Modern muscle. Few vehicles incite storms of passion and loyalty with the same ardent fervor as the muscle car. Generations of Americans have entrenched themselves in their camps of choice: Bowtie, Blue Oval, Ma Mopar. Each brand has won their respective fans by taking their own roundabout way to the same destination of big-horsepower performance.
The battles have been many, and the war remains unending. To that end, the 2019 Chevrolet Camaro represents the brand's best efforts in trying to end the endless debate, once and for all, about who builds the best muscle car.
Wide envelope of performance. The Camaro is no stranger to the fact that muscle car cred is earned by what's under the hood. Engines with four, six, and eight cylinders are available, and horsepower ranges from 275 to 650. It's a lot of choice, and the good news is that there's no wrong answer here.
The four- and six-cylinder motors aren't consolation prizes for those who didn't want to splurge on the V8, as they were in the old days, but stand up firmly on their own merits. After all, the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder will do zero to 60 mph in 5.4 seconds while also returning an EPA-estimated 22 miles per gallon city, 31 mpg highway, and 25 combined.
The 3.6-liter V6, meanwhile, makes 335 hp and will do zero to 60 in five seconds flat. To put this performance in perspective, these are numbers that would have been the exclusive territory of V8s 10 or 15 years ago.
Yet for all the gains of the humbler powertrains, the V8 remains the ultimate choice. The 455-horsepower version in the SS pulls relentlessly from any rpm and sounds like biblical fury is spewing from the quad-piped dual exhaust. If any engine in the Camaro lineup captures the spirit and the romance of the muscle car, it's this one.
The ZL1 is the ultimate Camaro. With a supercharged 6.2-liter V8, it conjures up 650 hp and 650 pound-feet of torque. The power is ferocious; its uppermost limits feel unapproachable by mere mortals. Despite this, from a numbers perspective the ZL1 might soon be bringing up the rear of the absurdly-powerful sport coupe segment, getting beaten out by the 717-horse Dodge Challenger Hellcat and the recently-announced Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 that's estimated to have 700-plus horsepower.
Visibility and interior. Since the Camaro first reentered the market in 2009, much has been written about its visibility issues. Unfortunately, since then, things have only gotten worse. We're not sure how they pulled it off, but it seems that the current generation managed to further reduce the total glass area. All the tropes about bunkers and gun slits continue to aptly describe the sensation of sitting in and looking out of the Camaro.
Though the visibility is lacking, the interior itself is a generally pleasant place to be. Designers refrained from cheapening the ambiance with gaudy flourishes or frivolous whimsies, and the result of their restraint is a driver-focused cockpit that speaks to the car's sporting inclinations. Mediocre materials do unfortunately abound, but it's easy to look past this fact when considering the performance per dollar. With the Camaro's impressive ability, we can suffer with a few more hard plastics than we'd like.
Standard seats are comfortable and supportive, and most front passengers will not be left wanting for room. Track rats will want to upgrade to the heavily-bolstered Recaro seats, but be sure to try them on for size before purchase, as they might be too snug for some.
The useless back seats recall the Camaro's focus on performance rather than practicality – even small children will want to leave their knees at home if they plan on riding in the backseat for long distances. The Mustang is better in this regard, and the Challenger, being based on a full-size platform, is comparatively cavernous. It's a similar situation with trunk space, with the Camaro suffering from the smallest cargo hold in the class.
Ride and handling. A lot of people might hear the name Camaro and think exclusively of straight-line shenanigans. This might have been reasonable in the early days of the nameplate, but the current generation puts to pasture any stereotypes of road-course ineptitude. These new models might look retro, but they drive like anything but.
A big part of this is the platform the Camaro is now built on, which is both smaller and lighter than its predecessor. It was engineered with a particular focus on handling, and it only takes a few passes on some sinewy pavement to see how this has affected the car's demeanor. This platform gives the Camaro an athleticism not found in any older models. It's tight, planted, and confidence-inspiring. There's ample feedback and well-weighted steering, and it doesn't take long to get in sync with the car at speed. In short, it's a bona fide sports car.
And that's just how we felt about the standard suspension. All this is ratcheted up a notch with the fabled 1LE package, which is now available with every powertrain. The alphanumeric name denotes a track-ready collection of performance goodies that includes magnetic shocks, performance tires, limited-slip differential, Brembo brakes, and a heavy-duty cooling system. Its wizardry can turn a four-cylinder model into the perfect beginner's track car or the ZL1 into a slaughterer of supercars. If you plan on bringing your Camaro to the track, upgrade to the 1LE.
Final thoughts. The 2019 Chevy Camaro is brash, loud, and extroverted. Even in its most modest trappings it makes a bold statement. It represents a colorful past, out-sized performance, and not giving a darn about what others might think of it. No matter how good it hustles around a road course, it is, at the end of the day, a modern muscle car in every sense of the word.
No, it's not perfect, and it still remains far from practical, but that doesn't matter. The Camaro does exactly what its legions of fans want it to do – deliver high performance with high style while remaining cognizant of its history. Just don't think it settles the debate of who builds the best muscle car.
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