In the chart of automotive performance, a thick horizontal line separates track-capable sports cars from genuine racecars. Nearly every major automaker offers a sports car talented enough to circle a racing circuit with some level of competence. These gussied-up machines with their oversized wheels and flashy spoilers blast down the straights, brake hard into the corners and hold lines with tenacity – at least for a time. In practice, nearly all of them are eventually sidelined for cooked brakes, overheated oil or tires chewed unevenly to their cords.
Racecars are a completely different breed. These specialized machines are engineered with robustness to defeat the demons of racing. They boast braking systems capable of tolerating intense heat, dry-sump oil systems to provide crucial lubrication during cornering, and suspension calibrations to improve grip while promoting even tire wear. They are tuned for the rigors of speed and endurance.
The list of showroom-stock racecars is small and exclusive, but the fraternity has just added another member. It's called the 2014 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28.
Today's fifth-generation Camaro has been around since 2010, and while it's been a great cruiser and a competent weekend drag car since Day One, the production car never really got serious about on-track performance until 2012, when Chevy introduced the $56,000 ZL1. The range-topping coupe packed a supercharged 6.2-liter LSA V8 rated at 580 horsepower and 556 pound-feet of torque. Accompanying the engine was a long list of upgrades including MagneRide suspension, six-piston calipers over two-piece iron rotors and 20-inch forged wheels with summer tires. The 4,118-pound coupe was a stoplight king with a good set of lungs (0-60 in 3.9 seconds with a top speed of 184 miles per hour). And while it was surprisingly, impressively competent on both public roads and racing circuits, its Achilles' heel remained its mass. In order to increase performance, everything had been upsized.
Chevrolet knew it could do better, so they assembled a capable team headed by GM engineer Mark Stielow, a car guy's best friend celebrated for building some of the best Pro Touring Camaro models on the planet. To build the most track-capable Camaro ever would require a herculean effort that would not only challenge conventional wisdom, it would involve some of the best names in automotive performance. According to Stielow, the team had one objective for the Z/28: "Make it as fast as it could go."
The team had one objective for the Z/28: "Make it as fast as it could go."
Unveiled at the 2013 New York Auto Show, the $75,000 Camaro Z/28 stands as the fruit of their labor. As scrutinized on the turntable under the show's bright lights, the Z/28 boasts more than 190 unique components. Each has been carefully selected to optimize lap speeds around a roadcourse, meaning they are lightweight, highly functional and durable. And while each of its countless predecessors has been a street car tuned for track performance, the Z/28 is essentially a showroom stock racecar, one that's nearly 300 pounds lighter than the ZL1.
Ten months later and 862 miles southwest of New York's Javits Center, I found myself strapped into a Z/28 in the cold pits at Barber Motorsports Park not far from Birmingham, Alabama. As I secured the strap on my helmet and scanned the gauges, a gentleman from Chevy leaned in the open window and offered just one suggestion: radio into the pits when the fuel light illuminated.
Instead of a forced-induction powerplant, which adds weight, complexity and thermal management issues, the Z/28 engineering team has configured its coupe with a naturally aspirated 7.0-liter LS7 V8 fitted with titanium valves, Pankl titanium connecting rods and Mahle pistons. The proven engine is a variant of the powerplant found in the discontinued C6 Corvette Z06, carrying with it a rating of 505 horsepower and 481 pound-feet of torque. To provide consistent oil pressure during high-G cornering, the engine has been equipped with Camaro's first-ever dry sump lubrication. And to ensure proper cooling during track sessions, an integral liquid-to-liquid system has been added to keep synthetic oil temperatures low. The engine breathes through a K&N cold-air induction system with an oil-free paper cone air filter.
Chevrolet has deliberately reduced the Z/28's acoustic insulation to reduce weight, and its absence grants open passage to the clamor of exploding fuel.
A quick turn of the key brings the 427-cubic-inch engine to life, noticeably shaking the entire chassis in the process. As expected, the free-breathing V8 idles with a deep, anxious growl. Chevrolet has deliberately reduced the Z/28's acoustic insulation to reduce weight, and its absence grants open passage to the clamor of exploding fuel, a rumble that permeates the walls of the firewall, floor and trunk. Even with a helmet on, there's enough auditory stimuli that I am already engrossed in the driving experience before leaving the pits.
With ambient temperatures hovering about 10 degrees above freezing and the sky overhead a threateningly uniform gray, at least it was dry. The Z/28's standard leather-covered Recaro bucket seats, with their synthetic suede seating surfaces, offer cut-outs for shoulder harness, but traditional three-point belts remain standard, which I cinch tightly in preparation for track work. A glance around the cockpit reveals a deliberately spartan cabin that lacks a large infotainment screen, automatic climate controls or ventilated seat cushions in the interest of saving weight. Compared to the ZL1's cabin, this car's most obvious deletion is the absence of the four analog gauges below the manual HVAC controls – again, dropped to systematically reduce mass ("They were hard to see, anyway," Stielow confesses). Keen observers will also note that the tachometer's redline is marked at 7,000 rpm, a number significantly higher than on the Z/28's supercharged cousin.
In yet another a nod to enthusiasts, the Z/28 is only offered with a Tremec TR6060 six-speed manual, a transmission using close-ratio gearing and a 3.91:1 final drive ratio optimized for the LS7's power delivery. All gears have double- or triple cone synchronizers, each with friction surfaces designed to ease shifting. At the back end, a Torsen helical limited-slip differential ensures low coupling during corner entry, zero preload while mid-corner and rapid coupling during corner exit (traditional limited-slips, which lock the drive axle, are optimized for straight-line traction). Both the differential and transmission have been fitted with high-capacity liquid-to-liquid coolers for extreme duty.
The Z/28's clutch reveals itself as ideally weighted despite the amount of work it has been tasked with.
Pulling out of the pits, the Z/28's clutch reveals itself as ideally weighted despite the amount of work it has been tasked with. Likewise, the short-throw manual gearbox feels very mechanical, yet still smooth and accurate in operation. There's no threat of an impending stall when pulling away from a standstill (there's too much rotating mass for that), but it's easy to break the cold tires free if you apply a bit too much throttle.
Heading onto the empty circuit, I'm able to systematically refresh my memory of Barber's 15 challenging turns while simultaneously putting some heat into the massive tires. It's interesting to note that the engineering team has tossed aside the ZL1's 20-inch wheel fitment in favor of slightly smaller forged 19-inch wheels. While they aren't as aesthetically pleasing when it comes to filling out the wheel wells, their reduced diameter offers a few benefits, including dropping the car's center of gravity by 1.3 inches and reducing unsprung weight to improve handling and acceleration. The Z/28 wears Pirelli Trofeo R tires at all four corners which have an R-compound treadwear rating of just 80. They are each sized 305/30ZR19, but the wheels on the rear axle are a half-inch wider, so they cannot be swapped front-to-back. (Their huge contact patches allows Chevrolet to boast that the Z/28 runs the widest front tire on any production car.)
After a handful of laps at parade speeds, the tire pressure monitor reads a few PSI higher at each corner – the tires are warming up. Time to put the red coupe to the test. According to Chevy, the Z/28 will do the benchmark 0-60 mph sprint in about four seconds, pull 1.05 Gs in flat cornering and brake with 1.5 Gs of deceleration. Each figure is exhilarating on its own, but taken as a whole, they help explain how the track star lapped Germany's legendary Nürburgring in a blistering 7:37, which is quicker than a Lexus LF-A.
The Z/28 will do the benchmark 0-60 mph sprint in about four seconds, pull 1.05 Gs in flat cornering and brake with 1.5 Gs of deceleration.
Coming off Turn 15 onto the straight with the gearbox in third, I bury the accelerator. The quad exhaust pipes thunder with the sound and fury of a NASCAR Sprint Cup racer, pressing me firmly into the seat. Quickly approaching the first corner at over 100 mph, I lean hard on the brakes to convert kinetic energy into heat. The Z/28 uses drilled carbon-ceramic rotors (a Camaro first) in lieu of cast iron rotors, as the material is lighter and more tolerant to high temperatures. Oversized Brembo six- and four-piston alloy monobloc calipers clamp down on 15.5-inch rotors up front and 15.4-inch rotors in the rear, and the anti-lock brakes have even been reprogrammed to specifically accommodate late braking into corners and assist initial turn-in.
During testing, Chevy's engineers noted that the vehicle was braking so hard that the tires were slipping on their wheels. The solution? Media blasting their alloy surfaces to boost adhesion. So equipped, the carbon-ceramic brakes and footwear bite with a confidence normally only felt in supercars three times the price, allowing me to fly down Barber's front straight flat-out, lap after glorious lap. Never once would I need the runoff, but many times I found myself braking too early – a rarely earned compliment.
Although the Z/28's team had access to all of GM's suspension technology (including the ZL1's highly touted adaptive MagneRide system), they chose to go with a fixed-ratio damper setup by Multimatic. The custom spool-in-piston struts and dampers have been fitted with Dynamic Suspension Spool Valves (DSSV) that allowed the engineers to tune compression and rebound independently to suit the Camaro's track-focused mission. The balance of the componentry has also been modified, with 85 percent stiffer front springs, 65 percent stiffer rear springs and more rigid trailing-link, lower-arm links and upper control arm bushings to improve steering feel and handling stiffness.
Body roll is negligible and the chassis doesn't noticeably pitch during hard acceleration or braking.
I'm a huge fan of BWI Group's magnetically controlled dampers, but Chevrolet's decision to go with a lighter Multimatic system on the Z/28 is a stroke of genius in terms of simplicity and reduced maintenance. The coupe rides very firmly, but bumps and impacts never feel harsh or abusive, body roll is negligible and the chassis doesn't noticeably pitch during hard acceleration or braking. Even when purposely hitting the track's kerbing at speed while clipping a corner, a jolt comes through the steering wheel, but the vehicle tracks through undisturbed. (I would later mention to the engineering team that the damping reminds me of the Porsche GT3, and they revealed that the much pricier German sports coupe was their exact benchmark.)
Overall stability has also been improved with the team's focus on aerodynamics. Yet instead of chasing low drag, they have focused on downforce. To that effect, the Z/28's nose wears a massive jutting lower splitter that forces air into the radiator and brake cooling ducts (it looks flimsy but can actually withstand 250 pounds of aerodynamic pressure). An open hood vent bleeds high-pressure air from the engine bay, and there are Gurney lip fender flares ahead of each front wheel. Lastly, a trunk-mounted adjustable rear spoiler keeps the back end planted. According to Chevrolet, the complete package produces 440 more pounds of downforce at 150 mph than the aero hardware on a standard Camaro SS. At speed, the two-door runs with an invisible heavy hand holding it down.
The complete package produces 440 more pounds of downforce at 150 mph than the aero hardware on a standard Camaro SS.
The LS7 roars, barks and cackles as it thrusts the Z/28 around the racing circuit. From the driver's seat, there is little need to watch the thin orange needle of the tachometer sweep past the white numbers on the dial, as the sound and vibration of the engine makes it very clear as to when it's time to shift. Maximum torque hits at 4,800 rpm, with horsepower peaking at 6,100 rpm, but my internal gyroscopes tell me to shift at about 6,000 rpm – a number I can hit reliably without looking at the tach. Flicking the short-throw lever between third and fourth (and occasionally down to second) quickly becomes a second-nature operation that never results in a missed shift or grinding. I have no complaints about the Tremec TR6060.
Over the years, I've driven on dozens of racetracks in over 100 different vehicles, and the impression each machine leaves is as unique as a fingerprint. The best quickly earn my confidence with an easily modulated throttle, a firm brake pedal and a stable, balanced platform in the corners. Others are lousy on a road circuit and I quickly toss back the keys.
It doesn't take but a half-dozen hot laps at Barber to realize that this Z/28 is the real deal – essentially a street-legal racecar. Despite the abuse of relentless full throttle, consistent ABS braking and high-g cornering, the engine oil would stay cool, the tires would wear perfectly level and nary a warning light dared illuminate on the dash. Only an empty fuel tank would bring me in.
It doesn't take but a half-dozen hot laps at Barber to realize that this Z/28 is the real deal – essentially a street-legal racecar.
In addition to a full day on the track, I spent half-a-day tooling around on public roads. The Z/28's ride is understandably nowhere nearly as plush as the base 1LS, and the ZL1 feels comfortable in comparison (thanks to its MagneRide suspension), but I'd never call it punishing. The engine is very tractable around town, the steering feels great and the high performance brakes work well even when cold. The big concern, in terms of daily driving, are the R-compound tires that are noisy and lack grip at low temperatures (when they do heat up, their sticky tread clutches and then launches pebbles noisily into the wheel wheels). I suggest that owners invest in a second set of wheels, with more suitable rubber, for commuting.
The coupe is nearly perfect on the racing circuit, but not perfectly flawless. My criticisms, if asked to lodge a few, focus on the thick A-pillar and exterior mirror which limit forward visibility when turning into the corners, the Recaro seats which don't hold my six-foot, two-inch frame as tightly as I would like, and the LS7's obvious appetite for premium unleaded ("Gasoline is yummy," Stielow proclaimed with a big grin). While those are all subjective grumbles, easily overlooked, I am sure others are actively questioning where the Z/28 fits in the big picture.
Considering its track-focused mission, Camaro Z/28 is an oddity in Chevrolet's lineup – and in the automotive marketplace, to be more accurate. Short of a Porsche GT3 or a Nissan GT-R Nismo, there are no other street-legal vehicle as track-focused currently for sale in the United States (and those mentioned are nearly twice the price). In terms of a direct competitor, one has to go back nearly 15 years to find the 2000 Ford SVT Mustang Cobra R, an equal departure from its mainstream siblings, to fully comprehend what the team at Chevrolet is presenting. The Ford was $55,845 at the time, a figure equally as astonishing to Mustang loyalists, but it was the ultimate performance variant designed for a select few – just like today's Z/28. In inflation-adjusted dollars, the Cobra R's price tag is almost exactly the same as this Camaro, yet the Z/28 is more capable (Ford offers nothing as track proficient today).
"Nobody asked me to make it cheap; they asked me to make it fast."
At more than $75,000, Chevrolet's new track star certainly isn't cheap, but I would argue that it's a bargain – especially when people acknowledge that some of the world's greatest supercars (at any price) aren't as adept on a road course. When I asked Mark Stielow about the Z/28's jaw-dropping sticker price, his reply was far from apologetic."Nobody asked me to make it cheap; they asked me to make it fast." After a day on the racetrack with the Camaro Z/28, it's obvious that he and his team have accomplished that goal – exceptionally well.
New Car Test Drive
American muscle car gets freshened look and high-powered Z/28.
The 2014 Chevrolet Camaro features updated and the addition of a high-powered Z/28 model, keeping its place as the best-looking American muscle car currently on the market.
Changes for the 2014 model year include a new front fascia with a lower, wider front grille and new headlights. In the rear, there's a new spoiler, redesigned exhaust tips and new single-piece taillights, replacing the old double-rectangle design found on the current Corvette Stingray). New Recaro sport seats are optional on Camaro SS and Camaro ZL1 models.
The Camaro Z/28 is a track-ready, super high-performance variant that weighs about 300 pounds less than the Camaro ZL1. The Z/28 is powered by a 7.0-liter V8 that makes a hearty 500 horsepower and 470 pound-feet of torque. It's paired exclusively with a 6-speed manual transmission and uses a race-inspired suspension. Carbon ceramic brakes and performance tires come standard. The interior is no-frills: Standard Z/28 models come without air conditioning (though it can be added as an option), and a spartan audio system that includes only one speaker.
Camaro LS and Camaro LT models continue with a 3.6-liter V6 that makes 323 horsepower and 278 pound-feet of torque. A 6-speed manual transmission is standard and a 6-speed automatic is optional. In terms of power, the V6 can pretty much pass for a V8, a bonus for the price. EPA fuel economy ratings are modest for its class, at 17/28 mpg City/Highway with the manual transmission and 19/30 mpg city/highway with the automatic.
Camaro convertibles are equipped like the coupes but feature a power soft top fitted with acoustical foam in the headliner to minimize noise with the top up.
Camaro SS uses the 6.2-liter V8 from the outgoing Corvette, good for 400 hp and 410 lb.-ft. of torque with a 6-speed automatic, or 426 hp and 420 lb.-ft. with a 6-speed manual gearbox. The Camaro SS uses firmer shocks, springs and anti-roll bars than do the V6 models, but the ride doesn't suffer for it. A limited-slip rear differential is included to reduce wheel spin when trying to put all that power down.
The uber-high-performance Camaro ZL1 uses a supercharged version of the 6.2-liter V8 good for a whopping 580 hp and 556 lb.-ft. of torque. It can accelerate from zero to 60 in 3 seconds flat with a top speed of 184 mph. While testing at Germany's famed Nurburgring racetrack, Chevrolet factory drivers set a lap record with the ZL1, beating the Porsche 911 GT3. At $55k the ZL1 is cheap, given its level of performance.
We found the handling, ride and brakes to be excellent in both the Camaro LT with the V6 and the Camaro SS with the big V8, although the SS suspension is stiffer and its 20-inch tires are firmer. Inside, the cabin is quiet, so 80 mph feels more like 70. Interior materials are good, but the instrumentation is disappointing, with GM trying to be retro rather than clean with gauges.
Perhaps the Camaro's biggest drawback is its lack of driver visibility, due it its high beltline and relatively small windows. Up front, the view is compromised by the long hood and raked windshield. Rearward visibility over the driver's shoulder is hampered by the low, slanted roofline.
Competitors to the Chevrolet Camaro include American pony cars Dodge Challenger and Ford Mustang, each with high-performance versions. Those looking for performance and sporty handling at an attainable price should also consider the Scion FR-S or Hyundai Genesis Coupe.
The 2014 Camaro 1LS ($24,550) comes with the 3.6-liter V6 and a 6-speed manual transmission. Standard features include cloth upholstery, manually operated air conditioning, manually adjustable front seats with power recline, power windows, power locks, power mirrors, keyless entry, cruise control, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, six-speaker audio system with CD player, satellite radio capability and auxiliary audio jack, Bluetooth phone connectivity, OnStar with turn-by-turn route guidance for six months and 18-inch wheels. Camaro 2LS ($25,750) comes with the automatic transmission. (All prices are Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Prices, which do not include destination charge, and can change at any time without notice.)
Camaro 1LT ($26,850) adds eight-way power front seats, remote start (on models with the automatic transmission), Chevrolet's MyLink interface with 7-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth audio streaming, USB port and foglamps. Camaro 2LT ($30,050) includes leather upholstery, heated front seats, a head-up display, a 9-speaker Boston Acoustics audio system, rear parking sensors, rearview camera, heated outside mirrors, auto-dimming mirrors and 19-inch alloy wheels.
Camaro 1SS ($34,350) and 2SS ($38,150) feature the 6.2-liter V8 and are equipped similarly to the 1LT and 2LT respectively, plus a leather-wrapped steering wheel, limited slip differential, special exterior trim and a sport-tuned suspension. The SS 1LE Performance Package features 285/35ZR20 Goodyear Eagle Supercar performance summer tires, upgraded suspension with front and rear stabilizer and a 3.91 final-drive axle ratio.
Convertibles are equipped similarly to the coupes and include the 1LT, 2LT, 1SS and 2SS trims.
Camaro ZL1 ($55,355) adds a supercharger to the 6.2-liter V8 to get a mind-bending 580 hp and 556 lb.-ft. of torque. Added features include with traction control, magnetic ride control, big Brembo brakes, retuned power steering and unique 20-inch wheels. Front and rear fascias are slightly different than other models, and genuine carbon fiber is used for the extractor on the hood. Interior upholstery is suede-like microfiber with red accent stitching and a smaller, flat-bottomed steering wheel.
Camaro Z/28 ($72,305) is powered by a 500-hp, 7.0-liter V8 and is available in both coupe and convertible body styles. Standard models do not include air conditioning, and the spartan audio system has only one speaker. Track-worthy performance features like a race-oriented suspension, carbon ceramic brakes and special lightweight 19-inch wheels with performance tires.
Safety equipment on all Camaros includes electronic stability control with traction control, anti-lock brakes, frontal airbags, front side airbags, and side curtain airbags. A rearview camera is optional.
This latest-generation Camaro captures the look of the original '67, though it's bigger in every dimension: longer, wider and taller. For 2014, changes include a new front fascia with a lower, wider front grille and new headlights.
The shapely strong hips stand out, like the long hood, an edgy element the designer is most proud of, because they took so much work. The rigid B-pillar is blacked-out, thus creating a clean outline for the side glass, blending into a handsome hardtop roofline. The short rear deck climbs upward and looks hot.
Viewed from the rear, and especially from above, the lines suggest the 1963 fastback split-window Corvette. Revisions for 2014 include a new spoiler, redesigned exhaust tips and new single-piece taillights, replacing the old double-rectangle design that like found on the current Corvette Stingray.
Convertibles have a reinforced frame, with additional branding that helps it handle more like the coupe. Chevrolet says the convertible chassis is rigid enough that the suspension didn't need to be changed from the coupe, and that the Camaro convertible has more torsional stiffness than the BMW 3 Series convertible.
The cabin of the Chevrolet Camaro is oriented more around style than function. The standard cloth bucket seats are good, although the bolstering isn't fully there for hard cornering. It's a tough compromise to make, given the spectrum of Camaro buyers. The low bolsters make getting in and out of the Camaro easier. Excellent leather upholstery is available in black, gray, beige and two-tone Inferno Orange, and interior materials are good.
The front seat slides 8.5 inches and the steering wheel tilts and telescopes, so drivers of all sizes will fit. The stitched leather wrap on the steering wheel is nice; the ZL1 uses a smaller, race-inspired flat-bottomed wheel.
A recessed speedometer and tachometer are set in square housings, a nod to the classic Camaro interior. Between those two big gauges is a driver information center controlled via a stalk on the steering column.
The climate control buttons on the center stack appear to have been designed for looks, and thus aren't as functional as they could or should be. An optional console-mounted gauge package includes oil pressure, oil temperature, volts and transmission fluid temperature. The information is good, although the location down by the driver's knee makes it difficult to see while driving.
The windows are small and the A-pillars are wide, so it makes the cabin feel a bit cave-like. Visibility through the windshield is compromised by the long hood and raked windshield, although careful location of the driver's seat helps. Rear visibility over the driver's shoulder isn't very good, but then it's impossible to make it good with a roofline this sporty.
The trunk is deep, but the opening isn't large and it's almost flat. This compromise is worth it for the handsome rear deck. There's a pass-through to the trunk behind the rear seat, which isn't easy to crawl into, and feels like a pit.
Rear-seat legroom measures 29.9 inches, a distinction, as few cars today break below that 30-inch mark. You'll want to avoid riding in the back seat.
The convertible's soft top is made of thick, durable canvas. An acoustical headliner material is designed to provide a quiet, coupe-like ride when the top is up, and the soft top incorporates a glass rear window and rear window defogger. The power folding convertible top retracts in about 20 seconds. It folds in a simple Z-pattern and latches with a single handle located at the center of the windshield header. The transmission doesn't have to be in Park for the top to be activated, allowing fast lowering while stopped at a red light, or when it starts raining in a dead-stop traffic jam.
The Camaro chassis is well-engineered. The rigid structure makes the turn-in precise for a car this size; the grip is secure, and the damping is solid and supple, with both the V6 (FE2 suspension) and firmer V8 (FE3). The front suspension uses struts, and the rear is an independent multi-link that's rubber isolated.
The Camaro is a hefty car, 3860 pounds for the V8 and 3800 for the V6, so the handling couldn't be called nimble, just secure and satisfying. The new Mustang is nearly 300 pounds lighter, and feels it.
We never encountered a harsh moment with the ride, in either the LT or the SS. We spent week in a 426-hp SS in the Pacific Northwest, and before that one day driving east of San Diego, where we had the chief designer, Canadian Gene Stafanyshyn, riding shotgun and giving us the backstory. He's the guy you can thank for the true programming of the TAPshift manual automatic transmission. It does what you tell it to do, nothing more. We love that. Stafanyshyn said he too hates manual automatic transmissions that shift on their own.
One especially nice thing about the transmission is that when you're in sixth gear on the freeway and lightly accelerate, it won't kick down when it doesn't need to. It uses its sufficient torque.
The Camaro LT with its 3.6-liter V6 shines. The Chevy V6 sounds sweet and gets 30 miles per gallon highway with the 6-speed automatic and optional 2.92 rear axle ratio. With the standard 3.27 gear, it accelerates from 0-60 mph in 5.9 seconds, and will do the quarter mile in 14.4 seconds, which is quick in anyone's book.
The LT will also stop from 60 mph in 128 feet according to GM, but we've heard of the Camaro stopping much shorter in editorial testing. Surprisingly, the SS with its four-piston Brembo brakes doesn't do much better, but the Brembos can be used harder without fade. And the vented rotors are huge, 14 inches front and 14.4 inches rear on the SS, compared to the LT's matching fronts and 11.8-inch rears.
The V6 LT with a 6-speed manual gearbox is the most versatile sporty engine-transmission matchup. The gearbox is smooth if not buttery, and easily shifts down into first gear for hairpin turns. Chevrolet says the throws are short, yet there's a Hurst short-throw shifter available as a dealer option. We'd take it. We tested one in the Shelby Mustang, and it made a world of difference.
The Camaro SS is humongous fast, so if you're driving it hard, you're deep into the danger zone with the law or you're on a race track. Its throaty exhaust turns heads. The SS with the manual transmission and 426-horsepower engine revs to 6600 rpm, while the automatic with its 400 horsepower only revs to an underachieving 6000.
It's hard to say who wins the perennial muscle-car battle between the Camaro, Mustang GT, and Dodge Challenger; those with a favorite aren't likely to change their minds. But a battle of the stats gives the Mustang the edge, with its beautiful new 32-valve 5.0-liter engine. We think it's more enjoyable to drive, too. The Mustang wins the pounds-per-horsepower battle, 8.7 to 9.1 (412/3580 vs. 426/3860), but the Camaro SS still wins in the quarter-mile, 13.0 to 13.2. Not that two tenths of a second makes any difference in how much you enjoy your car. We love all three of these cars, so our advice is to choose the one you like the best. You can't go wrong.
The Chevrolet Camaro offers all the classic benefits of a Camaro: striking lines, powerful engines, great transmissions, superb handling and ride and great prices. Interior visibility is limited and the back seats are not for adults, and many interior touches are more for form than function.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Sam Moses reported after his test drive of the Chevrolet Camaro in the Pacific Northwest, with Laura Burstein reporting from Los Angeles.
Camaro Coupe 1LS ($24,550); Coupe 2LS ($25,750); Coupe 1LT ($26,850); Coupe 2LT ($30,050); Coupe 1SS ($34,350); Coupe 2SS ($38,150); Camaro ZL1 ($55,355); Camaro Z/28 ($72,305).
Options As Tested
Chevrolet Camaro Coupe 2SS ($38,150).
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