Chevrolet Camaro RS Review: Turbo Power Gets the Job Done, Mostly
Camaro core competencies shine through, even on entry-level model.
The sixth-generation Chevrolet Camaro is the best that GM has ever offered. Independent rear suspension, an array of potent powertrains and absolute handling capabilities that will scare some lesser super cars, the Camaro is at the top of its game. However, when it comes to world-beating performance, most look to the Camaro SS 1LE, ZL1, or ZL1 1LE.
That said, the line-up doesn’t start with a V8. No, as is the way with many modern cars, downsized engines and increased efforts towards fuel efficiency have permeated the Camaro mindset. So, when Chevrolet tossed me the keys to a Camaro RS, I was very curious to see what it was like to drive.
The standard Camaro comes with a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four cylinder engine. Wait. Before you LS1tech diehards tune out, tune in to this: that four-banger is kicking out 275 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. That’s not much less than an early fourth-gen Camaro SS, and it’s the base engine.
This Generation III Ecotec engine has 9.5:1 compression, a square 86 mm bore and stroke, sodium-filled intake valves and runs out to 7,000 RPM. Force-feeding air into that all-aluminum engine is a twin-scroll turbocharger with an electronically-controlled integrated wastegate. Variable valve timing and direct-fuel injection are also part of the equation, further improving efficiency. All of that helps explain the 31 miles-per-gallon highway rating bestowed upon it by the EPA.
This particular car is an RS convertible model, so it gets the flashy 20-inch wheels, and appearance package with LED tail lights and black grilles. The turbocharged power plant in this car is paired to an 8-speed automatic transmission.
Let’s talk about that turbo engine.
My proving grounds for the day is Latigo Canyon Road, a beautiful stretch of winding pavement laser cut into the Malibu hillside. Right away, the Camaro’s turbocharged four-pot offered up ample torque to break the tires loose. All 295 lb-ft of twist is unfurled between 3,000-4,500 RPM, but it’s making the majority of that figure by 2,000 revs. That makes it an easy car to drive, offering near instantaneous passing prowess. A must-have when self-centered Prius drivers refuse to yield to faster traffic.
Well, the grip is only unshakable until the driver decides to pitch it into a corner sideways and see what happens.
Less instantaneous is the 8-speed automatic transmission, a $1,795 option. Around town, in full-auto, it is smooth, and generally unobtrusive. However, when the going gets windy the transmission doesn’t understand the concept of sporty driving. Downshifts are reluctant, hesitant things, often done about two-seconds after the apex, let alone the braking zone. Having driven both the 6-speed manual and the 8-speed automatic, the choice is a no-brainer: Buy the stick.
And it’s a shame that the auto box isn’t a willing partner when the road gets twisty, because the engine sure is. Although peak power is at 5,600 RPM, this turbo-four zings all the way to it’s 7,000 RPM red line. It has a wide, usable powerband, giving the engine a much more substantial feeling than the stats suggest.
Similarly, it actually sounds pretty good, to match. Chevy has nailed the acoustics with the sixth-gen Camaro. The V6 has a guttural scream, the V8 engines, naturally-aspirated or supercharged, all sound throaty and deep, and four-pot also offers up a distinct tone. A distinctly turbocharged resonated sound comes from the tail pipes on the Camaro RS. It’s a flat rasp that even the Italians would approve of.