Out on Belle Isle — which rests on the Detroit River, separating America from our Canadian neighbors — GM unveiled the brand-new Camaro Six during what could only be deemed a Camaropalooza. Hundreds of the muscle cars from all five generations gathered in the infield of the Grand Prix course, some coming from a thousand miles away, all to witness the debut of the American legend’s sixth generation.
Facts are facts, so let’s knock those out quick: There will be three engine options available: a 275-hp 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder that is not only the first artificially boosted Camaro ever, but will also be the most efficient (30 mpg/highway); a 335-hp 3.6L V6; and the 455-hp and 455-lb ft torque SS loaded with the Corvette C7 Stingray’s 6.2L “LT1” V8. This is the superstar, and will be the most powerful production SS ever built.
All three powerplants will be offered with either an 8-speed automatic or 6-speed manual (with rev-match downshifting).
But the best part? The morning after the unveiling Chevy let about 20 journalists get in the V6 ponies and test them on the GP course, and what was once theoretical became practical. Which in and of itself is pretty amazing — when was the last time a car was unveiled, and the manufacturer let people drive it less than 24 hours later? Can’t remember a single one, so thanks, Chevy!
We did chase-and-follows first with the fifth generation car to set a standard bar, and then hustled into Camaro Sixes to experience the evolution. A couple things became obvious right away — here are the 6 Things We Learned Driving the New Camaro SIX:
1. Much emphasis was placed in lightening up the SIX, which was accomplished largely via the use of aluminum throughout the car — including the entire hood, several front suspension components, and the dashboard support.
2. The SIX is built on GM’s new Alpha architecture; the same found on the superlative Cadillac ATS-V. When combined with the 200-lb weight savings, the SIX just feels stiffer, better executed. This all results in surprisingly good handling on the track, a precision strongly felt on the many sharp apexes of the Grand Prix course. There are no elevation changes on Belle Isle, but corners are very tight — so tight that one journalist kissed the wall and retired one of the cars for the day. Otherwise, the Camaros ran through the course perfectly.
3. The most noticeable difference, when compared to the fifth-generation Camaro, is the sound – the V6 absolutely howls when you drop throttle. Can’t wait to hear the V8!
4. The automatic transmission was far superior, always finding the right gear and keeping you ready for full power. Even though it was “only” the V6 and not the V8-powered SS, the Cam always had enough power to really go through the corners and hit straits in a redline.
5. Looks-wise, I have to admit I still prefer the previous gen — and the original, not the 2014 mid-cycle refresh. As the grille gets slimmer, the space under the front bumper grows taller in an awkward way. Perhaps the fastback profile will grow on me, but for now I’m not 100% sold on the evolution of the sheet metal.
6. The biggest improvement, even more so than weight savings, has to be the interior. This is an aspect of most American cars that is still woefully under-emphasized, even ignored. Even though all American car makers are extorting how much they care and are improving interiors, for all their bluster the results are the same: mediocre. The Chrysler Hellcats, for instance, offer an absurd amount of horsepower and power-to-dollar value – but the interiors are woefully lacking for a $70,000 car.
The fifth generation Camaro also had a primitive interior, with tons of hard plastics, a rudimentary steering wheel and a display and center stack that looks like it came from a Tonka Toy. The SIX, however, for the first time has an interior that matches its luster. There's soft premium leather throughout, with nice details like two large beautifully knurled (a la Bentley) AC vents on the bottom of the center stack. The performance seats are crafted in premium perforated leather, as is the thick flat bottom staring wheel. The buckets are well bolstered, but not comically so like some track-focused cars.