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Although it was a short drive, the new Camaro displayed a hitherto unfamiliar handling prowess
I was champing at the bit when the fifth-gen Camaro was on the verge of launching back in 2009, not just because one of the most storied nameplates in the Chevy line-up was making a return after a seven-year hiatus, but also because the latest iteration appeared on paper to be a very tasty muscle car.
The reborn Camaro’s styling was a clever contemporary take on its Sixties ancestors, as it managed to forge a clear link to the past without being a retro parody. It looked tough, purposeful and even somewhat sinister with its hooded headlights. What lurked underneath the skin also seemed tantalising, as the car’s Zeta platform was derived from the underpinnings of the Chevy Lumina (aka Holden Commodore), which in its more sporting guises is a very capable fast saloon.
Sadly, the Camaro has never quite managed to live up to its promise. I find the base models (RS and SS) simply uninspiring to drive — I’d rather have a Mustang, thanks — and even the badass ZL1 doesn’t quite do it for me. Although the latter is indisputably fast and grippy, in my opinion it’s too weighty and uninvolving to be a truly satisfying muscle car. It doesn’t sound all that great either.
This being the case, I don’t have high expectations of the sixth-gen Camaro that I’m just about to sample at Belle Isle in Detroit, where GM is staging a preview drive of the new coupé for select members of the international motoring press. The examples we’ll be driving today are pre-production vehicles, as the all-new Camaro is still some time away from launching — it’s not due on sale in the Middle East until the third quarter of 2016.
Although the styling is evolutionary, the oily bits are genuinely “all-new” as this time around the Camaro is built on the Alpha platform that we already know well from the tidy-handling Cadillac ATS. The little Caddy is a dynamic match for the agile BMW 3 Series, so the Alpha architecture was clearly a sound choice for the Camaro.
But given that the Camaro is a coupé and the ATS is a saloon, GM’s boffins had to re-engineer 70 per cent of the Alpha architecture so that the two-door Chevy would have the right proportions and stance.
To my eye, the styling team has done a pretty sound job of carefully evolving the Camaro’s design language and taking it to the next level. There’s no mistaking it for anything other than a Camaro, although the pinched nose and more streamlined silhouette are reminiscent of the latest Mustang.
In addition to being stiffer than before, the new car is shorter, lower and narrower than its predecessor, as well as being 91kg lighter, all of which points towards a sportier drive — at least on paper. There are six powertrain choices (some of which are all-new), including a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo (275bhp and 400Nm), a 3.6-litre V6 (335bhp, 385Nm) and a 6.2-litre V8 (455bhp, 617Nm). Magnetic Ride Control active suspension also joins the options list on the Camaro SS for the first time, and GM claims that, when so equipped, the car can better the lap times posted by the fifth-gen model with the track-focused Camaro 1LE package.
But enough about the theory, what I want to know is how the thing actually feels from behind the wheel. Sadly, the GM bods have mandated an absurdly low speed limit for today’s drive, which means any impressions formed will be rather limited. There are spotters all over the course, but I still manage to cheat here and there by standing on the throttle where possible and caning it around a few of the corners.
Only the 3.6-litre V6 is available for us to pedal today (I grabbed a six-speed manual), and I have to say first impressions are pretty positive. The V6 motor mightn’t be the most sonorous, but it serves up punchier performance than expected, no doubt aided by the fact the new Camaro is the equivalent of one hefty bloke lighter than before. The manual gearbox isn’t the slickest, but in our region the six-speed auto will be the default choice in any case. It also feels impressively nimble and well planted, and credit here is due to the five-link rear suspension that we already know well from the ATS. The sixth-gen Camaro shows a willingness to dive into corners, and it stays nicely balanced in mid-bend, but I’ll reserve final judgement until we get the opportunity to have a more comprehensive drive.
The cabin has also been skilfully revamped, with a more driver-focused centre console, flat-bottom steering wheel, chrome-ringed rotary vents and higher quality materials throughout. It’s a little bit of a Transformers-meets-Sixties muscle car but, overall, the driver interface gels nicely.
It remains to be seen whether GM Middle East will bump the price point upwards when the Gen 6 Camaro lands here next year, but if it continues to hover around the Dh130-Dh135K mark in V6 form, the newcomer will represent a very solid buy.
|Specs & Rating|
|Model||2016 Camaro LT V6|
|Transmission||Six-speed manual, RWD|
|Max power||335bhp @ 6,800rpm|
|Max torque||385Nm @ 5,300rpm|
|On sale||Q3 2016|
|Highs||Tidy handling, clean proportions|
|Lows||We didn’t get enough time with the car|
Words: Gautam Sharma. Photos: Steve Fecht, wheels.ae