2016 Camaro SS First Drive


We first got an up-close look at the 2016 Camaro more than six months ago. Up until then, all of the press releases that kept us strung along had been good news: lower curb weights, aero improvements, and, no surprise, a 455hp and 455–lb-ft LT1 like the one in the Stingray would show up in the SS. Finally, in October, we got our turn behind the wheel.

We headed to Hell, Michigan, outside of Detroit, and learned the specifics of the sixth-generation’s development, how Chevrolet designers and engineers evolved the sixth-gen Camaro into a tighter, more sculpted package, dropping a considerable amount of mass along the way. Then with our brains crammed full of impressive specifications we were turned loose in the picturesque winding roads surrounding, well, Hell.

Spotter’s tip: Any Camaro with four exhaust tips has the optional dual-mode exhaust that can bypass the muffler for less backpressure and improved sound.

Our first drive was in a V6 model. It has a good exhaust note, if you’re into V6s. Its lower curb weight and improved power over the last-generation V6 make the car a much more spirited drive. The new 3.6L produces 335 hp and uses a larger bore and a shorter stroke than the last 3.6L, and it’s the first application of GM’s Active Fuel Management in a V6 Camaro, meaning the 3.6L will run as a V4 during light-throttle operation. It’s a fun engine, pulling hard to its 7,000-rpm redline and propelling the car to what Chevrolet claims will be mid-13-second quarter-mile e.t.’s at 103 mph. Chevrolet has placed this engine between the base 275hp 2.0L turbo four (which was not yet available to drive) and the LT1, and will allow buyers to build highly optioned versions of the car with any powerplant.

With more power and less weight, the 3.6L V6 Camaros are no slouch. They should give 4.6L Mustang GTs and LS1 Camaros a run for their money in a straight line.

Obviously, what we were most interested in was the SS. We tried several models, from highly optioned cars with leather seats, Magnetic Ride Control, the eight-speed automatic, and a heads-up display, to an entry-level version with cloth seats and the six-speed. Acceleration performance is best in the eight-speed cars, with Chevrolet claiming 0–60 in 4.0 seconds and quarter-mile in 12.3 at 116 mph. While in the automatic-equipped car, we made a few full-throttle runs to 60 mph and the 4.0-second claim at least feels and sounds right. When left to its own devices, the eight-speed 8L90 makes lightning-fast upshifts that come with a satisfying blat from the exhaust. It’s on par with the excellent eight-speed TorqueFlite from Mopar and it’s much more entertaining than any six-speed found in previous Camaros. The only issue that we found is the slight lag when operating in manual mode with the paddles. When virtually everything else in the car does what you want it to when you want it to, a split-second delay is noticeable.

The black eight-speed SS we drove had the Kalahari leather interior. Red and white leather accents are also offered, for a wide variety of paint and interior options.

Switching between the Camaro’s Tour, Sport, and Track driving modes brings palpable changes to the throttle and steering, although it’s the Magnetic Ride Control that’s truly impressive, noticeably altering the car’s personality in the different settings. Track mode brings aggressive throttle response, quicker steering, and a firm ride, while Tour mode smooths out rough pavement and calms the steering. We found that the car was responsive on quick, curvy roads, with little body roll. Even in the cars not equipped with the Magnetic Ride control, we felt like the sixth-gen car picks up where the fifth-generation SS 1LE left off, with immediate handling and an overall ride that’s not too jarring, a nice compromise for daily driving. We heard an anecdote while at the Chevrolet event that Camaro engineer Aaron Link could feel a flex in the fifth-generation Camaro’s steering shaft during extreme cornering and made sure to remedy the condition in the sixth-generation car. We’re not going to pretend that we were ever that in tune with the car; we’ll just agree that the steering is improved, with better feedback and road feel.

After we returned from Michigan, Chevrolet shipped us an SS to drive for a week to get better acquainted. Our tallest staff driver, at 6 feet, 3 inches, didn’t have any trouble getting comfortable and found the egress to be easier than in the fifth-generation Camaro. The power-adjustable seats, standard across the Camaro line, were designed with new seat tracks that maximize headroom by allowing the seat to drop close to the floorboard if so desired. While showing the car off to our coworkers, we found that moving to the Alpha platform did not come without cost. Just like the S550 Mustang, backseat passengers sacrifice some legroom in the latest generation of Chevy’s ponycar. If a tall passenger is seated up front, either they or their backseat counterpart will have to compromise comfort. With our colleagues back at their desks, we dropped the rear seats flat to access the trunk pass-though, filled the car with luggage, and headed north on Highway 101 toward Santa Cruz. Enjoy the office, chumps!

Our LT-package car came with two options—the dual-mode exhaust ($895) and the bright-yellow paint ($395)—bringing the MSRP to $38,585. The interior, while well-put-together, was a whole lot of black. The higher trim level cars come with mood lighting and a lot more leather-wrapped panels that make the interior much more upscale. What we can say is that the panels fit well and didn’t have any rattles over potholes or otherwise. In our brief time with the Apple CarPlay interface, we found the navigation to work well with voice-to-text address inputs and streaming audio from Pandora was seamless. The generous touchscreen, standard in all 2016 Camaros, is tilted downward slightly to reduce glare, and those who are averse to smudged touchscreens can rely on the buttons on the steering wheel and below the screen to navigate using buttons.

SS six-speed cars wear a red and silver plaque with the gear pattern.

The cabin is still tight, thanks to the low roofline that has now become a signature of Camaro style while simultaneously drawing criticism from the car’s detractors. The fact of the matter is that the long side windows and mirrors do a good job minimizing blind spots. We tried to find a car that would be small enough to disappear behind the car’s C-pillar in the neighboring lane and not turn up in the mirrors, but couldn’t come up with any examples that did. Check your rearview, check your side mirror, change lanes, no problem. It is certainly not like driving an older car that’s all greenhouse and thin pillars, we admit. It does take some getting used to. In our case, a couple of hours on the highway was all it took. Rearward visibility is compromised by the tall decklid and spoiler when backing up, however, making the rear-facing camera a necessity. They’ll be mandatory on all light vehicles sold in North America in 2018 anyway.

The SS makes for a solid grand-touring car, hauling plenty of gear for two people, eating up highway miles with comfortable seats and little wind noise, and there’s always passing power on tap. It’s quiet, too, with only a few types of pavement sending noise into the cabin through the tires. We recorded highway fuel economy in the mid- to high-20s, balanced by enthusiastic acceleration and ample use of rev-matching downshifts around town that dragged our average down to a respectable 23 mpg over the course of our test. The tall Sixth gear makes for slow acceleration, so do what our Staff Editor Elana Scherr does and just keep it in Fifth on the highway and Fourth around town so you’re always in the engine’s sweet spot, ready to spring forward with a jab of the throttle. That’s kind of what these cars are meant for anyway.

Dyno Time

After our road trip, we took our SS to Addiction Motorsports in Canoga Park, California and made a couple of dyno runs. As the engine warmed up, we got our best number, 405 hp and 405 lb-ft of torque, suggesting that the LT1’s new tri-Y exhaust manifolds are doing a good job of scavenging exhaust, with torque output remaining above 350 lb-ft from the dyno pull’s start at 1,800 rpm all the way to 6,000 rpm. Based on the LT1’s SAE-proven 455hp output, that’s only an 11 percent drivetrain loss, impressive for a car equipped with independent rear suspension. The LT1 and six-speed put as much horsepower to the ground as the LT1 Stingray we tested previously and also as much as a 6.4L Scat Pack Challenger. The only anomaly we noted was a slight dip in power past the peak that repeated itself on each run. It amounted to a few-horsepower loss at 6,100 rpm, right about the point to shift gears.

Each run on the chassis dyno picked up a bit more power as the LT1 warmed up, peaking a 405 hp and 405lb-ft of torque.

What We Liked:

Overall, the handling seems very dialed-in for the basic SS package, much more like a 1LE. The Magnetic Ride Control is even better.

We used the rev-matching feature of the Camaro’s Tremec TR6060 transmission often. There was never a missed shift and it made all kinds of good noises. That might make us lazy, so be it. The default is off, so if you prefer to heel-toe for real, have at it.

It seems like throttle response in Track mode is almost completely without lag. Since we’re not going to get throttle cables back, we’ll applaud electronic throttles that feel more and more like they aren’t there.

That part about the 405 hp. And 455 lb-ft of torque.

What We Didn’t:

The rearview mirror’s frameless design certainly looks better than most other mirrors out there, it’s just that the buttons on the front that dial OnStar are very easy to press when flipping the lever on the back to switch from day to night mode and vice versa.

The trunk opening is still very small, so even with the pass-through that makes the trunk quite large, getting large pieces of luggage inside is a chore.

The position of the traction-control button makes it pretty easy to accidentally turn traction control off. We noticed it once after lazily resting our hand behind the shifter. While it does make it easy to turn off the electronic chaperones for an impromptu burnout, we’d prefer that area of the console to be button-free.



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