Before I proceed, allow me to admit that I’ve never been a Camaro guy. Yes, over the years Chevy has built some appealing versions—among them, the first-gen car introduced for the 1967 model year (always loved the look) and last year’s track-optimized Z/28 (heroic performance from the LS7 V-8). But every time I’ve driven a Camaro, it’s felt unnecessarily heavy and big-boned. The cockpits have tended to have more in common with dungeons than greenhouses; they’re gloomy and low (and you get yelled at if you don’t put on your restraints). The straight-line speed has usually been there, but turning the wheel typically hasn’t produced much in the way of handling euphoria. Refinement? Not so much. Instead, the Camaro has always been like your loud, lumbering Uncle Jim: great to watch the football game with, but at Thanksgiving dinner you’re always afraid he might start spouting dirty limericks.
Clearly, I had accidentally driven off in somebody’s BMW
Of course, the new Alpha platform, shared with the Cadillac ATS and CTS, accounts for much of the metamorphosis. The previous Zeta architecture, developed largely by Holden of Australia, was simply too big and weighty to play on the A-list. So as early as 2006-2007 the General gamely set out to create more compact, better-balanced, and far lighter underpinnings. The result, largely engineered in North America (with some input from GM Europe), would feature struts up front, an independent five-link setup at the rear, and lots of high-strength steel and aluminum. There were teething problems (General Motors initially struggled with creeping bulk on its new ATS), but since then the Camaro team has managed to create a body-in-white 136 pounds lighter than the original Alpha. Chassis stiffness has increased 28 percent over the outgoing Camaro coupe. The new platform has a liveliness and leanness Zeta never did. With the optimized Alpha as its foundation, at long last the Camaro is actually spry.
The new Camaro is a tad smaller than its predecessor. It’s 2.3 inches shorter in length, 1.1 inches shorter in height, and just under an inch narrower. There’s a payoff here, too. Lower body weight equals less mass needed in the suspension equals less unsprung mass equals better steering and handling feel. It’s an improvement I could feel immediately. Perhaps even more noteworthy, though, was what I could see. Camaro devotees have long admonished Chevy not to mess with the car’s stubby side windows and rakish roofline. Others of us, though, have long derided the resulting “gun slit” view from the driver’s seat. The 2016 edition solves the problem—likely to the satisfaction of previous critics and fans alike. Cowl height (where the windshield meets the hood) has dropped significantly, so much so that the cockpit now feels genuinely airy with excellent visibility to the front quarters. A roof-mounted, frameless rearview mirror also improves forward sightlines. Yet the side windows are still only about 10 inches high, and the 2016 edition remains—even at a quick glance—unmistakably a Camaro.
With Chevy having sweated the details so successfully, the Camaro SS’ bravura components—the 455-hp LT1 V-8, the magnetic-ride shocks, the Brembo brakes, the available dual-mode exhaust—simply sing. This is a thrilling, quick, deliciously responsive sports coupe, a road athlete in peak form.