New Camaro hides luxury driving dynamics under familiar styling
The redesigned 2016 Chevrolet Camaro doesn’t look very different from its predecessor. The retro-styled performance coupe made a big splash when it returned to the market seven years ago, running against the Ford Mustang and Dodge Challenger to provide lots of power at prices that start in the $20,000s.
But behind the familiar styling, the new Camaro is hiding unexpected levels of sophistication and luxury. Under the skin, the mechanical components are shared with the zippy Cadillac ATS premium sports sedan, which removes the Camaro from its stereotype of a crude car with a huge engine.
The engine on the tested Camaro – the base 1LT model, which starts at $26,695 – is also far from that stereotype. Far from the roaring 6.2-liter V8, or even the 3.6-liter V6 that was standard equipment last year, it came with a new 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. Even though that little motor is turbocharged to a respectable 275 horsepower, it provides the acceleration but not the character of a traditional Camaro.
Fortunately, the improved ride and handling means the Camaro can appeal to buyers who don’t demand loud acceleration. It doesn’t look anything like a Cadillac or BMW, but if you were driving with your eyes closed (note: not recommended) you’d sooner guess you were in one of these luxury models than an American muscle car. The upgraded interior also boasts richer materials and fancier in-cabin technology than past models.
Meanwhile, for the quickest performance and a richer engine note, the V6 engine is a $1,495 upgrade and the V8-powered SS is priced from $37,295. The tested Camaro four-cylinder with a six-speed manual transmission (an eight-speed automatic is optional) has EPA ratings of 21 mpg in the city, 30 mpg on the highway and 24 mpg overall; in a week-long test with a mix of city, highway and suburban conditions, the tested car averaged an impressive 29 mpg. Note, though, that the turbo requires premium fuel; the V6, though it’s a couple miles per gallon thirstier, is happy with regular.
Some practical considerations may keep the Camaro out of the driveways of even some performance-car enthusiasts, however. Even compared to a Mustang, this Chevrolet has a tiny rear seat, tiny trunk and poor outward visibility from its tiny windows and windshields.
The Mustang is also a little less expensive, especially if you prefer a V6 to a four-cylinder engine; the Ford also has both, but charges extra for its “EcoBoost” turbo four. Meanwhile, the Challenger beats both the Mustang and Camaro in terms of acceleration for the money, and also has a roomier interior, but it doesn’t have those cars’ handling agility.
Loaded Kia Optima doesn’t deliver on premium promise
There’s more to a luxury car than its list of features. The redesigned 2016 Kia Optima midsize sedan delivers on paper: its top-of-the-line SX Limited model has quilted leather seats, radar-based cruise control, a Harmon Kardon surround-sound audio system, a panoramic sunroof and more.
But Kia tried to do more with this model than just put a lot of features into an ordinary family car. It also tried to turn the Optima into a fun, sporty sedan – and the Optima SX Limited (also called SXL) suffers as a result.
Even the cheapest Optima LX model ($22,990) has more of a luxury feel than you might expect from this Korean brand. It doesn’t have the aforementioned goodies, but a stylish, well-finished interior; composed, quiet ride; and capable handling set it apart from an ordinary Toyota Camry or Nissan Altima.
But the SX and SX Limited have a stiffer suspension and revised steering rack that are supposed to make the Optima more fun, and they don’t. The suspension slams over bumps more than in other Optima models, and the steering loses a friendly, natural responsiveness that this reviewer found endearing in an Optima LX tested last year. The SX models also come with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that has quick acceleration but doesn’t sound especially pleasant, especially by the standards of the tested car’s $36,615 sticker price.
Less expensive Optima models can be a pretty compelling value. If you want some fancy features, you can get leather seats in the Optima EX for as little as $25,990. The LX and EX models are worthy options that forgo some of a Camry’s interior space in favor of a more premium ambiance both inside the cabin and on the road. But the pricier and less comfortable SX models are tough to recommend.