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2016 Chevrolet Camaro 2.0T and Convertible: First Drive Review

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author photo by Jason Fogelson April 2016

I'm a Camaro guy. My dad was a Mustang guy. My uncle was a Challenger guy. That's the way it used to be back when I bought a 1972 Camaro back in 1980. We all had our reasons, from appearance to performance to brand loyalty to youthful rebellion. The 2016 Chevrolet Camaro is the latest fuel for this competitive fire, a new edition of the reborn pony car. I got a chance to sample the new engine -- the 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder (the first turbo for Camaro) -- and the new convertible as the bow-tie brand works toward filling out the Camaro lineup.

Pony Car Charge

Camaro began as General Motors' reaction to the success of the Ford Mustang, which was introduced as a 1964-1/2 model. Four generations of Camaro emerged from 1967 to 2002, when the gas ran out of the performance coupe. After an 8-year hiatus, and once again in reaction to Mustang's success, a fifth-generation Camaro was released in 2010. Now for 2016, Camaro has been massaged and reworked for a sixth-generation vehicle. An SS edition with a 6.2-liter LT1 V8 (455 horsepower/455 lb-ft of torque) is already out there. Filling out the lineup, Chevy has now revealed a base model with a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine and a midrange model with a 3.5-liter naturally aspirated (nonturbo) V6 (335 hp/284 lb-ft of torque). High performance and special editions (ZL1 and Z/28) are on the way, too.

Design Evolution

The new Camaro coupe body is very similar to the outgoing vehicle, but with some minor tweaks. Wheelbase, overall length, width and height have each been shaved by about 1 inch. The front fascia has been sculpted more aggressively, with shorter projector-beam headlamps with LED running lights. The profile is still identifiably Camaro, inspired by the first-generation (1967-1969) look. Extensive wind tunnel and aerodynamic testing has been applied to the new shape, which looks like a fastback despite retaining a traditional trunk setup. The decorative gills that adorned the rear quarter panels in front of the back wheels on the fifth-generation car have been smoothed away.

Inside, material selection, fit and finish have been kicked up a notch. The suitably drivercentric dash concentrates controls in a cockpitlike fashion, while the passenger's side helps emphasize the width of the cabin with horizontal surfaces. Round air vents have an aircraft look. The center-stack vents have integrated control rings for temperature and fan speed, which is a great innovation. The setup beckons drivers to slide in and have fun. The second row is largely vestigial, as it has always been in a Camaro. You could probably secure a child seat in behind the passenger seat, but you'd better be a contortionist if you hope to get your kids properly strapped in.

Top Down, Fun Up

The convertible, ironically, might be a better choice for parents. With the top down, access to the rear seat is a lean rather than a twist. Speaking of the convertible, it is a winner. The top is thickly padded and latches automatically. The glass rear window has a standard defroster. The ragtop motors up and down quickly, either via center console switches or key fob control, and can be operated at speeds up to 30 miles per hour (though it is safer to use at a stop due to visibility concerns). A divider panel must be in place in the trunk before the top will go down, cutting cargo space down to grocery-bag depth. When the top goes down, hard tonneau covers automatically deploy, leaving a sleek, finished look rather than the bulky bundle of canvas and padding. The easier it is to use a convertible top, the more often you'll find excuses for top-down cruising. Just don't forget the sunblock.

Heading Down the Highway

Handling on both the coupe and the convertible is excellent. The low, wide Camaro hugs the road and loves going around curves. We had a brief opportunity to cycle through the outgoing 2015 Camaro, current Mustang V6 and 2016 Camaro with 6-speed manual and optional 8-speed automatic transmission ($1,495) on the track at Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch in Pahrump, Nevada, followed by street drives in the new Camaro SS Convertible and 2.0 turbo coupe, which just served to whet our appetite for more driving. There's little hint of body flex in the well-engineered convertible, which is a wonderful surprise. The coupe is solid as a rock and tremendous fun to steer around the curves. One concern with the Camaro's low roof is outward visibility -- that short rear window means that you have to rely on the rearview camera nearly completely, which may be challenging in wet weather or snow. If you have a tricky driveway in the cold part of the country, take this into account.

The new 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine in the base model is very good on its own merits and does a creditable job of propelling the newly lightened Camaro down the road. The challenge that the 4-banger faces is that the Camaro's heritage is a big snortin' V8, and there's a selection of great ones available that Chevy will happily stuff under the hood. It would be easy to fall in love with the new exterior and interior upgrades, but they're all designed to enhance the muscle-car appeal of the vehicle. To some Camaro purists, the idea of a 4-cylinder or V6 lurking in their favorite car is a sacrilege. Of course, a 2.0-liter Camaro 1LT starts at $26,695 (add $1,495 for the V6), while a V8 SS model starts at $37,295, so purity may fall victim to economy.

Time will tell if this new Camaro will convert Mustang or Challenger guys, but it will definitely keep the Camaro faithful happy for this next generation of vehicle. The 2016 Chevrolet Camaro is thoroughly modern, undeniably handsome and a potentially thrilling muscle car.

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2016 Chevrolet Camaro 2.0T and Convertible: First Drive Review - Autotrader