Chevy's new take on the Camaro

As the debate carries on over whether muscle cars are still defined purely by power, General Motors' latest take on the Chevy Camaro strives to be much more.

So amid the automaker's push to re-establish the vehicle as the country's leading muscle car, Mark Reuss, a GM executive vice president who grew up driving a '67 Camaro, said he considers the latest model more of a sports performance car.

"The cars we're driving today are all about handling and precise steering and brakes, and that's a different formula than what the muscle car is known for," Reuss said. "So I think we are going to open this up to a whole bunch of new buyers."

With two new versions of the latest Camaro rolling into Chevy dealerships this spring, General Motors is confident there are still buyers looking for a car that offers them the throaty roar, look and feel that made the Camaro an iconic car. But there are now additional driver expectations that Chevy is addressing.

The 2016 Camaro.
Geoff Robins | AFP | Getty Images
The 2016 Camaro.

For starters, the steering, suspension and driving dynamics in the new Camaro make it clear this is a car built for speed and handling. It's also packed with the latest technological features, including a heads-up display. But the biggest change sure to grab attention is the model with a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder turbocharged engine.

Reuss said the four-cylinder version of the Camaro starts at $25,700 and has 275 horsepower.

"You've got a really entertaining car that is very fuel efficient and is just a whole lot of fun," he said. "The Camaro formula has always been about fun, affordability and beauty."

Eric Noble, president of California consulting firm The Carlab, said GM isn't compromising by rolling out a more fuel-efficient Camaro with a smaller engine.

"In order for these vehicles to survive [from] a business-case standpoint, they have got to get repeat sales, which means the woman or the guy who has one today has to feel good enough about that ownership that in two, three or four years they are going to buy again," he said. "Cheap fuel makes that a lot easier a decision."

Camaro sales have tapered off over the past few years, falling 10.5 percent in 2015. But so far this year, sales of the vehicle are up 44 percent.

The Camaro has long been a niche model for GM because of its role as a halo car. Such vehicles are meant to generate interest in a particular auto brand, and typically have low sales expectations. Even though this is the sixth generation of the Camaro, it still draws people into Chevy showrooms.

"At the end of the day we are selling cars like this because these cars have soul," Reuss said.