Some diehards may consider the Camaro hands-off when it comes to the downsizing trend, but that’s the reality of today’s federal fuel-economy environment. Besides, although the heart and soul of the car always has been tied to eight glorious pistons, the V-6 dominates engine installations on the car at 78.4%.

And with the promise of more than 30 mpg (7.8 L/100km) highway, the 4-cyl. gives the Camaro a conscience. Yes, you can have fuel efficiency and lights-out performance in one package.

The turbocharged 2.0L Ecotec 4-cyl. certainly is no limp-wristed Iron Duke of the 1980s. Unlike that forgettable Camaro 4-banger, today’s Ecotec delivers a playful 275 hp. In fact, the Camaro 4-cyl. matches the output of the ’93-’95 Z28 with a 5.7L V-8.

The car’s 0-60 mph (97 km/h) time of 5.4 seconds also is comparable to the old Z28, while its fuel-economy numbers aren’t even worth dusting off old spec books for comparison.

However, flogging the 4-cyl. Camaro through the desert, we never sniffed 30 big ones, let alone much over 20 mpg (11.7 L/100 km). There was a warm glow in our hearts knowing we could save some serious fuel if we chose to, but then we put the hammer down and kept it there for mile after high-speed-mile on what locals call the American autobahn.

A 15-year bloom on the cacti here ratchets up the drive to epic proportions, something even the swarm of tourists in their slow-moving RVs could not ruin. We happily downshifted our 6-speed manual for a gob of the Ecotec’s 295 lb.-ft. (400 Nm) of torque and overtook them with ease.

The Ecotec LTG 4-cyl. also sees duty in the Cadillac ATS sports sedan and coupe and the Chevy Malibu midsize sedan, bowing as an all-new architecture in 2013. Other applications include the Cadillac CTS and CT6, as well as the Buick Regal and Regal GS. It earned back-to-back Wards 10 Best Engines awards in 2012 and 2013, when it boasted the most torque per liter among 4-cyl. mills on the market.

But its lineage combining gasoline direct injection, forced induction and variable valve timing dates back as far as the original Ecotec family of large-displacement 4-cyl. engines, one of them among the first to break the 130 hp/L threshold in the Pontiac Solstice GXP and Saturn Sky Redline small roadsters and convertibles in 2007. Its durability, GM says, was proved via a successful front-wheel-drive drag-racing program during the same period.

Convertible sports cars are not for everyone, evidenced by a 17.4% take rate on the previous-generation Camaro last year and 21% for the Ford Mustang, according to WardsAuto data. But new lightweight and advanced high-strength materials are making them a bit more palatable, even for the steadfast fixed-roof crowd.

But an inline-4 sports car may be a different matter. The 2.3L 4-cyl. in the Mustang, which Ford markets as a step above the entry-level V-6, was installed on 34% of its builds last year. In the Camaro, the Ecotec will be the base engine for a few hundred dollars less than the model it replaces. That should draw just as many, or likely more, takers than its rival.

So it truly is a new generation in the segment, where buyers can have their cake and eat it too – topless if they prefer.    

jamend@wardsauto.com