2016 Chevrolet Camaro 2.0T review

Amazing acceleration from a modest motor

2016 Chevrolet Camaro 2.0T
2016 Chevrolet Camaro 2.0T. Photo © Aaron Gold

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It's been thirty years since Chevrolet put a four-cylinder engine in a Camaro, and with good reason: The last one was utterly miserable.

2016 Chevrolet Camaro photo tour

For 2016, Chevrolet is bringing the four-cylinder engine back to the all-new Camaro—but this one is not miserable. It's anything but miserable. In fact, it's unbelievable—as in it genuinely defies belief that such a small engine can propel the Camaro so quickly.

Chevrolet says the new base-model Camaro will accelerate to 60 MPH in a ridiculously quick 5.4 seconds. (Not long ago, anything below 6 seconds was considered supercar territory.) I cannot confirm this, because timing a 0-60 run requires a flat surface, sophisticated timing gear, multiple runs to account for wind, and all sorts of things I am neither qualified nor inclined to do.

I can confirm that the new Camaro is really, really quick. I can also confirm that at maximum acceleration, it will chirp the rear tires as you shift into second gear. And third.

I can confirm that it's so quick you'll want to pull over, open the hood, and verify that the engine really does have only four cylinders.

Chevrolet also says the four-cylinder Camaro will get 30 MPG or better on the highway. (The official EPA estimates are 22 city/31 highway for cars with the eight-speed automatic and 21/30 for the six-speed manual I drove.)

I cannot verify this either. What I can verify* is that if you drive down the straight desert roads that line Death Valley at speeds of 80 to 90 MPH, blasting by slow-moving RVs as if you thought the movie Vanishing Point should have been made with a Camaro rather than a Challenger, you will get around 25 MPG.

* Unless you are an officer of the law, in which case I can verify no such thing, but the guy driving the identical Camaro that blew past me like a bat out of hell probably can. Honestly, officer, he was driving like a maniac!

What I'm trying to say is that I can verify that the new four-cylinder Camaro is pretty darn impressive.

Let's crunch the numbers on this engine: 2.0 liters, four-cylinders, 275 horsepower, 295 lb-ft of torque. The engine is turbocharged, which is why it delivers such big numbers. (It also requires premium fuel.)

Thanks to the way the turbo works, peak torque is developed between 3,000 and 4,500 RPM. There's a bit of turbo lag—meaning it may take a second or two before the engine comes on the boil, especially at low RPMs—but if you keep the revs up, the engine punches hard whenever you ask.

But the reason this engine can produce such rapid velocity has to do with the car itself. Chevrolet spent a lot of money and time taking weight out of the all-new Camaro. Compared to the previous-generation base-model Camaro—equipped with a V6 engine, which is optional in the new car—the new four-cylinder Camaro is almost 400 lbs. lighter. That's less weight to accelerate and keep moving, which translates to quicker acceleration and fuel economy.

Perhaps you're thinking to yourself, “If this new four-cylinder Camaro is so quick, why bother with the V6 or the V8?"

The answer: Noise.

The Camaro's optional V8 engine—a 6.2 liter, 455 horsepower monster—may be one of the best-sounding engines in autodom. It rumbles. It shouts. It thunders. It sounds like God himself has come to earth, and He is very, very angry.

Even the V6 engine sounds good. It shares the V8's dual-mode exhaust, and while it may not have the voice of an angry God, it does sound like a god that is mildly irate.

Contrast that with the four cylinder engine, which makes a sort of rattly noise. Rev it hard and the best it can manage is an enthusiastic gurgle.

Here's The Thing: Four-cylinder Camaros start at $26,695. V8-powered Camaros start at $37,295, and V6s are stuck in the middle at $28,190.

It's worth noting that Chevrolet will sell you the four in a leather-lined 2LT model, which leaves little reason to buy the six—except for the fantastic soundtrack. (And if one wants to split hairs, the turbo four requires premium fuel while the six runs on regular, so in reality the V6 may not be any cheaper to fuel.)

Whichever engine you get, you'll still have to deal with the rest of the Camaro's foibles: Terrible visibility, a nearly-useless back seat, and a trunk that might be considered reasonable were it not for the fact that the opening is about the size of a coin slot. But you'll also get better driving dynamics than the Ford Mustang and the Dodge Challenger, and an old-fashioned muscle-car experience that the Germans, Japanese and Koreans simply cannot deliver.

I'll leave you with a closing tidbit courtesy of Chevrolet: The four-cylinder Camaro is just as quick to 60 MPH as the 1970 Chevelle SS454, which was one of GM's most potent muscle cars. And the Camaro does it with half the number of cylinders, each of which is about half the size of the Chevelle's.

Love the Camaro or hate it—and I can understand both arguments—this new four-cylinder Camaro is a brilliant accomplishment by the brains at Chevrolet. – Aaron Gold

Read my full review of the 2016 Chevrolet Camaro