), the HVAC controls integrated into the bezel rings around the center stack vents, and the electronic parking brake switch. The touchscreen radio (7-inch diagonal standard, with an optional 8-inch upgrade available), like all the current crop of GM infotainment systems, isn’t technologically dazzling, but then again it doesn’t distract or confuse either.
That touch screen also has a far more important role, though — it’s the display for the rear vision camera, and you’re going to need it. Outward visibility back past the edge of the front windows is just as compromised as it was in the fifth-gen cars, and the rearview mirror is noticeably undersized, almost in acknowledgement that its primary function is a place to put the OnStar buttons. Even if you’re tall, you’ll find that the high belt line means the windowsill is not a comfortable place to rest your arm. If you’re short, run that standard 6-way power seat all the way up unless you’re okay with the door coming up to your jawline.
The back seat is there mostly for comic relief.
As you might expect, the back seat is there mostly for comic relief. In a sane world, the Camaro would be sold as a two-seater, but for insurance purposes Chevy will no doubt continue to add seatbelts to the upholstered hole behind the front seats where you put groceries and dry cleaning.
Evolution Of The Species
The 2016 Camaro is definitely a better machine than the ones that preceded it, but after our time together on the road, we can’t help but feel like the progress behind the scenes isn’t really matched by the sheetmetal (or sheet-molded composite, as the case may be). One of the things we wanted to capture on video during this trip was the reaction of others to the sixth-gen, but that turned out to be impossible — there was none, as far as we could tell.
We kept waiting for somebody to come up and ask us questions at a gas stop, or while we were taking beauty shots, but it simply didn’t happen. The 2016, at first glance, looks so much like a fifth-gen that we didn’t even get a nibble from the fifth-gen drivers we paced in traffic, trolling for so much as a double-take. There’s nothing wrong with a car looking like a fifth-gen Camaro; it’s a great-looking vehicle. But we wish that the exterior design had taken more chances and put some distance between the new and the old. The 2016 Camaro is such a big jump ahead in every way from the inside looking out that it deserves to be just as striking from the outside looking in.