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2020 Chevrolet Camaro Test Drive Review
For decades, a trio of classic 2-door sports coupes has captured the hearts and minds of Americans. Measured against the Dodge Challenger and Ford Mustang, the 2020 Chevy Camaro is the driving enthusiast’s choice, and people on a budget will adore the new LT1 trim level.
In automotive terminology, a sleeper is a fast car that doesn’t look like one. The 2020 Chevrolet Camaro LT1 is that kind of vehicle, a basic Camaro LT with all the tasty Camaro SS go-fast hardware underneath its clean, unadorned sheet metal. And it’s priced lower than the SS, too, coming in below $35,000 before discounts and rebates.
Look and Feel
There are four ways to tell that a 2020 Chevrolet Camaro LT1 is not to be trifled with. The hood vents signal the presence of a 455-horsepower V8, as does the rumble emanating from the dual exhaust system. Brembo front brake calipers are another sign, as are the LT1 badges on each front fender. Otherwise, it looks like a car you’d rent during a honeymoon trip to Hawaii—minus the convertible top.
This approach appeals to the introvert in me. I like to go fast and have fun, but I hate advertising it. My test car’s Satin Steel Gray paint, plain gray cloth seats, and sparkly silver rather than gray or black 20-inch wheels represent visual perfection in my book. No speedy Camaro about to break several traffic laws over here, officer.
Aside from this handful of details, the Camaro LT1 looks just like a turbocharged 4-cylinder Camaro LS priced at $25,000. Within the broader Camaro lineup, in order to get a convertible top or access to a V6 engine upgrade and a long list of optional equipment, you’ll need to choose a 1LT, 2LT, or 3LT trim, which ranges from $25,500 to $40,690, depending on body style and engine.
The new-for-2020 Camaro LT1 is available in both coupe and convertible configurations. My test car was a coupe, priced from $34,000. Options included a 10-speed automatic transmission and a dual-mode exhaust system, bringing the window sticker to $37,585, including the destination charge.
If you want to advertise the muscle under your Camaro’s hood, you’ll want the Camaro SS or Camaro ZL1. Prices range from a low of $37,000 for a 1SS Coupe to $71,695 for a ZL1 Convertible, including the $2,100 federal gas-guzzler tax.
A ZL1 includes plenty of exposed stitching and simulated suede interior trim, but no matter how much you spend on a Camaro, there’s no eliminating the excessive use of hard, shiny plastic that is sometimes indifferently affixed to the cabin.
Naturally, the Camaro LT1 test car’s interior was especially cheap looking and feeling on the inside, given its basis on the base version of the car. At one point, the center console trim popped off when I moved my right leg, which is just ridiculous.
But then you push down on the accelerator pedal, the 6.2-liter V8 roars, and suddenly you don’t much care if the cabin needs to be Gorilla-glued* back together – especially given the price you paid for the LT1.
- Yeah, umm, don’t actually use glue to put parts that fall off back on. Bad idea.
So here’s the deal with the Camaro LT1. Chevy takes a Camaro 1LT (not confusing at all) and bolts in a 6.2-liter V8 making 455 hp and 455 pound-feet of torque. Then it adds a limited-slip rear differential, 4-piston Brembo front brakes, a performance-tuned suspension, and a set of 20-inch wheels. The end result is a car that can get to 60 mph in about 4 seconds and scream down the quarter-mile in about 12.5 seconds.
The beauty of any modern Camaro, though, is the car’s basis on General Motors’ Alpha platform. Engineered to serve beneath the Cadillac ATS and CTS, luxury sport sedans charged with taking on Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz, the Alpha platform’s inherent dynamism transforms the Camaro into something more than a traditional American muscle car. And that means it can tackle a twisty road just as capably as it can accelerate in a straight line.
From the driver’s seat, forward visibility is superior to the view in a Challenger or a Mustang. Chevy carves subtle channels on either side of the hood bulge, giving both the driver and passenger a better and more immediate view of the road. Creased fenders help to place the car in a lane, too, and dimensionally the Camaro is smaller than its primary competitors. All of this, combined with a lighter curb weight, makes the Camaro more fun to drive in the real world, where narrow roads, blind curves, and unanticipated obstacles are the rule.
In fact, in my opinion, the Camaro drives more like a BMW 4 Series than a Challenger or Mustang. It just doesn’t have nearly the same level of refinement. For that, Cadillac offered the now-discontinued ATS Coupe on this same platform.
I drove my testing loop in Tour mode, except when running the car across the local mountains, where I used Sport mode. It averaged 18.6 mpg in the city and suburbs and finished the entire loop at an even 20 mpg. Official EPA ratings are 16 mpg city, 27 highway, and 20 combined.
Around town and on local freeways, I drove like a normal, sane human being. Aside from a few quick bursts of acceleration, such as when merging into traffic from an on-ramp, I kept the Camaro to prevailing speeds.
In the mountains, however, I drove with enthusiasm. Given the optional 10-speed automatic’s plethora of gears, which replaces the standard active-rev-matching 6-speed manual gearbox, I expected to need the paddle shifters. But after ripping around the first downhill, off-camber curve, the Camaro’s sensors and software assumed I would need a performance algorithm, which always picked the right gear at the right time. As a result, the 10-speed performed flawlessly, and I didn’t use the paddle shifters at all.
In Sport mode, the dual-mode exhaust system is obnoxiously loud, sounding like a percolating coffee maker with each downshift. This is antithetical to the concept of a sleeper, so I’d leave this option at the factory if I bought myself a Camaro LT1. No doubt, with the standard exhaust, the Camaro would offer plenty of satisfying rumble.
The one thing the Camaro LT1 doesn’t have, and doesn’t offer, is GM’s Magnetic Ride Control suspension. This active adaptive damping suspension would eliminate some of the LT1’s body motions on undulating pavement, making the car feel even more stable and secure while zooming down your favorite back roads. To get this with the V8 engine, you’ll need to upgrade to the Camaro SS.
Otherwise, I thoroughly enjoyed driving the Camaro LT1. A capable all-rounder that’s fast in both a straight line and on twisty roads, it delivers plenty of thrills without breaking your budget. Just make sure that you roll gently into the throttle when exiting corners or curves because the rear end gets skittish if your right foot is too heavy.
Form and Function
While the Camaro’s tidier dimensions help to improve the car’s dynamic athleticism, they spell doom for practicality. Seating for four people exists, but two of them had better be short and limber.
Up front, the Camaro LT1 features cloth-wrapped seats with 8-way power adjustment for the driver and 6-way power adjustment for the front passenger. Thanks to generous seat-track travel, a variety of people will fit without a problem. Just know that getting in and out, especially in crowded parking lots, isn’t easy.
Getting into the backseat is even harder. The front seatbelts block the path, and there isn’t much clearance to start with. I moved the front passenger seat to where my knees touched the car’s dashboard, and I still couldn’t get both legs tucked in while sitting in back. Plus, I had no headroom, forcing me to tuck my chin against my chest. As for carrying kids, my 9-year-old fit back there, but my much taller 11-year-old wanted nothing to do with it.
Like the exterior, the interior has a retro-flavored theme. Controls emphasize style and minimalism, without the flashiness of a Mustang. Some people don’t like the Camaro’s infotainment system controls, but I find them perfect for adjusting and muting stereo volume, tuning up and down between radio stations, and quickly getting to the home screen.
The Camaro’s unique climate controls are another point of contention with some people, but I think the big round air vents with integrated temperature and fan speed adjustment show imagination. Main climate function buttons are arranged in a tidy row above the vents, maintaining the cabin’s clean appearance.
Practical storage places are basically non-existent. There is a glove box, of course. And two cupholders. But space for the key fob, your smartphone, or anything else is extremely limited. This, in addition to cheap interior materials and the uncomfortable back seats, is one of the car’s main flaws.
The trunk measures 9.1 cubic feet for the Camaro coupe (7.3 for the convertible). It holds two full-size suitcases, leaving some space for smaller duffel bags or backpacks. The liftover height is high, and the opening is small, but the strut-supported lid means you don’t need to worry about hinges crushing anything you’ve packed, so you can fill the trunk to the brim with your belongings.
If you’re shopping for a Camaro, Challenger, or Mustang, and you need a usable back seat and a large trunk, the Dodge is the car to buy. Don’t even bother with the Chevy, and the Ford isn’t much better.
My Camaro LT1 test car had the standard Chevrolet Infotainment System 3 package, which includes a 7-inch touchscreen display, a reversing camera, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, OnStar connected services including a 4G LTE WiFi hotspot, and a 6-speaker Bose sound system.
Clearly, this setup provides everything you really need thanks to decent sound quality, smartphone integration, and both WiFi and a range of connected services if you want them. Also, as I mentioned previously, in my opinion, the simple physical controls beneath the screen are a model of perfection. Would it be nice to have a tuning knob? Sure, but the big tuning buttons work just fine as a substitute.
As an option, you can get a larger 8-inch display screen, a more sophisticated version of SiriusXM satellite radio, and additional stereo speakers. A connected navigation system is also available, and with the automatic transmission, the car includes remote engine start.
Other versions of the Camaro offer more in terms of technology. You can get a head-up display as well as a rear camera mirror that really helps to improve rear visibility. Both the SS and ZL1 offer a Track driving mode, launch control, and something called a Performance Data Recorder that produces a sharable video of your high-performance exploits complete with a data overlay.
What happens to that footage when you make a mistake and get into a collision? Certainly sounds like evidence to me, making the LT1’s lack of such technology even more appealing.
Another area where Chevy really needs to up the Camaro LT1’s game is with regard to safety. Aside from the standard stability control system and reversing camera, and the available OnStar connected services including automatic collision notification and SOS emergency calling, you’re on your own.
More than anything, what I’d like to see as an option is a blind-spot monitoring system with rear cross-traffic alert. Though I find forward visibility to be fine for a car like this, and side visibility is okay thanks to the wide side mirrors, rear visibility is awful. You will become reliant on the reversing camera, and rear cross-traffic alert can only help. Plus, I think blind-spot monitoring is one of the most important safety innovations of the past decade, no matter how easy it is to see out of a vehicle.
Other versions of the Camaro are offered with a rear camera mirror, dramatically improving rear visibility. Rear parking sensors are also available, as is a forward-collision warning system. No Camaro is available with adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist, or high-beam headlights.
It’s been a while since I’ve driven a car without these modern advanced driving-assistance systems (ADAS), and it was refreshing. Often, ADAS behave in unexpected ways and can sometimes confuse and distract a driver. That’s not a problem in the Camaro LT1, an old-school kind of car that presumes you know how to drive before you get behind the wheel.
As far as crash-test ratings are concerned, the Camaro coupe gets an overall 5-star rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Note, however, that frontal-impact ratings for the driver and passenger amount to 4 stars instead of 5.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gives the Camaro coupe top marks in frontal- and side-impact testing, though the car hasn’t been subjected to the new small-overlap, front passenger test. For roof crush strength, the Camaro coupe receives an Acceptable rather than a Good rating.
Lastly, Teen Driver is standard on the Camaro, and free for the lifetime of the vehicle. This is great for parents of young drivers, because the technology spits out a report card after your son or daughter has been driving the car. You’ll know how fast they went, how far they drove, and how many times the safety systems activated (which, on a Camaro LT1, is going to be zero since there aren’t any). You can also use Teen Driver to program stereo volume limits, seatbelt use requirements, and more.
If V8-powered performance from a classic American sports coupe is what you seek, the 2020 Chevrolet Camaro LT1 delivers at a lower price than Dodge or Ford. However, Dodge heavily discounts the Challenger, and Ford’s never shy about reducing the price of the Mustang, so what you actually pay for one of these cars has nothing to do with the number on the window sticker.
The value inherent in the Camaro comes from its Alpha platform. Dynamic goodness is baked right into this car regardless of the trim level or powertrain, and more than anything this is why the Camaro is my favorite of the trio.
That, and I love the LT1’s sleeper appearance. Nothing about the look says, “Yeah, I go really fast, and I’m ready to prove it!” And that means I’d be better able to retain my low insurance rates and my driver’s license.
Christian Wardlaw has 25 years of experience reviewing cars and has served in editorial leadership roles with Edmunds, J.D. Power, the New York Daily News, Autobytel, and Vehix. Chris prefers to focus on the cars people actually buy rather than the cars about which people dream, and emphasizes the importance of fuel economy and safety as much as how much fun a car is to drive. Chris is married to an automotive journalist, is the father of four daughters, and lives in Southern California.
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