Sometimes, in the wasteland that is the rental car lot of the Detroit Metropolitan Airport, fate can smile upon you. Most of the time, however, it doesn’t. When I hopped off of the bus this past Monday, I was confronted by rows and rows of Altimas and Passats, each of them just as base and boring as the next.
I had just resigned myself to a week of paying the automotive price for whatever sins I had recently committed when I noticed a glistening, dripping wet 2016 Camaro being driven slowly into the Emerald Aisle by a lot attendant, practicing his best pimp lean and blasting XM Radio Hip-Hop from the pony car. I didn’t even wait for him to fully exit the car before positioning myself behind the rear bumper, ready to place my bags in the trunk. As I situated myself behind the wheel, I noticed that the Camaro had a whopping five miles on the clock. It looked like I’d be the one responsible for a gentle break-in period.
Moments later, I was sending a Slack video of a I-94 60-100 MPH pull to my TTAC colleagues from the Panzer-like cabin of my V6-powered 1LT Camaro. “Isn’t driving like that in America dangerous?” wondered my friend from the other side of the curtain, Vojta Dobes. Eh, it’s Detroit. The cops have better things to do than pull over speeders.
The 2016 Camaro has been widely lauded by the automotive press as a “revelation,” or some shit like that. They slobbered all over the chance to drive the pre-production car at Belle Isle last year, and the early production model reviews have largely been along the lines of “The new Camaro is here to tell the Mustang to STEP OUTSIDE! OH YEAH!!!!”
Mark Reuss, grand poobah of all things GM America, has been on record in multiple outlets trumpeting his pride about this new 3.6-liter V6 motor, which generates an impressive 335 horsepower. It certainly sounds the business, too. The Camaro is undoubtedly fast in a straight line (Chevy claims a 0-60 time of 5.1 seconds), and even with out of the box tires, it does mind-bending tricks through the on-ramps of Metro Detroit. In fact, with an optioned sticker price of $29,685, it’s quite difficult to make any case at all for 95 percent of the general public to step up to the SS. The V6 is more than strong enough to satisfy most shoppers’ thirst for power—it’s certainly faster than nearly any V8 Camaro that you might have lusted over as a child.
I opted to drive the car in Sport steering, and the feedback that I got from the flat-bottomed wheel in this mode is tough to hate. I even liked the Automatic transmission, which senses aggressive throttle inputs and immediately switches to a “performance” mode. If you want to use the paddles, go for it—on the street, I found just leaving the car in “D” to be more than adequate.
However, while this might be the All-New Whiz-Bang Mustang-Beating Camaro, it’s still a Camaro, and it still likes to do Camaro things.
First of all, you really can’t see a fucking thing when you drive this car. The sightlines forward, back, and rear are perilously bad. It’s a good thing this pony has plenty of muscle, because lane-changing was a downright adventure. I found it best to just flip my signal on and mash the go pedal to the floor. That way, if anybody was next to me, I’d likely manage to avoid them. I will admit that I got somewhat used to the limited visibility after a couple hundred miles behind the wheel, but lobsters have been known to sit in boiling water, too. Doesn’t mean that it’s acceptable.
The backup camera on the Chevrolet MyLink screen resembles nothing so much as the camera images I used to get on my Sony Ericsson T610 camera phone in 2003. The vague blobs that appeared on my screen could have been cars, trash cans, trees, or children. I have no idea.
The back seat is completely and utterly useless. I put my 5’9″ self in the seat behind the driver’s chair, which was also set up for my 5’9″ self, and my knees were buried deep into the cushioning of the poor driver’s back.
The plastics on the dash would be unacceptable in a Chevy Spark, much less a car that costs $30k. Keep in mind, this comes from a guy who daily drives a Fiesta ST. The entire interior is utter crap. There’s just no other way to put it.
The heating and cooling system doesn’t seem to provide much in the way of actual heating or cooling. In theory, you can select a temperature. Doesn’t seem to do much.
Getting in and out of the car was a chore. I couldn’t imagine a day of start-and-stop errands in this thing. My feet scraped the door sills, my knees banged into the doors, and there was no graceful way to enter or exit. You just sort of fall into the car, and then you scramble out of it.
The entertainment system is awful. Apple CarPlay integration was the worst I’ve experienced yet, so much so that I just stopped using it and switched to Bluetooth stereo. The sound produced by the base stereo is akin to using a $10 set of Skullcandy earbuds with an iPhone 4S.
Oh, and did I mention that the tire pressure monitoring system reported a complete failure within three miles? Because it did.
Got all that? Okay, good. Because despite all those annoyances, there’s a truth to the V6 Camaro that bothers me.
It’s still a great car.
Well, scratch that. It’s a great driver. I would never want to deal with it day-to-day. But the combination of the engine, braking (my rental just had the standard brakes, but they were completely sufficient for the road), suspension, and chassis is downright unbeatable at this price point. Yes, that includes the V6 Mustang. I’d love the opportunity to drive one on track soon, because I think it would be a joy to pilot this car around a road course. But at $30K, I’d sacrifice a little bit of performance and go with a hot hatch like the GTI or Focus ST that I could actually live with every day.
The good news for GM is that I don’t think I’m the target customer for this car. While a good number will undoubtedly end up in the rental fleet, I think that the same kids who spent their retail job checks on 3.7-liter Mustangs in 2011 will find this car completely compelling and much more fun to drive.
You hear that, Mustang? You’ve been called out, son!
Sorry, I can’t. I tried.
[Images: © 2016 Bark M./The Truth About Cars]