When we last sampled the 8-cylinder version of the Chevrolet Camaro Convertible, we were chaperoned by Chevrolet representatives, who let us loose on the wonderful mountain roads outside of San Diego, near the Mexican border. Press drives are great for driving recreationally, but they’re hardly representative of a vehicle’s real world performance.
|1. The Camaro SS Convertible is available with a 6-speed manual with 426-hp or a 6-speed automatic with 420-hp.
2. Convertible models get four structural braces to help stiffen up the chassis.
3. V6 Convertibles start at $30,000 with the SS Convertible priced from $37,500.
Given how much we enjoyed the Camaro SS in droptop form, we were eager to put it through a week long torture test of urban traffic, trips to the grocery store and night time cruises with two friends in the back seat and the stereo cranked up. And just as we suspected, the Camaro is a great vehicle to own – provided you have something else to drive every day.
BUILT TO CRUISE, NOT COMMUTE
It’s hard to escape the physical bulk of the Camaro, and that’s part of what makes it such an attractive design. Just like the original, the fifth generation Camaro is a hulking, swagger mass of metal that occupies a great deal of space on the road.
Our first opportunity with the Camaro was a morning commute, and already, things began to get a little hairy. The 6-speed manual gearbox has never felt precise under any circumstances, but we found it a chore to row through the vague shift gates, and the clutch’s high yet imprecise friction point let to us stalling a number of times, something not seen since learning to drive stick in a high school parking lot.
Trying to weave the Camaro through gaps in traffic was as successful as having a right tackle try and rush for a touchdown, so we found ourselves endlessly working the clutch in first gear as traffic crawled along and smaller cars zipped around us like flies orbiting an apex predator.
IMPOSSIBLE NOT TO LOVE THAT V8
Once traffic began flowing, we opened up the taps on the 6.2-liter V8 engine and made use of all 426 horsepower and found the speed limit came up quickly. While the roar from the small-block V8 is enough to cause an involuntary smile, there’s enough power on tap that winding it out to redline is a threat to one’s driving record. If American jingoism made a sound, this would be it. To its credit, the LS3 V8 is truly a gem, and driving the V6 model for comparison really showed just how good the V8 is. The new V6 may have all the modern technology thrown at it in the name of fuel savings, but in every qualitative measure, it is impossible to top the V8.
Far away from the open roads of California, we opted to use the Camaro Convertible for a long gone American past time – cruising. It’s hard to think of a better way to spend a warm summer night than riding around with the top down, the stereo turned up and the V8 gently burbling away. And the Camaro proved itself highly adept at showing off and looking good. The toy-car-like styling and baritone growl caused an unprecedented number of heads to turn, and every time we pulled over to stop, we were peppered with questions about the car. The whole exercise made us feel like we were living in a time when Led Zeppelin was still together and our greatest menace was the Soviet Union, but a trip to the gas pump negated our fears.
Nobody expects a V8 muscle car to sip fuel, but the Camaro SS makes it hard to match the quoted 16 mpg figure in town, what with all the engine revving and bursts of hard acceleration through the gears. We saw closer to 14.5-mpg in the city, although to its credit, our one highway trip, right after a fresh tank of gas, saw us get around 25 mpg, as the big V8 cruised at a lazy sub-2000 rpm in 6th gear. This may not be feasible on a daily commute, but a relaxed weekend drive won’t hurt the wallet too hard.
IT’S NOT FUCNTIONAL, IT’S A CONVERTIBLE
Despite the token rear seats, the Camaro is really best for two, as anyone larger than a child complained about the lack of space and the awkward entry and exit procedures needed to access the rear seats. Truthfully, we found them much more useful as a second trunk, resting golf clubs, overnight bags and grocery bags on the second row. The trunk itself is, after all, pretty useless, and a fair amount of space is taken up by the archaic and crude tonneau cover meant to be used with the convertible top.
The tonneau cover is designed to hide the fabric roof when the top is down, but we found little use for it beyond examining it for the benefit of readers. A finicky and awkward piece to install, we much preferred to have the option of raising and lowering the roof at a moment’s notice rather than stuffing the unit into its thin vinyl covering and going back and forth into the trunk to retrieve it. Fortunately, the top itself is a nice piece, made of durable feeling canvas. To lower it, simply twist a mid-mounted handle on the vehicle’s roof to unlock the top and then hold down the “lower” button. The top recedes after roughly half a minute, not the quickest operation going, but any lost time can certainly be made up on the road. Visibility with the top up is fairly poor, thanks to thick C-pillars and the Camaro’s notoriously poor driving position that places the driver low into the cockpit, as well as a steeply raked windshield that prevented us from seeing the traffic lights at many intersections.
There’s something undeniably cool and authentically American about the Camaro SS Convertible, just as there’s something cool about puffing on a Marlboro Red – but we have no interest in dealing with the consequences of a daily indulgence in either of those.
Instead, we find ourselves with an occasional hankering for the Camaro SS in the same way that ardent non-smokers will light up after having a couple drinks. And just like there will always be a core group of smokers despite all the evidence to the contrary, there will always be die-hard Camaro guys, and this car is a great way to get their fix. For the rest of us, it remains a forbidden and slightly taboo pleasure, something to indulge in occasionally, without the expense of owning or operating one. We promise you won’t tell your better half that you went and rented one for a day.