The snow was flying towards the windshield with such fury that we appeared to be traveling at warp speed through a tunnel of stars. Our Camaro’s dashboard was aglow with sci-fi accent lighting and LCD screens; a wealth of data was laid out before me, but I’d mainly been paying attention to the temperature readout which was steadily ticking down towards 32 degrees as we climbed higher into the Rockies. Suddenly the wet road became stuck with fresh snow, an endless ribbon of white static in the headlights. No other cars had passed here for some time, no tracks to follow. My face may have appeared fairly calm, but my death grip on the steering wheel and butt cheeks furiously clenching at the cushioning in the Recaro seat more accurately described how I felt about crossing the Continental Divide, in November, in a car with 455 lb/ft of torque connected to the rear wheels.
Full disclosure: Chevrolet wanted me to drive the new 2016 Camaro so badly they asked writer Andrew Maness to come drive it on the Find New Roads tour and he invited me to come along, because he is a nice man. Chevy paid for airfare, hotels, gas, coffee, carbohydrates, meats, etc.
As we plowed ahead, my fears started to melt away. With proper winter tires, our 2016 Camaro SS was as docile and friendly in the snow as a St. Bernard with a little barrel of brandy around its neck. Honestly, over the 1,014 miles of varied driving we racked up across the Pacific Northwest in just 36 hours, I don’t think we found a single thing the Camaro couldn’t do well.
Rewind about 24 hours: the starting point for my experience on the Chevrolet Find New Roads tour was Bozeman, Montana. Once the drive began, Andrew and I would have around 36 hours to get to Seattle, Washington, using whatever route we liked. Andrew flew in from Los Angeles, I came in from Brooklyn. We met at the hotel and, having the whole afternoon to kill, we borrowed a rather nice new Silverado and went exploring around the area. Found some train tracks. If Andy decides to drop the hottest rustic singer-songwriter track of 2016, I think we got the shot.
Outside the hotel the next morning, ten new 2016 Camaros sat in a row, engines idling. An even split of five SS’s, and five V6s, some auto, some stick. Upstairs I was drinking coffee with about 20 other journalists; we all had to sit through a slideshow about the 2016 Camaro’s key metrics before we’d get to leave. Which car we’d be leaving in would be determined by a random key drawing just prior to our departure. I doubt anyone was psyched to fly across the country to drive a rental car. The tension was thick.
The 2016 Camaro is completely new. It’s smaller in every dimension, and through extensive use of aluminum, this new sixth generation Camaro achieves a 200 pound weight savings over the car it replaces. That’s a pretty big deal. The Gen 5 Camaro was a little husky, especially when compared to the S197 Mustang. Now it’s a fair fight.
If you cheese out and buy a base 2016 Camaro, it will come with only four cylinders, the same 275 hp 2.0 liter turbo mill found in the Cadillac CTS. The new 3.7 liter V6 is all new, though, and good for 330 horsepower. But, let’s be honest: if you are a living, breathing human being, there is not a question, only an answer: the 455 horsepower and matching 455 lb/ft of torque from the mighty 6.2 liter LT1 found in the Corvette, now standard in the SS. Chevy claims a four second flat run to sixty in an SS with the 8-speed automatic. Ruthless. No stock Mustang GT can keep up with that.
Still, I wasn’t particularly interested in the automatic. I would have been happy hooning the V6 for a day and a half as long as it had a stick and three pedals. The hat came around. Andrew took a deep breath and pulled out a set of keys.
Thank you sweet 6.2 liter baby Jesus. We got the SS, with a 6-speed manual. And it was black.
Our SS was fitted with Brembo brakes, magnetic ride suspension, and likely every other conceivable option. My daily driver back in Brooklyn is a black 2012 Mustang GT Premium, so if any Camaro could turn my Ford heart, it should be this exact one. Andrew and I threw our crap in the trunk, waved goodbye to Jalopnik’s Andrew Collins and Mike Roselli and their stupid V6 (at least it was a stick, right fellas?) and got the hell out of there.
Once you’ve correctly decided not to take the direct route on the freeway, the choices you can make for getting from Bozeman to Seattle are vast. I was born in Idaho and grew up in Pocatello and Boise, so I knew the southern route well. Going down there might mean warmer temperatures and less weather, but less payoff in the majestic grandeur department. Going straight west across the Lolo National Forest via Highway 12 is perhaps one of the greatest drives in Idaho, but I’d done it before. Andrew suggested we go up north to Helena, Montana’s state capital. From there, getting across the mountains would take us both into uncharted territory. That sounded good to me. After all, we were supposed to #findnewroads, right?
On the drive up to Helena, we swapped seats a bit and got to know the car. While the interior is still a little gimmicky (the giant binnacle around the instrument cluster is ridiculous, you guys) the 2016 Camaro is a much nicer place to be than the Gen 5. I know the common complaint with the Camaro is that it’s easier to see out of a WWII bomb shelter but the visibility never bothered me. I really liked the center nav stack. It was easy to read and use. When there should be a button, it has one. When you expect to use the touch screen, you can.
There’s a lot of tech built into the Camaro (including an always-on 4G wifi connection) and Chevy did a great job making it all easy to understand and use. Top honors for user experience go to the climate control scheme. To raise or lower the temperature on your side of the car, just grab the vent closest to you and twist. Neat.
The flat-bottomed steering wheel felt nice and chunky. It’s smaller than the wheel in my Mustang, which, upon my return to New York, felt like it came out of a city bus.
The clutch pedal was light, and the shifter immediately likable. Honestly, anything is better than the stock Ford shifter in my Mustang, which is literally held together with zip ties and feels like a box of gummy worms at high RPMs. That’s why I installed an aftermarket shifter, an MGW, one the most overbuilt units you’ve ever seen. The stock shifter in the Camaro SS felt just as short and direct as the MGW, and just as precise at least in regular street driving and some full power acceleration runs. Pretty impressive.
We made Helena for lunch. From there, we could either get on I-90 and join the herd of tractor trailers heading west, or, keep heading north. The legendary Going-To-The-Sun Road in Glacier National Park was closed for the season, but US-2, which cuts right through the park a little further south, was still open for business. The plan was hatched: we’d head north to Browning, then go West on US-2 to Kalispell. If we didn’t screw around too much, we’d probably be in the thick of things in one of the most beautiful places in the country right at the golden hour.
The drive up to Browning via US-287 and US-89 was clear and cold. Along the way, we got into some nice switchbacks. The Camaro has three basic driving modes: Tour, Sport, and Track. These aren’t just some bullshit “make the steering heavier” settings (although that is part of it). This is the suspension system from the current Camaro ZL1 and therefore it actually does something useful. Select Track mode and the magnetic ride shocks on the SS immediately firm up. After that the SS cornered so flat, and with so much grip, that going around 35 mph corners at speeds far in excess of the posted limit actually became a little dull.
The performance dynamics available in Track mode are probably best explored on a track (and I’d like to test that theory someday) but one feature of Track mode is welcome anytime: the exhaust is opened fully, giving the SS some real public speaking chops. I still want more noise, but, I’m used to the unrestricted side exit BOSS 302 pipes I put on my Mustang. For most people, it’s plenty.
Partial credit for the immense cold weather grip goes to the brand new Pirelli Sottozero 3 tires. These are not the tires the SS ordinarily comes with. Chevy had just installed this extreme high performance winter rubber the day before, wisely anticipating some knuckleheads might drive drive way north and get into some weather. We were about to be those knuckleheads. Thanks, Chevy.
As we got closer to Glacier, we could see the majestic Rocky Mountains rise above us, the snowy peaks disappearing into the white skies. Bursts of sunlight poked through the clouds, teasing us with the golden light we were chasing. NOICE. We thought it would be a good idea if we got our hotel booked before we entered Glacier in case we lost touch with civilization. Chevy had told us to book our rooms through the OnStar service in the car to make it easy. Hmmm. I like to imagine OnStar is a personal concierge at my fingertips, a magical button offering limitless possibilities. In reality pushing the OnStar button simply summoned the skeptical voice of a tired person in a call center who loudly joined us in the car for a while and made us feel bad for needing something. Also, some very loud beeps.
Inside Glacier National Park, immensely tall trees lined the highway, hinting at the scale of giant mountains hovering above us. The scenery did not disappoint, but the weather was not looking nearly as friendly as we’d hoped. Instead of the golden sunset we asked for we were instead given an ominously dark gray sky spitting out a cold, driving rain. As we climbed higher, the daylight surrendered to the darkness, and the rain gave way to large, wet snowflakes. This is the part of the drive described above in the opening sentences; a few solid hours of butt clenchage (new word) ensued, but we survived the crossing the Continental Divide in the Camaro SS. After a few more hours of hammer-down highway time we got to our overnight destination of Spokane, Washington. The next morning we planned to follow a tip we got from my friend Pico in Bozeman: she described an amazing place for photos not far from Spokane. So we washed the SS, got a bite to eat, and I instantly fell asleep.
The next day we got moving at dawn. Again, it was overcast, so there wasn’t a massive hurry to chase the morning light. We headed out towards the spot outside Spokane that my friend had told me about. If the location was anywhere near as good as this breakfast sandwich I ate on the way (really more of a sausage burger on a biscuit with bacon) then this was going to be a good morning indeed.
The location was incredible. Perhaps the most fun I’ve had shooting photos of a car, ever. We found ourselves on a five mile long scenic loop that wound through beautiful scene after scene, and we didn’t see a single other person all morning. Thanks to the cloudy skies, the fog hung around for hours, too. Just awesome.
After spending hours doing photos of the car and just breathing in the air, we realized that we had to make some time if we were going to deliver the Camaro to the Seattle-Tacoma airport by 4:30. We still were determined to not use the interstate highways, however, so we chose US-2 to traverse the rest of the state. On this drive, we were more interested in the straight line abilities of the Camaro, an area in which our SS was rather talented.
The day before, we had discovered the part of the menu in which the Camaro SS’s performance timers lived, particularly the 0-60 timer. Game on. Zero to 60 in the manual transmission SS was advertised at 4.3 seconds; I had managed a 4.7 in Montana, but that was at elevation (or maybe I just suck). The motor unquestionably just kept feeling healthier and healtier as we approached Seattle however. It’s a fun contest to have even if you lose, and on one perfect stretch of asphalt Andy managed to throw down the 4.3 Chevy advertised. On snow tires. Chevy wasn’t lying.
But the SS with the 8-speed automatic is claimed to be three tenths quicker. Why? Surely they could find someone who can shift? It’s probably down to the rear end gearing. The SS felt like it’s got some pretty tall, conservative gears back there. By comparison, my Mustang’s 5.0 V8 is down at least 30 horsepower and 80 lb/ft of torque on the LT1, but with the optional, very short 3.73 gears (standard on the BOSS 302) my butt dyno tells me the Mustang is just as fast. It might not be, but if feels like it is. Of course, the LT1 makes enough torque to reverse the rotation of the Earth, so it needs the right gears, but I can’t help feeling that this Camaro SS could have just a little more punch.
Naturally, there is room built into the Camaro food chain for a more hardcore performance version of the Camaro. That car is surely coming. For now, this SS is a very hard car to complain about. The interior is sorted, the tech game is on point, and with 6.2 liters of power and the available track manners of the ZL1 at the touch of a button, it’s incredibly capable right out of the box.
So would I replace my 2012 Mustang GT with this new Camaro? Well, the new Chevy is unquestionably a nicer car. I’d love to take the SS out on a track and see how it feels, but based on how capable it appears to be on the road I suspect the sixth generation Camaro will be a popular sight at track days from now on. It’s really a great machine.
I feel that we just scratched the surface of what it can do on our little road trip. And Andrew may have completely melted down what was left of the snow tires to get these photos. Maybe it doesn’t need those shorter gears, after all.
Originally published on puppyknuckles.com
Sincere thanks to Andrew Maness aka The Road Less Driven, and Monte Doran and Kevin Rose at Chevrolet