Mon. Jun 14th, 2021
2019 Chevrolet Camaro SS

2019 Chevrolet Camaro SS First Drive

Impressively for a car that was once the provenance of mulleted uncles, the Chevrolet Camaro is still in the midst of its remarkable transformation into one of the best performance deals on the market today.

The 2019 model brings about a traditional mid-cycle refresh for the sixth-generation model, both to keep up with the Joneses and further bolster the rest of the Camaro lineup with some key pieces of trickle-down tech from the impressive ZL1 variants at the top. But it’s two notable changes to the venerable Camaro SS in 2019 are particularly worth discussing: the company’s 10-speed automatic transmission, and a new front end that’s piled up a Mount Everest of hot takes since its reveal.

I’ll start with the former, since that’s what Chevrolet specifically invited me to sample in the mountains of Malibu—but rest assured, I also bothered the carmaker’s reps about the latter. Chevy brought in Camaro chief engineer Al Oppenheiser to run down some of the updates for 2019, starting by talking about how his team wants a holistic lineup that can offer something for everyone: a chicken in every pot, a Camaro in every garage. To get there, Chevy has done the usual refresh work of trimming weight, upgrading the suspension, and adding tech like a rear mirror camera.

But it’s the 2019 Chevrolet Camaro SS that everyone’s talking about—for reasons good and bad. Paired with the reliable LT1 V-8, the 10-speed transmission is a notable addition; co-developed with Ford, it’s one of the few ‘boxes with a double-digit gear count in the passenger car market.

There are purposeful pops and crackles in the exhaust—Oppenheiser advised keeping it between 3,000 and 5,000 rpm to enjoy the music—and it automatically downshifts to rev the engine when you put it into Sport or Track mode as if to say, “Okay, let’s do this.” Line lock and launch control make triumphant appearances.

The ratios are closely spaced in a way that aims to maximize power delivery; more importantly, the algorithmic behavior means the car swaps cogs unobtrusively around town while retaining the racking-a-shotgun shifts you want under heavy acceleration. That learning goes deeper in different performance situations: straight-line speed and technical turns yielded noticeable (and helpful) variances in shift feel.