2011 Chevrolet Camaro 2SS ConvertiblePosted on July 9th, 2011
Soft top adds open-air dimension to Chevrolet’s muscle car
By Nina Russin
Car aficionados often describe the Camaro as a baby brother to the Corvette, or Chevrolet’s answer to the Mustang. While both monikers fit, the Camaro is first and foremost, its own animal. When Chevrolet reintroduced the model in 2009 after a lengthy hiatus, fans flocked to the showroom, despite some bad blood over discontinuing it in the first place.
Unlike the previous F-body, the current generation pays homage to Camaro’s muscle car era roots, with styling reminiscent of 1968 and 69 models. However unlike those cars, the newest Camaro is truly an international endeavor, since development took place at General Motors’ Holden division in Australia.
Chevrolet debuted the production version of the convertible at the 2010 LA Auto Show. Convertibles began arriving in dealerships this past February, offering similar V-6 and V-8 options to the coupe.
The test car is the 2SS V-8, powered by the same 6.2-liter LS3 engine as the base Corvette. A six-speed Tremec manual gearbox is standard, though buyers can opt for an automatic instead.
Muscle car performance and luxury amenities
Base price for the 2SS Camaro convertible is $39,650, not including an $850 destination charge. While previous generations of the car had considerably lower base sticker prices, the newest version has a much longer roster of standard comfort and convenience features, including leather upholstery, a Premium Boston sound system with XM satellite radio, USB port, four-pack gauges, heated front seats, Bluetooth interface, and OnStar.
The luxury appointments reflect a change is the car’s audience, which includes many baby boomers who were fans of the early models. Whereas the 1960s models were first and foremost about performance, the newest generation meets the needs and desires of drivers who want some creature comforts as well. The new Camaro convertible may go to the drag strip on Sunday, but it will also commute to the office on Monday.
The test car has a RS option package which adds unique 20-inch wheels, high-intensity discharge headlamps and special tail lamps ($1200), bringing the price as tested to $41,700.
As a former Z28 Camaro owner, I have a soft place in my heart for the V-8 models. This isn’t to say that the 312-horsepower V-6 isn’t a potent performer. It has more horsepower than the LT1 V-8 in my ’94 coupe.
But to me, the Camaro has always been an eight-cylinder car. And frankly, the LS3 is a particularly lovely V-8 block. Sporting 426 horsepower and 420 foot-pounds of torque, it can literally rip the blacktop off the freeway. Standard dual exhaust pipes emit an impressive belch when the driver pops the clutch and sends all eight ponies under the hood off on a gallop.
As with former models, the manual gearbox has a stiff, racing-type clutch, but enough range within the gears to be functional on urban streets. Engineers have maintained the CAGs system, which forces the driver to shift from first gear to fourth under light loads to save gasoline.
Frankly, it’s an annoying device although it helps the company maintain its corporate fuel economy ratings. The best I can say for it is that engineers have made the system less intrusive over the years.
While the optional automatic transmission has obvious advantages for driving in city traffic, I would still opt for the manual. It fits the spirit of the car better, and can provide better gas mileage. Because the engine has so much torque, it’s easy to cruise in sixth gear on extended road trips. This keeps the engine revving well below 2000 rpm, which is key for extending fuel economy. Although the EPA rates the car’s gas mileage at 24 mpg on the highway, drivers who use the top gear will probably do much better than that.
The new convertible has one of the best suspensions I’ve ever seen on an open air Camaro: ditto for the variable ratio power steering system. Engineers spent a lot of time enhancing the convertible’s torsional rigidity, since cowl shake can be the bane of open-air cars. As a result, the convertible is every bit as solid as the coupe, with similar handling.
Despite its minimal ground clearance, the current model does much better over dips in the road and speed bumps than former Camaros. On twisting two-lane roads, it’s a sweet piece of work. The chassis stays pancake flat in the corners, while twenty-inch wheels provide an ample footprint for acceleration and hard braking.
The top is extremely solid and well insulated. Phoenix summer temperatures are the litmus test for soft tops: most don’t insulate well enough against the extreme heat, making it difficult to keep the interior comfortable. Despite having a black top, I was able to drive the convertible in 110-degree heat, and feel blissfully cool.
The retracting mechanism is basically automatic, although the driver has to release a latch which holds the top against the front glass. The 2SS model comes with a soft tonneau which holds the top in place when it is down.
Visibility around the car is limited with the top up and excellent with it retracted, which is par for the course with convertibles. The rear window is glass, which insulates better than plastic and doesn’t yellow over time.
As with most two-plus-twos, the Camaro is really a two-passenger car with a nod to the insurance companies. The rear seats are functional for short trips, but not especially comfortable.
Sports car aficionados will appreciate the bucket front seats with aggressive bolsters to keep the driver and front passenger in place. The standard heads-up display is a wonderful feature which projects the driver’s speed and radio settings in the lower part of the windshield. It enables the driver to keep his eyes on the road at all times, and is therefore less distracting than displays in the gauge cluster and center stack.
A digital display in the gauge cluster provides a variety of information including odometer, trip meter, fuel economy and driving range. It is the only display which I found difficult to read in bright sunlight. The gauges and center stack screen are quite easy.
The four-pack gauges are a homage to Camaro’s muscle car heritage: one of my favorite features on the current model.
Designers did a good job of incorporating enough storage cubbies, cupholders and power points in the passenger compartment. The trunk is small but functional, with enough room for a weekend’s worth of luggage or some groceries.
The Camaro convertible comes with front and side airbags, antilock brakes, stability and traction control. Brembo brakes on the 2SS grade offer superior performance. Standard OnStar includes stolen vehicle notification. The system will also notify police and emergency medical personnel if the car’s airbags deploy.
The Camaro convertible received a five-star federal crash test rating for rollovers.
Likes: A powerful and refined open-air sports car with excellent acceleration, braking and cornering.
The convertible chassis is as rigid as the coupe, and the cloth top solid and well insulated enough to withstand temperature extremes.
Dislikes: Computer-aided gear selection is an annoyance under certain driving conditions. Poor peripheral visibility with the top in place.
Model: Camaro 2SS convertible
Base price: $39,650
As tested: $41,700
Horsepower: 426 Hp @ 5900 rpm
Torque: 420 lbs.-ft. @ 4600 rpm
Zero-to-sixty: Under five seconds
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: N/A
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: No
Fuel economy: 16/24 mpg city/highway
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