Consider the current bandwidth of the Chevrolet Camaro—two body styles, four engines, three transmissions, six major and two sub-models, for a total of 15-plus distinct versions—and you begin to see how the Camaro could satisfy so many different budgets, lifestyles, and appetites for American performance. After seemingly coming out of nowhere to swoop and snag (from 14 other contenders) our 2016 Car of the Yearaward, we chose the traditional favorite, a V-8-powered Camaro SS (2SS), to drive for a little over a year.
This engine dominates the driving experience. From previous years, we already knew how satisfying the direct-injected OHV 16-valve 455-hp/455-lb-ft LT1 engine was, and opting for the performance exhaust system and rowing our own gears was the only respectable way to get the most enjoyment from it. Our tame racing driver, Randy Pobst, describes it this way: “The old pushrods pump out big torque—thank you, cubes—and the engine makes more power as it revs. And what a sound! The American National Road Anthem.” That bellowing soundtrack proved both to be irresistible and sub-optimal in terms of fuel economy. Although nobody quite made the single digits, there was one tank that returned just 10.7 mpg. No doubt the driver responsible for that tank draining didn’t once encounter the Camaro’s fuel-saving-forced, first-to-fourth skip-shift that happens variously. The criteria for the skip-shift are specific, yet unpredictable. The owner’s manual described them as “the engine coolant temperature is higher than 169 F; the vehicle is accelerating from a stop and going 15 to 19 mph; the vehicle is at 33 percent throttle or less.” This second-gear lockout is not only frustrating while puttering around town, but in some cases, it also proved dangerous. For instance, I made a left turn to join a busy boulevard and failed to avoid the unpredictable criteria. Instead, I found myself lugging and chugging in fourth gear at something like 20 mph with a 50-mph wall of cars bearing down on me. We heard similar stories from readers who wrote in, as well. I imagined but never did buy a $15-$25 kit that would eliminate the fickle skip-shift (but not the pop-up message in the instrument panel). Over the course of the past year, I learned instead how to gently set out from a stop in second gear, avoiding the entire confrontation.
It’s also worth mentioning that some owners witnessed undue oil consumption in their Camaro SS coupes. We did not. However, at around 10,000 miles into our loan, we started “to hear a slight groan from the differential (cold or hot) in low-speed maneuvers such as parking or going in and out of a driveway.” An alert reader put us on the trail of a service bulletin that eventually lead to the dealer draining and replacing the gear oil (at no cost to us) that fixed the problem.
The EPA says our car should earn 16/25 mpg city/highway and reap 19 mpg in combined use. Yet over 20,428 miles, our cumulative average was just 16.3 mpg, and that translated into a $3,900 gas bill. As if to prove what gas-card-wielding, dinosaur-swilling jerks we all were, our in-house Real MPG lab returned 17.3/26.1/20.4 mpg city/highway/combined results. Part of the reason our fuel economy suffered was too many L.A. commuting days and too few highway miles and road trips. One 2,500-mile trip in particular proved there is economy available, returning a single 25-mpg tank on the way to an 18-mpg trip average—so it can be done, and in Sport mode nonetheless. Online editor Jason Udy described that Utah trip by saying: “The Camaro SS proved a comfortable highway cruiser with its mellow exhaust note, reasonable wind and road noise (on smooth pavement, anyway), and comfortable ride and seats.”
Sacrificing comfort in the name of performance is often the case with high-performance cars, but the Camaro SS managed to handily address this with game-changing Magnetic Ride Control ($1,695) dampers. Filled with fluid that can instantly alter its viscosity, the adjustable shock absorbers do a fantastic job in Tour mode and even a commendable one in Sport. Track, on the other hand, is reserved for only the smoothest roads. The eight-way powered driver/six-way front passenger seats withstood a year’s worth of use/abuse without discoloration or break down. The front seat’s bolsters and support were the same as the day we got the car. The rear seats are inherently cramped for legroom (29.9 inches) and better suited to seventh-graders (who were often carpooled in the Camaro) than adults. Wind noise/penetration was never an issue but road noise was. As the first set of tires wore, the din from the road grew ever more present than it already was with new tires.
After the break-in period, we ran to the track to log our SS’s official acceleration performance. The results: a 4.3-second 0-60 mph sprint and a 12.5-second 114.8-mph quarter-mile performance with traction control disabled, utilizing our test driver’s organic-based launch-control system. The Camaro SS does have a dedicated electronic launch system that does produce highly repeatable results. However, a skilled driver can improve those runs. We also used Chevy’s industry-unique “no-lift-shift” (NLS) protocol. Under the right circumstances, this NLS system allows a driver to maintain full throttle while depressing the clutch during redline-rpm upshifts for maximum acceleration without damage to the car’s driveline. Why don’t other performance carmakers do this? With other performances such as 60-0-mph braking in just 106 feet (with SS standard Brembo brakes), skidpad lateral acceleration of 0.96g, and a figure-eight time of 23.9 seconds, senior features editor Jonny Lieberman asked: “What if we put our COTY winner up against the gold standard of Teutonic performance machines, the venerable BMW M4?” Find out here how an identically equipped “Cramro” fared. Spoiler alert: it did very well indeed. And if you’re interested to read how the latest Camaro SS stacks up against 50 years of Motor Trend testing, from First Test of the ’67 models in the December 1966 issue all the way up to our August 2016 issue, click here.
Time and Cost
Although there were no full days lost during our 410-day loan due to vehicle reliability issues, we did make several half-day trips to the dealer’s service department to perform maintenance (twice) and order some parts. We also made a quick stop at a local tire shop to replace tires provided by our friends at Tire Rack. The only “trouble” we had with the car was intermittent cold-start laziness (that never worsened nor went away) and that groaning rear differential (fixed). In total, we spent $58.76 on oil changes/inspections (free to an actual buyer), and $1,571 on tires, an alignment (self-inflicted), and to replace the stolen side mirrors. Adding it all up, plus fuel, the total operating cost to us was a not unsubstantial $5,537.23, or $13.50 per day. Assuming 3 years and 42,000 miles total, Intellchoice projected our car’s value ($46,080 as-tested) would depreciate to $23,300 (trade-in) or $25,400 (private sale). Ouch. You really have to drive it like a grandma and decide to keep a 2016 Camaro SS a long time for it to make financial sense.
Besides proudly waving the flag for the vehicle we named 2016 Car of the Year, we look for pain points—like the skip-shift headache. That’s what we do. Interior complaints were few but unaddressable: interior dimensions, visibility, storage, and trunk access. We readily admit the long doors are an inherent liability of a coupe body style, so we won’t mention the parking lot shimmy and gymnastics for rear passengers getting into and out of the Camaro, but we just did. The interior dimensions, especially the cramped reach/grasp for the front seat belts taught us to latch them first, close door second. But the location of the window switches, door pockets, and sole USB port—awkwardly located under the center arm rest—would better suit the arm-length of a T. rex or the dexterity of a contortionist. Poor outward visibility is, at this point, a Camaro hallmark, but the lack of interior storage for more than a coffee tumbler and a mobile phone in the cup holders seems pretty inexcusable considering the complete redesign of the interior for model-year 2016. Associate road test editor Erick Ayapana had this to say after a weekend in the Camaro: “Water bottles, for example, fit perfectly in between the driver’s seat and the door sill. I wedged my iPhone in between the center (right) air vent and outer console trim piece. And my sunglasses fit (barely) in the door pocket.” Also, the odd angle of the otherwise terrific high-definition touchscreen alternatively washed out in direct sunlight or reflected the crotch of the front seat passenger. While 9.0 cubic feet is a decent sized trunk volume, the height of the opening and the restricted aperture itself really do restrict what can fit comfortably in there, not to mention the dusty debris that transfers to pants if you need to reach deep into the void. Randy Pobst has an idea: “I want a Camaro Sportwagon to travel at speed to racetracks all over the country, with all my gear and a few souvenirs on board.” He might be on to something!
Operating, maintaining, and living with a high-performance two-door coupe isn’t for everybody. Yet, Enthusiast is literally the middle name of our company (TEN), and we thoroughly enjoyed our year with the 2016 Chevrolet Camaro SS— we’d gladly do it again. International Bureau Chief Angus MacKenzie says the 2016 Chevrolet Camaro was “A revelation. Absolutely world-class sports car performance and dynamics from an American icon. The new Camaro is one of the finest driver’s cars in the world. And that’s before you even talk about the price.” That said, a few things perspective buyers would be wise to consider are the potential fuel/tire costs, the inconveniences/short comings of the Camaro’s interior, and the claustrophobic environment produced by the combination of compromised visibility and its high beltline. With the exception of the vexing skip-shift, mechanically, dynamically, and in terms of reliability, we couldn’t have loved it more. Few cars offer as much enjoyment-per-mile as the Chevy Camaro SS. Just be sure enthusiasm for what it does outweighs your need for a convenient daily driver.
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