Thumbs Up: The cure for the summertime blues
Thumbs Down: The cure’s price of admission
Buy This Car If: You have a taste for ragtop pony cars with a bowtie on the grille
Eddie Cochran was only 21 years old when he died in a traffic accident during a U.K. tour. Had he lived until 2011, Cochran would have realized how wrong he was when he wrote the lyric, “there ain’t no cure for the summertime blues.” There is indeed a cure for the summertime blues, and it comes in the form of the 2011 Camaro Convertible. The regular strength cure, with its surprisingly-entertaining-yet-fuel-efficient 312 horsepower V-6 was all I needed, but don’t worry: the cure is also available in an extra-strength, 426 horsepower V-8 version.
I’ll admit to being indifferent about the Camaro Coupe. Sure, it’s a good looking car (especially the rear 3/4 view), but too much emphasis was placed on form over function. If you’re over five feet, ten inches tall, getting into the coupe without smashing your head requires more than a little dexterity. The slammed greenhouse may look cool, but it makes the car claustrophobic inside and seriously impairs visibility. Take the Camaro’s roof off, and all those problems go away. Something else happens, too: the car gets better looking as a ragtop than it is as a coupe.
That rarely happens, especially when a car begins life as a hardtop model. The original stylists are forced to see their design rendered in lumpy canvas or vinyl, and the resulting car is often a compromise of function over style. Not so on the Camaro, and I’d raise the argument that the Camaro is a better looking car as a convertible than it is as a coupe. It’s certainly more functional, since getting passengers into and out of the ragtop is a whole lot easier than doing the same on the coupe. Hitting your head on canvas (with the top up) hurts less than hitting it on steel, too.
If anonymity is your thing, a Camaro ragtop isn’t for you. The car drew more attention, across all age groups, than any other car I’ve ever driven, and that includes driving a 1965 Corvette Roadster through Tokyo, Japan. Kids love it, thanks to the Transformers tie-in, but adults love it, too, which makes the Camaro unique in its appeal to all demographics. It’s a stunning car that radiates a certain aura of cool, and you can’t help but smile behind the wheel.
As for the whole V-6 versus V-8 argument, I really think that I preferred the V-6 over the V-8, at least in the drop-top. The Camaro Convertible’s mission is cruising in style, not ripping off lap times on a road course or E.T.s at a drag strip. The V-6 has a mild rumble to it, and it’s certainly quick enough for ragtop duty, so why spend the extra cash (and lose the fuel economy) by selecting the V-8?
Inside, the driver and front seat passenger get first-class accommodations. The seats lack lumbar support, but you won’t notice since they’re as comfortable as a recliner. They’re deeply bolstered, too, which means you’ll stay in place when probing the Camaro’s handling limits. The quality of leather used is impressive, and the only suggestion for improvement I could make is to use ventilated leather for added comfort. Front seats are heated, which definitely helps to extend the range of your top-down driving season.
The rear seats are comfortable enough, but only for those with short legs. There’s a serious lack of legroom in the Camaro Convertible, but in fairness, the Mustang suffers from the exact same problem. Getting into the back seats is easy when the top’s down, and the rear perches are more than sufficient for short trips.
Not much has changed on the inside since last year, but the black plastic dash works better in the convertible than it does in the coupe. There’s a dark gray trim strip across the dash top (which corresponds with the trim panels on the doors), and the vents get chrome trim. Retro instruments are recessed into silver-faced pods, and the radio gets dark metallic trim. Aside from that, there’s not much to break up the copious amounts of black plastic inside the Camaro’s cockpit. That was a big criticism in the Camaro Coupe, but somehow even a plain black interior looks good enough in the convertible.
Most convertibles extract a price in the amount of luggage room left over with the top down, and the Camaro is no exception. Pack carefully, and two people could get away for a weekend, but there’s no chance for a longer trip unless you utilize the back seat for cargo duty. That’s the case with the Mustang as well, and to give credit where it’s due, the Camaro has more trunk room than the Infiniti G37 hard-top convertible or the Volvo C70 hard-top convertible. Most drop-tops are for day use only, and the majority of buyers will find the Camaro’s trunk space sufficient for their needs.
Under the hood of my Camaro 2LT Convertible was Chevy’s 3.6-liter V-6 hooked to a six-speed automatic transmission. I expected the engine to feel underpowered in a car pushing two tons, but that wasn’t the case. Step on the gas, especially with the transmission in Sport mode, and the ragtop accelerates with reasonable authority. If you want to extract the last bit of performance out of this engine / transmission package, you can shift it yourself via the Camaro’s tap-shift feature. Zero to sixty comes up in under 6.5 seconds, yet the V-6 still returns an EPA estimated 18 mpg in town and 29 mpg on the highway. In mostly city driving, I saw an actual fuel economy of 19.3 mpg.
On the road, the first thing you notice about the Camaro is its bulk: even in topless form, the Camaro feels and drives like a big, heavy car. That was one of my objections to the coupe, since driving the Camaro on a racetrack would take substantial effort (not to mention copious amounts of brake pads and tires). That’s less of an objection in the convertible, since the car is more about cruising and being seen than it is about outright performance or handling. With the top down, there’s a surprising amount of wind noise in the cockpit, but only at highway speeds. Put the top up and you’ll get some buffeting and road noise, but that’s the price you pay for driving a convertible. Top operation is simple enough (pull and turn the handle, press a button and wait patiently), but raising or lowering the top isn’t something you’ll want to do at a stop light. Chevy says the top can be put up or taken down in 20 seconds, but it feels a long longer when you’ve got a line of cars behind you and the traffic light is about to change.
Push the Camaro hard, and you’re rewarded with some fairly impressive handling. There isn’t much body roll to speak of, and there’s plenty of grip in corners. If your tastes run to tail-out hoonage, the V-6 gives you enough grunt to work with, once you turn the stability control system off. In fact, I’d be hard pressed to justify the additional cost (and additional weight) of the V-8 engine in the Camaro SS Convertible. I’d want the bigger mill in the Camaro Coupe, but for the ragtop, the V-6 feels just about right. It’ll feel even better for 2012, because the V-6 engine gets a bump up to 323 horsepower and cracks the 30 mpg barrier for highway fuel economy.
My Camaro 2LT Convertible tester had a base price of $33,500, including a destination charge of $850. Options on my tested included the $1,500 RS package (20-inch wheels, HID headlamps, rear spoiler, RS tail lamps) and the $1,185 six-speed automatic transmission, for a total sticker price of $36,185. There’s only one competitor for the Camaro, and a comparably optioned Ford Mustang V-6 Premium Convertible would sticker at $35,620. That’s close enough for government work in price, so it really comes down to this: If you’re a bowtie fan, the Camaro is your ragtop of choice. If you’re a blue oval fan, you buy the Mustang. If you’re on the fence, one drive in the Camaro may be enough to put you over the edge, especially if you need a cure for the summertime blues.