2016 Chevrolet Camaro convertible and 4-cylinder first drive


“We were sick of wearing the scarlet letter of mass with the fifth-gen Camaro.”

That’s what Camaro chief engineer Al Oppenheiser told journalists at the launch program for the 2016 Camaro convertible and 4-cylinder.

To reduce mass from the 2010-2015-generation Camaro, Chevrolet switched to the slick Alpha platform already in use on the Cadillac ATS and CTS. “With the Alpha platform, we know we were 225 to 400 pounds lighter, so we shed that scarlet letter right away,” Oppenheiser said.

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Model-for-model, the 2016 Camaro is actually down by at least 223 pounds, but Chevy was able to cut total weight by as many as 390 pounds by going with a 4-cylinder as the base engine. That engine is a turbocharged 2.0-liter that spins out 275 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque while delivering 31 mpg on the highway.

But cutting the top off the coupe to create the convertible required adding weight back in to increase the rigidity of the body. Chevy engineers developed 11 different braces to strengthen the droptop’s platform, using all 11 to deal with the extra weight and power of the available V-8 and fewer for the lighter V-6 and 4-cylinder models.

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Jim Karlavage, Camaro performance engineering manager, says removing the top reduced torsional stiffness by about 35 percent, but those braces add 15 percent back in. In total, the new convertible is 10 percent stiffer than the fifth-generation ragtop, and Karlavage says it’s about on par with the 2015 coupe. That seams like a stretch, but the point is that this is one sturdy convertible.

To show off just how solid the convertible is and demonstrate the weight savings benefits of the 4-cylinder engine, Chevrolet invited Motor Authority to drive the new droptop and 4-cylinder models at Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch in Pahrump, Nevada.

Track exercise

The day started with a track exercise to show off the power and handling of the new 4-cylinder coupe. Chevrolet cycled journalists through a 2015 Camaro V-6, a 2016 Mustang with its base V-6, and two 2016 Camaros with the 4-cylinder, one with the 6-speed automatic transmission and the other with the 6-speed manual.

The back-to-back-to-back comparison highlighted a few strengths of the Camaro and one of the Mustang. On the track, the last-generation Camaro felt heavy and a bit reluctant to turn in, and the Mustang was floppy and somewhat unpredictable. However, the new Camaro felt planted and was very willing to turn in and then rotate. It’s important to note that none of these cars was outfitted with a sport suspension. A Track Pack Mustang is probably much more controlled.

2016 Chevrolet Camaro convertible, 2016 Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch Drive Program

2016 Chevrolet Camaro convertible, 2016 Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch Drive Program

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The lighter front end enabled by the inline-4 makes the already playful Camaro feel even more agile. However, there isn’t as much ultimate grip as the V-6- or V-8-powered cars due to suspension settings, and tire size and compound. The steering is also not quite as satisfying as it is in the Camaro SS. That’s because it lacks the Track mode that adds a bit more steering heft.

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