The official countdown for the 2016 Chevrolet Camaro has begun. This week, Chevrolet announced that the all-new sixth-generation Camaro will be revealed on May 16th at Belle Isle in Detroit. The new Camaro is the most anticipated new Chevy since the company unveiled the C7 Corvette in 2014, and like the ‘Vette, there’s a lot at stake in a new Camaro. With the venerable nameplate comes one of the most storied reputations in American automotive history, and with each updated model, Chevy has to navigate a minefield crowded with enthusiasts, cut-throat competitors, and the ghosts of history. Most new cars are never subjected to the level of scrutiny the Camaro will come under. To put it mildly, it was probably a lot less stressful for Chevy to design the new Spark than the Camaro.
And Camaro enthusiasts are a unique breed. They endured an eight year gap between the fourth and fifth-generation models, and after five years on the market, the fifth-gen has more than lived up to their expectations. Introduced as a 2010 model, the car was an instant hit, with customers waiting as long as 10 months to receive their car. Following the lead of the Ford Mustang and Dodge Challenger, the rebooted Camaro sported retro styling inspired by the 1969 model, and its aggressive looks and great performance helped Chevy beat Ford in ponycar sales for the first time since 1985.
But a lot has changed in five years. The performance car market is in the midst of a renaissance with power numbers climbing and quarter-mile times falling at a rate not seen since the 1960s. While the current Camaro (especially the track-day Z/28 model) is still a strong performer, it’s now competing with the most aggressive Ford performance lineup in decades, and the beast that is the 707 horsepower Dodge Challenger Hellcat. On the other end of the spectrum, Ford’s EcoBoost inline-four cylinder Mustang is quickly earning a reputation for offering respectable performance and strong fuel economy while quickly erasing memories of the wheezy four cylinder ponycars that plagued the 1970s and 1980s. In order to be a true competitor, the new Camaro needs to be many things to many people. Here are 5 things we’ll be looking for on May 16 and beyond.
1. A new Z/28
In 2014, Chevy brought back the mighty Z/28 model during its mid-cycle refresh, declaring war on Ford and Dodge in the process. The car wasn’t another retro revival – it was a real-deal track-focused beast that was hell-bent owning the asphalt. Gone were heavy creature comforts like the stereo, air conditioning, sound insulation, and trunk liner, and in were a revised aero kit, massive Brembo brakes, a track-tuned suspension, and a 505 horsepower V8 that can rocket the car from zero-to-60 in 4 seconds flat. Shortly after the Z/28’s release, Dodge struck back with the Challenger Hellcat, and Ford recently piled on with the 500-plus horsepower Shelby GT350R.
The current Z/28 is built on the Holden of Australia-sourced rear-wheel drive Zeta platform, which underpinned other bruisers like the Chevy SS, Pontiac G8 GXP, and Chevy Caprice police car. The new Camaro will be just the third model to be built on General Motors’s newer Alpha platform, joining the Cadillac ATS and CTS. The Alpha has already been proven to handle the 640 horsepower supercharged 6.2 liter V8 in the monster 2016 CTS-V. If the Alpha can help the big Caddy rocket from zero-to-60 in 3.7 seconds, just think of what a new Z/28 could do. Your move, Chevy.
2. The convertible
After skipping a convertible option altogether between 1970 and 1986, a open-topped Camaro has been a necessity ever since. The fifth-generation convertible was released a year after the hardtop went into production, and the C7 Corvette followed suit with its topless version debuting a few months after the hardtop. The delay will keep the buzz high for the ponycar, and present Chevy with a host of new challenges. Will its engineers be able to keep the chassis stiff enough to make up for the lost roof? Will a heavier body and top mechanism affect weight and performance? Most importantly, will it look as good as the hardtop? These questions alone should be more than enough to keep us occupied long after we see the coupe.
3. Interior upgrades
When the C7 Corvette was unveiled in 2014, critics were impressed by the dramatic increase in quality and execution of the car’s interior. For the first time in decades, Chevy had built a world-class performance car and didn’t treat its interior like an afterthought. While the current Z/28 justifies its $75,000 price with incredible performance numbers, its tough leather, shiny surfaces and hard-touch plastic make it still feel a little…pre-bankruptcy GM.
The Camaro also has its cross-town rival to beat, as the all-new Mustang’s interior is earning Ford accolades and earning a reputation as the best ponycar interior in decades. With the new Mustang selling like crazy, the new Camaro will need to seriously upgrade its interior to win over cross-shopping buyers. Here’s hoping the Camaro design team took a note from the Corvette guys and gives the Camaro an interior that finally lives up to its performance.
4. Powertrain options
The ponycar market is expanding, and as horsepower is going up on one end, displacement is going down. Unlike the dark ages of the 1970s, that isn’t a bad thing. Mustang enthusiasts braced for the worst when Ford announced the base-model Mustang would be powered by their 2.3 liter EcoBoost inline-four, but after nearly a year on the market, the 310 horsepower turbocharged mill has proven itself as a capable little performer. As the Camaro moves to the Alpha platform, the entry level model is likely to use the 2.0 liter turbocharged inline-four from the Cadillac ATS. The 272 horsepower powerplant hustles that car from zero-to-60 in 5.7 seconds, and a slightly tuned version in the Camaro should be more than enough for it to keep up with the EcoBoost Mustang.
On the upper end of the performance spectrum, the Corvette has been making waves with its Active Fuel Management system, which allows the car to run on as little as four cylinders at cruising speeds. The system is optional on the current Camaro SS, but as fuel economy standards rise, this feature could become a lot more commonplace on GM’s big V8s. To handle both increased power and fuel economy, the new Camaro is expected to ditch the current six-speed automatic transmission for GM’s new eight-speed auto box that debuted in the 2015 Corvette. For purists, the row-your-own six-speed will still be available too.
5. A hybrid option?
OK, the idea of a hybrid Camaro may be sacrilege to some, but using hybrid technology to augment performance is quickly becoming too enticing to ignore, and one of the Big Three is going to build a hybrid option sooner or later. Volvo of all automakers recently made headlines by gaining nearly 100 extra horsepower from an electric motor in the 400 horsepower 2016 XC90 T8 hybrid, and the Porsche 918, LaFerrari and McLaren P1 have taken hpyercar performance to the next level by doing the same. With the recent introduction of the redesigned Chevy Volt, and the sub-$30,000 all-electric Bolt concept, Chevy is aggressively moving greener, and what better way to say it’s committed to hybrid technology than a green Camaro?
The company has no current plans for a hybrid Camaro, but by rapidly developing its electric technology, the idea of a Camaro that has more horsepower, is better off the line, and is better on gas while fuel economy standards increase by the year is something worth giving serious thought. If it doesn’t make sense now, it just might in another five years.
Now that the clock has officially started, the weeks leading up to the Camaro’s introduction will be fraught with rumors and speculation. This new car will enter a segment that’s far more complicated then it was five years ago when Chevy returned to the ponycar fray. In 2010, the Big Three was still struggling under the specter of bankruptcy, the idea of a four-cylinder pony car was sacrilege and the king of the hill muscle car was the 540 horsepower Shelby GT500 Mustang. Today, this new Camaro needs to remain faithful to its impressive heritage while remaining competitive well into the future. The past five years have completely redefined performance for American cars. As the good times continue to roll, we can’t wait to see what this new Camaro can do.
Check out Autos Cheat Sheet on Facebook