For almost 50 years, petrolheads have swooned over the Chevrolet Camaro for its muscular looks, throaty exhaust and high-horsepower engines. A four-cylinder engine? Heresy.
But that is the base engine in the sixth generation unveiled on a racetrack-equipped island in the Detroit River at the weekend.
For longtime Camaro fans, word of a four-cylinder engine might conjure up unwanted images of the “Iron Duke”.
That was the 90-horsepower engine Chevy put in the Camaro in the early 1980s to get better fuel economy following an oil embargo and petrol shortages.
The 1982 Camaro, with the Iron Duke as the base engine, was listed among Time magazine’s 50 worst cars of all time in 2007.
“This is not the Iron Duke,” says Al Oppenheiser, chief engineer on the Camaro.
The new 2-litre turbocharged four-banger puts out 205kw, more than many V8s from years ago. And since the 2016 car is based on the same rear-wheel-drive underpinnings as the Cadillac ATS, lightweight materials such as titanium and aluminum help cut 90-135kg from the hefty 2015 Camaro.
That makes a four-cylinder engine perform better, even though it’s expected to get more than 9.4l/100km on the highway.
“I think it’s going to be the sleeper hot car, very affordable, very attainable for our customers,” Oppenheiser says.
He expects the four-cylinder car to go from zero to 100km/h in well under 6sec, faster than many older V8-powered cars.
As in the 1980s, fuel economy influenced the decision to use a four-cylinder engine. Although fuel consumption isn’t a concern for most Camaro buyers, it is for GM, which must progress toward meeting US government regulations that require the new car fleet to average just over 5l/100km by 2025.
Camaro buyers can choose a more powerful V6 or V8 engine. No matter what the engine, the lighter Camaro will be more nimble, says Oppenheiser.
“It really wakes up the car,” he says. “You can easily feel the weight difference.”
The Camaro made its debut in 1967 as GM’s answer to the wildly popular Ford Mustang. When motoring writers asked Chevrolet, what is a Camaro? , they were told it was “a small, vicious animal that eats Mustangs”. It’s actually French slang for a pal.