Camaro's been fighting the new Mustang for over a year now like a heavyweight with one hand tied behind his back. While the 'stang comes in three flavors — coupe, convertible and GT500, the Camaro comes in one. Despite the handicap, Chevy beat Ford in muscle car sales this past year for the first time in two decades.
That's because although I was out here in sunny Southern California four years ago to drive the Chevy Camaro Convertible concept, that whole "Carpocalypse" thing got in the way of GM actually producing the real thing.
Until now. With this summer's introduction of the 2011 Chevy Camaro Convertible, the bowtie-badged brand's getting a second stocky fist to pummel its crosstown rivals as both continue their UFC-like muscle car war (let's just ignore Dodge and the Challenger for a moment. As sales would indicate, buyers are ignoring them too).
The first thing you notice when you step into the drop-top with the top down is how much more vision you have. It's refreshing, especially after driving the Camaro coupe, which, thanks to its massive C-pillar, is sort of like driving around in a small cave. Although that might do a disservice to caves. Whatever. Anyway, the act of removing the entire roof of a car tends to fix that problem.
Like its hard-topped brother, the Camaro convertible comes in the same trim levels and engine choices. The base model gets the same 312 horsepower direct-injection V6 engine. I have no idea how that engine performs but I'm sure someone does. I spent yesterday driving an LS3-flavored Camaro SS convertible and I'm happy to report that the glorious 6.2-liter V8 throws down its phallic 426 horsepower gauntlet with the same level of satisfaction it always does.
To gain access to that beating V8 heart, you'll get a standard six-speed manual transmission. We also hear there's an optional six-speed automatic, but like the V6, we don't know nuthin' about it.
With the manual gearbox and the V8, the convertible is just a touch slower than the Coupe, but at a tenth of a second, it's a difference indistinguishable to anyone but V-Box-wielding buff book writers. Sadly, none were available yesterday to help us distinguish between the two. In my not-yet-patented stoplight-to-stoplight test in downtown San Diego, I found little to complain about in the acceleration department.
But frankly, you can put an LS engine in pretty much anything and I'm a happy camper. Note to GM engineers: Please stop looking at me funny every time I bring up the idea of an LS-engined Chevy Cruze. I think it'll work and that's all that matters, OK? Stop laughing. It's really not nice. Thanks.
I digress. Back to the topless mullet-mad muscle car.
So acceleration's good. What about handling dynamics? Well, to talk about handling you have to poke a very touchy subject for Chevy — weight.
No surprise — the convertible's even heavier than the coupe. What was a really beefy car before is even more husky with its top off. And if the Camaro's Cartman-like 3,849 lb. (for the SS with a manual transmission) weight made you queasy, then you'll lose your lunch over the drop-top's super heavyweight class-level 4,116 lb. weight.
But, what do you expect? It's a convertible, it needs to be bigger-boned to increase stiffness lost from dropping that claustrophobic top. Even more so in the case of the Camaro as Chevy tells us that they simply were not willing to soften the suspension. It's a point Camaro chief engineer Al Oppenheiser made abundantly clear to me every time I needled him over the weight gain as we drove through the first half of our day near the Mexican border.
Oppenheiser explained that Chevy, in addition to a big top crossbar, added four strategic reinforcements to achieve a level of torsional stiffness just a touch shy of the coupe. The first is a tower-to-tower brace under the hood, the second is a transmission support reinforcement brace, third is an underbody tunnel brace and fourth is front and rear underbody "V" braces.
On the tight-and-twisties South of San Diego, the added reinforcement pays off. This is no boulevard cruiser like your pappy used to drive. In almost every way — from donuts to oversteer — the Camaro convertible feels exactly like the Camaro coupe.
Look, here's the thing about the Chevy Camaro Convertible — like the coupe, it's an acquired taste. The positives and negatives of one all still apply to the other. Except you can see out the back of this one.