Automotive heaven can probably be defined in many ways, but I have to think that driving in the all-new 2011 Chevrolet Camaro SS convertible with its top down on a winding San Diego back road with Tom Peters, the man overseeing the exterior design of the next generation Corvette riding shotgun has to be right up there.
Chevrolet recently invited auto writers to San Diego to sample the 2011 Chevrolet Camaro convertible in various guises. There was the fire breathing Camaro SS, with a 426HP V8 and an optional short throw six speed manual transmission. The more sedate 312HP V6 model with an automatic, a few V8 automatics and Mustang GT and V6 models for comparative purposes. There was also Camaro coupe present for testers to contrast handling and rigidity.
Please be sure to check out all the photos taken at this event in the slideshow included with this article. I have also posted a video of the car, you can find it by clicking here.
There are some great roads, and a lot of border patrol officers, in and around San Diego. Most of the route was familiar as the same roads are used by many manufacturers to show off their wares. For example, while driving we saw many multi-colored Fiat 500s sporting about, a welcome sight for anyone who appreciates automotive diversity.
After an early morning breakfast and safety pep talk we were allowed to saddle up and ride. The first Camaro I settled into was a V6 automatic, which starts at an even $30,000 with destination charges. This particular model had the up-level 20” rims that are standard on the V8 models and the slightly softer FE2 suspension. This car showed all the traits of a fun companion, offering a sun soaking with a high dose of style. Adrenaline addicts will likely opt for the SS but the V6 model will likely account for more than half of all Camaro convertibles sold. In fact, with softer touch suspension and slightly lower mass of the engine, I detected a bit less shake when compared to the V8. Handling was top notch and the automatic made wise decisions.
As you might imagine, visibility on the convertible model, with the top down, is an improvement over the coupe. With the top in place, you are back to square one. Making things a bit easier during parking, rear parking assist is standard on all Camaro convertibles. Adjusting your mirrors is key to being comfortable in this car, but I would really like to see blind spot monitoring available. Wind buffeting, with the top down, was not a bother but Chevrolet dealers will sell you a windscreen to fit behind the rear seats if you so require.
Next up was a 2011 Ford Mustang GT, in automatic form, to show what the competition had to offer. Noticeable was a bit more shaking and shimmying and the occasional habit to ever so slightly dance around corners when the pavement was rough. In the plus column, the Mustang’s dash design and appointments were a grade above the Camaro’s and the Ford’s V8, just like the Chevy’s, sounded fantastic.
What was missing throughout the ride on both the Camaros and the Mustang was any hint of a rattles inside the cabin. To be sure, these cars where all brand new, but there was a time when even a new convertible would provide rolling commentary when the pavement became rough. Hats off to all those who have helped to banish the demon rattle.
The ultimate experience was the SS model, which starts at $37,500 with destination. The traffic on the road simply parted as if by divine intervention and we had mile after mile of zooming around curves, the transmission was living in third and fourth gear most of the time. Writing about cars offers a lot of fun driving opportunities, but this one was a memory maker to be sure. While I wasn’t able to coax a lot of information about the next Corvette, it was just fun to be sharing the ride with someone who does know all about it. In addition to the Corvette, we talked about full size pickups, which he is also overseeing the restyling of, the wisdom of putting portholes on modern Buicks and the wonders of combing junk yards.
There are nine production exterior colors on the convertible and you can have either a tan or black top. A favorite amongst journalists attending the event was "Red Jewel Tintcoat."
The Camaro’s convertible top is manufactured by the same folks who make the Corvette’s lid, the Camaro has a three layer top while the Corvette has a five layer top. Chevrolet tried to eliminate the sag in between the top's ribs, something they call a "hungry horse" look, so it presents a nice, clean line. Operation is straightforward. Presuming that there are no obstructions present in the trunk, you simply pop a single latch in the center of the windshield, just like the Corvette, and the press a button on the windshield header. Operation takes about 20 seconds. You can then fit a tonneau cover, standard on 2LT and 2SS models and optional on 1LT/1SS, to give Camaro’s deck a slick look, but I would argue that the cover isn’t worth the trouble. Reversing the operation is what you might imagine, remove the cover if it has been installed, press the button and then secure the latch. On one of the models I tested, the latch to secure the top needed a little coaxing, but otherwise s the system worked as advertised. The top does have some acoustical foam to help hush exterior noise, but there is no mistaking you are in a convertible as sounds of traffic makes itself known. To be certain, when the top is down cargo room is limited in the trunk, but that is the price you pay for sun worshiping. If you want to have some fun, ask your friends to find the trunk lock cylinder. It has been relocated between the rear seat back cushion and driver’s side interior panel.
Of course, no product is ever entirely perfect. As much as the Camaro’s exterior is drop dead gorgeous, the interior is left wanting. As it was explained to me, the original styling directive was to make the production Camaro look as much like the concept as possible. That included the styling of the interior. In real life, especially in 2011, the huge expanses of hard black plastics and cartoonish gauges do not hold up so well. The last time I tested the Camaro, I was more charitable about the interior, but now I am firmly convinced that something must be done. Without tipping their hand, GM staffers hinted that when a refreshed model bows, the interior will have had some major surgery.
A convertible is more than a type of car, it is a lifestyle. Driving in sun drenched climate, it is hard to find a flaw in wanting to go topless. Based on the amount of Internet chatter and random strangers ogling the Camaro as we drove around, it is safe to say that this new Chevrolet should sell quite well. The car’s dynamics are solid and sacrifices little to the coupe. An improved dash and interior plastics would simply be the icing on top of a delicious cake. Build your own cake at on the 2011 Chevrolet Camaro Convertible's configurator page.
General Motors covered my expenses to attend this media preview.