Car Reviews First Tests

2019 Chevrolet Camaro SS First Test: 10 Speeds All The Richer

We put the refreshed Camaro with the 10-speed auto through its paces

We put the refreshed Camaro with the 10-speed auto through its paces

The Chevrolet Camaro was launched in 1966 with an available two-speed automatic transmission. By 1969, the Camaro got two different three-speed options. Fast-forward 50 years and five generations, and you can spec a 2019 Chevrolet Camaro SS with 10 forward gears. To quote Jasper Beardly of The Simpsons, “What a time to be alive.”

There was nothing particularly wrong with the eight-speed automatic available in the pre-refresh SS (which is why it’s still offered on turbo-four and V-6 trims), but with a 10-speed automatic co-developed with Ford at its disposal, GM saw fit to spread the gearbox that debuted in the ZL1 to more models in the Camaro lineup. The 10-speed is a $1,595 USD option on the SS.

Of course, the 2019 Camaro’s refresh involves much more than the automatic’s increased gear count. The updated pony car adds forward collision warning as an option and also gets a new infotainment system with available 8.0-inch touchscreen. Then, of course, there’s the exterior face-lift, which has been controversial to say the least. The headlights have been redesigned with new LED accents that flow into the grille, and the taillights return to the classic quad round lamp arrangement. More differentiation exists between the trim levels, and the SS’ new look has been by far the most derided.

Perhaps I’m in the minority, but after a few days driving the 2019 Camaro SS, I actually grew to like the new front end. The large, blacked-out grille with Z/28-derived flowtie badge looks menacing, and I think the body-color bits that jut into the grille make the front end look like the helmet of a Spartan warrior. Still, you might not want to get too attached. Chevy is said to be considering putting into production the front end of its Camaro SS SEMA concept, which added a body-color crossbar to break up the grille.

But enough about how it looks. How does it drive? Just as before, the Camaro SS is powered by a naturally aspirated 6.2-liter LT1 V-8 good for 455 hp and 455 lb-ft of torque. Equipped with the 10-speed auto, the SS is easy to drive around town. Some high-cog-count transmissions get confused at slow speeds, but I didn’t feel any jerky shifts with this unit, and gear hunting wasn’t an issue. The transmission hustles through the first five or so gears quickly to get you into an ideal cruising ratio, but a little application of the throttle is all it takes to kick down several gears and let the drivetrain know you want to have some fun.

Chevy’s lift-foot gear hold feature trickles down from the 10-speed Camaro ZL1 and is designed to prevent excessive upshifts or downshifts during spirited driving. Instead the shift logic will intuitively hold the gear you’re in even when you back off the throttle. In normal mode, throttle response from the direct-injected engine is already quick, but flipping the switch to Sport sharpens it even further. Steering wheel–mounted paddle shifters fire off near-instantaneous gear swaps, but the paddles themselves feel a bit chintzy for a serious sports car.

In acceleration testing, the SS automatic performed well. The Camaro posted a 4.1-second 0–60 mph time, matching the result of a 2018 Camaro SS 1LE with a six-speed manual. It was also slightly quicker in the quarter mile at 12.4 seconds at 115.8 mph (186.4 km/h) versus 12.5 seconds at 115.2 mph (185.4 km/h) for the 2018 manual. Road test editor Erick Ayapana praised the transmission for its “nice crisp shifts” during the run down the dragstrip. The Camaro also performed well in braking tests, stopping from 60 to 0 mph in 103 feet, which is on par with pre-refresh sixth-gen Camaro SS models. “Solid brake feel, good bite,” reported Ayapana. “No signs of fade after six runs.”

The 2019 Camaro SS also just about matched the figure-eight numbers of the pre-refresh, non-1LE SS, clocking a time of 23.9 seconds at an average of 0.84 g. That’s certainly an impressive time, but according to testing director Kim Reynolds, it didn’t come easy. In Track mode with stability control off, the Camaro required great finesse when lapping our course.

“I only used third gear because in second the tail is way too sensitive, and even in third it’s extremely easy to launch it sideways,” Reynolds wrote in his notes. “The way to drive this thing is to very, very carefully keep it mildly understeering and only mildly oversteering on exit. So you have to be meter-in steering and throttle very carefully. This is not a car to be horsed around. A spin is a twitch of the right foot away.”

Drifting your way through the figure eight is always an option, though Reynolds says that method would inevitably be slower (but probably pretty fun). Interestingly, the Camaro SS exactly matches the figure-eight result we got for a 2018 Ford Mustang GT, which was equipped with Ford’s version of the 10-speed auto. That car, with its 460-hp, 420-lb-ft 5.0-liter V-8, was quicker in acceleration testing, however. The 10-speed GT ran the quarter in 12.1 seconds at 118.8 mph (191.2 km/h) and sprinted to 60 in 3.9 seconds.

The Camaro SS’ capabilities can’t be fully utilized outside the track, but they can still be enjoyed. Extra-legal speeds are almost too easy to reach when you have enough room to gallop, and it doesn’t help that the burly V-8 engine note only gets sweeter as the rpms climb. There’s also fun to be had in the twisties, of course. The GM Alpha platform that underpins the sixth-gen Camaro continues to impress with its inherent rigidity, and the sport suspension does a fine job of dialing out excess body roll in the corners. But with the stiffer suspension comes a stiff ride, which is accentuated by 20-inch wheels wrapped in low-profile summer tires.

I liked that I could get a low seating position, but I could have used a bit more side bolstering from the stock seats. Recaro performance bucket seats are available as a $1,595 USD option and are included in the $7,000 USD SS 1LE package, though that equipment group is only available for manual-transmission cars. The new infotainment system is quick and responsive, but looking at a screen that’s canted forward takes some getting used to.

Unfortunately, a midcycle refresh can’t do much to address the Camaro’s poor outward visibility. A narrow greenhouse and high beltline make for a claustrophobic experience in rush hour traffic. Our 2SS tester came standard with blind-spot warning, a rearview camera, and rear cross-traffic alert, which help make the Camaro easier to live with as a daily driver.

The only option our 2019 Chevrolet Camaro 2SS came with was the 10-speed auto, which brought the price to $44,590 USD. A manual 2SS starts at $42,995 USD. Even without the cost savings, my heart would lean toward the six-speed because I like the added engagement that comes with rowing your own gears. But considering my commute is an hour each way, there’s a chance my head would win the battle and I’d go for the 10-speed instead—especially when it’s as quick as the manual and offers similar thrills.

2019 Chevrolet Camaro SS Coupe (2SS)
BASE PRICE $42,995
PRICE AS TESTED $44,590
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, RWD, 4-pass, 2-door coupe
ENGINE 6.2L/455-hp/455-lb-ft OHV 16-valve V-8
TRANSMISSION 10-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 3,739 lb (54/46%)
WHEELBASE 110.7 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 188.3 x 74.7 x 53.1 in
0-60 MPH 4.1 sec
QUARTER MILE 12.4 sec @ 115.8 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 103 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 1.00 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 23.9 sec @ 0.84 g (avg)
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON 16/27/20 mpg
ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY 211/125 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 0.99 lb/mile