It was the scorching, early morning sun that greeted me as I walked from the side door of the hotel into the parking lot. The sticky humidity hanging in the Florida air instantly salted my skin with perspiration. As my eyes adjusted to the daylight, I caught my first glimpse of Chevrolet’s newest pony car – the sixth-generation Camaro. There it was, in various trim levels and colors, all 11 examples that Chevy had brought for the trip.

My driving partner and I had the fortunate luck of drawing keys for a 2SS-trimmed model coated in Summit While and fitted with the six-speed manual transmission. This would be ours for the next 36 hours as we trekked north and then west through the pan handle of the southern most state. New Orleans was our destination, but two day’s worth of driving and nearly 900 miles lie in between.

All this was part of Chevrolet’s “Find New Roads” campaign, a somewhat unorthodox media event that traveled the country giving journalists some unprecedented seat time and free reign to plan routes and stops. Though the Orlando to New Orleans leg is what I traveled, the cars had been traversing states from the west coast to the east coast, traveling through the Midwest. This leg would point them west once more, though on a decidedly more southern latitude. Chevy’s goal: to get the new Camaro to all 48 contiguous states.

Completely redone for 2016, the Camaro underwent a significant diet in switching to the Alpha platform. It also hit the gym for more power with its trio of new engines and took cotillion classes for more refinement, especially within the interior. There’s no harder test on a vehicle’s livability than to road trip it. Chasing the sun for hours on end reveals the tiniest of details that would otherwise go unnoticed. Small annoyances become headaches while well-executed components can make the trip more enjoyable. I found both.

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An hour’s jaunt northeast took us into Daytona where I had pulled some strings and arranged access to the International Speedway. Though I can’t say with certainty, this was very likely the first time the new Camaro had driven within the track’s hallowed banks. Following our escort, we pulled onto pit road. We had only a short time for photos, which then turned into an excruciatingly long time of weighing the ramifications of breaking protocol and tearing around the track. I’ve never been so preoccupied while trying to shoot a car.

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Eight hundred Miles in Chevy's New American Pony High Resolution Exterior
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Eight hundred Miles in Chevy's New American Pony High Resolution Exterior
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Rational though won out as my driving partner handed me the keys for next leg of the journey. I figure that very few people will get their first chance behind the wheel of the Camaro while sitting at the start/finish line at Daytona. I had to pinch myself. The big V-8’s exhaust note broke the constant, far-off clatter of construction in the grandstands. Feeling for the clutch to engage, the Camaro started rolling towards turn one and my dream of driving those insanely steeped banks. Again, thoughts of being permanently banned from the track won out and I circled around onto pit road.

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Of course, a trip to the Speedway isn’t complete without a stop in Victory Lane for photos. Sadly absent, the imaginary confetti, paparazzi, spewing beverages, and roaring crowd deafened the engine’s burble as I slowly spun around, taking in my location. I was a pretty awesome moment.

Engineers went so far as to shave unneeded threads on bolts and more components are made from Aluminum

Though we didn’t kick the tires and light the fires around the track, the Camaro was certainly capable. Its new design has undergone hundreds of hours of wind tunnel testing that resulted in decreased drag. What’s more, the sixth-generation Camaro SS is 223 pounds lighter than the fifth-generation Camaro SS. Engineers went so far as to shave unneeded threads on bolts and more components are made from Aluminum. Nine pounds alone was cut just by swapping out the steel instrument panel support for an aluminum piece. The same story continues throughout the Camaro’s structure.

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Eight hundred Miles in Chevy's New American Pony High Resolution Exterior
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Eight hundred Miles in Chevy's New American Pony High Resolution Exterior
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The lightweighting, combined with the LT1 V-8 that produces 455 horsepower and 455 pound-feet of torque, allows the Camaro SS to be capable of great things. It has an estimated top speed of 165 mph, though I can’t vouch that spec. Getting up to speed isn’t a problem either; the sprint to 60 mph takes just 4.3 seconds and the quarter mile rips by in 12.5 seconds at 115 mph. Opting for the eight-speed automatic transmission cuts the time to 4.0 seconds to 60 mph and a quarter mile time of 12.3 seconds at 116 mph.

Integrated brake cooling ducts, functional hood vents, and what Chevy engineers call “air curtains” on the front fascia help keep the car running cool and air flowing properly around the grille. Auxiliary radiators, an oil cooler, and a transmission fluid cooler do the bulk of the work in keeping temperatures in check.

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Getting back on the highway, we made a quick stop by the so-called “World’s Most Famous Beach,” just a few miles east of the Daytona Speedway. I managed to avoid getting the Camaro’s 20-inch wheels shod in summer-performance Goodyear rubber from bogging into the loose sand as we moved slowly down the beach. Free of spring breakers and weekend tourists, the nearly empty beach provided a serene drive as the salty Atlantic air filled the cabin.

The clock dictated we move on.

Hoping on Highway 1, with the Camaro pointed towards Gainesville, the miles rolled on. The scenic drive took us through towns not found on tourists’ maps and over marshy lands that explain why Gainesville is called The Swamp. The somewhat desolate, two-lane highway was mostly straight, yet the occasional big-rig provided the perfect opportunity to stretch the Camaro’s legs. Dropping from sixth to fourth put the V-8 in its sweet spot; the active exhaust opened up as the revs climbed past 4,000 rpm. The dotted yellow lines flew by as the horizon opened up, free of traffic.

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Gainesville lived up to its hype of a crowded college town, but was it surprisingly full of mopeds. Having been on my fair share of SEC college campuses, I’d never seen such. Ducking in and out of traffic, their little weed-whacker engines propelled their riders to class in an unabashedly hipster style. Ray Ban sunglasses were out in full force. A few shots of the car with the Ben Hill Griffin Stadium as a backdrop was all we came for. The highway beckoned as we wrapped up a quick lunch. The highway, this time, turned from a narrow, two-lane strip to the sprawling interstate just outside of town. It would take us north up toward the Georgia line.

The Camaro proved to be a great high-speed traveler

It didn’t take long to remember that interstates aren’t nearly as fun as backcountry highways. So just south of I-10, we hopped off I-75 and onto Highway 90, a route that travels halfway across the U.S., going from Jacksonville and dead-ending just east of El Paso, Texas.

Though the interstate wasn’t as exciting, the Camaro proved to be a great high-speed traveler. Its cabin is well insulated from road noise, even from its large 275-series rear tires. Wind noise is nearly non-existent. Thankfully, its seems the designers improved the Camaro’s outward visibility, enlarging the so-called “gun-slit windows.” Adjusted correctly, the three mirrors provide a good view around the car’s rear flanks. The addition of Blind Spot Monitoring on the side mirrors further increases confidence in lane changes.

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Eight hundred Miles in Chevy's New American Pony High Resolution Interior
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Eight hundred Miles in Chevy's New American Pony High Resolution Interior
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However, it was on the long stretch of road I found my first complaint. The door panel armrests are too narrow and have a slight angle that makes it easy for elbows to slip off. I had to constantly think about keeping my arm in place rather than it resting comfortably. Another half-inch of width and a three-degree tilt toward the door panel would solve the issue.

As the miles rolled on and more small towns passed outside the windows, we made our first stop for gas. The sun was dipping behind the trees as I pressed the button for premium fuel. Camaro had been running since 8 am and covered the better part of 300 miles. In very mixed driving and without even trying, the big V-8 was averaging slightly better than 20 mpg. Impressive, considering we’d left it running during each photo op and had plenty of hammer-down instances while passing slower semi trucks on those two-lane roads.

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After yet another quick photo op in front of the Florida State Capital building in Tallahassee, we burned through the evening. The diminishing sunlight wasn’t a problem for the Camaro. Its HID headlights cast a rather wide swath that covers the entire road and even illuminated halfway up the tall Florida pines. Flick the high beams on and the night disappears in a clean, white light.

"My stupid dog ate the brake lines," he said. "That's what's holdin' me up right now."

Having only filled the tank about half way, it wasn’t long before we needed to stop for gas again. This time, it was just outside Mobile, Alabama. It was here that the Camaro became a star. Local after local popped their head out of their car as they weaved between pumps screaming, “nice Camaro, man!” Another local rambled on about his project 1978 Camaro, all the while admiring the front clip of the 2016 in front of him. "My stupid dog ate the brake lines," he said. "That’s what’s holdin’ me up right now." I tried not to laugh.

Yet the best encounter was a young kid who made his mom pull into the gas station for a closer look. Still dressed in his Karate gi from that afternoon’s practice, the kid walked around the car, inspecting every inch. Kindly asking to open the door, he looked inside at the interior. You could tell his eyes were soaking up every detail of a car he’d seen 1,000 times online or in a magazine. Posterity photos were taken and both our nights were made.

Pushing on, we crossed the state line into Mississippi. Tired and weary from the road, my driving partner surrender the wheel – Chinese fire drill style at a red light – as we entered Pascagoula. The town is home to some 22,000 people, one of America’s largest naval shipyards, an oil refinery, and southern charm at its finest. It’s also my childhood hometown. It was a special feeling being the first to bring the new sixth-generation Camaro to town.

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Such quaint towns aren’t generally known for their nightlife, and at 10:30 pm, the sidewalks were practically rolled up. Stray cars piloted by folks I could have known 10 years prior were the only signs of life. I pointed the Camaro’s nose south towards the Gulf, driving along the man-made beach before heading north up the town’s main drag. I could have stayed all night, but the thought of a hotel bed sounded even more appealing.

It was a special feeling being the first to bring the new sixth-generation Camaro to town

Chevy had us book our hotel through the OnStar system. A push of the blue button on the frameless rearview mirror called up an agent who quickly made reservations, no problem. Well, that’s if you don’t count how loud I had to yell before the operator could hear me. Despite the lack of road noise inside the car, the operator had a very difficult time understanding what I was saying. Could it have been a problem on her side? Sure. Could it have been the car’s microphone? Absolutely. Nevertheless, it was frustrating. We ended the day in Gulfport, Mississippi.

Day Two

A decent night’s sleep and scrambled eggs at the continental breakfast are good for the soul. 8 am rolled around and we found ourselves packing the Camaro’s truck with luggage. Even with two carry-on-sized bags, a camera bag, and other assorted oddities, the trunk had room to spare. The opening is small, so bulky items might present a problem, but otherwise, a weekend’s worth of stuff fits fine.

The LT1 V-8 was just settling into its low idle when the Apple Maps warned of traffic on I-10 outside New Orleans. Showing up on the eight-inch infotainment screen thanks to Apple CarPlay, the hour-and-a-half drive was projected to take twice that, with a line of dead-stopped traffic 20 miles long at the Louisiana state line. No thanks. We plotted an alternative route that ironically took us north out of Gulfport, then west to Picayune, only to then be pointed south via I-59. The route would avoid the congestion and add only minutes to the original time.

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Unknown to us, the route would also provide some of the best driving roads I’ve ever seen in Mississippi. Twisty corners that fell in elevation were followed by long straights with no traffic. The Camaro was right at home. Body roll, brake dive, and acceleration squats are all non-existent, likely thanks to the optional Magnetic Ride Suspension fitted on our car. Setting the drive mode to Sport provides greater feedback and response to the steering, while making the throttle more edgy. Though the roads didn’t allow for limit handling, but understeer was never found. At the same time, the tail was never loose. The car just provided a solid, confidence-inspiring ride that begged for more.

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Eight hundred Miles in Chevy's New American Pony High Resolution Exterior
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Eight hundred Miles in Chevy's New American Pony High Resolution Exterior
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Arriving in New Orleans mid-morning, we ventured into the French Quarter – the storied section of town that hosts wild Mardi Gras celebrations every February and offers the south’s best and most authentic Cajun seafood. The crowded, one-way streets were full of delivery vans and construction crews. The broken pavement rose and fell with potholes and crowns. The Camaro took the conditions in stride – never feeling too big or out of place. Even despite the 20-inch wheels and low-profile tires, bumps were soaked up with ease. Credit again belongs to the Magnetic Ride system. This time, Tour mode was selected.

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Eight hundred Miles in Chevy's New American Pony High Resolution Exterior
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Early flights back home prevented more wandering around the city, so my driving partner and I pulled into the rally point near the airport after filling up on the best seafood gumbo I’d ever had. (And that’s saying a lot.) I pulled my bags from the truck and immediately boarded an airport shuttle. Through the bus’ foggy windows I caught my last glimpse of the Camaro – my Camaro. It’s funny how a road trip can foster an immediate attachment to a car.

Dead bugs blotted out the front fascia’s Summit White paint, road grime had turned the black wheels brown, and the rear end was covered with a thick film of dust. It’s plain to see the car had been lived in and ridden hard for nearly 1,000 miles. Now some faceless valet with a fancy polo shirt was taking her way, off to be scrubbed clean and prepped for the next round of journalists to take further west. It was almost hard to watch.

All good things must come to an end, or so they say. Thankfully, this is only the beginning for the sixth-generation Camaro. Sales are likely to topple those of the fifth-gen car, especially thanks to the added 2.0-liter four-cylinder. High-performance models like the ZL1 are on the horizon and will rival the best Ford and Dodge have to offer. The ball has only stated rolling, and I’m excited to see where it goes.

Special thanks to Jeff Perez for several of these photographs

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