Loosed across the desert floor as a stone loosed from the hand of God himself, skipping across the surface of the otherworldly terrain though we were bright yellow flat-edged stone. The Camaro quietly ZRINGs underneath my right foot as we gently accelerate toward the next gear. We may as well be on a paved Martian road for as desolate the horizon, not another living soul in sight. For the better part of an hour, things remain as such. The world seems stagnant and immobile, stopped, frozen, yet we move rapidly through it. Making haste so as to not be stuck out here in this stuck world. The scenery is beautiful, yes, but I’d rather not become part of it. Clutch-in, select 5th, clutch-out, hammer down.
The 2017 Chevrolet Camaro now features a 2.0 liter turbocharged engine as the ‘base’ offering. Some Camaro fans have been deriding the new offering since it was announced, but it should be noted that the 2.0 liter turbo does not denigrate the Camaro lineage, rather the Camaro elevates its engine. I’ve been in a variety of different versions of Chevrolet’s Camaro through the years, and I can say definitively that this is a car that is finally on par with the rest of the world. It only took them 50 years to get it ‘right’. There was a time when I looked upon the phrase “pony car” as derisive, and disregarded them on the whole as less than a true sports car. That way of thinking was changed with the current generation Mustang, and given proper defenestration with this Camaro.
I spent this weekend wrenching on my hoopties trying to find a reason to not replace them with a new Camaro turbo coupe. We’ve all been in some half-assed GM products, and a lot of us left that experience with a sour taste. One of my worst motoring experiences was at the wheel of a fourth-generation Camaro V6. For that car, Chevrolet used garbage parts and produced a car that was worse than the sum, whose only redemption was found in the shape of its sheetmetal, and even that has fallen to the changing tastes of time. This new turbocharged chariot, though, is a genuine effort. Stylish, and yet substantive as well. Perhaps best of all, the new entry-level Camaro is near-as-makes-no-difference 400 pounds lighter than the 5th-gen V6 engine car.
The order of the day-and-a-half Camaro event in middle-of-nowhere Nevada was ‘Surprise’. I arrived in the mid-afternoon to Las Vegas, and was escorted to Pahrump, NV, a city most notable for being home to one of Dennis Hof’s fine establishments, as well as the home of Spring Mountain. Spring Mountain is one of those oases of motorsport culture in the middle of a bleak terrain. We were shuttled to the track on the first night, not for drives, but for ride-alongs in a surprising car. The following day, we were given a steady regimen of both track time and street driving.
The morning rose cool and calm, and with a row of cars ready to be driven on the track. It was a battle of the base cars. Chevy brought out one of their old V6 Gen 5 Camaros, a brand new base Mustang V6 purchased from a dealership franchise, and a pair of new Gen 6 Camaros with 2.0 Turbo engines, one with an automatic transmission, and one a three-pedal affair. It didn’t take long to suss out that Chevy assumed we would find the Gen 6 to be the best of the trio, and frankly it was. The Gen 5 V6 felt slow and lopey by comparison on the straight bits, and couldn’t hold a candle when the course changed direction. The Mustang was better than the 5G Chevy, by a good distance, too. It was lighter, more agile, more willing to change direction, and just, well, better. The Ford-branded pony had a tendency to push on through the tighter corners, making a fast lap time an effort of constantly correcting steering angle and throttle pedal. With the other two out of the way, we moved into the new Turbo and found it to be to our liking. The engine note was a bit uninspiring if I’m completely honest, but the remainder of my on-track experience was interesting. The 8-speed transmission was good, the 6-speed manual was better. The power was more than adequate. The neutral handling came as a surprise, and allowed the car to feel much more balanced through the corners, even the tightest of them.
With the track testing out of the way, we were on the road. For the morning section, we were testing the newly released Convertible version of the Camaro, of which we selected a gorgeous maroon SS with a black top. This car was more or less an SS with the roof cut off, so I’ll spare you most of the details, as we’re prepping to cover the SS in greater detail here on Hooniverse very soon. It was an excellent cruiser, and likely made all the better with the top cut off. Losing the roof accentuates all of the details, the car is louder, more present, more connected, just… more. The drive from Pahrump out through the desert to a gorgeous resort called Furnace Creek, about a two-hour trip across some of the straightest and flattest roads you’ve ever seen. Without implicating anyone, we may have found the car’s top speed a time or two, as indicated by the heads up display flashing “maximum speed” in our face. The car felt like it could have driven at that speed for days, or at least until we needed fuel again. Speed, power, and comfort in spades, the Camaro SS may just be America’s best GT car.
On the way back from Furnace Creek, we traded in our SS Convertible with an Auto for the polar opposite, the base model 2.0 Turbo coupe with a stick. With essentially the same chassis, the base Camaro rides in a similar fashion to the SS. There is a slightly different aero profile, a different wheel and tire package, and of course lacking 175 horsepower is quite a delta to overcome in the power department, of course, but the base Camaro is a capable and surprising package for the pricetag. Starting just shy of $26,000, this car compares favorably to most others in the price point. Given the stable and competent platform that this car begins with, I’d be interested to see what it could do with some moderate increase in boost via some aftermarket tuner. We might have made an attempt to find the top speed of the four-cylinder car as well, but lost our stomach somewhere shy of what we had achieved in the SS. At speed, the base car feels less stable, with more float in its step, and a lighter feel to the steering. More than likely this can be attributed to a splitter-free front fascia and a rear decklid lacking a spoiler. At legal speeds, it should be noted, that the insecurities of high speed are completely mitigated.
As it is, the base car offers more performance than ever before, and actually feels like a sports car for the first time ever. That might be the highest praise you can possibly heap upon a Camaro. Is it good? You bet your ass it is. Is it perfect? Well…
I abhor how shiny the touchscreen is on the center console screen. All you can see from the driver’s seat is the reflection of the passenger’s left leg.
The rear quarter panel is a large expanse of sheetmetal. It looks relatively cohesive on the coupe, but on the convertible the back half just looks flat and bland, especially with the top down. Luckily you won’t be able to see it from the driver’s seat.
1-2 shift on the manual is chunky. Not impossible, just chunky.
Mileage is poor in the turbo. They claim over 30 on the highway, but real-world, we saw better mileage in the SS, as the Turbo only provided about 18 miles per gallon according to the onboard computer.
As a passenger, there is very little place to put your left arm if you’re carrying beverages. The two cupholders are offset to the right of the center console, and take up a lot of that space. While the driver is given the privilege of a complete arm-length rest, the passenger gets four or five inches for an elbow, maybe. That said, the padding on the armrest is comfortable and soft, at least.
High beltline makes for a pretty car, and probably has something to do with safety as well, but it completely denies you the ability to rest your elbow on the top of the door with the window down. That’s especially egregious in the convertible.
It’s minor, but the steering wheel could have felt a bit weightier. It wasn’t exactly numb, but it wasn’t exactly sports-car communicative, either. It wasn’t bad enough to not recommend buying one, however.
The interior mirror is pretty cool. Without a surround, the mirror looks almost as if it blends directly into the windscreen glass. Effective, and *nifty*.
Bold and edgy styling.
Exterior visibility isn’t nearly as bad as the stories would have you believe. The over-the-shoulder merging lanes look is hampered a bit, but large exterior mirrors help. Forward and rearward visibility are good enough, to be certain.
The car is lighter than its predecessor, and it feels it. Especially with the 4-cylinder engine, the new chassis feels much more nimble with neutral on-limit characteristics and much better turn in.
The HVAC controls are simple and easy to operate on the fly. In addition, they are attractive and flow well with the interior. A pair of large clicky-turn knobs.
Quality materials are used where it counts. The touchpoints of the car feel reasonably upmarket.
Dis Camero Is Gud.
Here are some more photos that I took on the trip that I couldn’t really figure out what to do with, but liked well enough to show them to you. Enjoy.