A new Camaro convertible joins the 2011 Chevrolet Camaro lineup. The Camaro convertible is equipped like the coupes, and it's available with either the smooth 3.6-liter V6 or in 6.2-liter V8 SS trim.
The reborn Camaro begins its second year with the 2011 model, and it's turning more heads than ever because the striking styling is starting to sink in as more new Camaros hit the road. Ten exterior colors are available, including a Corvette yellow that guarantees the car will gather many thumbs-up. For 2011, a color called Synergy Green Metallic is added.
Camaro LS and LT models use the Cadillac 3.6-liter V6 with a 6-speed manual transmission standard and 6-speed automatic (with semi-manual shifting) optional. The V6 revs to 7000 rpm and sounds sweet along the way. The horsepower rating for 2011 Camaro LS and 2011 Camaro LT models has been upgraded to 312 horsepower. It was 304 hp on 2010 models, but it's the rating that changed, not the output. Additional testing found the Camaro's intake system to be more efficient than the Cadillac's, on which apparently the previous power estimate was based.
A steeply raked windshield helps produce a low coefficient of drag for good aerodynamics that contribute to the impressive V6 government fuel economy rating of 29 mpg Highway. However, the 2011 Camaro is nipped at the checkered flag by the 2011 Mustang V6 that makes 305 hp and reaches 31 mpg Highway.
We found the handling, ride and brakes to be excellent in both the Camaro LT and the Camaro SS with the big V8, although the SS suspension is stiffer and its 20-inch tires are firmer. The chassis structure is rigid, helping make the turn-in precise for a car this size; the grip is secure, and the damping is solid and supple. We never encountered a harsh moment with the ride, in either car, during a full day of hard driving east of San Diego in both of them, and later a full week in the Pacific Northwest with the 6-speed Camaro SS.
As for the brakes, the Camaro LT stops superbly. The Camaro SS uses four-piston Brembo brakes, but because it's 200 pounds heavier, the stopping distance isn't much shorter. However, the Brembos with four-piston calipers make the brakes on the SS more resistant to fade, important on race tracks and mountain roads where the brakes are being used repeatedly.
The TAPshift manual automatic transmission does what you tell it to do, nothing more. We love that. But the 6-speed manual transmission with the V6 is the most all-around usable sporty combination (the V6 because 426 horsepower is overkill on the street). The gearbox is solid but not slick, and the throws are shorter than some. The 6-speed shifts nicely, including easily down into first gear for hairpin turns.
Inside, the cabin is quiet, so quiet that 80 mph feels more like 70. Interior materials are good, but the instrumentation is disappointing, with GM apparently still trying to be clever rather than clean with gauges. The bucket seats are comfortable, with decent bolstering. The front seat slides 8.5 inches and the steering wheel tilts and telescopes, so drivers of all sizes will fit, most notably Camaro's many female buyers. The standard cloth upholstery is good, with excellent leather available in black, gray, beige and two-tone Inferno Orange.
The windows are small (doorsills high for safety) and the A-pillars wide, so it makes the cockpit feel a bit cave-like. Visibility through the windshield is compromised by the long hood and raked windshield, although careful location of the driver's seat helps. Rear visibility over the driver's shoulder isn't very good, but then it's impossible to make it good with a roofline this sporty. Rear seat legroom measures a meager 29.9 inches, so you'll want to avoid sitting back there.
Camaro SS uses the 6.2-liter Corvette V8, making 400 horsepower with the optional 6-speed automatic, or 426 horsepower with the 6-speed manual. We were disappointed by the civility of the exhaust note. The SS uses firmer shocks, springs and anti-roll bars than the V6 models, but the ride doesn't suffer for it. We found the handling balance of the Camaro SS excellent.
The convertible is equipped like the coupes but features a soft top fitted with acoustical foam in the headliner to minimize noise with the top up. This latest-generation Camaro was designed from the outset to include convertible models, and reinforcements were added in four key areas to increase rigidity.
This latest-generation Camaro (completely redesigned for 2010) is based on the great chassis of the Pontiac G8 that came from GM Australia. (The G8 sports sedan was a creative and mechanical success, but a commercial failure due to its cost.)
Compared with the pre-2010 Camaro models, engineers moved the rear wheels forward 6 inches, the front wheels forward 3 inches, the windshield back 3 inches, and lowered the front suspension. Viola: a racy-looking, road-hugging sports coupe created out of a great sports sedan.
The latest-generation Camaro captures the look of the original '67, while being 5.7 inches longer and 3 inches wider. And it hasn't been drawn into retro clunkiness with a bunch of chrome; in fact, there's almost none. The latest-generation Camaro is 2.8 inches taller than the vintage model, thanks more to bigger tires than anything else. The tires fit the same in the wheelwells of all models, whether with 18-, 19-, 20- or 21-inch wheels, because they all have the same outside diameter. The smaller the wheel, the taller the sidewall of the tire.
When viewed from the rear, the lines suggest the classic 1963 fastback split-window Corvette; and when viewed head-on, classic 1969 Camaro headlights appear. Behind the shark nose with black mesh grille, up on the long aluminum hood, there is a suggestive power bulge.
You can see the lines of the 1963 fastback Corvette from any angle, but especially from above. That classic Corvette made on a strong impression on the Camaro's young designer, Sang Yup Lee, who came to the U.S. from Korea as a boy and grew up in the California car culture. There are also slight twin humps on the roof, barely seen at the top of the steeply raked 67-degree windshield that helps produce a 0.37 Cd in the LS and LT, and 0.35 Cd in the SS.
But the long hood with its shark nose and black mesh grille (with simple headlights intended to be reminiscent of a '69 Camaro) is what catches your eye and triggers your longing. That too is by careful design. All models use an aluminum hood with a 2.5-inch power dome for appearance.
The SS has an additional wide and thin black simulated intake on the nose, the easiest way to tell whether it's a V8 or V6.
Otherwise, the V6 can pretty much pass, a bonus for the price. Styling gills located just forward of the rear wheels add another nice touch to the Camaro. Even though the power dome hood and cooling gills are not functional, they all work as touches of style and don't come across as phony.
The shapely strong hips stand out, like the long hood, an edgy element the designer is most proud of, because they took so much work. He said it took 113 tries to get the one-piece sheetmetal right, from the doors and pinched beltline rearward. There's no faulting GM for indifferent craftsmanship with this car, that's for sure.
The rigid B-pillar is blacked-out, thus creating a clean outline for the side glass, blending into a handsome hardtop roofline. The short rear deck climbs upward and looks hot, showing off the car's great butt. The twin taillights look like blinking red sunglasses in each corner. The rear spoiler is a small lip that could be integrated more smoothly, but it still works.
The convertible benefits from additional reinforcements to stiffen the body structure. Among them: a cross brace under the hood to connect the front shock towers, a transmission brace, an underbody tunnel brace, and underbody V-shaped braces front and rear. The objective of this was to make the convertible match the coupe as closely as possible in ride quality, handling and overall performance. Also, the Camaro architecture was designed to accommodate a convertible model. As evidence of its design and engineering success, Chevrolet points out that there was no need to retune the Camaro suspension for the convertible. Chevrolet claims the Camaro convertible offers superior torsional stiffness to that offered by the BMW 3 Series convertible.
At the outset, designers and engineers sought to eliminate the common appearance of convertible top support ribs and they succeeded, using composite knuckles rather than aluminum ones, as well as extending the top material below the belt line and revising the top's stitch lines. The result is a top that has a smooth, taut and carefully tailored appearance that also retains the sleek roofline of the coupe.
The convertible differs from the coupe on a few fine details: The radio antenna, located on the roof of coupes, is mounted to the deck lid on LT convertibles, while RS and SS convertibles embed the AM/FM antenna in the rear spoiler and mount the XM shark fin on the deck lid. The trunk lock cylinder on convertibles is in the rear seat area (irrelevant when you use the remote key fob), and the subwoofer is located in the trunk between the seats.
The interior materials of the Camaro are good, and excellent leather upholstery is available in black, gray, beige and two-tone Inferno Orange. The interior design doesn't rise to the level of the exterior, however. We think the instrumentation leaves much to be desired, if no-nonsense is your point of view, though we should point out that Car and Driver magazine likes it, calls it innovative.
A recessed speedometer and tachometer are stylized in square chrome housings, a nod to the classic Camaro interior. But that was 1967. Back then they didn't have LED light pipe technology, an ambient light option that gives the cabin a warm glow. There's a driver information center between the speedo and tach, its functions controlled via a stalk on the steering column.
The stitched leather wrap on the steering wheel is nice, although the wheel itself is thick, and its three-spoke design is mundane, a missed opportunity (most likely cost-related).
The standard cloth bucket seats are good, although the bolstering isn't fully there for hard cornering. It's a tough compromise to make, given the spectrum of Camaro buyers. The low bolsters make getting in and out of the Camaro easier. The front seat slides 8.5 inches and the steering wheel tilts and telescopes, so drivers of all sizes will fit. Lots of spirited women buy Camaros.
The climate control buttons on the center stack appear to have been designed for looks, and thus aren't as functional as they could or should be. An optional console-mounted gauge package includes oil pressure, oil temperature, volts and transmission fluid temperature. The information is good, although the location down by the driver's knee seems like another attempt to be cool; and maybe a successful, one, because it is a popular option.
The windows are small and A-pillars wide, so it makes the cabin feel a bit cave-like. Visibility through the windshield is compromised by the long hood and raked windshield, although careful location of the driver's seat helps. Rear visibility over the driver's shoulder isn't very good, but then it's impossible to make it good with a roofline this sporty.
The trunk is deep but the opening isn't large and it's almost flat, worth it for the handsome rear deck. There's a pass-through to the trunk behind the rear seat, which isn't easy to crawl into, and feels like a pit.
Rear-seat legroom measures 29.9 inches, a distinction, as few cars today break below that 30-inch mark. You'll want to avoid riding in the back seat. Easy. It's your car.
The top on the convertible is made of thick, durable canvas. An acoustical headliner material is designed to provide a quiet, coupe-like ride when the top is up, and the soft top incorporates a glass rear window and rear window defogger.
The power folding convertible top retracts in about 20 seconds. The convertible top is built in partnership with the same manufacturer as the Corvette convertible top, and operates in a similar manner. It folds in a simple Z-pattern and latches with a single handle located at the center of the windshield header. Other convertible models in this segment still offer convertible tops with dual latches, forcing drivers into two-hand operations reaching across the car. Once the latch is turned to the open position, the push of a single button lowers the windows and activates the power top. The car doesn't have to be parked for the top to be activated, allowing for spur-of-the-moment lowering while stopped at a traffic signal.
Like the Pontiac G8, the Camaro's chassis was developed in Australia, where the Ozzies aced it. The structure is rigid, helping make the turn-in precise for a car this size; the grip is secure, and the damping is solid and supple, with both the V6 (FE2 suspension) and firmer V8 (FE3). The front suspension uses struts, and the rear is an independent multi-link that's rubber isolated.
The Camaro is a hefty car, 3860 pounds for the V8 and 3800 for the V6, so the handling couldn't be called nimble, just secure and satisfying. The new Mustang is nearly 300 pounds lighter, and feels it.
We never encountered a harsh moment with the ride, in either the LT or the SS. We spent week in a 426-hp SS in the Pacific Northwest, and before that one day driving way out east of San Diego, where we had the chief designer, Canadian Gene Stafanyshyn, riding shotgun and giving us the whole backstory. He's the guy you can thank for the true programming of the TAPshift manual automatic transmission. It does what you tell it to do, nothing more. We love that. Stafanyshyn said he too hates manual automatic transmissions that shift on their own.
One especially nice thing about the transmission is that when you're in sixth gear on the freeway and lightly accelerate, it won't kick down when it doesn't need to. It uses its sufficient torque.
The Camaro LT with its 3.6-liter V6 is the shining surprise of the line. The sweet-sounding, 7000-rpm V6 that gets 29 highway miles per gallon is the future. It accelerates from 0-60 mph in 5.9 seconds, and will do the quarter mile in 14.4 seconds, which is hot in anyone's book. Stafanyshyn said the secret is the spark ignition in this version of the Cadillac engine.
The LT will also stop from 60 mph in a superb 106 feet, as measured by Motor Trend magazine, or 128 feet according to GM. Surprisingly, the SS with its four-piston Brembo brakes doesn't do much better, but the Brembos can be used harder without fade. And the vented rotors are huge, 14 inches front and 14.4 inches rear on the SS, compared to the LT's matching fronts and 11.8-inch rears.
The V6 LT with a 6-speed manual gearbox is the most usably sporty engine-transmission matchup. The gearbox is smooth if not buttery, and Chevrolet says the throws are short but that's relative. Overall it shifts nicely, including easily down into first gear for hairpin turns. The good news is that there is a Hurst short-throw shifter available as a dealer option. We'll take it. We tested it in the Shelby Mustang, and it made a world of difference.
Two 6.2-liter V8 engines are offered in Camaro SS models: the L99 comes on cars with automatics, the LS3 is paired with manual gearboxes. Both engines are derived from the LS3 that debuted on the 2008 Corvette, with an aluminum block (with cast iron cylinder liners) and aluminum cylinder heads. The L99 is rated at 400 hp and 410 pound-feet of torque. The LS3 develops 426 hp and 420 pound-feet of torque. The L99 features the fuel-saving Active Fuel Management System, which saves fuel by shutting down half of the engine's cylinders during certain light-load driving conditions, such as highway cruising.
The throaty 6.2-liter SS gets attention. The Chevy V8 is an old-school two-valve engine that sure works in the Corvette. The Camaro SS is humongous fast, so if you're driving it hard, you're into the danger zone with the law. You can drive it good, just not hard. No one will bust you for loud mufflers, though; we were deflated by the civility of the exhaust note. True, it rumbles, but sometimes a mere rumble isn't enough. And we were slack-jawed at the 6000-rpm redline (with the automatic), so low it felt like the engine was being prevented from working. But the horsepower peaks at 5900 rpm, so the redline was right. The good news is that the SS with the six-speed redlines at 6600.
The 2010 Camaro wins the muscle-car battle against the Dodge Challenger and Mustang GT, but the 2011 Camaro gets knocked off by the new Mustang, because of the Mustang's lower price and its beautiful new 32-valve 5.0-liter engine. The Mustang wins the pounds-per-horsepower battle, 8.7 to 9.1 (412/3580 vs. 426/3860), but the Camaro still ties from 0-60 in 4.6 seconds, and wins in the quarter-mile, 13.0 to 13.2. The Camaro costs $1300 more than the Mustang but it's still a steal. If you need to beat the new Mustang GT, wait for the Z28 and blow that Ford out of the water with a supercharger pumping 560 horsepower.
The 2011 Z28 is not here yet, but GM has confirmed that it will be available by the end of the year, with its supercharger on the V8, like the Cadillac CTS-V, and should at least match that monster 556 horsepower and 551 pound-feet of torque. Best guesses are that it will add about $8000 to the price, remaining a spectacular muscle-car deal.
The 2011 Camaro succeeds in many areas: striking lines, powerful engines borrowed from Cadillac and Corvette, great transmissions, superb handling and ride, terrific V6 gas mileage, and great prices. The interior visibility is limited, pinched because of the car's shape, and don't expect room in the rear. Bucket seats are good, but the retro-wannabe instrumentation will leave you flat if you're looking for function. Mostly, the new Camaro says GM can do it.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Sam Moses drove the Camaro coupe models near San Diego and in the Pacific Northwest.