REVIEWS: 2011 Chevrolet Camaro Convertible 2SS
July 21, 2011
Lowering the convertible roof of the Camaro fixes a lot of what I think is wrong with the regular Camaro coupe. First, claustrophobia and poor visibility are major issues in the Camaro hardtop. Let in some sunlight and ditch the big C-pillars, and your mood immediately and literally brightens and your confidence in changing lanes instantly increases. Second, the sleek and sexy Camaro coupe looks like it might handle and corner like a Porsche 911, but the Chevy disappoints with its general feeling of heft. The (heavier) convertible Camaro doesn't handle any better, but its character is less suggestive of a world-class sports car; it's more of a cruiser, and by that measure its handling is quite capable.
Acceleration seems incongruously slow based on all the fantastic noise that the engine makes. Tall gearing is surely partly to blame. Also, I observed a strange delayed throttle response if you jump on the gas in second gear.
The Camaro convertible's trunk is teeny tiny and has a small opening, and the power roof is slow to operate. On the plus side, though, I noticed very little (if any) cowl shake, an ailment that tends to negatively afflict most convertibles with more than two seats.
After a week driving a weak Nissan Leaf, I loved feeling of the entire Camaro shaking from its loping engine torque while I sat idling at traffic lights. While waiting at one of those lights, I got a big thumbs-up from the driver of a nice Fox-body Ford Mustang convertible, out for a cruise on a perfect summer evening, just like me.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
No top-down time for me, as we were in the midst of a rainy spell when I signed out the Camaro convertible. That's too bad, as that pretty much defeats the purpose of this car.
My first impression when sitting in the Camaro is that it's big. It feels heavy and wide, and yet the cabin can be almost claustrophobic with its high beltline and fairly large blind spots at both the A- and C-pillars. For years, GM fell short of its competitors in the fit and finish of its cabins, and I have to say that the Camaro sort of lives up to that reputation. The air vents, particularly those in the center position, are made of a rather flimsy plastic and are consequently hard to adjust. On the other hand, the steering wheel is covered in decent leather that feels pretty good. On the third hand, the sound system and the gauges in front of the driver look retro, but not necessarily in a good way.
Driving the Camaro is about what I expected - there's nothing subtle about this car. The engine makes a very deep, throaty rumble when you goose the accelerator, and once underway it feels big and solid. It simply shrugs off rough pavement, remaining settled except in the most extreme circumstances. The six-speed manual is quite easy to use - the clutch is a little stiff and the gear throws are notchy, but in general it seems as though it would be very forgiving of even the most ham-handed drivers.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
The threat of rain prevented me from enjoying some top-down time in the Camaro convertible but, although I wasn't able to enjoy the sights that come with top down motoring, I was able to experience the sounds. Lots of sounds, from general road noise to the tweets of birds in trees along the side of the road. It's surprising how little insulation the fabric roof provides from the noises of the outside world. This is not uncommon in convertibles with a cloth top, especially those that are covering two rows of seats. The same is true in the Camaro's cross-town rival, the Ford Mustang convertible.
Big convertibles are also particularly susceptible to cowl shake from the loss of structural rigidity due to chopping the top off, but the Camaro felt fairly solid. A patch of rough pavement can get the Camaro hopping a bit though, and the somewhat numb steering doesn't make it easy to keep the car pointed in a straight line down the road. Nor does the fact that this car has such a large diameter steering wheel. The Camaro is a fairly substantial car, but there's no reason the wheel needs to be so big. It looks and feels out of scale.
You can't talk about the Camaro Convertible SS without talking about the powertrain. The engine sounds excellent and the shifter has just the right amount of resistance and notchiness. I'd prefer a smaller shift knob though.
Jennifer Misaros, Managing Editor, Digital Platforms
I was fortunate enough to have the Camaro Convertible over a weekend and was blessed with plenty of top-down weather. This was the first Camaro of any stripe to come through the office during my tenure, so I was excited to check it out and spend some time driving and shooting it.
The Great: The exhaust note. This car just sounded as bad-ass as it gets. My wife was completely intimidated riding shotgun, and I was hardly jumping on the throttle with her and the kids along. Also filed under "great" is the car's decapitated look -- both from inside and out. I can only imagine the closed in feeling of driving a coupe, but the view from behind the wheel, looking over that big, red hood on a country road with the top down and a canopy of trees flying over your head was just tremendous. And, of course, visibility all around was fine despite the high beltline. From outside, the bright red Camaro was a head-turner and had just the right amount of menace in its personality. Big five spoke alloys and wide rubber gave it a look of a car ready to pounce.
The Good: I thought the manual 6-speed was fine -- nothing fantastic, but no glaring flaws. This car, with its natural inclination for cruising is one where I might consider an automatic -- something I rarely would do -- but it somehow feels like that's the more natural fit for this car. The Camaro felt big and heavy -- like a muscle car of yore--and not as sharp and crisp as a new Mustang. It feels planted to the pavement (unlike a Challenger) over dips and hillcrests and around curves, and the body remains tight and rattle-free with the roof removed despite the washboard condition of some of the Michigan backroads I drove it on. This is a car made for the type of aimless country driving I did or boulevard cruising, not so much for the track.
Interior space and layout was fine, the backseat accommodated a couple of carseat-bound kids with ease, and would probably have been fine for an average adult. The overall look and style of the interior is nice, with the sweeping dash and door panel inserts and classic instrument cluster, but it falls apart under closer inspection...
The Bad: The instruments and controls in this car are just abysmal. I can appreciate the goal of the retro styling, but the execution is poor. The gauges look like a mechanized version of a toy car's decal dashboard. The overabundance of colors and clumsy, plasticky needles were a constant irritation to me, because they seem so inexcusably bad, and easily remedied. The Mustang excels in this exact scenario, with retro-styled gauges that look solid and convincingly "old" yet remain highly readable and somehow modern. The HVAC controls are also style-first, function-last with their low placement and illegible symbols on tiny buttons. And, again, despite the goal of a retro look, the Camaro again misses the mark with a cheesy silver plastic for the fixtures.
In summary, I had a great time with this car, and I think it's a well done cruiser that puts a smile on the face of anyone in it or watching it drive by, but Chevy has some homework to do on the details.
Matt Tierney, Art Director
Asking the Camaro Convertible to move with agility and grace is like expecting your 300-pound uncle to be the best dancer at your wedding. Then again, I don't really subscribe to the convertibles-as-sports-cars thought school, so this drop-top muscle car is all right by me and I can see why open-air drivers would choose the louder, bad-ass looks of the Camaro over the better-driving Ford Mustang.
It's definitely cool, but the Camaro could easily be a whole lot cooler. The manual roof release latch is awkward to use and the power softtop is unusually slow, discouraging you from lowering the roof at a red light that could turn green at the wrong time. When raising the top, the motors keep on humming as long as you're holding the "close" button, with no clear indication of when the top is fully up. And then there are the same flaws that plague the fixed-roof Camaro. Lazy gearing makes this car feel much more tame than the 6.2-liter V-8 should be and who could argue against a smaller, more nimble car?
Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor
There are few cars that I find myself wanting an automatic transmission when there is a manual option; this, sadly, is one of them. The blame goes to the springy and vague clutch pedal.
Chopping the top off of the Camaro added so much weight (more than 250 pounds) to an already portly coupe that it drives more like a grand tourer than a sports car. But then again, isn't that what the Camaro is for -- cruising? In that case, the Camaro convertible has accomplished its mission. With the big, burbling 6.2L V-8 and look-at-me design inside and out, the car is a visual and aural treat for both passengers and bystanders. Our test car was dressed in a Red Jewel Tricoat that grabbed the attention of anyone with eyes, and the black leather and black cloth top added a sinister element to the package. It may not be the most fun to drive, but it sure is fun to look at.
Donny Nordlicht, Associate Web Editor
I'll concede that empirically the Camaro convertible may be inferior to its coupe progenitor. Yet the two serve different purposes, and there is no denying that this is subjectively one of the coolest cars in which to spend a sunny summer evening.
Sure, the gearbox is notchy and heavy, the clutch spring too aggressive, and the interior a bit cheap. So what? Muscle cars were never about sophistication. The goal of a convertible muscle car is to mix big-block grunt with top-down cruising. Removing the roof makes for a Camaro that jiggles and shakes over rough roads, but it also allows you to fully revel in the exhaust note of the 6.2-liter V-8 while cruising around town. Nobody buys a Camaro SS convertible for full-on track attacks -- they buy one because it looks, sounds, and feels fun.
In that respect, this Camaro succeeds. It got enthusiastic stares, smiles, and comments from friends and family -- and strangers. I woke up early so I'd have more time to drive the car on a beautiful 65-degree morning before work. And I blipped the throttle for every single downshift, so as to better enjoy the grumbles and pops from the exhaust.
Back in the winter I confidently told a friend that the Camaro convertible would be The Hot Car to have in summer 2011. So far I haven't seen many around, and Chevrolet confirms that convertibles account for just 20 percent of Camaro sales. That's too bad -- I might be tempted to buy a gently used SS convertible in a few years' time, so I want lots of people to buy them now and keep resale prices low.
Jake Holmes, Associate Web Editor
It's easy to pick on the Camaro. It left the market for a long time and returned to the game with some pretty serious issues: The platform it rides on wasn't really intended for the U.S. market, so the interior isn't as useable as we'd like -- there's no way to put in a navigation unit without spending a lot of development dollars and OnStar isn't an acceptable substitute. It's very heavy. There were far too many compromises made for the design than hinder day-to-day use in terms of visibility and a functional trunk. But it's selling incredibly well.
The type of people buying Camaros and Camaro convertibles aren't looking for lap times, Lotus-like steering feel, or even a practical trunk. They value design, a killer exhaust note, and maybe a connection to the Transformers movies. I'm not willing to say these folks aren't car guys and girls, but the Camaro easily appeals to more of the non-enthusiast population than a more track-oriented toy.
I find it funny that so many of the people who demand GM and Ford bring more of their rear-wheel drive vehicles that are currently sold in Australia to the U.S. don't particularly care for the Camaro. Perhaps those vehicles are designed too specifically for the Australian market and can't be converted to please the consumers in this country at a reasonable cost.
I don't want to own a Camaro, but I do see the appeal in the car for people who love to cruise. There's a strong V-8, solid design, and now the ability to drop the top and bask in the sun.
Phil Floraday, Senior Web Editor