When the sixth-generation Chevrolet Camaro was unveiled to the world last year, I heard the anguished cries of Facebook commenters who griped that the car looked like a facelift of the facelifted fifth-generation. Looks, of course, can often be deceiving, which is exactly the case for the sixth-gen Camaro.
This new Camaro may look like a design evolution, but everything underneath — the engines, platform, transmissions, interior, and wheels—is new. It's an attempt by Chevy to really improve on the fifth-generation Camaro, a car that featured four-wheel independent suspension, two powerful engines and surprisingly good handling.
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A reporter's ideal test Camaro would be the fire-breathing, 455-horsepower V-8 SS version, whose exhaust note snarls as it converts liquefied T. rex fossils into engine power. Although this might be the ideal choice for most Camaro owners, not everyone buys the SS. Some people want a car that looks cool but still has decent gas mileage, and for some the price of the SS is a bit out of reach. Enter the Camaro 2LT.
The 2LT doesn't come with a V-8, but rather with a turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that replaces the standard V-6 of the last generation Camaro. The number two in the name also means you get more standard luxuries than the 1LT — things such as leather seats, a Bose audio system and dual-zone climate control.
An all-new 3.6L V-6 engine is available on the Camaro as a $1,495 option. That's quite a bit of money, but it's worth it for this car. At 335 horsepower and 284 lb-ft, this engine is no slouch, and the response and engine note of a naturally aspirated engine is hard to beat. When driven at wide-open throttle, the fuel economy can drop as low as 2 mpg — this thing is almost as mad as the 6.2-liter V-8 in the SS. Almost.
For those who desire a louder exhaust note, Chevy offers a factory exhaust upgrade for the V-6 engine. The dual-mode exhaust system, which is available on the V-6 LT and SS models, uses electronically-controlled valves to bypass the mufflers at high RPM's and closes them up when you let off the throttle.
When the drive mode selector is set to Tour, the exhaust is fairly loud at the top of the rev range, but change the setting to Sport mode and the whole system transforms. The exhaust trumpets like a straight piped Nissan GT-R on the high notes and howls like a 350Z on the lower notes. Keep your foot planted on the accelerator as you upshift and the engine will scream into the next gear.
The exhaust is a bit shocking — when the engine reaches 6,000 to 7,000 rpm, you think to yourself, "Oh god, I'm going to get pulled over." For a stock exhaust system, it's mind-bogglingly loud, so much so that you wonder: Is this even legal?
For my test unit, power was sent to the rear wheels through an eight-speed automatic with manual mode. I'm still iffy about the transmission. The automatic is a $1,495 option, and it actually removes the limited-slip differential from the car. That's something you'll want to put back in if you want to have fun driving the car in the bends.
Having eight gears is another double-edged sword. On one hand the transmission provides excellent efficiency, with a large number of close-ratio gears and a tall overdrive that allows the car to run at 2,000 rpm in eighth gear at 80 mph. If you're driving in manual mode and want to shift down from say, eighth gear to third, it takes a LOT of paddle clicking/gearstick shifting to get all the way down. This proved to be overly tedious and I eventually just let the transmission shift by itself while on the freeway.
The last double-edged sword for this transmission was speed. Modern automatics can shift faster than manual transmissions and have been able to for ages, but this specific automatic doesn't shift fast enough. For a performance car, having the ability to manually execute gear shifts is important, but what's also important is how fast it does it. Because this is a standard automatic, it won't shift as quickly as a dual-clutch transmission such as Volkswagen's DSG, but that's not so much the issue. My main problem with the transmission is that manual shifts are slower than some non-performance automatic transmissions I've used in the past.
It doesn't matter if you're the type of person that complains about driving manual in the city. Seriously, get the manual if you're serious about performance for this car — you'll save yourself $1,495 and you'll get the limited-slip diff too.
Aside from sheer power, keep in mind that this new Camaro tries to take itself seriously as a car for roads with turns, building on the handling aspect of the fifth-gen. But it's not all there. This car misses the mark about 5 percent of the time, and that ruins it entirely. It's like the uncanny valley, where a robot is almost human but isn't there entirely — it's got latex skin and creepy eyes that stare into your soul.
The things that contribute to my test car's bring it close to the "human" zone, but it's not there. The Camaro's suspension has the right stiffness for winding roads, and body roll is virtually nonexistent. The steering can be made artificially heavy by flicking the driving mode selector from Tour to Sport, but there's no feedback. It's quite accurate, but the lack of feedback makes for a relatively dull steering feel. For a car of this caliber, the brakes don't have the bite or the pedal feel that it should. The heavy duty cooling and brake package is available for $485 and is something you'll want to tick in the options list.
Opting for the cooling package and sticking with the manual should be enough to take this car out of that "nearly human" zone and into proper handling territory, where it should belong. But despite all this, there is another elephant in the room — one that made me feel unconfident behind the wheel, and something you can discover just by looking at the car's exterior.
Remember that this car is an evolution of the fifth-gen's styling. That car looked amazing with its aggressive stance and sharp angles. But its body was gigantic, and the windows were stupid tiny, and this sixth-gen Camaro retains those flaws. The fifth-gen Camaro's visibility has always been problematic, and those who were hoping GM would fix it in the new generation will be disappointed.
The Camaro's enormous hips and windows give you a taste of what it's like to drive around with a paper bag on your head. It's one of the most difficult cars to pick up and drive for the first time. The large size makes it feel like you're going to knock over a building and the small windows make it feel ridiculously claustrophobic on the inside. Don't even get me started on the blind spots, which you'll find blind spots in places you never knew even existed. It's a very stressful experience to drive this car, especially in densely populated areas. Going canyon carving is the same deal — the tiny front windscreen, the low slung hood and the size of the thing makes it feel like you're driving a slammed Silverado. Believe me, if you've never driven a Camaro, it gets awkward.
To find out if the optional sunroof makes the car less cramped feeling, I went to a dealership and asked to sit inside a sunroof-equipped Camaro. Let me tell you — the sunroof actually helps. The sunlight shining in makes a world of difference and left me less stressed sitting in the car. But opting for the sunroof also removes the grooved roofline, which makes me wonder if aerodynamic performance is diminished by it.
Here's the big question: Is the Camaro 2LT worth your hard-earned money? It entirely depends on how you spec it out. My test unit was priced at $39,940, a mere $60 away from forty grand, which earns a solid no from me. For that price, you could get a base Camaro SS. Chipping away some of the more expensive options changes that recommendation to a yes, though it's not all about the price. Removing some options, like the V-6 engine, completely changes what kind of car the Camaro is.
At $2,800, the convenience and lightning package is the most expensive option included on my test vehicle. It brings features such as a heads-up display, wireless charging, blind-spot alert (very useful in this car), and driver's side dimming mirrors. At $1,950, my car included the purely cosmetic RS package, which adds 20" aluminum wheels, HID/LED headlamps, LED tail lights, unique front grilles and a rear spoiler.
The V-6 engine is a $1,495 option and the dual-mode exhaust is another $895 (available only with the V-6). If you take my recommendation to skip the automatic transmission, you can save yourself $1,495 and keep the limited slip differential. If you can skip some of the luxury options, the LT Camaro is a steal. If you want the most bang for the buck, you could go for a 1LT with all the performance options ticked.
The Camaro I drove was an odd car, one that made me think long and hard before I sat down to write this review. Yes, it's very difficult to see out of, it's impractical and quite fatiguing to drive at times, but it is likable. The bright yellow paint attracts everything from insects to police, and you'll never be bored of the dual mode exhaust and the power (which will also attract police if you're not careful). It's a car that appeals to the child in all of us — something that, even as an adult, should never die.
Price as tested: $39,940
Overall Score: B
Rear-Wheel Drive Performance Score: B-
Engine: 3.6L Direct injection DOHC 24V VVT V6 (LGX)
Horsepower: 335 @ 6800
Torque: 284 @ 5300
Transmission: Hydra-Matic 8L45 8-speed automatic with paddleshift (tested) or 6-speed manual
Curb weight: 3,435 lbs.
Tire size: 245/40R20
Tire: Goodyear Eagle F1
Turning Radius: 38.4 ft.
Turns lock-to-lock: 2.5
Cargo volume: 9 cubic ft.
Fuel capacity: 19 gal.
MPG (city/highway/combined)[EPA Estimate]: 19/28/23
Overall Observed MPG: 19.8