Before we started, had you asked any of us nine judges if the 2016 Chevrolet Camarohad a snowball’s chance in Hyundai’s desert proving grounds of winning our 2016 Car of the Year honors, almost all of us would have said no. Most of us would have been surprised to even see the Camaro as a finalist. Except for Angus MacKenzie, who told me: “On paper it looked strong against a number of the criteria. If it drove well, it was in with a real shot.” May we all be as wise. Still, it’s a flippin’ Camaro, man, forever destined to live in the shadow of the horsey from Dearborn, the Ford Mustang. The other ponycar as our Car of the Year? Fat chance.

Had we stopped and thought about it a little harder, however, we might have reached a different initial conclusion. The Chevrolet Camaro clearly deserved to win our 2016 Car of the Year accolade. Why’s that? Because the sixth-generation Camaro is based on General Motor’s awesome Alpha platform architecture, the same structure that underpins the Cadillac ATS and CTS, the latter being our 2014 Car of the Year. Additionally, we’ve long felt that the ATS has been a burbling V-8, a smart transmission, and an interior upgrade away from KO-ing the BMW 3 Series. Especially as you can absolutely make the argument that GM’s core competency is the small-block. Long story short, we have a history of loving the wondrous-to-drive, lightweight, aluminum- and high-strength-steel intensive Alpha platform. But man, have we been waiting for the General to offer a small-block with a manual transmission.

Boy howdy, did they ever deliver with the 2016 Chevrolet Camaro, our Car of the Year winner. Guest engineering judge Theodore said of the new sixth-generation Camaro: “Quite an accomplishment. Bravo!” He wasn’t only talking about the V-8-engined SS.Chevy also sent us an RS version packing a 335-horsepower, 284-lb-ft of torque, 3.6-liter V-6 and GM’s new eight-speed automatic transmission. Editor-in-chief Loh noted that eight-speed’s “really great calibration.” Something we haven’t been saying about its big brother, the 8L90 cog-swapper found in studs such as the Z06 and CTS-V. We’ve yet to test an 8L90-equipped automatic SS, but here’s hoping the programming is similar to what we experienced with the RS’ 8L45. As for how the V-6 Camaro scoots, Seabaugh was impressed. “The performance you get out of this six-cylinder is amazing,” he said. “It might as well have an SS badge on it. I can already hear the fanboys: ‘My RS does 0-60 mph in 5.3 seconds, handles better than an ATS, and gets killer mileage.’ ” Big time yup. Chevy also makes a 275-hp, 2.0-liter, turbo base model, but we didn’t have access to one in time for this test.