Liz Kim | January 10, 2020
It’s rude. It’s obnoxious. It’s loud. It’s unrefined. It’s everything Europeans accuse most American tourists to be, and like many of those tourists, the 2020 Chevrolet Camaro is a rollicking good time.
For 2020, Chevy equips the relatively basic Camaro LT with the brawny engine and some of the performance bits of the Camaro SS, and names it the LT1. Don’t confuse it with the 1LT or the 1LE or the ZL1 or any of the other seemingly meaningless jumble of letters and numbers Chevy uses to designate the Camaro’s trim levels.
Following some criticism about the 2019 models, the company also tweaks the styling for the Camaro SS, and makes available numerous new cosmetic enhancements that give buyers greater ability to custom tailor the car to specific preferences.
The test car had none of these frivolities. J.D. Power evaluated the new high-powered but basic Camaro LT1 equipped with nothing more than an automatic transmission and a dual-mode exhaust system. The price came to $37,585, including the $995 destination charge.
Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the 2020 Camaro, it is helpful to understand who buys this midsize sporty coupe, and what they like most and least about their vehicles.
The Camaro competes in a small segment against the Dodge Challenger and Ford Mustang. Compared to data across the segment, the Camaro is more popular with women, with 29% of Camaro owners reporting as female (vs. 24% for the segment). They’re younger, too, with a median age of 50 years (vs. 52). Median annual household income is about the same, with Camaro owners reporting as slightly more well off at $106,686 (vs. $105,910).
In terms of psychographics, Camaro owners are more likely to identify as Practical Buyers (32% vs. 26%) than are Challenger and Mustang owners. In line with that sentiment, 24% of Camaro owners strongly agree that they need a versatile vehicle that accommodates a busy lifestyle (vs. 19%). Camaro owners are slightly more likely to agree that a first consideration in choosing a new vehicle is miles per gallon (34% vs. 31%).
Otherwise, there are no dramatic differences between Camaro owners and all midsize sporty coupe owners when it comes to sentiments about vehicle selection and ownership.
The people who own a Camaro say their favorite things about the car are (in descending order) the engine/transmission, exterior styling, interior design, driving dynamics, and climate control system. Owners indicate their least favorite things about the Camaro are (in descending order) the infotainment system, seats, visibility and safety, fuel economy, and storage and space.
In the sections that follow, our expert provides her own perceptions about how the 2020 Chevrolet Camaro measures up in each of the 10 categories that comprise the J.D Power 2019 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study.
The Camaro is wide, low and menacing. There’s nothing friendly or cute about this vehicle, and it looks like it might gobble up your offspring if you leave them unattended. My test vehicle was slightly subdued by the Satin Steel Metallic paint job, but it couldn’t hide the bellicose grille, angry headlights, and huge 20-inch wheels.
Some people were obviously disapproving. Others gave me a thumbs-up. Still others wore looks of envy. But one thing was for sure: The Camaro always turned heads in my suburban Southern California town, and only partly because of the exhaust note.
Visually, my Camaro’s interior has a cohesive design, with a dual-tone, high-contrast gray and black color combination. When you actually start touching the interior and inspecting build quality, one wonders if the design team was hungover during final sign-off and approval.
So obvious are the cheap plastics and bare-minimum features that the Camaro almost seems proud of its meager interior. Some pieces are downright flimsy, and the rough cloth upholstery seems purposely textured to show off unseemly stains. Perhaps this is how Chevy plans to upsell you on the optional Recaro performance seats.
The test car’s standard front seats were comfortable enough, with good bolstering and thigh support. Both feature power adjustment, including for height.
Getting into and out of the low-slung Camaro requires finesse. Be sure to duck your heads and prepare for a core workout when entering and exiting through the obnoxiously heavy doors. They’re long, too, like most two-door coupes, so please be mindful of the car parked next to you. Thanks.
Oh dear. Now comes the time for talk of the rear seat. Even if you could thread yourself through the impossibly small opening and over the seat belt that cuts right through the middle of your path, the Camaro’s back seat is no place for a grown human being. There’s no leg room. There’s no head room. And my 9-year-old hated riding in this car because she couldn’t see out.
Chevrolet equipped my test car with a single-zone automatic climate control system that includes a row of primary function buttons over two big air vents with integrated temperature and fan speed adjustments in the outer rings of the vents.
I like this design, because it gives the Camaro even more character. But the low position of the vents isn’t ideal, and the row of buttons is too small for easy use.
My test vehicle came with minimal infotainment swag. It had the basic 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system, but the setup includes Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and is ready for Wi-Fi service.
The simple controls for the infotainment system are a blessing. A central knob controls power and volume thorough the standard 6-speaker Bose sound system, while buttons to each side of the knob allow for manual tuning. Otherwise, you’ll launch features from the easily accessible Home screen.
On a side note, even though the Camaro LT1 doesn’t have the fancier high-definition reversing camera from higher trim levels, I thought the image displayed on the infotainment screen was amazingly clear.
Clearly, Chevrolet doesn’t think you’ll carry much in the Camaro. Aside from the requisite two cupholders, the car offers scant storage.
The door bins are useless, the glove box is tiny, and the center console struggled to house a couple of smartphone power cords. Where will you put your phone? Keep it in your pocket. It’s no wonder Camaro owners cited storage and space as their least favorite aspect of owning the car.
At least the trunk has some usable space. At 9.1 cu.-ft., it’s sounds smaller than it is. The trunk is a rectangle, and though the opening is small, the lid’s strut design means you can pack right to the brim without worry that you’ll crush something.
Between the low-slung seats and huge windshield pillars, the Camaro doesn’t offer good outward visibility. A channel carved into the hood on either side of the bulge in the middle sure helps, though, and the side mirrors are sizable.
Impressively, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gives the 2020 Camaro an overall crash-test rating of 5 stars, and the car earns Good scores in several Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) tests.
But as far as active safety systems go, my test Camaro was pretty rudimentary. You can’t get basic safety features like forward collision warning or automatic emergency braking in the LT1, or a much-needed blind spot monitoring system with rear cross traffic alert. Those features are offered only in higher trim levels.
All Camaros deliver strong acceleration. But some are blisteringly fast. The Camaro LT1, a muscle car if there ever was one, is special because it includes SS hardware in a lower-priced LT trim package.
That means a 6.2-liter V8 sits underneath its vented hood, producing 455 horsepower and an equal amount of torque. A 6-speed manual gearbox is standard, but my test car had the optional 10-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters.
Get in the car, press the start button, and you’ll enjoy an instant reward – especially if you’ve opted for the dual-mode exhaust system. The sonorous roar befitting a large-displacement V8 is music to a driving enthusiast’s ears. Sure, it may annoy the neighbors, but think of it as a passive-aggressive payback for their bad behavior.
Remember when they left their trash cans out for days? And they had that loud party that went on until the wee hours? And kept their holiday décor up until summer? Air your grievances with a little extra nudge on the go pedal upon start up.
Around town, the Camaro sounds like it’s all business, but drives in docile fashion unless you unleash the beast. On wide open stretches of highway, it’s a decent cruiser, too. No matter where you are, though, a simple push down with your right foot produces a rush of instantaneous speed that hits you with the full force of a charging rhino.
Driving a Camaro LT1 really is quite a thrill.
In spite of its roaring, fire-breathing 6.2-liter V8 engine, the EPA says that the Camaro LT1 should average 20 mpg in combined driving (16 city/27 highway).
Tipping the scales at nearly 3,700 pounds, a Camaro LT1 isn’t light. And compared to a version of the car with a turbocharged 4-cylinder or a V6, there’s more weight in the nose. But its inherently good platform, shared with the Cadillac CT4 and CT5, combined with a beefed-up suspension and big 20-inch wheels wrapped in sticky tires, the LT1 performs a darn good impression of a sports car.
On my mountainous test loop, the Camaro’s electric steering proved quick and precise, the brakes – the fronts are 4-piston Brembos – never faded during a long downhill run, and the suspension performed well in terms of managing the Camaro’s significant weight.
No, it’s not a comfy car, as every little bump on the road is transmitted into the cabin with flair. But would you expect otherwise?
The 2020 Chevy Camaro LT1 is brash. It’s unapologetic. In many ways it’s crude and unsophisticated. It’s also full of fire and spirit and brims with its unique personality. Yes, it’s one of ours, my fellow Americans.
And while this Lansing, Michigan-built car certainly is not fit for consumption by this suburban mom-type, who requires a bit of family functionality and a pleasant cabin in which to while away the commute, no one can argue with the Camaro LT1’s rightful place on the American road.
Or within the pantheon of American muscle cars.
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