Home > Reviews > 2011 Chevrolet Camaro Convertible

2011 Chevrolet Camaro Convertible

September 27th, 2011

Not Your Typical Drop-Top Rental Car

     A trip to Key West, Florida will confirm it. There is a market out there for flashy convertibles with high style and little need for performance. The number of rental-grade pony car convertibles in the southernmost point of Florida is nearly enough to make one decide to rent a white Camry sedan just to be different. Certainly Ford and Chevy don’t expect normal customers to buy a base convertible. Or do they?
      Considering that the base engine in the Camaro is a 312 hp V6, we were actually looking forward to Chevrolet’s most basic pony-car convertible. While disappointed that the engine was mated to a 6-speed automatic, we are pleased that Chevrolet has decided a manual transmission is worthy of the base model. We definately weren’t disappointed to read the EPA fuel economy ratings of 17 city/28 highway. Since our top-down itch doesn’t get scratched very often we were eager to find out how the base car behaved when the cloth top was stowed.
      Having been warned of excessive cowl shake and an uncharacteristically high pitched exhaust note by my fellow editors, a driving buddy and I set our expectations low. Indeed, throttling up the nearest on-ramp proved to successfully insert the Camaro into the closest gap in interstate traffic, but what was that shrill noise? Was there a rice-burner on our tail? We shrunk down in our seats in horror as we realized that pitch was coming from our muscular test car. Certainly the refined DOHC V6 has the guts to get the job done, but there is little aural satisfaction in achieving the desired velocity quickly. It’s simply too refined a note for the Camaro’s throwback cruiser character. Complaints about the transmission’s paddle shifters were also predominant. Both paddles had the same function rather than having one paddle shift up and one down. Someday automakers may come to a common approach for paddle shifters, and we’re hoping Chevrolet’s example is ignored.
      Still, when out on the highway, the Camaro made us feel like Snoopy’s alter ego, Joe Cool. The belt line is high and the hood is long and muscular. This is clearly a car to be seen in even if the door sill is too high to comfortably rest one’s left arm. Perhaps Chevy engineers were helping prevent drivers from getting a cruiser’s tan, where one arm is red and the other pale. From the driver’s seat Joe Cool is confronted with one of the more controversial interiors. Dual gauges are nestled into deep pods directly in front of the driver and are complemented by a heads up display that is positioned in just the right spot to keep one’s eyes on the road and not become a nuisance. The radio functions in the HUD seamlessly transitions from subliminal to prominence when the radio controls are in use, then back again when idle. As for the retro-chic ancillary gauges in the center console, we wouldn’t waste the money as they will be ignored until long after an idiot light declares to the driver that something is wrong. As for the rest of the interior, the widely recessed instrument panel may have its critics but this writer certainly isn’t one of them. The off-center round steering wheel hub was universally criticized among our staff as being quite unattractive is it cams around the steering column. Fortunately, the Camaro receives an upgrade to the Volt’s steering wheel for 2012.
      A large complaint about the Camaro coupe has been rearward visibility. This situation is somewhat improved with the convertible, even with the top up. A lack of a b-pillar gives added peripheral vision though sight lines out the rear are still restricted. We’re praying that Chevrolet stylists and engineers are slaving away to come up with a happy solution for the next generation car. Forward visibility would also be improved if the car were fitted with larger sun-visors. The convertible’s visors appear designed to tidily stow away in the windshield header. This is fine for lunchtime jaunts with the top down, but on a regular commute while the sun is setting or rising, they do little to aid in blocking out the debilitating sunlight.
      Jumping off the interstate, we set out in search of a road that would demonstrate excessive cowl shake. As we threw the Camaro at one of Michigan’s pot-hole riddled back roads, my passenger, oblivious to my intended goal declared that this car virtually ‘has no cowl shake!’. If it were not for my passenger, it would be possible to dismiss my positive impression of the Camaro’s structure as simply having low expectations. Satisfied with my experiment we headed home and motored the top up. Top operation is simple, with a single center latch that can be operated from the driver’s seat. Even on the road the top did a reliable job of keeping the cabin quiet, though not as well as the Corvette Grand Sport we previously tested. Turning a corner with the Camaro proved to be far more entertaining than its long hood and largish exterior would imply. Charging at the the daily commute’s morning cloverleaf proved entertaining as the tires hold. Feedback from the pavement was enough to let the driver know what is going on between the rubber and tarmac, but not so much so to be fatiguing. The car was comfortable out on the open road and we longed for a good road trip with the wind breezing past our scalps. The interior was largely absent from wind buffeting, at least compared to the last drop top we drove, which was a Jeep Wrangler.
      We could get into the Mustang vs. Camaro debate, but there are few opinions we will change based on actual facts. The purchase of a pony car is more emotionally driven than rationally driven. With that in mind, we really wish that Chevy hadn’t loaded up the convertible with some of the features relegated to options on the coupe. We’re suckers for the black steel rims on the base coupe and are saddened that the convertible doesn’t offer them. Also consider that the convertible starts at a full $29,275 compared to the most basic coupe at $22,805. Our 2LT test car featuring bluetooth and heads up display starts at $32,775.
      So is the Camaro convertible something that should be relegated to rental customers? Though our staff was divided on the cowl shake debate, the reality is that few customers opting for the V6 will even realize what a cowl is, much less if it’s propensity to shake is good or bad. The Camaro proves to be an enjoyable car that brings out the excitement in even the most ordinary (but sunny) afternoon drive. With prices that start right at the psychological $30k price barrier, many convertible lovers may settle for a weekend rental in a sunny destination. 

The Good:
Drop-top drop-dead good looks, great power balanced with good fuel economy. 
The Bad:
Shrill exhaust note, pricier starting price than the coupe, debate over the level of cowl shake results in fistfighting amongst editors.
The Verdict:
Top-down power and style the rental fleets have never seen before. 

Photos by Jason Muxlow

Categories: Reviews Tags: , , ,
Comments are closed.