Payne: Camaro turbo-4 or V-6?
The sixth-generation Chevy Camaro V-8 is a sensation. I’ve flogged it from New Mexico to Phoenix to Death Valley and Metro Detroit, and shouted its praises along the way (if you can hear me over the 455-horse, 6.2-liter mill’s roar). Built on GM’s nimble Alpha platform – shared by the athletic Cadillac ATS – it has transformed the muscle car into a true sports coupe that bears comparison to more exotic performance coupes like the Cadillac ATS-V and BMW M4. Among its many rewards is Detroit News Vehicle of the Year and Motor Trend Car of the Year.
But wait, there’s more. There are two other engines available in the Camaro: a 3.6-liter V-6 and, for the first time, a base 2.0-liter, turbo four-cylinder.
Under pressure from government nannies to improve gas mileage – but also intrigued by the possibilities of mating a forced-induction four-banger with the lightweight (just 3,339 pounds!) Alpha chassis – Chevy is determined to show that a “four-hole muscle car” is not an oxymoron.
Last month, I finally got a chance to answer the question for myself. Does the four-cylinder belong in the Camaro? In a word: no.
Compared to the Camaro SS’s mighty V-8 roar, the 275-horsepower 4-banger offers a whimper. Both cars have the same wicked, angled look after all. Revving the four is like watching King Kong open his mouth – and hearing Jennifer Tilly’s voice out.
Good lord, has the poor monster been neutered?
Four-bangers belong in boxy hot hatches, not muscle cars. The good news is that the Camaro’s six is a glorious symphony. Which is what you want in your sleek, $39,000 coupe because the competition is the boxy, $39,000 hot hatch at the stoplight next to you.
The under-$40k performance segment is a boiling piranha tank of competition these days with some of the most capable bargains on the planet: Rear-wheel drive Mustangs and Challenger R/Ts. The all-wheel drive hatchback Ford RS, VW Golf R and Subaru WRX STI. Forget your $70k Porsche Caymans and Corvette C6s – mid-priced performance machines are Tasmanian devils by day, yet remarkably refined at night when you need to impress your date.
Mind you, the base Chevy turbo-four still shows off the Camaro’s capable chassis. In a series of hot laps around Spring Mountain Raceway outside Vegas, the coupe was noticeably more capable than its Gen 5 predecessor and a new Mustang V-6. Though the new Mustang’s brakes and acceleration are excellent, its chassis engineering can’t hold a candle to Alpha. It just ain’t fair to outfit a pony car with a luxury-class sports chassis. What is Mustang supposed to do? Build its next generation around the Ford GT supercar’s carbon-fiber tub?
But against demonic AWD track hounds like the Subaru STI, Camaro’s gotta bring more to the knife fight than a four-banger. Here’s my recommended shopping list from GM’s weapons depot:
1. 335-horsepower V-6 mated to 8-speed transmission ($2,900).
2. RS package: 20-inch wheels with run-flat tires, rear spoiler ($1,950).
3. Dual-mode exhaust ($895).
With the eight-speed automatic transmission, I almost forgot how much I prefer sticks. Stomp the accelerator when the light turns green and the 335 ponies under the hood roar, the eight-speed tranny barking with each quick upshift. Throw out the anchor into a turn and the transmission mimics manual – rev-matching each downshift as if invisible race booties are heel-and-toeing an invisible clutch pedal. It’s addicting. The automatic matches my experience in Camaro’s big brother Corvette C6 which also sports a superior auto transmission to its meaty, seven-speed manual box in which – with its three gates – you can easily lose your way like a kid in an amusement park maze.
Is that third gear or fifth? I better go back to fourth and start over. . . .
I raced back and forth through Oakland County’s roads, a happy predator on the hunt for hot hatches. As readers of this column know, I am a Golf R/GTI partisan, but for the same money the V-6 Camaro offers more dramatic styling and rear-wheel performance. The R, of course, provides irreplaceable all-wheel capability in Michigan’s endless winters (it’s April, for goodness sake, and the snowy forecast is still spooking my motorhead pals from throwing summer tires back on) – but the Camaro’s electronics have helped make the pony more confident on its feet.
Dig deeper in the Camaro’s touchscreen (located just above the signature, rotating aviation air vents) and the features are impressive. Under “Engine Sound management” you can choose “Auto, Stealth, Tour, or Sport” modes.
The growl of the V-6 in Sport never gets old. And predators got to growl.
Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Email him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @HenryEPayne.
2016 Chevy Camaro Turbo-4 and V-6
Vehicle type: Front-engine, rear-wheel drive, four-passenger sports convertible
Price: $26,695 base ($39,940 V-6 as tested)
Powerplant: 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder; 3.6-liter V-6
Power: 275 horsepower, 295 pound-feet of torque (turbo-4); 335 horsepower, 284 pound-feet of torque (V-6)
Transmission: 6-speed manual; 8-speed automatic
Performance: 0-60 mph, 5.5 seconds (turbo-4, automatic), 5.1 seconds (V-6, automatic)
Weight: 3,339 pounds (turbo-4); 3,435 (V-6)
Fuel economy: EPA 22 mpg city / 31 mpg highway / 25 combined (turbo-4); EPA 19 mpg city / 28 mpg highway / 23 combined (V-6)
Highs: V-6 growl; rifle-quick 8-speed automatic
Lows: Turbo-4 needs more bark; pill-box visibility
Excellent ★★★★ Good ★★★ Fair ★★ Poor ★