Mountain Wheels: Reinvigorated Chevrolet Camaro adds power, drops weight
2016 Chevrolet Camaro convertible/Camaro SS
MSRP: $32,700 - $41,300
Powertrain: 335-HP 3.6-liter V6 engine/455-HP 6.2-liter V8 engine, 8-speed automatic/6-speed manual transmission
EPA figures: 21 combined (20 combined SS)
Increasingly sophisticated but still charmingly old-school mayhem is on tap, aplenty, as the fully revised 2016 Chevrolet Camaro rolls onto the streets — either in its plenty powerful 335-horsepower V6-engined guise or in the remarkably loud and speedy SS model, with a 455-horse 6.2-liter V8 doing the talking.
And while those are output figures that not so long ago one would have attached with an imported supercar, at imported supercar prices, the real charm with this somewhat smaller but fully muscular Camaro is its affordability — the blazingly fast SS coupe I got to sample retails for just $41,300 (though magnetic ride control, an eight-speed automatic and performance exhaust helped bring the price up to $47,590).
Alternately, the thoroughly engaging LT model, rendered in convertible form in another recent test, was stickered at just $32,700, with the SS’s basic but well-built bones excitingly showcased in open-air fashion. Hardtop base models begin at $25,700.
The SS is certainly the wild card here, a testosterone-soaked monster that unapologetically rumbles to life each time you start it up. Like the standard model, it’s a better-looking machine with less of the largesse and bloat, sexy as it was, of the first-generation nouveau Camaro — like the newest Ford Mustang, Camaro’s designers opted for some svelte minimalism, while the Mopar competition is still a bit on the heavy and hulking side.
It’s also ironed out a lot of the stuck-in-a-bathtub feeling one got inside the cabin of the last generation car, with more user-friendly proportions and visibility, though rear-seat passengers, especially in the convertible version, will find leg room at an ultra premium.
The SS I enjoyed in New York City, of all car-unfriendly environments, oddly enough — got those tough looks beefed up with low and wide aero splitters up front, happily a bit taller than curb height.
There are also a litany of authentic brake cooling ducts to help air out the real Brembo brakes during the track time the car can quite effectively engage in, plus boss-cool blackened wheels, lit-up sill plates and those gloriously loud, Corvette-styled pipes in the rear.
Lower, smaller and sleeker, having chopped as much as 390 pounds of weight from the old model, Camaro is enthusiastically feisty on the road, as you might imagine. The SS’s magnetic ride control made the car a little too receptive to pavement quality out east; our LT convertible could also be a tad painful over broken roads during a spin around the Grand Mesa, but both cars use that responsive feel to their advantage, especially when digging into the corners.
The SS’s power is old-fashioned and monolithic in its brutality. Nail the pedal to the floor and there’s a palpable half-second pause as the very fires of hell themselves are stoked, and then — wow, the power kicks in like a rocket. It’ll do 0-60 in four seconds flat, bag a quarter-mile in 12.3 seconds and pull almost a full G in the corners, all in nicely composed fashion — and is that fast even with an automatic transmission. Steering is tight and responsive, especially with the SS, and there is indeed genuine, race-ready competence aplenty.
Our LT convertible had a comfortably effective six-speed manual, an increasing rarity nowadays, though one quickly discovers the limits (the rev limiter, actually) of the car’s output, as broad as 335 horsepower may seem on paper.
We had to time two-lane passes a little more carefully than anticipated, with the V6’s mostly neutral exhaust tone upgraded to a healthier-sounding crackle under full throttle. It’s a more palpable experience than the turbocharged four-cylinder found in the Mustang competition; the power-hungry should save up a few extra bucks and spring for the SS, as they will not regret that relatively low-cost fun.
Both cars share a new, flat dash and GM’s squarely-planted center navigation/entertainment screen, tipped slightly awkwardly forward, plus a nicely sculpted console and low-profile air conditioning controls.
The convertible’s top can be opened at speeds up to 30 MPH — useful when dodging summertime thunderstorms — with a flurry of mechanical flaps and motors that really does make the car look like a Transformer. Top up, it’s amazingly quiet inside; you can cruise along at 75 MPH on the freeway with the top down and still carry on a conversation.
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