When Chevrolet brought back the Camaro a couple of years ago, it was only a matter of time before they’d expand the car’s appeal by offering a convertible too. At last fall’s L.A. Auto Show, the 2011 Camaro convertible was unveiled to a receptive Southern California audience.
And why not? With our year-round mild weather, this is certainly convertible country. And judging by the popularity so far of the Camaro coupe on our roads (unofficially — just me noticing them more and more in traffic), Chevy should have no trouble selling a bunch of convertibles.
All the things that are great about the fixed-roof Camaro were carried over into the open car: the retro-ish styling that captures the essence of the 1969 Camaro; the muscular stance; the powerful engines; and so on.
GM sent over a fully-loaded Camaro SS convertible with a 6-speed manual transmission and gorgeous 20” aluminum wheels, and it was a ton of fun, even with the top up. That top is power-operated, opens or closes in about 20 seconds, and has supposedly been lab tested to retract and raise as many times as any owner is likely to do in the car’s lifetime without failure.
One of the tests you have to give any convertible is to drive over some bumps and see if there’s much shimmy in the body. Taking the roof off a modern car removes part of its structure, so additional work has to be done to keep the topless car solid. From what I could tell, General Motors got it right with the Camaro. It’s very solid.
By comparison, the last open-top Camaro I had tested prior to this was a 2002 model as that generation of the car was being discontinued. That one wobbled like Jell-O any time you drove it over broken pavement or railroad crossings. To be fair, its basic design had been around since Dan Quayle was vice president, so by the turn of the millennium it was already well past its prime in terms of design and engineering.
One issue that does carry over from today’s Camaro coupe is the huge blind spots when you’re trying to see to the rear, whether backing up or changing lanes. The sleek look of the low roof means that small windows don’t give you much of a view out back. And the stylish side mirrors further contribute to the blind spots. This car really needs a rear-view camera, though parking sensors are standard.
Obviously with the top down the blind spots go away. And the car is so good that you can forgive any little foibles it displays here and there. It’s comfortable and fun, and although the trunk is pretty small, this could even make a nice everyday car.
There were a couple of other little nit-picks. Among them, my wife was disappointed one chilly morning to discover that there were no seat heaters. (I checked, and they’re nowhere on the options list.) That may seem like a wimpy complaint, but heated seats have become commonplace these days, optional on even entry-level cars. They’re nice to have on a convertible to make use of the open top when it’s not exactly warm out.
But all in all, Chevrolet has a winner on its hands with the Camaro convertible. The base V6 version (called 1LT) has most everything you’d need to be happy with this car, and it costs right around $30,000. The 1SS V8 starts at just under $37,000 if you insist on the extra horsepower, though mileage was disappointing around town at under 14 mpg.
Sunny day? Check. Fun destination? Check. Camaro convertible? Check. Sounds like a formula for a really nice drive.
I’ll see you down the road.
Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7 and can be heard on “The Car Show” Saturdays at 9 a.m. on KPFK, 90.7 FM. E-mail Dave at TVCarz @ pacbell.net Twitter: @dave_kunz