The Chevrolet Camaro comes to the UK with a proper muscle-car naturally aspirated 6.2-litre V8 engine, can it prove more compelling than the Ford Mustang?

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The sixth-generation Chevrolet Camaro is a muscle car in the finest, most unapologetic tradition.

It is in this specification, anyway. The Camaro is also offered with a turbocharged 2.0-litre engine, but it’s this 6.2-litre V8 version that best pays tribute to the 1966 original.

If you want an authentic modern-day muscle car, the Camaro hits many of the right notes and it’s a more compelling overall package than a Mustang

Getting under the Camaro’s muscle car body

It may be faithful to the time-honoured muscle-car blueprint, but this is undoubtedly the most technologically advanced Camaro yet. The car’s body is both 91kg lighter and 28% stiffer than that of the previous version, making for a much better basis for a high-performance car.

The suspension, meanwhile, uses aluminium components to reduce unsprung weight, and although the underlying platform is shared with Cadillac 's ATS and Cadillac CTS saloons, Chevrolet says 70% of components in the Camaro are bespoke.

The rear suspension uses a multi-link arrangement, rather than a crude live rear axle, while Magnetic Ride Control continuously adaptive dampers are available (and fitted to this test car). There are switchable drive modes and a brake-based torque vectoring system that helps pivot the car into a bend.

So the Camaro is laden with very up-to-date performance-car tech; but, up front, the power unit is perfectly old-school. It’s a 6162cc normally aspirated V8 that develops 447bhp and 455lb ft of torque.

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But while the Camaro does eschew the very modern, mostly European trend for downsizing and turbocharging, and it cares not for any sort of hybridisation, its huge V8 does feature such refinements as variable valve timing and direct fuel injection.

It isn’t quite the archaic hulk you might imagine it to be. And if you specify the eight-speed automatic rather than six-speed manual gearbox - which has a rev-match function - the engine can shut off four cylinders in normal driving to save fuel.

The Camaro, then, is a muscle car through and through – but a muscle car for the 21st century. At £39,040, its domestic competition comes from the likes of the Ford Mustang and Dodge Challenger, while for a little more money BMW will sell you BMW the smaller, lighter and less powerful M2.

As for standard equipment, the 2.0-litre turbo gets 20in alloys, xenon headlights, keyless entry and ignition, cruise control, rear parking sensors, reversing camera, ventilated front sport bucket seats, dual-zone climate control and Chevrolet’s MyLink infotainment system complete with an 8.0in touchscreen display, DAB radio, USB and Bluetooth connectivity, Bose audio system and smartphone integration.

Choose the V8 version and you’ll find the Camaro adorned with sat nav, wireless phone charging, a head-up colour display, a heated steering wheel, and a limited slip differential.

Getting settled in the Chevy Camaro

If the first basic principle of the muscle car is that it should be powered by a V8 engine, the second is that it will have a low-rent interior. At least that was the case for 50 years or so, because the latest Camaro is arguably the first of the breed to actually have a solidly built, premium-feeling cockpit. The plastics are no longer flakey and the overall design isn’t slavishly retrospective, as the Mustang’s is.

Given the car’s sizeable exterior dimensions, it’s surprising that there isn’t more rear seat leg room, but front passengers are treated to generous and plushly appointed chairs with acres of interior space. Muscle cars have long been built to cover ground at speed and in comfort, and this Camaro is no exception.

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Unexpectedly, perhaps, the Camaro doesn’t have a slow and remote steering rack, but a quick and very direct one. It’s every bit as sharp and precise as these latest generation electric power steering systems tend to be but, true to type, it’s also short on any real sense of connection. Mid-corner, you find yourself guessing how much grip the front tyres are finding.

That very fast and responsive rack also causes a slight issue on turn in because, although this model is lighter than the previous Camaro, it still weighs a considerable 1659kg. The quick steering tends to agitate the front end into a bend in an artificially hurried way, which upsets the rest of the car as its trips over itself trying to keep up. Quick and sharp the steering may be, it isn’t especially well matched to the rest of the chassis.

Unleashing the Camaro’s power on the road

There is a distinctly American muscle car vibe to the Camaro still, despite its handful of sophisticated sports car flourishes. It does still feel quite large on the road, and rather than being the sort of car you take by the scruff, the Camaro wants to be stroked along with a degree of patience, albeit at quite high road speeds. Even on its magnetic dampers, the body does heave up and down exaggeratedly over the shape of the road, although it isn’t exactly willowy or loosely controlled. The ride, meanwhile, is fluid and plaint, except for overly sharp ridges and potholes, which tend to thud right through the entire structure.

Undoubtedly, though, the Camaro is both fun to drive (in its own way) and extremely characterful, not least because there’s a 6.2-litre V8 beneath the bonnet. The car feels quick in an effortless, torque-rich sort of way, of course, while the soundtrack is pure, unadulterated V8.

Despite its size, the engine even pulls right up to its 6500rpm redline with real intensity. The eight-speed auto is smooth and civilised but, when using the paddles, manual gearshifts are short on any discernible urgency, even in Track mode. 

UK buyers can now buy a Camaro through an official dealer, Surrey-based Ian Allan Motors. Unlike the latest Ford Mustang, though, the Camaro is left-hand drive only, which might well be a deal-breaker for some.

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If you want an authentic modern-day muscle car experience, though, the Camaro 6.2-litre V8 hits many of the right notes and it’s a more compelling overall package than a Ford Mustang, too.

Chevrolet Camaro First drives