First drive: 2011 Chevrolet Camaro Convertible

Yesterday’s dawn was grey and wet here in the Durham Region, which was a bit disappointing as I headed down the road towards General Motors of Canada’s headquarters. Our mini road trip in the 2011 Camaro Convertible had already been rescheduled once due to rain. Fortunately the sun burned off the clouds by the time breakfast was finished and it was looking like a top down day! A great way to start Camaro Homecoming week.

My drive partner for the day was good friend of The Garage Blog, Lesley Wimbush. Our adventure would take us north from Oshawa, where the Camaro is built, to the town of Bobcaygeon and back. Along the way, it really did become an adventure as we discovered Lesley’s childhood home and the rural schoolhouse she once attended. We even met a gent who had owned several Camaros over the years and was delighted to get some photos of his young son in the beastly looking black and orange SS.

The the ride out in the morning, we had chosen this wicked, black SS with a manual transmission, just as the pony car gods require. We had a quick toot around Oshawa, past the plant where our steed had been born, reveling in the burble and pop soundtrack from the dual exhaust. Heading onto the highway, I opened up the 6.2 liter V8 and we discovered that high speeds with the top down are best attained with the windows up. Coffee cups, hats, jackets and hair all went flying as we both flailed about trying to retrieve them. Windows up! Chevy offers an optional wind screen which would prevent this sort of mayhem. That is not to say that the interior is a crazy place, with the windows up, conversation is easy even at highway speeds. Speaking of the interior, our ride boasted a sexy looking black and orange leather interior that perfectly complemented the exterior. I would assume the car has a stereo, but with an exhaust note that exciting, no self respecting gearhead would turn it on.

426 horsepower might sound a bit intimidating to some, but it needn’t be. The Camaro is a fairly hefty machine and the aluminum block LS3 engine moves the vert along at a good clip, without being an overpowered handful. At low speeds, with the Tremec 6 speed in 2nd gear, the stability controls allow just enough wheelspin to remind the driver that they are in a rear wheel drive pony car, but not so much that a change of drawers is in order. At higher speeds, I was actually a bit surprised that there wasn’t more oomph. While cruising at about 80 kmh on a 2 lane highway, there is enough torque to confidently pass someone in 5th gear. I tried a drop to 3rd, followed by a stomp on the loud pedal and the Camaro moved out strongly, just not as aggressively as I had expected.

Ultimate performance is not what this car is about though, nor is it what most potential customers are likely looking for. Most folks who will buy the drop top Camaro are looking for a great cruiser and this car fits that bill perfectly. When the Camaro was originally penned, a convertible was always in the plans, so the structure was developed with that in mind. A few key braces have been added to stiffen the chassis and they work. Even over bumpy roads and driveways, there is no discernible cowl shake, nor did there appear to be any chassis flex. Couple the stiff body, performance oriented suspension and ample power and you’ve got a car that eats up windy rural roads in style and comfort.

For the afternoon, we switched out the Halloween color combo for Bumblebee’s topless cousin. No 6 cylinders for these kids, we chose to compare the automatic V8 car to our am ride. Our first impression was that someone had mixed up and put SS badges on an RS. Gone was the thumpity thump of the other car, replaced with a somewhat wheezy sounding exhaust note. Not until Les got into the throttle hard did it actually begin to sound like a V8. A bit of reading revealed that a different powerplant resides under the hood. The 6 speed automatic equipped cars are powered by an L99 6.2 liter V8 that produces 26 fewer horsepower than the LS3 in the manual car.

That is not to say that the auto box cars are underpowered in any way. In fact, the automatic car is a wonderful cruiser that will be appreciated by the shiftless among us. The consumer who will likely buy the the automatic car may be looking for a kinder, more gentle driving experience and this car offers it. One might hazard a guess that the automatic V8 will be the bread and butter car of the model line up and that the quieter exhaust was a calculated decision.

Regardless of the drivetrain chosen, the Camaro SS Convertible is a treat for the eyes. This is not a car for the introvert, as it attracts stares, pointed fingers and introductions to total strangers who want to share their Camaro stories.

As much as I love the look of the Camaro coupe, it has a few negative points that have prevented me from falling in love with it. With the roof down, visibility is fantastic and I didn’t bang my head once when getting in! Beyond those complaints, I believe the coupe is a great cruiser, either around town or out in the country. By removing the roof, Chevy has taken one step further to creating another fan favorite!


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