The verdict: More than ever, the redesigned 2016 Chevrolet Camaro SS can be likened to a four-seat Chevrolet Corvette thanks to its heightened driving dynamics, but its usability and comfort are more akin to a two-seater.
Versus the competition: The redesigned 2016 Chevrolet Camaro SS tackles any track — straight or with curves — with ease compared with the Ford Mustang GT and Dodge Challenger R/T Scat Pack, but it might not be the one you most want to drive off the track.
Nearly every dimension of the new Camaro is changed for 2016 now that it rides on a lighter-weight platform, making it lighter than the 2015 Chevrolet Camaro by more than 200 pounds. The lightening combines with a stiffer chassis, new suspension design and a whole lot more to make the Camaro an unbelievably capable handling machine in both V-6 and V-8 versions. It also comes as an optional convertible.
Perhaps most interesting is that the Chevrolet Camaro does this without the additional performance suspensions or packages competing models require. A 455-horsepower, V-8-powered SS sits at the top of the 2016 Camaro lineup, above the 335-hp, V-6-powered LT. A 275-hp, turbocharged four-cylinder powertrain becomes available in early 2016.
Exterior & Styling
A very similar design to the outgoing Camaro doesn’t make the 2016 an immediate attention-grabbing shape. Even so, the body is completely different from the outgoing car, with only the SS and rear Chevy emblems carried over. The 2016 is 2.3 inches shorter from bumper to bumper and 0.8 inches narrower, and it’s 1.1 inches lower at the roofline than the outgoing car.
How It Drives
Later years of the previous-generation Chevrolet Camaro used trick suspensions and chassis tuning in high-performance 1LE, ZL1 and Z/28 trims to manage the car’s hefty curb weight extraordinarily well. The all-new SS is 223 pounds lighter than the old SS (3,685 versus 3,908 pounds) and picks up where those high-performance packages left off, with a lighter, more rigid chassis complementing the newly available Magnetic Ride Control adaptive suspension ($1,695). The system, which automatically adjusts shock absorber firmness to match road conditions and minimize body motion, was previously on the Camaro in ZL1 trim only. In addition to those on-the-fly adjustments, suspension firmness is adjustable between street and track modes for a comfort-oriented ride. Compare the old Camaro with the new one here.
The 2016 Camaro SS flat-out drives like a special performance package car, not a “regular” SS, with both its standard suspension and when optioned with the seemingly magical Magnetic Ride Control suspension. A limited-slip differential, four-piston Brembo brakes and driving mode selector are all standard. The previous SS wasn’t especially engaging to drive without the 1LE handling package or the more extreme ZL1 or Z/28, so I’m thrilled the new SS starts at that point with the addition of the MRC suspension. It’s not hard to believe Chevrolet’s claim that the 2016 SS clicks off faster lap times than the outgoing 1LE.
The SS is tight, responsive and has aggressive vigor at the first flick of the steering wheel to dart into a corner. Keep turning the steering wheel and there’s minimal body lean while the car tracks through turns with little fuss and a whole lot of rewarding grip. Even with optional performance packages, such as the Dodge Challenger’s R/T Scat Pack and the Ford Mustang GT’s Performance Pack, neither competitor handles as confidently as the Camaro when flying through corners. Compare the new Camaro with the Mustang and Challenger here.
Complementing the Camaro SS’ handling prowess perfectly is the new 455-hp V-8, which is available in both six-speed manual- and eight-speed automatic-transmission cars, up from 426 hp for the old manual and 400 hp for the automatic. First used in the 2015 Corvette, this next-generation 6.2-liter V-8 in the Camaro provides ample power from the basement of the power band up to redline. Like the Corvette, multiple driving modes are the key to unlocking the 2016 Camaro SS’ multiple personalities through the adjustable steering, throttle response, suspension (with Magnetic Ride Control), exhaust (when equipped with the optional dual-mode performance exhaust) and transmission (on automatic cars). Modes include Tour, Sport, Track and Snow/Ice.
The six-speed manual’s only adjustability is the Active Rev Matching feature, which blips the throttle while downshifting to match engine and transmission speed during downshifts. Active Rev Matching replaces heel-and-toe downshifting and may be the lazy way out, but I’ll take it. I just wish it would stay activated; you have to turn it on through the steering-wheel paddle-shifts (like the Corvette) at each startup.
Tour mode turns the Camaro with Magnetic Ride Control into a surprisingly comfortable road-tripper, with ride quality that’s not overly firm. Track mode firms up the suspension to filling-rattling rigidity; it’s the go-to for twisties, but you don’t want to keep it there too long — for your back’s sake. Intruding into the pleasant riding experience is an excessive amount of road noise compared with the Mustang and Challenger. It’s one of those tradeoffs typically associated with high-performance hardware, as more solidly mounted, rigid pieces transmit more noise than soft, compliant chassis components. At least in the Camaro, there’s a clear reward for that extra road noise in its superb handling.
One thing you get to hear plenty of — in a good way — is the optional exhaust that uncorks the V-8’s sweet noises with an electronically controlled exhaust valve. It’s a must-have feature for $895. While a version was available on the previous Camaro, this go-around it’s even better: It’s both tied to driving modes and independently adjustable, so you can pair a comfortable suspension setting with the most aggressive exhaust. You aren’t forced into a loud exhaust mode if you don’t want one in Track mode. About 95 percent of my driving was with the exhaust in the most aggressive mode.
Those hoping for better visibility from the notoriously cave-like Camaro will be disappointed with the 2016. In fact, rearward visibility might be worse than before with what seem like smaller rear-quarter windows. There’s a workaround, however, in that blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert are available on some trims. No other car could benefit from these features as much as the visibility-challenged Camaro.
Serious track drivers may have another complaint with the interior sizing, considering wearing a helmet sucks up what little headroom exists. The seat will have to be slammed to the ground, and possibly reclined, for most drivers to fit in the car in a helmet. It’s even worse with the optional moonroof. Being forced out of a comfortable driving position isn’t ideal for confidence on the track, so you may be shopping for a new helmet if your current one doesn’t fit.
Contributing to the claustrophobic interior is a new dashboard with a tall double-humped hood over the gauge cluster that sits way too high for the car’s slit-like windshield and side windows. The lump doesn’t usually cut into visibility, but you’re forced to look at this big plastic eyesore in an otherwise sleekly styled interior. It doesn’t even look that well-put-together, with strange gap alignments between the trim pieces.
Interior quality as a whole isn’t very impressive on lower-end models, like a V-6 1LT we recently tested. The SS adds additional padding and decorative trim on the door to class up the experience, but does so only slightly. Both the Mustang GT and Challenger R/T Scat Pack are more nicely appointed as far as having soft-touch, higher-quality materials in areas where you want them, such as the door panels and dashboard.
Other than the bathtub-like visibility, the front seats are extremely comfortable, with supportive cushioning that’s even comfortable while driving long distances — though some editors couldn’t find a comfortable seating position thanks to the angled headrests. You’ll definitely feel shoehorned into the car sitting in those front seats, even though comfort levels are high. There’s not an airy or relaxed feeling, like you’ll find in the Challenger’s and Mustang’s interiors. And the backseat? The Challenger wins here as the only coupe with enough room to fit passengers. Both the Camaro and Mustang don’t have the headroom to fit anyone adult-sized in the backseat.
Ergonomics & Electronics
Two touch-screen sizes are available in the Camaro. A standard 7-inch touch-screen comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility for simplifying phone-to-car connectivity and providing navigation at no added cost. As of publication, the optional 8-inch touch-screen comes only with Apple CarPlay.
I primarily used the 8-inch touch-screen with Apple CarPlay, and the screen itself is a bit of an oddity, with its face angled downward — both touch-screens are like that. The screen reflects the console and passenger seat during midday sunny driving. It’s awkward to use at first, but it doesn’t take long to forget the odd setup and become accustomed to using the touch-screen for phone, navigation and media controls.
Apple CarPlay seamlessly integrates an iPhone’s streaming music applications, hands-free calls, navigation and text messaging. There’s no Chevrolet-specific app to download, like some automakers require, and no convoluted Bluetooth pairing procedure — the USB cord is required to fire up CarPlay on the Camaro’s media screen.
Apple CarPlay and the Camaro’s standard built-in 4G LTE connectivity with Wi-Fi hot spot provide a one-two punch for road-trip media. The Camaro comes with a three-month/3GB free trial before a subscription is required, which ranges from $15 to $50 a month depending on data plan. The car’s stronger receiver and rooftop antenna received data out in the boonies where my phone couldn’t, and through the Wi-Fi we were able to stream music even in rural areas via phone-based internet radio apps. In more reception-friendly areas, the signal proved strong enough for my co-pilot to video chat with his family.
When you’re not using CarPlay, digital buttons on the screen are big and easy to use in Chevy’s MyLink system, and there’s a physical volume knob plus additional volume and track-change buttons on the steering wheel. Tuning radio stations is done with buttons flanking the volume knob; I’d rather see them replaced with a dedicated tuning knob for quick and easy satellite or terrestrial radio station changes.
Cargo & Storage
Like the interior, the Camaro’s 9.1 cubic feet of cargo room is at a disadvantage compared with the Mustang’s and Challenger’s 13.5 cubic feet and huge 16.2 cubic feet, respectively. The cargo area is smaller than in the 2015, down from 11.3 cubic feet, but it proved enough for two people’s luggage and the multimedia gear we carried for a few days on the road. There was spillover of various gear into the backseat that wouldn’t fit into the trunk. The coupe’s backseat folds in one big section, not split like the competitors, plus the opening isn’t quite as large as the backseat.
The Camaro has not been crash-tested as of publication. Coupes come with side-impact and knee airbags for front occupants and side curtain airbags for front and rear occupants. A backup camera with predictive backup lines is standard on all Camaros and is especially useful with the larger touch-screen.
Visibility is an issue, somewhat mitigated by the available blind spot warning system and rear cross-traffic alert. Rear cross-traffic alert notifies you when a vehicle approaches from either side while you’re reversing at low speeds, and it’s so valuable in this car because you can’t see squat when backing out of a parking space.
All these features provide confidence while driving the Camaro, but the cost of entry is high: Blind spot monitoring and the rear cross-traffic alert don’t become available until the $30,795 2LT, and to get them there you’ll have to add a $2,800 Convenience & Lighting Package. On SS models, the $42,295 2SS trim comes with blind spot monitoring standard, but it’s not available on the $37,295 1SS. (All prices include destination fee.) See here for more of the Camaro’s safety features.
Value in Its Class
The Camaro is thoroughly entertaining to drive yet perfectly livable on long trips when equipped with the new magnetic suspension and standard adjustable driving modes. You can actively seek curvy, fun roads in Track mode, have a riot, then comfortably drive down the highway to your next destination in Tour mode. That type of dual character, executed as well as it is in the Camaro, often comes in much pricier sports cars. The Camaro isn’t cheap, though, with an as-tested price of $46,080 for our SS. And while the car is absolutely more capable than the outgoing SS, you pay a big price in everyday usability with its limited visibility and cramped interior.
Standard features for the new Camaro are impressive: automatic climate control, a 7-inch touch-screen with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, a backup camera, dual front power seats, and keyless access with push-button start. The SS’ starting price of $37,295 is a big jump over the 2015’s $34,500, but it’s such a different car, with the lighter weight and stiffer chassis combined with more power.
The most appropriate Challenger trim for comparison is the Challenger Scat Pack, which starts at $38,990, plus a $1,000 gas-guzzler tax. Ford still offers a stripped V-8 GT for $33,295. As equipped, the last Mustang GT we tested was $45,885, and the previous Challenger R/T Scat Pack was $46,165. More than $45,000 for this type of sports coupe isn’t unheard of in the segment. One thing’s for sure: Both of those cars have their work cut out for them with the 2016 Camaro prowling the streets.