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2011 Chevrolet Camaro Covertible
Some new school, some old school and some back to school
By Malcolm Gunn

2011 Chevrolet Camaro Convertible: For all its size, the Camaro Convertible doesn't hold much in the way of people or cargo. But that's not really the point of this style statement, now is it?High-school reunions are great for reminiscing about the way we were. And the perfect four-wheeled time machine for such an event is the 2011 Camaro convertible.

The year I departed my alma mater in 1967 was the Camaro's freshman season. By then, Ford's groundbreaking Mustang had been around for two and a half years and had generated worldwide sales in excess of 1.3 million copies. Even so, the Chevy rival attracted plenty of attention with its head-turning good looks and enough available grunt to lay down lengthy rubber strips whenever the driver tapped the gas pedal.

To my teenage way of thinking, the original Camaro's sophistication and swagger (especially the Rally Sport convertible model with its hidden headlights) blew the Mustang into the weeds and would have been my personal preference if only I had possessed the financial wherewithal.

Chevrolet mothballed the Camaro on its 35th anniversary in 2002, but with great fanfare the stunning coupe returned for the 2010 model year. The convertible was released this past February, just in time for the spring and summer cruising season.

The distinction of the 2011 Chevrolet Camaro SS (V8) is all in the lower bumper area with a small slit in the hood. The RS (V6) looks smoother and cleaner.Chevrolet supplied a freshly minted example, ostensibly for road-testing purposes, but the real objective was to flip the lid, put on a fresh pair of wrap-around shades and wow the unrequited loves of my high-school existence -- many of whom are now grandmothers of a certain age -- at my reunion. Arrangements had been made to park the Camaro on the grass in front of the school for the duration of the event, alongside an assortment of classic and antique vehicles being showcased by former students.

An SS model with its 426-horsepower 6.2-litre V8 and a six-speed manual transmission had been requested, but the only Camaro available was a 312-horsepower 3.6-litre V6 unit that came with the optional six-speed automatic. Still, its extra-cost black centre stripe and 20-inch polished aluminum wheels made it appear almost indistinguishable from the mighty SS.

The three-hour-long top-down drive to the school revealed much about the Camaro. It's well-insulated power-operated cloth top is secured by a single centre-mounted latch and takes just 20 seconds for the windows to automatically lower and the top to fully retract. Chevy can also supply a windscreen that's secured between the seats to help keep most baby-boomer comb-overs in place.

2011 Chevrolet Camaro Convertible. Top up, it still looks sharp.Although the V6 lacks the V8's vibratory rumble, it's capable of delivering neck-snapping acceleration, especially with the manual transmission, and decent passing performance. It's also reasonable on gas, with a rating of 12.4 l/100 km in the city and 7.1 l/100 km on the highway. The base Mustang convertible's 305-horsepower 3.7-litre V6 earns a similar rating.

Traversing the back roads, the firm-riding Camaro's 20-inch boots clung tenaciously to the twisty tarmac and the optional leather-covered bucket seats proved equally grippy and were pleasantly comfortable for long-distance driving. You'll also be hard-pressed to see or feel any bizarre shaking or body flex that's problematic on some other convertible designs.

One of the Camaro's few shortcomings was a steering wheel that partially blocked the gauges, regardless of tilt position. Then there is the folded top's intrusion into the trunk that, along with a too-tiny opening, severely restricts luggage volume. Also restrictive when the top is up is the undersized rear glass window (thank goodness for the backup warning system) and a rear seat that should be declared off limits for anyone taller than five feet.

But the Camaro admirably fulfills its primary mission of affordably carrying two adults and their kids (or more likely grandkids) with a starting price in the $35,500 vicinity. Unfortunately, any chance to impress the reunion's attendees was dashed by a steady weekend downpour. And while the top proved absolutely leak-proof, the Camaro failed to deliver the desired effect that I'm certain a few hours of sunshine and open-air posing might have otherwise accomplished.

Still, whether it's around the block or across the country, the Camaro should definitely transport you to another state of mind.

What you should know: 2011 Chevrolet Camaro Covertible

Type: Two-door, rear-wheel-drive convertible

Engines (hp): 3.6-litre DOHC V6 (312); 6.2-litre OHV V8 (400-426)

Transmissions: Six-speed manual; six-speed automatic (opt.)

Market position: Primary target is the Ford Mustang. With V6 and V8 powerplants, this Chevy appeals to a "newstalgic" crowd on the basis of style and performance with decent fuel economy.

Points: One of the sharpest-looking convertibles on the market; Base V6 lacks V8's sound and fury, still delivers respective power and thriftiness; Lack of trunk and rear-seat room a concern; Styling between V6 and V8 versions a little too close for the price difference; Well-built, drum-tight platform and body virtually eliminates typical convertible shaking and rattling; Performance war with the Mustang extends to both V6 and V8.

Safety: Front airbags; side-impact airbags; side-curtain airbags; anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control.

L/100 km (city/hwy): 12.4/7.1 (V6, MT)

Base price (incl. destination): $35,500

By comparison    

Ford Mustang Converble
Base price: $32,900
Classic design with muscular V6 and V8 power. GT500 model sizzles.

Mitsubishi Eclipse Convertible
Base price: $32,100
Low-volume ragtop has great looks, but I4 and optional V6 lack power.

Chrysler 200 Convertible
Base price: $31,500
Restyled former Sebring is much improved. New V6 option adds punch.

Malcolm Gunn is an automotive writer based in Moncton, NB, and a regular contributor to CarTest!

Posted July 20, 2011. © CarTest.ca TM


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