Name a car that can lap a racetrack faster than a Corvette ZR1, Nissan GTR, or any Ferrari. One that proved it can embarrass the expensive competition on track is the affordable Chevrolet Camaro. Known for being an affordable muscle car with big style, the current version of the Camaro is a world-class performance sports car bargain. Here’s every reason you need this awesome ride.
It’s been decades since the Camaro used classic – if confusing – trim levels, where you had to know that RS meant base model, and Z28 meant a V8 under the hood. Chevy makes it easier on us by aligning the Camaro with its corporate trim structure, with a few notable additions. From LS base to ZL1 performance, we’ll explain the strengths of each.
LS (since 2017)
All Camaros going back to the 1960s are two-door, rear-wheel drive sporty cars, but the trim levels can make it a wildly different car. While LS is the base, it’s not stripped, and not a total dog like the base Camaro of 20 years ago. This one gets a 2.0-liter four cylinder engine with a turbocharger boosting it up to 275 horsepower. There’s an eight-speed automatic or six-speed manual transmission, rear differential to drive power to both rear wheels, and disc brakes all around. There’s also a sport-tuned suspension, electronic stability control, and dual outlet exhaust tips. Inside, the driver’s seat is power eight-way adjustable, a leather wrapped steering wheel and shift knob are standard, and there’s 4G LTE Wi-Fi capability.
The former base model, LT trim adds features for a more upscale feel. Building on the LS’s features, the LT makes the 335 horsepower 3.6-liter V6 available, paired with either the auto or manual. Toss in Sirius XM satellite radio, 18-inch painted wheels, and a six-way power passenger seat as standard features. That covers most of it, and while that doesn’t seem like much of a difference, the key to the LT is the ability to select more options that aren’t available in LS form, such as the V6, the RS package, or Recaro seats. New for 2020 is the LT1 trim, adding a low cost V8 option without all the SS extras.
If you want to go fast, start here. The SS makes quite a statement with the standard 6.2-liter V8 engine with 455 horsepower. Transmissions are the same six-seed/eight-speed choices, but the rear differential gains an oil cooler and more aggressive axle ratio for quicker acceleration. All that power comes to a stop equally quick, thanks to large Brembo four-piston calipers clamping the pads down on huge rotors. The engine gains an oil cooler as well, and the performance suspension upgrades the sway bars and shocks. You have a choice of several 20-inch wheel options, and the trunk gets a spoiler. Oddly, this is the trim where the sun visors gain illuminated mirrors.
This is the one hyped in the intro, lapping Germany’s famed Nurburgring Nordschleife racetrack faster than much more expensive cars, and hot on the heels of dedicated track warriors like the Porsche 911 GT3 and Dodge Viper ACR. Yes, Camaro ZL1 with the 1LE package is the most expensive Camaro ever made, but it can keep up with, or beat, cars costing more than twice as much. It can do that impressive feat through a number of tech upgrades, most notably the supercharged 6.2-liter V8 making a stout 650 horsepower. The stick is standard, or get the track capable 10-speed auto that shift faster than you can. The suspension gains the famous magnetic ride control, developed for race cars, but used on the street to optimize the ride every thousandth of a second. The Recaro bucket seats are standard, as is wireless charging, and a head-up display showing your vehicle’s information projected onto the windshield a la Iron Man. The 1LE extreme performance package ups the visual punch, with a unique front splitter for downforce, carbon fiber hood and spoiler, and lightweight 19-inch forged wheels wearing summer-only tires.
Looking over the Camaro lineup, there are two obvious bargains for the money, and one that’s flat out cheap. These are two very different cars at different price points.
LT – $16,000 to $22,000
The LT has a bit more visual punch than the LS trim, but also has more of the options that you are probably looking for. From wheels, seat options, colors, and powertrain upgrades, it’s available in an LT. This price range gets you some really nice Camaros in Carvana’s inventory, including ones just a couple years old, with only 15,000 to 40,000 miles.
SS – $22,001 to $28,000
The Camaro SS is a bargain for the amount of power and performance you are getting. It feels, sounds, and goes like a real muscle car, but takes corners and stops like no classic muscle could ever dream of. The SS isn’t as ready to burn down the racetrack as the ZL1, but it’s also way more affordable. An SS on the lower end of this price point is most likely a previous generation car with low miles. That’s a good performer too, but a sixth gen can be had here around the middle of this price range, often with less than 30,000 miles. They’re essentially new, but for $10,000 off MSRP.
There’s a ton of features offered to new Camaro buyers. We’ve touched on some of them, but here is a detailed look at the interesting stuff you can find.
Prior to 2016, the fifth generation Camaro rode on the Zeta chassis, shared with the larger Cadillac CTS. Notable for its quiet ride, it was also heavy, and you could feel the Camaro’s heft in every corner. Redesigned for the 2016 sixth generation, Camaro now rides on the smaller Alpha chassis, shared with the Cadillac ATS. This makes for a Camaro 200 lbs lighter than the previous version, which increases its ability to turn and handle corners, further distancing Camaro from its sloppy handling classic muscle roots. Sharing parts with the smallest Caddy (and the new CT4) puts Camaro in the same size/weight/performance category as a BMW M4. And yes, SS can beat that too.
Infotainment systems vary widely, from the not-so-loved Cadillac CUE and Lexus Enform, to Chrysler’s award winning UConnect and Tesla’s impressive Linux-based system. Chevrolet’s MyLink system leans toward the better systems, with large, bright, low-glare displays that are easy to use and reliable. Sure, MyLink was terrible back in 2013, but it’s come a long way. Today, it offers Apple, Android, and Windows integration in a full color HD touch screen display. Features include voice command, Bluetooth, steering wheel-mounted system controls, satellite radio, OnStar, and a hard drive for storing music.
Lux & Tech
Twenty years ago, Camaro luxury and technology features started at leather seats and ended with a CD player. That was also the entire list. Now there’s everything from park assist, to a head-up display, power sunroof, and nine-speaker Bose sound system. There’s also an eight-way power driver’s seat, heated/ventilated front seats, dual-zone climate control, and neat illuminated door sills. If you can find features you love in a similarly priced crossover, odds are you can find those features here.
The Options have Options
Know what you won’t find in a modern crossover? Powertrain options. Look at the hot selling Toyota RAV4, with its sole combination of four cylinder attached to an automatic. Want something else? RAV4 says too bad, but Camaro offers lots of alternatives. Sure, Camaro offers the same 2.0L/auto as the RAV4, but also offers it with a manual for drivers that want to shift their own gears. Then there’s the V6, also with auto or manual. And in a world where V8s are quickly disappearing, it’s startling to see a car that offers two of them, again, auto or manual. Then there’s the 1LE suspension package that can be added to any 2019+ trim level (previously limited to V6 and V8). That’s the same trim-wide availability as the convertible. When searching used Camaros, find one with the exact options you want, because it’s out there.
An auto reviewer favorite, mainly because of the way it drives. Sure, the Camaro looks good and has plenty of features, but driving it home or down a twisty country road will put a smile on your face.
Car & Driver gave an impressive 4.5/5, praising the “Excellent V-6 and V-8 engines, track-focused 1LE package delivers race-car capability, intuitive infotainment.” Negatives include the painful back seat, poor outward visibility, and the opinion that it’s “not as visually stunning as the Ford Mustang.” Echoing this review, they ended with, “An incredible performance value that includes a version for everyone.” Camaro earned a spot on their exclusive “10 best Cars” list for 2016 and 2017.
Consumer Reports gave a high 85/100 road test score, and gave praise worthy of a BMW coupe: “The Camaro possesses impressive handling agility and sharp steering. The optional magnetic ride suspension does an impressive job of keeping the Camaro composed over some of the roughest surfaces. The manual shifter has light, precise throws.” It’s not all love though, as they cited the typical gripes, “Outward visibility is downright atrocious, and rear-seat room is extremely tight.”
Motor Trend enjoyed it so much they awarded Camaro their coveted “Car of the Year” award. They liked the steering feel and lively handling, noting how livable it is as an everyday car, but also commenting on the impressive performance when run hard. “Chevy has done the near impossible, transcended the genre, and turned a once provincial pony car into an honest to goodness world-class sports car.”
The Camaro’s fuel economy isn’t the first item discussed for a reason: many buyers simply don’t care, or its 10th on their list of priorities. Fortunately, the Camaro can return solid MPG numbers when optioned properly. If the price of gas is a big issue for you, here’s what to look for.
The best Camaro fuel economy is, of course, found with the smallest engine. The turbo 2.0-liter is no lethargic economy car engine, instead offering the best compromise of V8 power and four cylinder fuel sipping. Get one with the eight-speed auto, keep your foot out of it, and this version of the Camaro returns 31 MPG highway. The city rating is 22 MPG, and the manual transmission reduces those numbers by 1 MPG, because you aren’t as efficient at shifting versus modern autos.
The V6 isn’t bad either, especially considering it is 80% larger and delivers 60 more horses. The EPA says you should see 19 MPG city, and 29 MPG highway with the 3.6L/auto combination, while the manual adds fun but decreases the MPG numbers to 16 city, 27 highway.
No one really buys a V8 sports car for the gas mileage. If you’re interested though, the SS does an admirable job for a car with over 450 horsepower. The SS’s 10-speed auto is super-efficient, and lets the car match the V6 at 27 MPG highway. Things aren’t as good around town, earning 16 MPG. Getting an SS with a stick doesn’t hurt the city fuel economy, still at 16 MPG, but does take a hit on the highway, down to 24 MPG. It’s no Honda Civic, but those aren’t “drain your wallet” numbers like a classic carbureted big block Camaro.
All Camaro fuel tanks hold 19 gallons, meaning you have a theoretical maximum range of 475 miles with the turbo four/auto. One thing to note: most Camaro trims need premium gasoline, 91 octane or higher. Chevy says only the V6 burns cheaper 87 octane “regular” gas. While the turbo four returns higher numbers, the V6 is the best bet if fuel costs are your main concern.
The Camaro’s reputation is as a bargain performer, it’s a lot of fun, for not a lot of money. Other attributes include attractive, fast, and lately, solid handling through corners. But the Camaro isn’t a Toyota Corolla, with a sterling reputation for essentially never breaking down. While reliability isn’t Camaro’s strong point, it’s not necessarily an unreliable car.
The Chevy Camaro earns a predicted reliability score of 2 out of 5 from Consumer Reports. That is lower than average, but they did not list why. CR takes tech fumbles into consideration for reliability, so it could be the early MyLink frustration clouding the score. CR also reports owner satisfaction at 5 out of 5, so reliability concerns seem to be forgiven by owners.
JD Power lists the Camaro at 81/100, the highest score in its class. The Camaro’s Quality & Reliability score is 79/100, enough to earn JD Power’s Great rating.
RepairPal collects data on repaired vehicles, noting how often and how expensive vehicles are to maintain. Based on their data, RepairPal gives the Camaro a reliability rating of 4 out of 5, above average. The site says Camaro owners can expect an average of 0.4 repairs per year, with only a 13% chance of the repair being costly.
A factory warranty can often negate any reliability worries, as you can have a vehicle fixed for free at an authorized service center. Chevrolet offers an industry standard warranty for Camaro, with bumper-to-bumper coverage for the first three years or 36,000 miles. The powertrain receives the longer five-year, 60,000 mile warranty, covering engine, transmission, and such. Odds are, you can find a Camaro in Carvana’s inventory with the factory warranty still in effect.
The Camaro scores overall five stars from NHTSA, but let’s take a closer look. The frontal score shows 4 out of 5, for both the driver and passenger. It scores higher in side impact tests, earning five stars for driver and front passenger. The feds say there is almost no rollover risk, with a projected 8% rollover risk during emergency maneuvers, which is another five-star score.
The IIHS performs a series of similar but different tests, and came up with almost all of their highest Good scores. The IIHS’s dummy was having a better day here, as the Camaro aced the front impact tests. The IIHS’s crashworthiness scores include testing the small overlap front: driver-side, and moderate overlap front. The dummy showed very minor injuries, earning the Good score. Side impact tests showed the same results, and earned the same Good score. Roof strength rated Acceptable, able to resist a peak force of over 13,000 lbs. Head restraints and seats scored Good, while the new category of active crash prevention systems scored only Basic. Note for those with little ones, the IIHS reported Camaro’s child seat anchors are easy to find, but require too much force to latch.
In a way, safety is built into the design here, more than your average car. Those small windows that earn negative reviews for visibility are also what helps protect you in a collision (smaller windows = more bodywork, and metal is obviously stronger than glass). The Camaro is a tank, in a good way.
Google Camaro seating capacity and you’ll get the highlighted result, “Seats 4.” What that really means is two adults up front and two kids in back. The Camaro is a comfy cruiser up front, ready for road trips, but it’s not an everyday hauler for a family of four.
Headroom is 38.5 inches up front (the same as a Genesis G70), and 33.5 inches rear. Legroom is similarly skewed forward, with 44 inches up front (more than a Honda Accord), and 30 inches in back. There are jokes that “the rear seats are only there for insurance purposes” (two-seat sports cars typically have higher insurance), but the Camaro’s rear seats are usable with some limitations.
First, know that the front driver and passenger height will determine the rear legroom. For example, a 6’5″ driver fits comfortably up front, but needs to set the seat back, which makes the rear seat unusable. Second, the front driver/passenger of any height becomes irrelevant once rear passengers are over 5’3″. The sporty roofline looks great in profile, but reduces rear headroom to the point that you only want middle school and younger back there. Camaro trunk space lists at 9.1 cu-ft for hard top, and 7.3 cu-ft for convertible, about the same as the hybrid Ford Fusion Energi.