2016 Chevrolet Camaro: Up Close and Driven

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It’s always a challenge to update an iconic car. Go too far and an automaker risks hearing calls of abandoning everything that made the brand what it is. Don’t go far enough and it’ll be criticized for not sufficiently evolving. That’s the challenge for any automaker with any vehicle, but when you get into the iconic nameplates such as the Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro, Dodge Challenger, Jeep Wrangler …  you get into a whole other level of fanatic fans and vocal enthusiasts.

Related: 2016 Chevrolet Camaro: First Look

Rest easy, Camaro enthusiasts. After two days of sitting in, around and under the 2016 Chevrolet Camaro and piloting one for a few laps on the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix circuit, I’ve learned that Chevrolet has done an outstanding job of safeguarding the popular muscle car’s reputation for a new generation.

In pictures, you look at the Camaro and wonder if the new shape goes far enough. We had the same concerns with the 2015 Ford Mustang when it debuted last year, but like the Mustang, in person the Camaro feels subtly different.

Differences in the front and rear treatments as well as the hood sculpting make it seem more aggressive than the outgoing model. The car’s windows don’t seem any bigger — and aside from a little more windshield surface area, they’re not. So visibility is still impaired in just about all directions, just like the 2015 design. Such is the price you pay for style in an American muscle coupe.

Inside, the fact that the Camaro rides on a different chassis than the outgoing model is obvious. The fifth-generation Camaro was built off of the Zeta platform, which shared much of its underpinnings with the Pontiac G8, Chevrolet Caprice and SS, and some foreign-market sedans. The new Camaro is on the Alpha platform and shares its bones with the Cadillac ATS and CTS; it’s considerably lighter and accommodates smaller, more fuel-efficient engines, and it’s stiffer than the outgoing Camaro. But inside, it means a reconfigured seating position: You sit lower in the 2016 Camaro than the 2015, and GM says that nearly an inch of additional height has been found between the seat bottom and the headliner thanks to differently positioned seat rails.

The interior materials are top notch and easily match anything from the Mustang or Challenger. The Camaro’s top SS trim feels expensive and well-made. There’s some retro styling going on thanks to the dual-binnacle gauge hood, but that’s about where the historical nods end; everything else feels modern, sporty and surprisingly comfortable. The backseat is still best left for those short in stature such as young children, Keebler elves or possibly hobbits. Adults should stay away from it and forget the Camaro even has a backseat.

How It Drives

In a rare instance for the unveiling of a brand-new car, Chevrolet brought six prototypes — 2016 Camaros with V-6 engines — to the unveiling for journalists to flog around the road course of the upcoming Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix.

The assembled media were invited to do a lap in a 2015 Camaro V-6 and then immediately do a lap in a 2016 prototype to experience the difference between the two models. What a difference it is. The 2015 is ponderous; it rolls in turns and features steering that is neither tight nor communicative, but the new 2016 feels tight, quick and extremely solid. Steering feel is markedly improved, with the car exhibiting an alacrity and precision that is lacking in the outgoing model. The new seating position is excellent, and the new lower dashboard helps with outward forward visibility, but the Camaro still makes you feel like you’re sitting in a bunker, looking out of a gun slit.

Ride and handling are outstanding, with the suspension able to soak up track imperfections with ease, while not disturbing either the steering or stability. The brakes feel much stronger as well. The 2015 model’s brakes felt squishy and overworked after several laps with journalists at the wheel, but the 2016 model exhibited no fade or softness in the pedal.

I sampled both the eight-speed automatic and six-speed manual transmissions. While the manual felt light and precise, the automatic’s ability to learn that it was on a track and hold gears well beyond the point when a normal automatic should shift was extraordinary.

To put it simply, the 2015 V-6 model felt like it didn’t want to be on the track; it was better suited to boulevard cruising, perhaps with the top down. But the 2016 V-6 was a hoot, a car I’d happily drive around a track all day long.

Look for a comprehensive review later this year, when Chevrolet launches the new Camaro for sale in the U.S.

Photo of Aaron Bragman
Detroit Bureau Chief Aaron Bragman has had over 25 years of experience in the auto industry as a journalist, analyst, purchasing agent and program manager. Bragman grew up around his father’s classic Triumph sports cars (which were all sold and gone when he turned 16, much to his frustration) and comes from a Detroit family where cars put food on tables as much as smiles on faces. Today, he’s a member of the Automotive Press Association and the Midwest Automotive Media Association. His pronouns are he/him, but his adjectives are fat/sassy. Email Aaron Bragman

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