By Keith Buglewicz
The 2017 Chevrolet Camaro transcends its muscle-car roots, becoming something altogether new: a sports coupe so sophisticated you'd think it was born in Europe. That's because this is basically the Chevrolet version of the Cadillac ATS, a car that happens to be one of the best-driving cars GM has ever made. This newfound maturity is fitting, as this year marks the Chevy Camaro's 50th anniversary. Along with the word "Fifty" plastered on every model, Chevrolet is introducing two new high-performance models: the Camaro 1LE for the track-day enthusiast, and the 650-horsepower Camaro ZL1 aimed at those for whom too much is never enough. Whether you choose the 4-cylinder turbo, V6, V8, coupe or convertible, the 2017 Chevy Camaro gives the Ford Mustang night sweats.
All this sophistication talk is about the Camaro's chassis dynamics. Inside, the hard plastics and curious ergonomic choices are not up to the same standard. Additionally, the rear seat would have to be bigger just to be tiny, and the view out the narrow windows is tough; claustrophobics, stay away.
Aside from the hoopla surrounding the Camaro's 50th anniversary -- look for "Fifty" badges everywhere -- two models join the lineup. First is the Camaro 1LE, a track-ready package that pares the car down to its essentials. The Camaro ZL1, with its 650-horsepower V8, is for the purely power-hungry.
Let's get this out of the way now: No, we haven't driven the 2017 Camaro ZL1, but with 650-horsepower supercar-grade performance, suffice to say we're excited. Part of that excitement...
... is because we already know how fundamentally good this Camaro is. Smaller and much lighter than its predecessor, it's much more nimble and lively from the moment you take the wheel. That sophisticated feel extends to every model, be it the turbocharged 4-cylinder, the V6, or the V8 SS model. The 8-speed automatic transmission offers slick shifts and paddle shifting, enhancing the fun-to-drive quotient rather than diminishing it. If you prefer to row your own, there's a solid 6-speed manual transmission available. Balancing out the go is some serious whoa in the form of Brembo brakes, which are standard on the V8-powered SS. It comes together in a car offering the driving sophistication of a European luxury-sports sedan, for considerably less money.
What's not to love? The 2017 Camaro ZL1 combines the amazingly powerful engine we already love in the Corvette Z06 with the Camaro's excellent chassis dynamics. With 0-60 mph in about 3.5 seconds, and the quarter mile flashing by in just 11.4 seconds at 127 mph, it's supercar performance for $62,000.
And here we are on the opposite end of the performance spectrum. The 4-cylinder doesn't offer nearly the power of the V8, but its 275 horsepower ain't bad. Couple that with up to 31 mpg on the highway, and it's the ultimate cake-and-eat-it-too solution.
The 2017 Camaro interior is a combination of clever touches, cool styling and occasionally so-so materials. The clever touches include climate controls that reduce dash clutter by using the trim rings around the center vents to control temperature and fan speed. The design integrates classic and modern elements seamlessly. The seats offer great support in corners, and the touch-screen infotainment system incorporates Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, hampered somewhat by a too-reflective screen. The materials used are still not up to the level of the Ford Mustang or Dodge Challenger. We've ignored the rear seat, and after one glance, you will too.
The 2017 Chevrolet Camaro sports clean, tight lines to go with its tidy dimensions, owing a little to the classic 1969 model, but really more of an update to the previous-generation Camaro. Regardless, there's a lot to like. We love the impossibly thin headlights, aggressive fenders and low-slung roof. Camaro ZL1 models get a deep grille and bumper to feed that hungry engine, and the 1LE looks equally stunning with unique mesh grille inserts and a front splitter, plus a satin-black hood. Unfortunately that cool low roofline results in narrow windows that make it nearly impossible to see out the back.
The base-model 2017 Chevy Camaro is the 1LT, which comes with a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine connected to a 6-speed manual transmission. There's also a driver-selector mode that includes Snow and Ice, Tour and Sport. The 7-inch touch-screen audio system includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, dual USB ports, aux input, and GM's 4GLTE Wi-Fi hotspot technology. Bluetooth, automatic climate control, and a color driver-information display between the main gauges are all standard. Upscale features include push-button start and keyless entry, power driver and passenger seats, and a leather-wrapped flat-bottom steering wheel. Multiple airbags and advanced stability control help keep you safe.
Optional engines include, of course, the 335-horsepower 3.6-liter V6 on LT models or the 455-horsepower 6.2-liter V8 in the new Camaro SS. Other choices are an 8-speed automatic, two different Brembo-brake upgrades, an upgraded audio system with a larger touch screen, and an enhanced driver-information center similar to the Corvette’s. The Camaro SS adds available magnetic ride-control suspension, power sunroof, in-dash navigation for those times when your iPhone doesn't have a signal, and a dual-mode exhaust system. That doesn't even include the 1LE track package for both LT and SS models, and of course the 650-horsepower Camaro ZL1.
With the Camaro ZL1 there are now four engines available for the 2017 Camaro. There's the standard 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder, with a muscular 275 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. Step up to the 3.6-liter V6, which offers more power but less torque than the 4-cylinder, and offers cylinder deactivation for better fuel economy. But a Camaro needs a V8, and in the Camaro SS there's the 6.2-liter V8 pumping out 455 horsepower. Step up to the Camaro ZL1 and you're looking at a 650-horsepower supercharged version, making it the most powerful Camaro ever. All engines connect to either a 6-speed manual that includes automatic rev matching on V8 models or an 8-speed automatic with paddle shifters; Camaro ZL1 models get an optional 10-speed automatic.
2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4
275 horsepower @ 5,600 rpm
295 lb-ft of torque @ 3,000-4,500 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 22/31 mpg (automatic), 20/30 mpg (manual)
335 horsepower @ 6,800 rpm
284 lb-ft of torque @ 5,300 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 19/28 mpg (automatic), 16/26 mpg (manual)
455 horsepower @ 6,000 rpm
455 lb-ft of torque @ 4,400 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 17/27 mpg (automatic), 16/25 mpg (manual)
6.2-liter supercharged V8
650 horsepower @ N/A rpm
650 lb-ft of torque @ N/A rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: N/A
Note: Due to changes in EPA testing to more effectively reflect real-world conditions, some 2017 models show slightly lower fuel-economy scores than their 2016 versions.
The Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) on a 2017 Chevrolet Camaro LT coupe starts at about $27,300, including the $995 destination charge. The V6 engine adds about $1,500 to the price, and the 8-speed automatic adds another $1,500. If you want V8 power, a 2017 Camaro SS starts just under $38,000 with a manual transmission. The all-conquering Camaro ZL1 starts a little above $62,000. Convertible models run about $7,000 higher than coupes. Thanks to a generally higher level of standard equipment, prices are pretty much on-target with its crosstown rival, the Ford Mustang, and both the Ford and Chevy cost less than the Dodge Challenger. Check the KBB.com Fair Purchase Price calculator to see what others in your area paid for their new 2017 Camaro. Over the long haul, the Camaro should hold its value a little better than its Ford and Dodge rivals.