We had a hard time giving up the growl.
The 2011 Chevy Camaro Convertible emits a voluminous mix of thunderous exhaust and engine roar. Driving down the road, this low-slung pony car felt like it could suck a small dog into the engine, make the chandeliers shake in a third-floor apartment building, and power through traffic like a thundering locomotive.
In all seriousness: Other cars tended to just get out of the way.
Rebirth of the muscle car
Chevy has outdone itself with the redesigned Camaro – yes, the Bumblebee car you see in Transformers 3 and several current TV shows, the one that most view as a revivalist classic car that’s bringing the muscle back to Detroit.
The Camaro SS Convertible we drove is not without muscle, but it has a sleek look with the top town that makes it seem a bit more elegant. Like the coupe, the angular lines hint at the first Camaro models in the late 60s, with a hunched look in the rear. The SS model has wide racing bands along the hood that reminded us of the similarly styled 2012 Mustang Boss 302. In fact, both cars share many similar traits, but the Camaro SS has a much more pronounced growl.
Inside, the SS convertible is well-appointed and almost luscious. It has a sleek, hard-plastic side adornments like a red line that glows faintly at night. The dash is part 60s throwback with a gleaming science-fiction aura. All of the materials feel solid and well-crafted, unlike the more economical interior of the Chrysler 200, and the cockpit is close and comfortable.
The SS model we drove uses a manual transmission with a large shifter that’s easy to grasp during those perilous times when you are driving 80 and need to downshift to go faster. (Not that we would know anything about that.) The Camaro SS is sure-footed for the driver, but the rear seating for two is not exactly spacious. The trunk is also quite minimal, but as a friend noted when he ogled the rear spoiler and dual-exhaust: No one buys a Camaro to haul around their suitcases.
The convertible does fix one of the most common complaints about the Camaro redesign: The headroom is outstanding when you push a button to fold the roof back. (The hard-top version is cramped for tall drivers but otherwise not that bad.)
With the top open, sun blazing, cruising at just 50MPH on a country road, the Camaro SS is like a rumbling tank that is waiting to explode. There’s always this sense that you can push the car farther. This 4,116-pound monster has V8 6.2-liter engine, rated at 426 horsepower, and you’ll feel every one of them.
Not quite perfect
All the flash and power makes it easy to forgive a few minor issues. Well, one is not so minor: You will need to fill up the Camaro SS more than once per week. The EPA rated it at 24mpg for highway driving, but since you’ll probably be cruising around town, you can expect something more like 16mpg. That’s what we found after a week, but it also involved some frequent fast starts and quarter-mile tests.
Another minor issue is that we were not big fans of the floating HUD, which emanates in front of you in the windshield. You can see your speed, RPM, and even the current radio station, but it proved to be more of distraction than anything. Fortunately, you can disable the HUD with a quick button press.
A few other squabbles: The button to raise and lower the roof is positioned above you, and it can be hard to remember which way to push. The top locks easily into place and we never had any problems, but for the price of the Camaro SS Convertible, you’re not going to get anything like the Mercedes Benz SLS AMG Convertible, where you can raise and lower the top while driving. With the roof receded, it might be a little too easy to catch your head on the corner of the front windshield as you fold your body into the car, but that’s only a minor issue. Once you realize this is not a minivan or an SVU, a little crouching is not a big deal.
Brains to go with the brawn
The SS convertible has a few extra tech features as well. If you “grandpa” the turn signal and leave it on too long, a message flashes on the dash, potentially sparing you some embarrassment. A slick hand-off system between the Bluetooth phone connection and OnStar means the SS can handle calls from either source, which is surprisingly not that smooth on many other models. In several test calls, we were able to listen to music over a USB-connected iPhone, make a call over Bluetooth, and then receive a call with OnStar. We had no calling handling problems.
One note about OnStar, though. The growl we mentioned, and the slightly bumpy muscle car ride, are not ideal for serious phone calls. You can check in with the kids, and they will know right away you are calling from a Camaro. For a business call, you’ll get a lot of “can you repeat that,” although you can hear the caller fine.
The SS Convertible has a USB port for your media player, and with OnStar you can get turn-by-turn direction sent to the text display in the vehicle or listen to them. There isn’t a touchscreen display or navigation maps. The Camaro SS Convertible also works with the OnStar iPhone apps for remote start and lock control.
In the end, this is all about American muscle cars making their comeback. We won’t make any final statement about whether the SS is a better car overall than the 2012 Mustang Boss 302: We’d need to do side-by-side testing for that, and maybe at some point we will. What we can tell you is that the growl is fiercer; driving with the top down is an amazing experience in a muscle car; and the Camaro SS has a more eye-catching look. We recall that the 302 drove faster, especially around corners, but the SS had a more spirited acceleration coming out of fourth and fifth gears. Maybe a lot of this is personal taste: Ford or Chevy. But driving the SS Convertible is an unforgettable experience – especially with a Bruce Springsteen soundtrack.
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