The 2017 Camaro I wasn’t Supposed to Test Drive
GM didn’t want me to test drive the new Camaro – I’ve been excommunicated as a politically incorrect heretic – so they’ll probably be surprised by this review.
I like what they’ve done with it. So should you.
First, it’s been lightened up by in the neighborhood of 400 pounds – which is a huge improvement. The previous Camaro – which looks almost the same as the new one – had a curb weight of about 3,700 lbs.
That was the base Camaro – with the V6.
The ’17 Camaro’s curb weight is just 3,339 lbs. Which is why it now comes standard with a four cylinder engine just over half the size of the previously standard V6.
While gaining a step, acceleration-wise.
While gaining several steps, mileage-wise.
That may not matter much to the people who shop Camaros, who value the art of the burnout – and big inches. But the weight off the nose surely will. The new four-cylinder Camaro handles – responds – more athletically than the previous fatbodied Camaro.
Things only get better when you move up to the V6 – which is now Camaro’s mid-level engine.
And then there’s the Corvette-sourced 6.2 liter V8 that comes in the SS. In a chassis that weighs hundreds of pounds less than it used to.
GM may be mad at me.
But I love what GM has done with this car.
WHAT IT IS
There have been some misfires over the years – such as the disappearance of the high-performance Z28 Camaro for two years back in ’75 and ’76 – and the disappearance of Camaro itself from 2003-2010. But overall, it has one of the longest-running track records of success in the biz – and not just by muscle car standards.
Only Ford’s Mustang – which arrived first (in ’64) and never got cancelled (but came close a few times) can claim a better one.
Base price for a four cylinder coupe with the new turbo four engine and a six-speed manual transmission is $26,305. You can upgrade to V6 power as a stand-alone option for an additional $1,495.
The same car with a soft-top starts for $33,305 with the four; add the same $1,495 if you prefer a V6.
The Z28 is not currently available but on deck is a ZL1 packing 640 hp – which is only about four times as much horsepower as my old ’78 Z28 came with from the factory.
But hey, my ’78 had T-tops… .
Traditional Camaro cross-shops are Ford’s Mustang and the Dodge Challenger – but traditions change. The new four-cylinder Camaro’s reasonable fuel efficiency and sports car handling make it a viable sports car (as opposed to the muscle car Camaro has always been up to now).
So if you like two seaters (Mazda Miata, Nissan 370Z) but could use a back seat (however small) a punchy turbo four (and four-seater) Camaro could be a viable alternative.
Especially if you want a drop-top (not offered in the hulky and coupe-only Dodge).
The V8 SS is a stone cold killer.
Supercar performance on a blue collar/Bruce Springsteen budget.
And the soon-to-be-here ZL1?
It’ll make you forget all about the Z28.
If you can afford it.
To celebrate its Jubilee year, there’s a 50th Anniversary Edition package (available with 2LT trim four cylinder and V6 Camaros as well as SS Camaros) and a 1LE track package for Camaros with the V6 or the V8.
GM being GM – on the leading edge of political correctness – the Camaro is now also available with a Teen Driver mode to deny your kid the fun of driving a Camaro.
I weep for today’s youth.
Fun, serious fun… and six pack of Red Bull plus a pot of coffee fun.
The four doesn’t suck. Gas or performance.
Kick a six-figure supercar in the nuts with the mid-five-figure (barely) SS.
More legroom up front than in a full-size Mercedes S-Class sedan.
Get a Mustang – with a V6 and usable back seats – for about $1,600 less than a four-cylinder Camaro.
Get a Challenger – with a usable trunk and back seats – for about the same money.
If you buy a Camaro, you’re supporting GM – which now has an Enemies List of journalists it shuts down – or tries to – if they don’t toe the GM line.
For the second time in its history, the Camaro is available with a four cylinder engine. The good news is that this time, it’s not an underpowered one.
In fact, it is very powerful one – both in historic and current terms.
270 hp – and 295 ft.-lbs. of turbo-boosted torque. This is more of both than the 5.7 liter (350 cubic inch) V8 that powered my late ‘70s Z28 delivered. And it’s twice-plus what the last (early ‘80s) four cylinder Camaro managed.
Because the ’17 is lighter by almost 400 pounds (the equivalent of a fully dressed V8 engine riding shogun in the passenger seat or a 1000 cc sport bike strapped to the roof) the four delivers better acceleration than the previous V6-powered Camaro did: Zero to 60 in 5.4 seconds now vs. 5.8 for the fatbodied old model with the stronger-on-paper V6.
And you get plausibly economical fuel economy, too: 22 city, 31 highway with the eight-speed automatic (most efficient) and 21 city, 30 highway with the slightly less-efficient (but much more fun) six-speed manual.
Next up is a 3.6 liter 335 V6, the same as before. But in the much lighter ’17, the acceleration run is much-improved. Just over 5 seconds now – which would have qualified for supercar status back in the ‘80s and is still very solid – for a V8 performance car – today.
In fact, it runs just as hard as the current V8 Challenger, which has more engine but also more blubber to haul around.
The V6’s mileage also improves to 19 city, 28 highway (eight-speed versions; as above if you go with the manual six-speed, you lose 1 MPG in both categories).
SS Camaros pack the Corvette’s 6.2 liter V8, making 455 hp and 455 ft.-lbs. of torque. This is more power and torque than the old fatbodied SS – which had 426 hp and 420 ft.-lbs. of torque – in the new, much lighter chassis.
No surprise, it hauls.
Zero to 60 in just over four seconds – which ravishes the base V8 Challenger R/T and also beats the less powerful V8 Mustang GT (435 hp, 0-60 in the mid-fours).
The much-anticipated ZL1 was not yet available when this review was written in mid-November of 2016, but when it becomes available, it will up-gun things to 640 hp, which ought to give the 707 hp Dodge Hellcat acid reflux. The Dodge is brutal – and its supercharged V8 is by far the hairiest. But the Challenger is also – by far – the heaviest in this class.
By about 700 pounds vs. the Camaro.
Drive the four cylinder Camaro before you decide to buy the V6 (or the V8 SS).
Any of them will put a grin on your face, but the four has some plusses over the other two options.
First, it leaves the Camaro better balanced.
Muscle cars are notoriously nose heavy – and ass light. This is fun, when the time comes to light up the tires. But in the curves, the tendency is toward oversteer, which is also fun but not as controllable on the street. It is all well and good to snap the tail out and pour on the power, going sideways through an apex. But this is better performed on the track – where there are run-offs and no cops to empty their Glocks into you after a high-speed felony stop.
The load off the nose trims the car out so that it corners straighter – which is both safer and subtler on the street. Passing a cop going sideways with your rear tires rooster-tailing rubber and smoke isn’t going to go well for you.
And when the road straightens out, the 2.0 turbo’d Camaro bolts forward such that you’d swear it had V8.
Note that the four makes more torque (and lower down in the powerband) than the V6. Which is why (less the weight) it outperforms last year’s V6 Camaro and – trust me – is quite capable of demolishing the self-esteem of any Z28 made from 1977-through the early ‘90s.
Buy this car and run under the radar. Literally and figuratively. The turbo 2.0 is pretty quiet, a good thing when you are up to no good. And it looks less hinky to the insurance man. Hey, it’s only a four cylinder; I bought a Camaro because I like its looks.
Pay less for the car – to feed it – and to insure it.
Alas, there is a catch. To get the 1LE track day enhancements – heavy-duty limited slip rear axle, heavy-duty cooling system, upgraded brakes and suspension plus instrument enhancements (lap timer, etc.) Recaro sport buckets and such you have to spring for the V6 or the V8 and accept the nose-heavier attitude that comes with.
But, there are compensatory bennies, the most obvious being (if you go with the V6) almost enough power to grapple with a V8 Mustang and enough to humble a V8 Challenger and (if you go full monte and buy the V8 SS) the biggest balls short of a Hellcat… or a ZL1.
What are you going to do with it all?
Of course, that is what a car like Camaro’s all about. It is why you put up with the preposterous back seats (read on) and the ridiculous trunk and the too-low roofline and – yes – GM’s crony capitalism and politically correct diversity mongering.
It’s amazing GM still builds cars this at all. Isn’t someone offended?
It is wasteful, impractical. More than micro-aggressive. Its carbon footprint too large.
Which is all the more reason to buy one while you still can.
It doesn’t look like much has changed, but it has – and not just weight-wise.
The new car rides on significantly shorter wheelbase – 110.7 inches now vs. 112.3 before – and it’s shorter overall, too: 188.3 inches now vs. 190.6 before. It’s more wasp-waisted through its midsection (74.7 inches wide now vs. 75.5 inches for the old car and it’s lower – 53.1 inches at the roof vs. 54.2 previously.
But, on the downside, Camaro has moved closer to being an almost-Corvette in terms of the general uselessness of the thing for other than taking a driver and one passenger out for a banzai! run. The back seats might as well not be there.
Because legroom isn’t.
It’s not that there’s only a little. It’s that there is -effectively – none.
Unless the driver and front seat passenger scrunch their seats forward and tuck-in, the backseat occupants will have to do the knees-to-chest-and-brace-for-impact thing. It’s so bad GM does not even publish the backseat legroom numbers.
Mustang has 30.6 inches for the backseaters and the Challenger 33.1 inches – by far the best of the bunch.
Trunk space – the lack of it – is another Camaro shortcoming: 9.1 cubic feet (7-something for the convertible) vs. the Mustang’s 13.5 cubic footer and the Challenger’s yuge 16.2 cubic feet.
What Chevy has done is made the Camaro less a muscle car and more a sports car – with all the up-and-downsides of that. It is now the quickest of the three and the lightest of the three.
It’s also the least practical of the three.
You can literally almost see the Corvette in there trying to break through the sheetmetal. Especially out back, where the tail panel (and brake lights) closely resemble the hind quarters of America’s Sports Car.
The interior also gets a new layout – and there is good and bad here, too. The new main gauge cluster is better (and configurable) and the secondary touchscreen (with updated apps, including Android Auto and Apple CarPlay) is easier to wade through and looks sharper, too.
A questionable change is the relocation of the center air vents to where the retro-themed (’67-’69-style) accessory gauges used to be – just forward of the gear shifter. Air now blows inches from your gear hand – which can be annoying if the air is super cold or very hot. The Euro-style rotary shape of the vents is also a little out of place in a Camaro.
They look like they were pirated from a Mercedes.
The plastics used for the dashpad and other panels, on the other hand, don’t. They aren’t as cheap-looking as the stuff inside the Challenger. But they’re not as nice as the materials used inside the Mustang, either.
While you can add the RS equipment, it’s mostly cosmetic – LED taillights, Xenon HID headlights and a different grille. The package does add a 20-inch wheel/tire package but these are more tall than wide and are more about appealing to the gnomesayin’ crowd than increasing the car’s lateral grip. If anything, they increase the car’s rolling resistance – which will probably slow the car down some.
Keep in mind power-to-weight (and running under the radar).
I love the V8 SS. And I’d sell what’s left of my soul to Satan for a ZL1.
The problem is that Satan is asking a higher price. Word’s not official yet, but it’ll probably be around $60k.
For that, you could almost buy an original ZL1.
And then you’d at least have a usable back seat.
THE BOTTOM LINE
GM’s near-Corvette is a phenomenal car.
Even if GM is something else these days.
He has been covering these topics for 25-plus years as a columnist and author, including several years as an editorial writer/columnist for The Washington Times and contributor to newspapers and magazines around the country, including the Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, Detroit News and Free Press, American Spectator and many others.
His books include Automotive Atrocities and Road Hogs. His latest book, Doomed, will be available next spring.
Eric lives in rural SW Virginia - as far as he could get from Northern Virginia without actually leaving the state.
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