Patrick Rall's picture

The 2016 Chevrolet Camaro Embraces the V6 Like No Other Muscle Car

I recently spent a week driving the 2016 Chevrolet Camaro 1LT RS Convertible and while I liked a great many aspects of my first CamaroSix experience, I was most impressed by how well General Motors embraces the 3.6L V6 – making their “base mode” muscle car better than the previous version and maybe better than any V6 muscle car before it.
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Before getting into my explanation of why the 2016 Chevrolet Camaro with the V6 is so much fun to drive, I should address the negativity towards non-V8 muscle cars. There are a great many folks in the American performance car world who will insist that American performance cars – particularly muscle cars – should only be powered by V8 engines. Their angle is that muscle cars are made to go fast and to go fast in a proper fashion, an American performance car should be accompanied by the lovely grumble of an 8-cylinder engine.

While those folks may have a point with regards to buyers who are focused on performance above all else, but the fact of the matter is that each year, V8 muscle cars are outsold by non-V8 muscle cars. Over the past five or so years, the V6 version of the Chevrolet Camaro, Ford Mustang and Dodge Challenger has outsold the V8 versions. While the most passionate buyers often opt for the bigger engines, there are far more buyers who want the look and feel of the muscular 2-door coupes, but they don’t have the capacity to appreciate the V8 performance, they don’t want to feed the V8, they don’t want the pricier insurance of the V8, etc.

Different people have different reasons for picking a V6 over a V8 when buying a car like the Chevrolet Camaro, but the reason doesn’t matter. What matters is that the V6 muscle car segment is an important one and with the 2016 Camaro, General Motors has created what is easily their most engaging “base model” muscle car ever.

My test car was a 2016 Camaro 1LT Convertible with the RS package, so it is technically a “base model” convertible with the sporty RS upgrade package (which I would call a must-have). It was powered by the 3.6L V6 mated to the 6-speed manual transmission and equipped with the dual mode exhaust system (also a must-have) and unique bright silver 20” RS-style wheels. When you add in the Technology Package, the black center stripe and the destination fee, my Camaro test car had a price as tested of $39,405.

Loving the Power, Sound of the Camaro V6
While every automaker offers packages that can make their V6 muscle car more engaging, those folks buying base models have been forced to compromise in far more ways than just power. The base V6 cars have historically lacked the chassis and suspension tuning, the larger wheels wrapped in performance tires and the sporty exterior design, and even when a company does offer a package that improves the performance of their V6 models – it isn’t available for the base V6 cars. Even though the majority of people who buy the Camaro or Mustang will opt for something other than a V8, the non-V8 models have historically lacked more than just power when compared to the V8 cars.

2016 camaro low front

Of course, one of the key issues is that in the past, base V6 muscle cars haven’t really packed enough power to offer anywhere near the fun-to-drive factor of their V8 siblings, but with 335 horsepower, the new Camaro has more power than the Nissan 370Z, more power than the V6 or EcoBoost Mustang and only 90 horsepower less than the BMW M4. The 2016 Camaro offers better performance than any of its non-V8 predecessors and when mated to the 6-speed manual transmission, this “base model” muscle car is a blast to drive in any situation.

Acceleration, Shifting
When you launch the 2016 Camaro V6 from a stop, it packs enough power that too much throttle will get the tires spinning, but with proper pedal play, the new Camaro will rip away from the line in a hurry. Even if you dump the clutch a little too hard, the RS wheels/tires are quick to get traction and get the Camaro moving out far quicker than you would expect.

Once you have gotten the V6 Camaro away from the line, the 6-speed transmission is very easy to get quickly from gear to gear, and that is one area where I’ve historically been less impressed with base model muscle cars. Many less powerful muscle cars with manual transmissions have a clutch that has too much play (in order to make driving easier) and a shifter that feels a bit sloppy when working from gear to gear. On the other hand, the shifter/transmission/clutch combo in the V8 muscle cars generally have a far better feel – both in the clutch pedal and when shifting gears. The new V6 Camaro has a feel when shifting more alike the Camaro SS, with a clutch that is user-friendly, but the pedal travel allows for quicker, more spirited shifts. Also, the shifter of the Camaro 1LT has a short-throw feel to it, with little movement from gear to gear and at no point did I have a problem finding the next gear – even when shifting hard during stints of spirited driving.

camaro driver view

In short, the clutch feels more like a proper performance car and less like something that was designed for a remedial driver, while the shifter and transmission have a pattern that is smaller, bolstering the sporty feel when banging through gears. This is really a very minor attribute, but when it comes to making the 2016 Camaro 1LT more fun to drive, the transmission plays a big part. Best of all, when you are just driving the Camaro casually – as in normal daily driving traffic – the 6-speed transmission is very easy on the driver.

In addition to offering strong acceleration from a stop, the 2016 Camaro 1LT with the 3.6L V6 offers just as strong pull through the midrange and even on the top end. When cruising on the highway in 6th gear, the need to speed up to move around slower moving traffic doesn’t require a move to 5th gear, but if you do need to pop down a gear or so – the V6 engine will quickly push the new Camaro well beyond any posted speed limit.

camaro fr 34 low

Will it leave the line or reach top speeds like a Camaro SS? No…but for the majority of drivers who will never “need” a car that runs from 0-60 in under 5 seconds or that will hit 171 miles per hour, the Camaro V6 provides plenty of power to allow the driver to outrun most cars you will come across on the road. It isn’t the quickest or fastest Camaro, but the V6 makes this model quick enough and fast enough to satisfy the needs of most drivers.

A V6 Camaro That Roars
One of my favorite aspects of my 2016 Chevrolet Camaro 1LT Convertible test car was the optional dual mode exhaust – which I would strongly recommend for anyone buying the new V6 Camaro. Although General Motors allowed the 5th gen V6 Camaro to clear its throat a little, the American automakers have typically avoided the higher pitched tone of their V6 engines. While the Japanese and German automakers have long thrilled enthusiasts with the high pitch roar of their high performance small engines, the American V6 muscle cars have been muffled as much as possible. That comes to an abrupt end with the 2016 Camaro, as the V6 engine fitted with the dual exhaust system is – without any doubt – the best-sounding V6 muscle car ever sold. Rather than work to muffle the V6 and kill its character, the new Camaro with the dual mode exhaust embraces the unique tone and the result is a V6 Camaro that announces itself with a lovely roar.

16 camaro rear top down

As soon as you fire up the 2016 Camaro with the V6 engine, the dual mode exhaust creates a low, quiet grumble. It isn’t as loud as the idle of the Camaro SS, but it has far more character than the majority of the whisper-quiet V6 muscle cars. Under light throttle, as in daily driving in traffic or even when cruising on the highway in 6th gear, the dual mode exhaust continues to announce itself, but the “drone” is minimal and little of the exhaust noise makes it into the cabin. However, when you are into the throttle hard – whether ripping away from a stop or when accelerating hard into faster moving highway traffic, the dual mode exhaust is very loud, with a high RPM roar that is more prominent and better-sounding than even many aftermarket V6 exhaust systems I have experienced in person.

The dual mode system allows the Camaro V6 to be as loud as you’d want a muscle car to be when you are letting it stretch its legs, but when you are driving gently, it is much quieter…just not too quiet. This exhaust system allows you to enjoy the roar of your muscle car, but it can also be quiet enough to avoid attracting the attention of the police and without upsetting nosey neighbors. The videos below offer a chance to hear the dual mode exhaust roar under hard throttle.

Buying a base model 2016 Camaro V6 no longer forces drivers to compromise with an overly-soft clutch, a sloppy shifter and a silent exhaust system, as the new Camaro V6 is quicker than ever, it sounds better than ever and the clutch/shifter combo provides a better feel than past base model muscle cars.

Handling and Ride Quality
Handling has traditionally been another area where many base model V6 muscle cars have suffered when compared to their V8 counterparts and with the huge Brembo brakes paired with the magnetic ride control system, the 2016 Camaro SS will most certainly offer far better handling and braking abilities than my Camaro 1LT test car. However, where past base model muscle cars have had small wheels with huge sidewall tires, a suspension setup that made them ride like a 4WD and relatively low performance brake systems, the 2016 Camaro suffers from none of those problems.

camaro rear top up

All 2016 Camaro V6 models are fitted with a “Sport suspension system” that gives it a sporty stance over the 20” RS package wheels, but more importantly, this base suspension setup affords the Camaro 1LT excellent cornering abilities. Even when pushing the Camaro through a hard turn, such as when accelerating hard to merge onto the highway from a cloverleaf on-ramp, there is almost no body roll. Once on the highway, the suspension setup of the base Camaro gives the car a very planted feel at higher speeds and it is remarkably stable when performing a quick lane change maneuver. Regardless of the speed at which you are traveling, at no point does the Camaro 1LT feel unstable on the highway, and that stability is extended to more technical back roads.

When coupled with the “sport” setting for the drive mode system, the steering provides a better feel of the road and less power support and the sport suspension setup of the V6 Camaro will let you rip through tight, twisty roads with confidence. Really, the Camaro will begin to understeer when you enter a turn too quickly before you will overcome the abilities of the suspension setup, so even when you are sawing from side to side through a set of tight switchbacks – the Camaro 1LT performs very well. GM lightened up the new Camaro chassis while also making it stiffer, making it more nimble in every situation.

Finally, since most people who buy the 2016 Camaro will spend more time driving normally than pushing their car to the limits, it is important to note that these handling capabilities have been achieved without compromising ride quality. Around town, the little bumps and imperfections in the road are hardly noticeable and when you get out onto the open road at highway speeds, you can feel the roughness in the road, but it doesn’t beat you up. Realistically, this is a sports car and with this type of car, any buyer should expect some harshness in the ride quality – that is part of the muscle car feel. On the other hand, the Camaro is unlike some smaller sports cars that offer a stiff, nimble suspension that will also rattle your teeth loose on a long highway drive.

16 camaro v6 engine

The 2016 Camaro 1LT might not handle as well as the Camaro SS, but the Sport steering mode and the sport suspension setup make the new base model muscle car more fun to drive than any similar models before it – all while still being perfectly comfortable to serve as a great daily driver.

The Best V6 Muscle Car
While there are plenty of people in the muscle car world who will sneer at anyone driving a Camaro that isn’t powered by a V8 and those people will likely always downplay the excellence of a great V6 performance car – but that is exactly what the 2016 Camaro 1LT V6 is.

camaro vert high

This new “base model” Camaro doesn’t pack the big power of the V8, but it offers more fun to drive factor than any V6 muscle car in the past. The 335hp engine makes it the most powerful and the quickest base model muscle car, but the sport suspension, the manual transmission and the dual mode exhaust give this V6 model the feel and the sound that you want from a performance car.

In the past, “settling” for a V6 Camaro meant that you had to compromise on power, handling, attitude and overall fun to drive factor, but the 2016 Camaro 1LT is unquestionably the most engaging base model muscle car that I have ever driven. I suspect that everyone who drives one – even those who insist on only owning V8 cars – will agree.


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Comments

Nice car, other than GM's usual interior missteps. Throw in a Procharger and a tune and this thing might even be fun. Funny, I'm not seeing the V6 option come up on Edmunds. I could probably learn to live with a V6, but a Turbo4 is absolutely a bridge too far.
I was in a car accident last year and rented a convertible V6 Camaro for about two weeks. I have always been the must have a V8 person. I had a blast for two weeks. Car drove great. Everyone that rode with me for those two weeks were pleasantly surprised by the car. In fact I was thinking about renting it for a weekend. 335hp is more than what people think. Whether its the V8 or the V6, 99.9% of the time it's your daily driver anyway. Test one. You'll like it.