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2011 Chevrolet Camaro Convertible — Review

This 2011 review is representative of model years 2010 to 2015.
By Kirk Bell of MSN Autos
Rating: 8.0

Bottom Line:

Bottom Line: Chevrolet has done a fine job of turning the Camaro into a convertible. The structure is solid, and the top is attractive and quiet. In fact, the drop-top is a better effort than the coupe upon which it is based. Like the coupe, however, it suffers from a weight problem, so it isn’t as sporty as some might hope. Nonetheless, it is excellent competition for the Mustang convertible, and it should help improve the Camaro’s already strong sales.
Pros:
  • Stiff structure
  • Attractive, high-quality top
  • Two powerful engines
Cons:
  • Too heavy to be truly sporty
  • Cheap interior
  • High price

No doubt about it, the new Camaro is a success for Chevrolet, especially from a financial standpoint. With only one body style on offer in 2010, this modern take on a classic piece of machinery outsold its natural rival, the Ford Mustang, even though the 'Stang offers a coupe, a convertible and numerous performance versions, including the Shelby GT500. And even though the Mustang has won every comparison test the automotive media could throw at this pair of pony cars, the Camaro is still one impressive vehicle, losing every time by the slimmest of margins.

For 2011, Chevrolet is chopping the top off the Camaro. While the new convertible is a real looker and offers a solid structure, it doesn't deliver the same performance as the hardtop. Even so, its sultry good looks should help Camaro keep or grow its sales lead over Ford's iconic pony.

Model Lineup
Chevrolet is positioning the Camaro convertible upmarket from the coupe, charging a $5,270 premium for the top and forgoing the base LS trim. The 2011 Camaro convertible is offered in two V6 trims called the LT and two V8 versions dubbed SS. The $29,150 1LT trim comes standard with cloth upholstery, limited-slip rear differential, a 6-month OnStar Directions and Connections plan and a 6-way adjustable driver's seat. The $32,650 2LT adds heated exterior mirrors with driver's side auto-dimming, leather seats, heated front seats, a Bluetooth hands-free cellphone link, an iPod interface, a heads-up display, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, and remote starting (with the automatic transmission).

Under the Hood
The V6 engine in the LT trims is GM's direct-injected dual-overhead-cam 3.6-liter that makes 312 horsepower and 278 lb-ft of torque. It's impressively fuel-efficient, with EPA ratings of 17 mpg city/28 mpg highway with the standard 6-speed manual transmission and 18/29 with the optional 6-speed automatic.

Two versions of GM's 6.2-liter V8 engine power the SS. When equipped with the standard 6-speed manual transmission, the SS gets the Corvette's LS3 V8, which produces 426 horsepower and 420 lb-ft of torque in the Camaro. When buyers choose the optional 6-speed automatic, they get the L99 version of the 6.2-liter V8 that cranks out 400 horsepower and 410 lb-ft of torque. This version comes with Active Fuel Management, which shuts down four cylinders under light load conditions to conserve fuel. With the automatic, the V8 is EPA rated at 16/25 mpg; with the manual, the ratings are 16/24.

Inner Space
Inside, the Camaro is bland. Hard plastic makes up much of the dashboard and center console, and the right side of the dash is barren, crying out for something like chrome trim. The dished steering wheel is stylized but big for a sporty car, and the manual shifter is large, about the size of a baseball. The controls on the center stack are arranged in an odd-looking layout that seems like a throwback to a time that never existed. While the layout is easy to access, it leaves no room for a navigation system, which isn't surprising because Chevy doesn't offer one. Fans of vintage muscle cars will recognize the optional gauge cluster under the center stack. It pays homage to the 1969 Camaro Z28 and includes readouts for the oil pressure, oil temperature, volts and transmission-fluid temperature.

The front seats are form-fitting and comfortable, but headroom is tight for tall drivers when the top is up. Space in the convertible's rear seat is even worse than it is in the coupe. The seat isn't as wide as that in the hardtop, and getting back there with the top up requires some advanced gymnastics. As in the coupe, headroom is lacking, and unless the front seats are pushed fully forward, legroom is virtually nonexistent. Basically, the rear seat is a place for kids, not adults.

The convertible body style does solve some of the coupe's visibility issues, though; visibility is good to all corners with the top down. With the top up, however, the same problems exist; visibility is poor, especially to the rear.

The top itself is impressive. It seals tightly, and acoustic material helps shut out a lot of wind and road noise. It also looks great when it's up. Chevy also offers a tonneau cover to tidy things up when the top is down.

The trunk has a tight 10.2 cubic feet of cargo space with the top up, and that shrinks to 7.8 cubic feet with the top town. With a small opening and little room, the Camaro convertible's trunk isn't very useful.

On the Road
Chevrolet did a lot of work to retain rigidity in the Camaro convertible despite the lack of a metal top. Chevrolet engineers added a tower-to-tower brace under the hood, a transmission support reinforcement brace, an underbody tunnel brace and front and rear underbody "V" braces. Together, these changes work to make the convertible almost as rigid as the coupe, which allowed Chevrolet to use the same suspension settings for both body styles. We'd like to see some of these items carried over to the coupe, especially the tower-to-tower brace.

Unfortunately, the car the convertible is based on suffers from a weight problem, and the convertible's enhancements add 250 pounds. All things considered, handling is just kind of sporty. The Camaro drop-top feels heavy, leans a bit too much in turns and isn't as agile as a BMW 3-Series convertible or a Nissan 370Z roadster.

There are some positives, though. The Camaro convertible is stiffer and therefore inspires more confidence than the Mustang convertible, exhibiting little shake in the cowl and windshield. The wide tires have lots of grip, and the brakes, especially the SS's Brembos, are strong. We just wish Chevrolet would have put the same effort into making the coupe handle well as it did the convertible.

Like the coupe, the Camaro convertible has a smooth and stable ride; actually, it's probably better. Whether it is equipped with the 18-, 19- or 20-inch tires, sharp bumps rarely disrupt passenger comfort. Chevrolet has also made some changes to the suspension, which affect both the coupe and convertible and which have alleviated some of the tendency for the larger tires to slap over tar strips and highway expansion joints.

Whichever engine you choose, you can't lose. The 3.6-liter V6 gets the Camaro moving with ease and supplies plenty of passing power. It launches the car from zero to 60 mph in 6.2 seconds, which is certainly quick. However, it's about a half-second slower than the new 3.7-liter V6 in the Mustang, and it doesn't make the growling American sound you'd expect in a muscle car.

The V8 engine in the SS trims does make those sounds, and it can launch the Camaro from zero to 60 mph in a blistering 4.9 seconds. It doesn't rev as freely as the Mustang's new 5.0-liter V8, so it isn't as easy to do burnouts or partake in other sophomoric fun.

Both transmissions work well with either engine. The manual is fairly easy to shift, but a high clutch take-up point can lead to stalling the car until you get used to it. The automatic comes with plastic steering-wheel shift buttons that are fairly easy to use but look and feel cheap. Larger metal paddles would be nicer.

Right for You?
The 2011 Chevrolet Camaro convertible is all about style. It expands on the good looks of the coupe with a high-quality convertible top that is more elegantly styled than most ragtops. Like other convertibles, the Camaro is best used as a 2-seater, though the rear seat will work for kids. If you're looking for a stylish and powerful rear-drive drop-top, the Camaro is for you. But if you want a truly sporty convertible, there are better options.

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BB02 - 9/21/2014 5:31:33 AM