Merc’s entry-level hot hatch has grown a boot to take on the Audi S3 Saloon
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What’s this? This is the sixth-generation Chevrolet Camaro. It’s the last of the big three pony cars to get a thorough makeover, and it’s arguably the most extensive. Even though the fifth-gen Camaro already had things like an independently sprung rear, it was attached to an Australian-built platform codenamed Zeta that doesn’t boast light weight among its achievements. Zeta still lives on underneath the Chevy SS/Vauxhall VXR8 GTS, but is replaced here in the new Camaro with the newer, much lighter ‘Alpha’ structure that also underpins the superb handling Cadillac ATS and CTS. So that’s a great start. What about the engines? The Camaro range now starts, as per the Mustang, with a blown four-cylinder engine. This one is the 275bhp/295lbft 2.0-litre unit from the Cadillac ATS. Next up is the 335bhp/284lb-ft 3.6-litre V6 that does service across the Cadillac and Chevy ranges. And the top of the launch range, the SS, is fitted with the same 455bhp/455lb-ft LT1 V8 used in the base C7 Corvette Stingray.
Gearboxes are a six-speed manual with the slightly absurd rev-matching paddle shifts, as per the ‘Vette, or eight-speed autos with paddle shifts that actually change gears, if a little reluctantly. Have they done anything about that odd interior? Yes, they have. The Camaro’s cabin has been touched by the same magic wand that transformed the Vette’s interior to bring it up to acceptable standards. Gone are all the retrofuturistic dials and gauges, replaced by a modern central screen, big dials, a strip of switches and a couple of vast air intakes. It’s now simple, functional and perfect for purpose. The A-pillars are slightly slimmer and the cowl line is lower, so outward vision is a little better. But it’s still a long way from easy to see out. How does the Camaro drive? First impressions are that it is a huge improvement over the outgoing car. The chassis is 28 per cent stiffer, which makes it quieter, gives it better handling and better steering. But it’s almost too good. On our very British-like B-road route around the outskirts of Detroit, the Camaro was composed to the point of semi detachment. By the time things started to get interesting in the steering department, you’ll likely be travelling almost double or triple the speed limit. Which is impressive from an engineering point of view, but a little too composed for a muscle car. What, it handles too well? Not too well. Just the whole thing feels a little isolated from the road. Especially the cars fitted with the ‘MR’ adaptive damping. You want that kind of splendid isolation in a Cadillac, but you want something more raw in a muscle car. The Camaros riding on the regular suspension got out of shape a lot earlier and had more body movement, which was better. Does it sound good? It’s not in the same league as the Mustang GT350 screamer or Challenger Hellcat’s supercharged treacle gurgler, but if you play around with the active sound control on the centre screen and get heavily into the throttle, the V8 does start to make a decent noise. The V6 less so, but both are a huge improvement on the outgoing engines’ thrashy sound. There were no 2.0T-powered Camaros available to test at this event, but we’ve heard that lump before in other applications and don’t expect great things sonically. And the gearboxes? There was also something a little off with the paddle shifters on all the cars we drove. When you pulled the paddle there was a distinct delay while the system had a think about whether now really was the right time to change gear. That just added to the general air of detachment from the proceedings. The manuals were definitely the more fun. So should I buy one? If you liked the last Camaro, you will be in a high state of ecstasy when you get to drive this one. It’s better in every single way. Lighter, faster, more frugal, more tech, better handling… everything is better. We prefer our muscle cars a little more raw than this, but it’s a great base for Chevy to take the Camaro to the next level. The ZL-1 should be interesting, and the new Z/28 a potential beater.