2017 Chevrolet Camaro
The 2017 Chevrolet Camaro celebrates its 50th anniversary. Camaro was redesigned for 2016, so the 2017 Camaro lineup brings on the birthday bangles. Symbolic is the big bangle of a massively powerful Camaro ZL1 with a new 10-speed automatic. New for the 2017 Camaro LE is a handling package developed on the Nurburgring. And, naturally, there’s a Camaro 50th Anniversary Edition, a trim package for both the coupe and convertible.
The Camaro has evolved beyond being a muscle car, especially in this sixth generation that was downsized a couple inches while sharing structure with the Cadillac CTS, and especially with the optional magnetic damper suspension. It has the power of a muscle car with the moves of a sports car. It skims over pavement and is as responsive as the best versions of the previous generation.
Three engines are available, starting with a turbocharged four-cylinder making 275 horsepower, 295 pound-feet of torque, and zooming to sixty miles per hour in 5.4 seconds. That is quick, no less expected, if the Camaro is going to get a four-cylinder, it better be quick. It also better sound good, which the four-cylinder Camaro does not.
The 3.6-liter V6 makes an earthy 335 horsepower with 284 pound-feet of torque. When you consider the 1967 Camaro SS with its huge 396 cubic-inch V8 made 325 horsepower, a V6 Camaro doesn’t sound so wimpy. Especially this one that can blast from zero to sixty in 5.0 seconds.
The LT1 with its 6.2-liter V8 making 455 horsepower and 455 pound-feet of torque is in another league. It is one sensational piece of hardware, with a 0-60 time of four seconds flat.
But Camaro isn’t done celebrating. New for 2017 is the return of the ZL1, using a supercharged version of that V8 to make, hold your breath, 650 horsepower. Held in check by a new 10-speed automatic transmission. We haven’t driven it yet, we’re holding our breath till then. The previous-generation ZL1 was an amazing performer while being very livable for everyday driving.
Also new is the 2017 Camaro 1LE handling package. And a badge on the steering wheel of every 2017 Camaro that says “FIFTY.” Best thing for some might be the new Teen Driver feature that enables parents to spy on their kids, follow where they’re going and how fast, just like the government might soon be doing with you, in the name of public safety.
That turbo four-cylinder, with its 8-speed automatic, gets good fuel mileage, at an EPA-rated 22/31 mpg City/Highway, or 25 miles per gallon on the EPA’s Combined city and highway cycle. The V6 gets 19/28/22 mpg, the V8 drops to 20 mpg Combined. We have a number for the ZL1, but, really. Just make a number up for your neighbors.
To underscore that you’re not a lunatic with 650 horsepower in your driveway, be sure to also tell your neighbors that the government gives the Camaro five stars for crash safety. As long you don’t roll it over: The IIHS only gave it an Acceptable score for roof strength.
Camaro coupe ($26,305) and convertible ($33,305) models include the 1LT ($26,305), 2LT ($30,305), 1SS ($36,905), 2SS, and ZL1. There’s excellent standard equipment in the 1LT and 1SS, including Bluetooth, rearview camera, and a good infotainment system. (Prices are MSRP for coupe and do not include destination charge.)
Available safety equipment includes forward-collision warning and blind-spot monitors.
Depending on your approach angle to the sheetmetal of the Camaro, it can look bawdy or bulky. From the side the details are striking and well-honed, with a fantastic big sweep of the rear roof pillars; but from a front 3/4 view the long car can seem stubby and foreshortened. The powerful haunches balance the tall nose and slim but menacing grille as best they can. The gun-slit windows make more menace.
The Camaro is an ode to high-strength steel, and what it can do for safer car design. Thanks to slimmer yet stronger windshield pillars, the forward visibility is improved even with the driver sunk lower for safety. Speaking of which it’s a good thing a rearview camera is standard, because it’s necessary to see through the high tail. In fact a surround-view camera would be nice.
The cockpit takes some gambles because it ventures from Camaro heritage, with big touchscreens and digital gauges, a binnacle framed by “Star Wars” Tie Fighters, and huge gimbaled air vents that use their rings to adjust heating and cooling. We think it looks fresh and will stay that way.
We can’t say the Camaro’s interior materials look expensive, especially the standard fabric seats, but we don’t have to say they look plasticky, like before.
The front seats are shapely, supportive, and form-fitting. But they’re still thrifty fabric. The expensive optional Recaro seats with heating and ventilation are worth it.
Camaro appears to have given up on the back seat. It’s mostly a bench for gym bags, and also groceries when the tiny trunk gets full after maybe three grocery bags. The convertible has even less space in the rear, with the top mechanism taking hip and shoulder room. No relaxing in the back seat, cruising with your head back and the sun in your face.
The 2.0 turbo is quick, has a powerful 295 pound-feet of torque, and works well with either the manual or automatic transmission. You’ve got a real sports car with the 6-speed gearbox, with tidy throws and a smooth clutch that feels more natural than it does in the V8. But the 8-speed automatic is nothing to shy away from, as it’s responsive and shifts smoothly. One thing the four-cylinder turbo lacks is character in the exhaust note. There’s a low howl when it’s pushed, but otherwise it sounds docile.
The 3.6-liter V6 uses the latest technology of direct injection and cylinder deactivation. Its 335 horsepower is impressive especially for its efficiency, and its 284 pound-feet is compatible, but note that the four-cylinder turbo has more torque, with 295 lb-ft.
The V6 actually sounds like a vintage Ferrari when you get on the gas, a wonderful mid-range howl. When you get it near redline, that howl turns into a classic V6 drone. Engine noise is piped in from under the hood. Some love it, some hate the very idea.
If you can call one horsepower a reason, there are 120 of them to choose the 6.2-liter V8 over the V6. And it raises the torque by even more, a boost of 171 pound-feet, to a hole-shot thumping 455 pound-feet, and four seconds later you’re hitting 60 mph. The 6-speed manual does rev matching, and the 8-speed automatic has paddle-shifters. This powertrain transforms the Camaro into a brutally powerful masterwork.
With its standard 18-inch wheels and Goodyear Eagle Sport tires, the Camaro has a great sense of stability, good tracking, and a composed ride. Patchy pavement doesn’t bounce the rear wheels around. Cadillac gets some credit for that, having sent over their suspension design, a double-pivot, control-arm and strut. They put their chassis engine rails and electric power steering in the box too. Those three things took more than a couple hundred pounds off the Camaro’s weight, and the new footprint almost electrifies the handling. You can feel 100 percent of the car in the corners. And we haven’t even driven the 1LE suspension package yet, which is tightened and upgraded.
Four-piston Brembo brakes are standard. Twenty-inch wheels with Goodyear Eagle F1 run-flat tires are an option on the Camaro LT, while the SS gets them standard, with grippier tires that aren’t run-flat.
The Camaro doesn’t dance too much on the standard 18-inchers, but with big 20-inchers it can jackhammer over rough roads and skitter over imperfect surfaces. An SS with the conventional suspension is composed, but when you’re flying above posted limits on remote country roads, the magnetic dampers bring calm, allowing the Camaro to blunt impacts and race over savage pavement. Just another reason why it’s not a muscle car any more.
The Drive Mode Selector adjusts the steering weight, stability control sensitivity, shift timing and throttle response. The modes are Sport, Tour, Snow/Ice, and Track mode in the SS. The menu enables almost any combination.
In Tour mode, the steering is hefty but quick. In Sport or Track mode, the Camaro is one happy pony car, needling through tight trajectories with precision.
Four engines, four characters, four uses. Turbo four, V6, V8, supercharged V8. Manual or automatic, both great. That’s seven superb powertrains, one of them (the turbo four) groundbreaking and game-changing in a Camaro, plenty quick, fuel-efficient, and highly affordable. Coupe or convertible. Awesome handling. Striking looks. Best high-performance value we know of, in the SS.
Sam Moses contributed to this report.