Happy, muscle-car fans? Just this past year you've been gifted a 707-horsepower Challenger Hellcat and a brand-new Mustang, with a 500-plus-horsepower Shelby GT350 waiting in the chute. It's been a Super Bowl of a year, with no deflation to spoil the fun.

In fact, it's the opposite. A new version of the the third member of the classic American muscle-car trio arrives later this year. It's been the best seller for the past few years, outpacing the Mustang again last year by a few thousand sales.

Can the sixth generation of the Chevy Camaro keep that winning streak alive? It'll rely on some Cadillac influence to do it--along with a slightly smaller footprint and a lot more technology underhood, including its four-cylinder ever.

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Downsized for the better

GM says the new Camaro is quicker, a better handler, lighter, and more broadly talented than the gen-five car that bows out this year after bowing in 2010.

Other than the name and some badges, the 2016 Camaro is completely unrelated to the outgoing car. The new Camaro has a lot more in common with the Cadillac ATS and CTS, as the latest spin-off of GM's Alpha architecture and as the latest vehicle it will build in Lansing, Mich.

The Camaro is quite a different beast from either Caddy, though, with more than 70 percent new content wrapped around the best of those related vehicles. The goal, says Aaron Link, the Camaro's lead development engineer, was to shift to the slightly smaller Alpha footprint while building on the best attributes of the previous Zeta-based Camaro, its wide track and low center of gravity.

The new underpinnings let engineers shrink the car and sharpen its handling.

It "feels more agile," Link says, and "changes directions more quickly."

By the numbers, the 2016 Chevrolet Camaro checks in at 188.3 inches overall, down 2.3 inches from Gen 5; at 74.7 inches wide, down 0.8 inches; at 53.1 inches, down 1.1 inches; and at 110.7 inches, down 1.6 inches. Its front track is narrower by 0.6 inches, the rear by 0.5 inches. With that and more widespread use of high-strength steel, the Camaro drops a minimum of 200 pounds in comparable trim levels, Link says, to about 3,000 pounds in base trim.

The blending of mechanical bits started with the Alpha's front- and rear-end structures. From the CTS, Link's crew took the frame rails, motor rails, and trunk floor. The steering gear comes from the upcoming V-Series CTS, albeit with longer tie rods that give the Camaro a wider track and helped draw out the proportions into something less sedan-like--and more a long-nose, classically proportioned coupe.

The weight-cutting lessons learned from CTS and ATS drilled their way down to individual suspension members. "People are amazed when they look at the rear suspension links," Link says. "They’re small and cross-drilled, a lattice kind of a look that’s completely weight-optimized."

That suspension design bears a lot of resemblance to Cadillac's latest efforts, but it's been tweaked for Camaro application. In front a multi-link MacPherson strut setup has a similar double-pivot design to the Cadillac sedans, as does the five-link rear suspension design. GM's highly praised Magnetic Ride Control adaptive dampers return--and this time appear on the Camaro SS options list.

One area where the Camaro hasn't been downsized is in stopping power. Four-piston Brembo brakes are available across the lineup, standard on the SS, and 18-inch Goodyear Eagle Sports are the base tires. Twenty-inch wheels with Eagle F1 run-flat tires are an option on the Camaro LT, while SSs get standard 20-inch versions of the same tire.

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Enter the four-cylinder

But what you really want to know is what's going to launch the Camaro into new performance arenas--everything from a new four-cylinder version to an SS with Corvette power.

Three engines and four transmissions have been developed for the new Camaro. The intriguing alternative to Ford's turbocharged Mustang is GM's 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, rated in production trim at 275 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque for what GM promises will be the most efficient Camaro to date, at more than 30 miles per gallon on the EPA highway cycle. It can be coupled to a six-speed manual or an eight-speed automatic, just like the rest of the lineup. Chevy predicts a 0-60 mph time of under 6.0 seconds.

The manual shifter is adapted from the same Tremec six-speed Cadillac uses, only with a slightly different gearset, tighter ratios and smaller steps between gears but with the same final-drive ratio. There's no hope for more speeds, though. Link says it just won't fit: "It's not a cost or image thing, or sharing with Corvette, it just wouldn’t fit in our tunnel."

You can give up any green dreams for the Camaro too--there won't be a plug-in hybrid system of any kind, for the same space reasons. "There's no room for battery pack and plug-in...it’s packaged pretty darn tightly."

A 3.6-liter V-6 sits in the middle of the lineup. With cylinder deactivation and direct injection, the six is pegged at 335 hp and 284 lb-ft of torque.

At the top of the lineup, the Camaro SS stocks an LT1 V-8, its 6.2 liters of displacement responsible for a ripping 455 hp and 455 lb-ft of torque and unspecified 0-60 mph times. GM says this application of the LT1 has its own exhaust manifolds and other adapted hardware, but still shares about 80 percent of its components with the Corvette installation. With the V-8, the available six-speed manual gets rev-matching that can be disabled for track driving. A sensor under the shift rail detects movement and blips the throttle for a smoother, cleaner gear changes--and the function can be disabled via steering-wheel paddles.

No matter which drivetrain is fitted, the Camaro's driving personality can be tweaked and fiddled with through a new Drive Mode Selector. It tunes throttle, steering, stability control, and shift patterns through Snow/Ice, Tour, Sport and – on SS models – Track settings, and lets drivers break free from the presets to choose a custom combination of settings. Slow throttle, heavy steering, and long, smooth shifts? It's possible, if not necessarily desirable.

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Sounding off

Making all three powertrains sound Camaro-appropriate was an area of focus, Link says. Both the V-6 and V-8 amplify engine noises and pump them into the cabin--and can be fitted with a two-mode exhaust that skips the mufflers under heavy throttle to boost the musclecar sounds depending on the driver's mood.

Of course, it's the four-cylinder that got the most attention. As with the Mustang, the reception of a turbo-four engine depends heavily on how it sounds--if it's muscular enough.

"One of our biggest challenges [was], what’s this thing supposed to be like?" Link says. "A V-8 Camaro, we know what that’s supposed to be, it’s pretty tried and true for us.

"We weren't sure really how the reaction would be," Link admits. "There's some skepticism and some stigma" about four-cylinder muscle cars--which is why the Camaro's four gets noise cancellation across the board, to tune out weaker-sounding frequencies, and also noise amplification with its optional Bose audio system.

The four-cylinder also has a different exhaust setup--it went "from a one-in, two-out exhaust, to a two-in, two-out, so the exhaust pipe coming out of engine splits before exhaust."

In the end, Link's team decided to "embrace the four-cylinder and not trying to make it a six or eight. it would come off as very artificial."

"Our engine actually has some pretty good character of its own," he says. "We’ve erred on the subtle side for sure. The more we drive this package, we know people are really going to like it."

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A little easier to live with

More drivers should fit in the resculpted Camaro, too. Cockpit styling and packaging has been the single biggest deficit of the 2010-2015 car, what with its lifeless cabin, a useless back seat, and front buckets that couldn't accommodate taller drivers, even without a helmet.

With its subtle new contours smoothing out the blocky, Transformers-like edges of the gen-five car, the Camaro also should deliver more interior space, at least for front passengers. Trunk space and back-seat room? They still take a back seat, but with some work, Link's crew has found a little more space in the rear.

"When we first started, we realized headroom in rear was pretty bad, so we shrink-wrapped headliner better to the rear and moved some things around to be able to gain a full inch of headroom that we didn’t have."

In front, better clearance should be a boon to anyone strapping in for lap times. The front seats have a lower limit for vertical travel, and even though the roof height is lower, Link promises more room for helmeted drivers.

Wrapped around the driver is what Link says is one of the best things about the new Camaro--the interior. "People are going to be blown away" by its more open, much better finished cockpit.

"It's nothing similar to the old one," he says, outlining the Camaro's new interior. A lot of space has been freed up by reconfiguring the center stack and console; "there's not so much of a wall between passengers," he says, thanks to an electronic parking brake and round vents with integral climate controls. The CD player's been axed, too, to make more room for a big 8.0-inch touchscreen atop the stack--paired with another one offered that slots between the gauges. The screens, coupled to available wireless phone charging and Chevy's MyLink infotainment system, makes this the most connected Camaro ever.

It's not short on glitz, either. The Camaro now has ambient lighting that can be linked to drive modes. There’s even a theatrical “car show” mode that cycles randomly through the entire color spectrum when the Camaro is parked.

The Camaro goes on sale late this fall, trimmed down to a coupe model in LT or SS trim--for now. A convertible will come soon, and over the next few years, the obvious extensions--Z/28 and ZL1--are just that.

Pricing hasn't been announced, but we'll know very soon how the Camaro drives, at least in early prototype form. Watch this space Sunday for our first take on the Camaro's handling and acceleration as we go for a first drive.

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