2016 Chevrolet Camaro prototype drive

A breif glance at what's to come in the all-new sixth-generation Camaro

2016 Chevrolet Camaro Prototype
2016 Chevrolet Camaro Prototype. Photo © General Motors

Automakers usually wait until they have production-ready cars before letting journalists drive. But at the reveal of the new 2016 Camaro, Chevrolet gave us a little taste of what's to come.

More photos: 2016 Chevrolet Camaro photo tour

Chevrolet revealed the new Camaro to journalists and die-hard fans on Belle Isle in Detroit, home to the Belle Isle Grand Prix. The day after the reveal, journos were invited to take a couple of quick laps in V6-powered 2016 Camaro prototypes, following a quick “refresher” lap in the 2015 car.

The weight comes off

So what is the new Camaro like? Chevrolet says they trimmed 200 lbs from the new Camaro, and that's the second thing you'll notice: The new car feels more agile and more willing to change direction. It also doesn't feel quite as big and hulking as the 5th-generation Camaro. General Motors is offering their Magnetic Ride Control system (which allows near-instant changes to the shock valving, the real-world benefit being that they can tune the car for a smoother ride because the suspension can be instantly stiffened for more aggressive driving) as an option in the 2016 Camaro. The prototypes were not so equipped, but I can only imagine how much better the Camaro will be with MRC.

I was hoping for better visibility, and while the new Camaro doesn't feel as cave-like as the old car, the view out isn't much better—in fact, if I had to guess, I'd say the windshield on the new car is slightly smaller.

Interior: A million times better

Larger interior photo

I mentioned that the weight is the second thing you'll notice, so what's the first? It's the interior, which is a vast improvement over the old car. I got in a bit of hot water with Chevrolet for my description of the 5th-gen car's cabin (“a sea of dour grey plastic, with the gauges and climate/stereo controls crammed into two small clusters as if huddling together for warmth and companionship”).

The new one is the polar opposite, improved in every way: Better materials, better gauges and switchgear, and some serious attention paid to design.

There's some rather innovative packaging here: Take the climate controls, which are now integrated with the vents (the metal surrounds are the temperature duals). There's lots more information in the color display nestled between the speedo and the tach. And finally—thank heavens!—there's a little color. Both of the prototypes we drove (as well as the more finished cars on display) had contrasting-color trim on the dash, seats and door panels. Finally, the Camaro has the interior it deserves!

The downside of the downsize

The bad news is that the new Camaro is about two inches shorter than the old car, and all of that length appears to have come out of the back seat. After adjusting the driver's seat or my five-foot-six-inch self, I climbed into the back seat; I was just barely able to fit my legs in and my head was hard up against the roof (a rarity for me). Slide the front seats rearward for a tall driver, and back-seat legroom shrinks to nil. But the trunk does look better; Chevy hasn't announced its size, and while the opening is still tiny, it looks reasonably roomy and smartly shaped, and I'm sure it wouldn't be too hard to stuff a couple of good-size suitcases back there.

Engine lineup: New and familiar

The Camaros we drove had an all-new version of the venerable direct-injected 3.6 liter V6 (and if it's all new, I suppose I can't really call it venerable, can I?). Power output for the six is 335 horsepower and 284 lb-ft of torque. I sampled both the six-speed manual and the new 8-speed automatic; naturally, I preferred the stick, but the auto certainly wasn't hurting for get-up-and-go. One of the cars I drove had the dual-mode exhaust (the same gizmo that lets the Corvette switch between a howl and a whisper), and in my opinion it's the best-sounding V6 this side of a Jaguar F-Type.

The V6 is now the middle engine; entry-level is a 2.0 liter turbocharged four, the first four-cylinder in a Camaro since 1984 and the first turbo four since, well, ever. Output of the engine is 275 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque, which, I'll remind you, is a) more torque than the V6 and b) more power than some of the V8s offered in Camaros of the late 1960s.

GM predicts an EPA highway rating of 30 MPG or better. At the top end is our old familiar friend, the LT1 V8, now tuned for 455 hp and 455 lb-ft of torque. And what more is there to say than 455 hp and 455 lb-ft of torque?

How will it fare?

Chevy has a lot of new models coming out for 2016, and I expect I'll get to drive the production Camaro pretty soon, but this quick spin has definitely whetted my appetite. Some of the previous-gen Camaro's flaws are still there, primarily the lousy visibility and cramped back seat. One could argue that the styling is derivative; the new car is certainly a dead ringer for the old one, but with the current Camaro kicking butt and taking names (Chevy has sold half a million 5th-gen cars, with 63% of buyers new to the Chevrolet brand), and with styling a high point on buyers' list of likes, it's no surprise they kept the same theme. And there are so many improvements: The new car feels lighter and more agile, and has a hugely improved interior.

That said, there are stumbling blocks in the Camaro's way. The new Mustang is a fantastic ride, and the Dodge Challenger has just received its own much-needed interior makeover—and let's not forget that nothing from Ford or Chevy even comes close to the 707 horsepower output of the supercharged Challenger SRT Hellcat. I'm looking forward to driving the production Camaro and seeing how it stacks up—and of course I'll bring my report to you straight away! – Aaron Gold

Related: Fifty Years of the Chevrolet Camaro