• Price: $37,295 (for the excellent V-6); $42,295 (for the rocketship V-8)
• Size/weight reduction versus last year’s model: 2.3 inches (wheelbase), 200 pounds (overall)
• Enticing option: dual-mode exhaust, a volume switch for engine noise
A Camaro winning Car of the Year is like your cousin ‘Tater saying “Hold my beer and watch this” and then going up to claim his Nobel Prize in physics. It’s like Michelin giving three stars to Cracker Barrel. It’s like a spray-tanned reality-TV star looking like a legitimate threat to win the Oval Office. Strange times!
The 2015 Camaro, last year’s model, was a charismatic brute that sold well but originated in the cost-squeezed desperation of Old GM, with predictable cut-rate consequences—el cheapo interior, a fat chassis. Don’t get us wrong, Chevrolet did a great job given the context of imminent economic doom, but any praise for the Gen 5 Camaro tended to carry a qualifier: “for a Camaro.” It handled well, it wasn’t too cheesy, it wasn’t totally antisocial. For a Camaro.
The new Camaro needs no qualifiers. It’s just a kick-ass sports coupe, a BMW-eating hunk of A-game American engineering. Call it strategic borrowing. The chassis comes from the awesome Cadillac ATS. The magnetic ride control, electronic rev-matched downshifts on the manual transmission, active exhaust—that’s all Corvette stuff. So is the ferocious 455-hp 6.2-liter V-8 you get in the Camaro SS, the closest thing you can get to a Corvette with backseats. That means zero to 60 in four seconds flat. That’s serious hustle.
The Camaro’s greatness, though, stems not from its spec sheet alone. The Camaro is a revelation because of its foundation. By virtue of its modern, lightweight core and reduced dimensions, it’s about 200 pounds lighter than its predecessor. And less weight makes everything so much better.
So, yes, the performance is there. But more important is how it all just feels right. Part of that comes from the shrewdly designed interior. You adjust the temperature by spinning the rings around big double-barrel vents on the dash. The console space where you’d find the hand brake is instead occupied by the fun buttons, the ones that turn off traction control and amp up the electronic performance thresholds and exhaust-sound bombast. And since this is a Camaro, you can set the interior LEDs to put on a multicolor Vegas light show. The sense of mullet-appeal playfulness is still there, but it coexists with refinement and finesse.
Speaking of which, the steering: The Camaro’s electric power steering tends to self-center, the way hydraulic systems used to and, sadly, modern cars seldom do. It’s a cue that indicates just how much thought GM put into the driving experience. A steering wheel doesn’t just point the car. It’s the circuit connecting your hands to the road. The Camaro doesn’t obscure that sensation. There’s a mechanical honesty there.
Historically, you had to buy into a certain type of self-image before you bought a Camaro. And the traditional Camaro crowd—racers, Saturday cruisers, neighborhood ne’er-do-wells—will love this car. It’s still fast, boisterous, and mean, an undisputed performance bargain. But it’s also smooth, accurate, and chiseled. If you found out your doctor drove this car, you shouldn’t change providers. Or even be surprised. Who wouldn’t want to drive a Camaro? It’s just a damn fine car.