When it comes to evaluating the wisdom of major purchases, the dynamic involved often boils down to the classic question of “need” versus “want.” Staking out a clearly defined and heavily defended position on the “want” end of this spectrum is the 2015 Chevrolet Camaro.
Between the nameplate’s storied high-performance history and this fifth-generation coupe and convertible’s muscle-bound styling and gutsy engines, it doesn’t take long to figure out this is a car that has very little to do with need. Even though the current V6-powered base models manage to return decent EPA fuel economy estimates of up to 22 mpg combined, the car’s limited outward visibility, cramped rear seat and small trunk make it downright difficult to come up with rational reasons for buying a Camaro.
Then again, that’s pretty much been the case for the 40-plus years since the first Camaro rolled off the assembly line in response to Ford’s spunky new 1965 Mustang. From the beginning, this has always been a car with a strong emotional appeal. Now that attraction can be downright visceral as well, thanks to beasts like the 580-horsepower V8 under the hood of the ZL1 model, an engine that enables it to accelerate from zero to 60 mph in a supercar-like 4.4 seconds. Alternately, there’s the race-oriented Z/28 with its high-performance hardware and stripped-out interior.
Just as it was back in Detroit’s original muscle car era, the Camaro has a short list of all-American rivals ready to duke it out for boulevard supremacy. The 2015 Dodge Challenger offers a lot more rear-seat legroom, plus the new Hellcat variant’s 707-hp, supercharged 6.2-liter V8 that makes even the mighty Camaro ZL1 look tame by comparison. The all-new 2015 Ford Mustang, meanwhile, sets new standards with its superior handling, more ergonomic interior and available fuel-efficient turbocharged four-cylinder engine. The rear-wheel-drive 2015 Hyundai Genesis Coupe factors into the mix as well.
From our standpoint, the Challenger and Mustang are the superior and more desirable cars this year. But we also realize that buyers seriously considering the 2015 Chevy Camaro will ultimately want what they want. And, as people who understand the passions cars like this can evoke, that’s just fine by us.
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Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2015 Chevy Camaro is available in both four-seat coupe and convertible body styles.
There are a total of eight trim levels, starting with the V6-powered 1LS and 2LS, and 1LT and 2LT. The V8-equipped lineup includes the 1SS and 2SS, plus the ultra-high-performance ZL1 and racetrack-oriented Z/28. The entry-level 1LS, 2LS and the top-of-the-line Z/28 are offered only as hardtops, while all other Camaro trim levels can be had in a choice of coupe or convertible.
Standard equipment on the 1LS base model includes 18-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, keyless entry, air-conditioning, cloth upholstery, manually adjustable front seats with power recline, a manual tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, cruise control, Bluetooth phone connectivity, OnStar and a six-speaker sound system with a CD player, auxiliary audio input jack and satellite radio. The 2LS adds an automatic transmission.
Moving up to the 1LT gets you foglights, remote start (automatic transmission models only), eight-way power front seats, a 7-inch touchscreen with Chevy’s MyLink smartphone app integration, and Bluetooth audio connectivity. The 1LT Camaro convertible also includes a power-operated soft top, rear parking sensors and a rearview camera.
The 2LT starts with all these features, then adds 19-inch alloy wheels, heated outside mirrors with driver-side auto-dimming, rear parking sensors, leather upholstery, heated front seats, a head-up display, additional gauges, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a rearview camera and a nine-speaker Boston Acoustics audio system. Most of the 2LT’s upgrades are optional on the 1LT, with the exception of leather upholstery.
The list of standard equipment for the 1SS starts with everything on the 1LT, then adds a V8 engine, 20-inch alloy wheels, a sport-tuned suspension, a limited-slip rear differential and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. The 2SS gets those same performance hardware upgrades plus all of the 2LT’s comfort and convenience features. The 1LE Performance package, which is only offered on manual transmission-equipped SS models, takes things up a notch with racetrack-inspired modifications that include unique gearing, suspension tuning and tires.
The ZL1 is equipped similarly to the 2SS but adds still more performance-oriented equipment starting with a supercharged V8, an adaptive suspension with magnetic dampers, Brembo brakes, distinctive 20-inch alloy wheels fitted with performance summer tires, and retuned power steering. Exterior changes on the ZL1 include xenon headlights, a functional carbon-fiber air extractor on the hood, a unique rear spoiler and distinctive front and rear fascias. Inside the cabin you’ll find simulated suede upholstery and a smaller, flat-bottomed steering wheel.
The RS option package (not available on 1LS/2LS and ZL1) adds 20-inch wheels, xenon headlights and a rear spoiler. Recaro sport seats are available as an option on SS and ZL1 coupes. A sunroof is offered on all coupe models except the LS and Z/28, and a variety of exterior stripes and trim detailing are available across the lineup.
Finally, the Z/28 is a stripped-down, high-performance model that employs a variety of weight-saving measures including removal of some sound-deadening material, an audio system with a single speaker and the deletion of the air-conditioning system (it is offered as an option, however). This highly specialized Camaro, which is street legal but really intended for use on a racetrack, makes up for the deletions noted above with a number of other go-fast goodies including a larger, more powerful V8 engine and a six-speed manual transmission (an automatic isn’t even offered), plus lightweight 19-inch alloy wheels, a special track-oriented suspension, performance tires and large carbon-ceramic brakes.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2015 Chevrolet Camaro LS and LT models are powered by a 3.6-liter V6 that produces 323 hp and 278 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed manual transmission is standard, with a six-speed automatic offered as an option. EPA fuel economy estimates start at 20 mpg combined (17 city/28 highway) with the manual transmission. Equipped with the automatic, the 1LS, 1LT and 2LT models’ EPA estimates get bumped up to 22 mpg combined. A different gear ratio in the final drive drags the automatic-equipped 2LS down to 21 mpg combined.
The Camaro SS has a 6.2-liter V8 that puts out 426 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque with the standard six-speed manual, and 400 hp and 410 lb-ft with the six-speed automatic. With the manual, the SS hits 60 mph in 4.8 seconds. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 19 mpg combined (16 city/24 highway) with the manual transmission and 18 mpg combined with the automatic.
The Camaro ZL1 boasts a supercharged 6.2-liter V8 rated at 580 hp and 556 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed manual transmission is standard, with a six-speed automatic optional. In Edmunds track testing, a ZL1 coupe with the manual transmission accelerated from zero to 60 mph in a very quick 4.4 seconds; the convertible took 4.6 seconds. Fuel mileage estimates are 16 mpg combined with the manual transmission and 14 mpg with the automatic.
Last but not least, the Camaro Z/28 gets a 7.0-liter V8 that cranks out 505 hp and 481 lb-ft of torque and earns an EPA rating of 15 mpg combined. A six speed manual is the only transmission offered and at the Edmunds test track, it needed just 4.5 seconds to race to 60 mph.
Standard safety features on the 2015 Chevy Camaro include antilock disc brakes, traction and stability control, front-seat side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags. Also standard is the OnStar telematics system, which includes automatic crash notification, on-demand roadside assistance, remote door unlocking, stolen vehicle assistance and turn-by-turn navigation.
In Edmunds brake testing, both a Chevy Camaro SS with the 1LE option package and a ZL1 convertible came to a stop from 60 mph in 107 feet, while a ZL1 coupe managed to do it in 110 feet. Naturally, the track-ready Z/28 and its carbon-ceramic brakes needed just 103 feet to stop from 60 mph. These are all excellent distances, but keep in mind that all these test cars had summer performance tires. Camaros with all-season tires aren’t likely to stop as short.
In government crash tests, the Camaro coupe earned a top five-star rating overall, with five stars for front crash protection, five stars for side-impact protection and five stars for rollover.
Interior Design and Special Features
For a car model that built its reputation on performance, the interior of the 2015 Chevy Camaro lineup still earns its share of style points. The dash offers an interesting contrast of old-school Camaro details, like the squared-off bezels that frame the speedometer and tach, and the latest technology, like the 7-inch color touchscreen that offers access to the available MyLink infotainment system with its selection of smartphone-like apps. The extensive use of hard plastic surfaces does cheapen the cabin’s overall feel, however
Unfortunately, there are some significant ways in which the Camaro’s emphasis on style negatively impacts the driving experience. Perhaps the most troublesome are the small windows and thick roof pillars that make the car look cool from the sidewalk but severely limit outward visibility from the driver seat. The MyLink system’s customizable touchscreen can also be frustratingly slow to respond to inputs.
While the Camaro’s front seats offer good comfort and support, the rear seat offers the least legroom among its neo-muscle-car rivals, making it suited only to occasional use by the smallest of kids or as a place to stash backpacks and gym bags. Space is in equally short supply in the trunk, with just 11.3 cubic feet of cargo capacity and a small opening that makes loading and unloading a challenge. Trunk space shrinks even further in convertible models, dropping to just 10.2 cubic feet with the roof up and a minuscule 8 cubes with the top dropped.
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the 2015 Chevrolet Camaro is that there seems to be a model for everyone.
Buyers attracted by the car’s ready-to-rumble looks, but with no desire to indulge in hooligan behavior like long, tire-smoking burnouts, will find models powered by the 3.6-liter V6 to be fine choices. With 323 hp on tap, this engine delivers both satisfying acceleration and nimble handling that feels more like a sports car than the V8-powered muscle car models.
We can’t argue, however, with the muscle car purists who believe a proper Camaro needs a brawny V8 engine under the hood — preferably one capable of delivering the aforementioned burnouts at will. Praised for its solid performance but knocked for some ergonomic and visibility issues, it earned an Edmunds “B” rating. While SS models are fully capable of such antics, both the ZL1 and track-oriented Z/28 are manifestations of that famous Oscar Wilde quip that says, “Nothing succeeds like excess.”
Despite its size and limited visibility, the Camaro delivers confident handling and spot-on steering that make it a better performer on winding roads than the reputation of old-school muscle cars might have you believe. The ZL1 takes things to the next level thanks to its combination of that 580-hp supercharged V8, adaptive suspension and strong Brembo brakes that puts it on par with many supercars; still, it’s well-behaved enough to use as a daily driver, which is why it scored an Edmunds “A” rating.
It’s this last bit that distinguishes the ZL1 from the top-of-the-line Z/28, which lives in a hazy netherworld between street-legal coupe and full-on race car. The Z/28’s purposeful lack of creature comforts, raced-tuned suspension and what amount to racing-slick tires means this is a car not intended for everyday driving. It bucks and snorts and, when it’s pushed to the limits, it bites back very quickly. As our test-driver said: “This is not, in any way, a beginner’s car. This is for expert track drivers who know what they’re getting and are prepared to deal with it.” That said, you won’t find a 2015 muscle car better suited for track day events than the Z/28.