Dropping the top on Chevy’s muscle car takes it from just hot to smokin’.
By Bill Heald
When the legendary Camaro sedan finally returned to the market after a lengthy absence, there was much rejoicing. Over the years, the Camaro had lost its teeth and evolved into more of a touring car than the snarling boulevard nemesis of old. But the redesigned Camaro went back to its muscle-car roots, and the result was a taut package with styling that recalled the glory of the original, while packing serious modern muscle under the hood. But still, something was missing. Or rather, something that was permanent needed to be more temporary, meaning the option of a retractable top was needed to make the car the ultimate open-air hot rod.
Patience is a virtue, and now the true potential of the reborn Camaro has been realized. The convertible version has hit the streets, and this new drop-top Chevy comes in two trim levels: the LT and the SS. We say appreciate the former (especially with the RS package), but embrace, and then acquire, the latter. True, the LT-RS is a beautiful, capable Camaro convertible with a perfectly acceptable 312-horsepower V-6 engine. But the SS is the soul of the make with a 6.2-liter V-8 that, when equipped with the standard six-speed manual transmission, belts out 426 tire-smoking horses, and sounds like the great SS Chevys of old. You can get an automatic transmission of course, but it lowers horsepower to 400, and you’re denying yourself the perfect marriage of a stout V-8 to a sweet-shifting gearbox. This combo lets you completely control the herd, whether you’re rumbling quietly through speed traps or torturing the Pirellis off the line (easy to do with all the low-end torque). Clutch release is light, and the only ergonomic hiccup with the shifter is the proximity of the cup holder. If you load this receptacle with a large latte, it can interfere with your elbow when shifting, and you don’t need that, for it messes with your total enjoyment of the open road.
Given that total enjoyment is what a car like the Camaro is all about, naturally things are always better when you go topless. The engineers have put a lot of work into the electric soft top, which takes about 20 seconds to raise or lower. In the rare instances when you need to have the top in place (like when it’s raining or snowing), you’ll find it’s surprisingly quiet. But when spring returns, the open-air experience is wonderfully inspiring as you embrace nature with all that horsepower and the music of the cranked-up Bose sound system.
Also cranked-up is the Camaro’s chassis, now fortified to handle the roofless life. Camaro Chief Engineer Al Oppenheiser explains, “To compensate for the reduced structure of an open car, engineers often will make the suspension softer, making the convertible a boulevard cruiser. Instead, we took the more difficult but better path of bolstering structure rather than softening the suspension. We didn’t change a strut, bushing, or spring rate from the Camaro coupe.”
There’s some shake of the windshield cowl over rough roads (like most convertibles), but otherwise the SS handles crisply, and the fully independent suspension handles bumpy corners better the harder you push it. But all that becomes moot when you take a moonlight cruise with that perfect passenger, and the burble of the dual exhaust and the sound of the wind take over. The interior lighting is accented with LED light-pipe technology, which puts a cool blue glow on your nocturnal interior experience. You can roll along in a sedate manner, yet know you can blur the stars light-speed style should you desire to put the V-8 into hyperdrive. The only downside of the convertible version is that the already small trunk is made even smaller when the top is down and tucked away, reducing cargo capacity to minuscule. But hey, a bikini, suntan lotion, a couple of towels, and a brace of wine glasses take up very little room, right?
|Body style||Two-door convertible|
|Power||426 horsepower; automatic: 400|
|Torque||420 foot-pounds; automatic: 410|
|Transmission||Six-speed manual and automatic|
|Front tires||245/45 ZR20|
|Rear tires||275/40 ZR20|
|Curb weight||Manual: 4,116 pounds; automatic: 4,168|
|Top speed||155 mph|
|Fuel capacity||18.8 gallons|
|EPA mpg||Manual: 16 city/24 highway; automatic: 16/25|
|Price as tested||Manual: $41,700; automatic: $42,885|