“Want to drive a Camaro press car for Memorial Day weekend?” So far that is the leading candidate for ‘Easiest Question To Answer’ of the year, right up there with “Do you want this splinter pulled out of your foot?”
“Hell yes!” I quickly responded to both. Though not knowing which Camaro I would be getting for my Memorial Day weekend road trip, I mentally prepared for the Camaro Convertible SS: the perfect road trip Camaro. I know what you’re thinking, “A convertible Camaro? I didn’t know you hated cars!”
Say what you will about a convertible, but driving on a mid-spring day with a drop top soaking in the wind, the sun, and the aural experience of a honking 6.2 liter naturally aspirated V8, is one of the best driving experience you can have. Bombing down I-95 in an all new convertible sixth generation Camaro, blasting Journey’s Separate Ways, supplementing the bass line with a little V8 thrum, is there anything more American?
I patiently waited for the unknown Camaro for several weeks. When my phone rang to notify the car was in my driveway, I leapt off the couch and rushed out the door. Upon first glance I noticed that it wasn’t a convertible. “That’s not a big deal, a hard top coupe is more structurally rigid, so it’s better for the corners!” I thought to myself. The road trip I dreamed of will still be an epic one.I ran up close and saw the front fascia’s gaping maw. Nestled off-center of the Camaro’s mouth lies a prominent red “RS” badge, vertical LED fog lamps, and a striped hood absent of any venting. This is clearly NOT an SS model with the butch V8. Sigh. “Well, that’s ok too, the V6 still has plenty of power, and it also has an amazing exhaust note almost like the V8!” I continued to reassure myself.
I walked around and peeked through the gun slit windows and noticed an 8-speed automatic transmission. Sigh. I exhaled in more disappointment. The epic road trip I planned on will now be absent of rev-matches and heel-and-toeing. “It’s ok,” I continued to lie to myself, “there’s going to be a lot of holiday traffic this weekend. Having an automatic will be a good thing. It’s mostly highways anyway.”
I opened the heavy coupe door and climbed in to pull the hood’s lever. KA-thung! The sound echoed more than I expected, as if the engine bay was hollow enough to double as a recording studio. I lifted the Hyper Blue and White Pearl Rally-striped hood and found a tiny 2.0 liter four cylinder turbo engine nesting quietly in the engine bay. “DAMN IT!” I shouted succumbing to my disappointments. The engine sat like an overcooked mussel sitting in its shell.My Memorial Day Weekend plans began to look like a routine commute rather than an epic road trip: Less Journey, more Sade.
On paper this Camaro was a definite letdown. It could have been a 455 horsepower wingman capable of a quiet and lowly “Let’s all calm down, let me buy you a drink!” attitude and revs to a throaty and shouty “YOU MESS WITH HIM, THEN YOU’RE MESSING WITH ME!” mentality. Instead, this Camaro was equipped with a profits-first-enthusiast-second four cylinder, matching the likes of Ford Mustang’s Ecoboost engine.
Still, the 2.0 liter turbo pushes out a very respectable 275 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque, good enough to push the Camaro 2LT from 0-60 in about 5.5 seconds. To put things in perspective the 2002 35th Anniversary Camaro SS, the last Camaro in production before the 8 year hiatus, and the one with a 325 horsepower 5.7 liter LS1 V8 engine, hustles to 60 in 5.1 seconds. Yes, this 2.0 liter turbo is the slowest and cheapest engine in the 2016 Camaro lineup, and no, it isn’t slow by any stretch of the imagination. The 2016 Camaro platform, which is also shared with the Cadillac ATS, supports designs that start at an economical $25,700 and can double, triple, or even quadruple with the forthcoming ZL1 and Z28 behemoths. If you’re the type to get into the newest and shiniest Camaro for the least amount of money, then you’ll be stuck with the bottom rung, four cylinder turbo engine. Though even with forced induction, the driving experience was similar to that of naturally aspirated engines. Turbo lag, despite being physically impossible to get rid of in turbocharged engines, was noticeably minimal compared to something like a Subaru WRX.
Getting on the road and on my way south to celebrate Memorial Day, the Camaro was a comfortable and livable coupe for myself and the wife. You’d be dumb if you expected to travel with more than one other person in this car. The rear passengers would have to either be infant sized or have passed-out from a night of heavy drinking, that neither of them would be capable of verbalizing their opinions on the absence of legroom.However, fitting four adults is technically possible if they’re considered gigantic hobbits. And I’m certain there is a math equation to figure out how you can package your friends in the backseat. It might go something like: “the Driver’s height plus the Rear Passenger’s height has to be less than or equal to X,” where X is something like 11 feet. To make things even more complicated, you can’t have the tallest person in the group sit in the back, because the combination of a low roofline and 20″ wheels with run-flat tires is a nightmarish experience that should only be reserved for plastic moles from the Whack-A-Mole carnival games.
If you’re the selfish type and don’t have more than one friend, then being in the Camaro becomes a very comfortable experience. My press Camaro came in the 2LT trim. The “2” meant “it’s better than 1,” and you’d find similar interior appointments in the 2SS. The center console is now vastly different compared to the 2015, 5th generation Camaros. No more throwback gauge clusters by the shifter, in its place are gigantic HVAC vents that look like the rear end of a F/A-18 Hornet fighter jet. The temperature selector are no longer dedicated buttons, like in most cars, instead it is an integrated rotatable dial disguised as chrome trim for the vents. The hiding of necessary functions into elements of the design is cleverly done and adds a sense of modern form.
The infotainment system is equipped with Apple CarPlay and GM’s own software. I’ve said it before, the Apple CarPlay/Android Auto are the best infotainment systems available today and is worthy of the upgrade price. Projected in the 2LT’s high quality 8″ touchscreen, the CarPlay’s experience is even better as it mimics the look and feel of a high quality tablet. But just like any glossy screen in sunlight, you won’t escape the issues of sunlight glare.
The rest of the interior is remarkably un-Chevrolet like. The white leather seating surfaces contrasted by the black leather bolstering adds an unexpected 80’s trashy-but-classy touch to an otherwise sporty oriented Camaro design language. The perforation in the seats allow the built-in air-conditioning to cool your tush, ensuring a comfortable drive for those ultra long summer road trips. The backseat had the same white leather seating surfaces, and despite serving as much utility as a hood ornament, it conveniently folds down (not in a 60/40 fashion) to reveal a pass thru to the trunk. It may not let you seat more bodies but you can use your “muscle” car for small to medium sized Home Depot trips. Leaving New Jersey and ending my road trip in Maryland, the highway landscape became less and less filled with Mercedes and BMWs and populated with more American brands. During this transition I noticed my white rally striped car was getting more and more attention by the locals. I saw double takes and thumbs ups thrown my direction as the 2LT leisurely sipped premium gas at a mid 20’s mileage rate. The epic road trip I envisioned fell short of expectations, but the emotions I felt while driving and the nods of approvals assured me that I was driving the right car. I’m not sure if it was the stripes, the 20″ wheels, or the completely new Camaro body that made people notice, but notice they did.
And isn’t this the true essence of motoring? To be noticed? You can say driving is all about the rush and the thrill of taking corners at high g-loads, but in reality, your narcissistic self just wants to be admired. Why else do car shows exist? Why would people show off as they leave Cars & Coffee meets, only to be met with undefeatable laws of physics and spectators’ hospital bills? It’s true you can’t see as much out of the Camaro’s low roofline and steeply raked windshield, but when you’re rolling down the street in this hunkered down two door sports car, being able to see out the window is trumped by the car’s ability to turn heads.
I’ll pretend that a four cylinder turbo Camaro’s reasons for existing is not just to cut costs, raise CAFE numbers, and to compete on a global scale. I’ll pretend this is Chevrolet’s way of lowering the price of admission to the Camaro experience. Whatever Chevrolet’s motives are for introducing the four cylinder ‘pony car’, the cheapest and slowest Camaro still possess the looks and evokes similar emotions as its more expensive and powerful siblings. While it’s easy to poke fun and compare this inline 4 turbo to the Iron Duke that powered Camaros in the early 80’s, you’d be greatly mistaken to do so. This is the Rudy Ruettiger of the engine lineup. It’s not the fastest but it’s no slouch, and it’s small but full of heart. It’s great to have the punch and throaty V8 when you’re launching from a standstill, but when you’re steadily cruising on the highway those 0-60 times are drowned out by the noise of your wallet rapidly emptying. On those occasions, which I can safely assume to be 99.9% of the life of the vehicle, you’d be glad to know your measly 275 horsepower four banger is not trying to rob you blind.