The weather was perfect in Southeast Michigan, and cruising season is just getting underway. I couldn’t have tested a Chevrolet Camaro SS Convertible at a better time. Or in a better place.
Bring Your Sunscreen
Most of you out there are probably familiar with the Chevy Camaro Coupe and all of its flashy retro goodness, as well as its setbacks. The convertible variant is pretty much the same, except for an adjustable rag top in place of a closed structure. To fortify stability, the Camaro Convertible features a polished strut tower brace that is visible as soon as the hood is opened. Underneath lay V-braces in the front and rear, as well as reinforcements underneath the car’s transmission and its tunnel. All of this extra rigidity of course adds weight, and more or less hinders performance (more on that later).
The Camaro SS Convertible in the GM Authority Garage came in the 2SS trim level, costing $39,650 with $2,500 in options, in total costing $42,145 excluding an $850 destination charge. Options include the attractive RS appearance package ($1,200), a $500 Interior Accent Trim package, $470 black racing stripes and special $325 Inferno Orange Metallic paint, which I go into more detail in the paragraphs below. It’s quite a jump from the basic $29,275 Camaro V6 Convertible and even the standard SS convertible, which runs at $36,775. Looking across town, the Mustang GT Premium Convertible starts at $38,310, or $1,300 cheaper than the 2SS Camaro ‘vert.
Under the hood is a naturally aspirated 376 cubic inch/6.2-liter LS3 V8 engine that is also seen in the Corvette Coupe and Corvette Grand Sport, and of course the Camaro SS Coupe as well. Like the coupe, the engine is rated at 426 horsepower and 420 pounds-feet of torque that is sent to the rear wheels, with a set of Pirelli Pzer0 275/40-20 tires applying the grip. It likes to rev, putting out peak torque numbers at 4,600 RPM and peak horsepower at 5,900 RPM. That’s good for me, because I’ve always enjoyed the listening to the note of GM’s LS engines. Take note however, as the LS3 is only available with the Tremec TR6060 six-speed manual transmission. Opt for the automatic, and you’re punished with the less powerful L99 variant of the engine which produces 400 horsepower and 410 pounds-feet. And while the burly LS3 will drink regular-grade gasoline, it is advised that you fill it with premium in order to optimize performance. But with gasoline as high as it is, I’m thankful the engine isn’t picky.
It’s Like This…
Inferno Orange Metallic is one of the best hues a Camaro can come in if you ask me. Yes, I’m aware that it appears red in the photos, but that could be because the paint was just too awesome to properly transfer onto the camera’s SD card. And having the RS package, the SS Convertible sees a pair of beautiful HID headlamps, 20-inch wheels, and unique tail lamps. Also adding to the flair were the previously mentioned racing stripes that started at the nose and ended at the tail.
The Interior Accent package brought on Inferno Orange accents — matching the paint outside — inserted in the seats, doors, dash and stitching throughout. Adding to the hotness were fiber optics inserted behind the door panel inserts, which enhanced the flair of nighttime driving. A Heads Up Display helped me keep my eyes on the road while simultaneously telling me my revs and current speed, but unfortunately it will not lock on to tangos. Road and wind noise levels were also surprisingly low, especially for a rag top. Just avoid bumpy roads, because the SS convertible’s roofless structure likes to vibrate a bit.
The standard eight-speaker Boston Acoustics audio system and its 10-inch subwoofer is plenty of sound for its compact cabin, and I could blast XM Radio or my iPod through the USB port with high-decibel clarity. But, the Ford Mustang does offer a 10-speaker 640 watt Shaker 1000 sound system coupled by not just one, but two 10-inch subs, though it is a hefty $1,295 option. Just saying.
Get past the initial “wow” factor of the Camaro’s interior, and gripes ensue. Like the standard Camaro, its designers sacrificed ergonomics for looks, with a retro-style gauge cluster pack located behind the shifter (not that I mind), and the parking brake lever on the wrong side. There is a lot of black negative space on the dash, with a mere splash of colored paneling running along the upper end. The plastic is hard-touch, which is unpleasant to feel but easy to clean. I also am with the rest of the world when I say that I find the steering wheel uncomfortable (unless I’m holding it at ten-and-two) and the visibility poor. But with the convertible, all I had to do was unlock the top and open up a plethora of new sight lines with the push of a button. Which reminds me…
As Far As Convertibles Go…
I never liked the look of rag tops, especially paired with a paint as vibrant as Inferno Orange. But nobody is the wiser when the top is tucked away, at which point you are exposed to the sun, the wind, and people asking you questions about the car during red lights. But when it came to putting the top back up, it took a painstakingly loooooong time. And by long I’m talking 20 seconds. Additionally, the car needs to be at a complete stop to bring the top back up. Completely still. Not even a gentle roll. And I had to hold the cover button for the duration of its closing, which was really annoying. In the event of foul weather, bring an umbrella to keep you dry as you wait for the top to leisurely make its way shut.
The worst of all though, is the manual tonneau cover, that requires a lot of tucking in edges and cussing while trying to look for the location points to secure the plastic tabs, which lock the cover in place. And if I had to put the top back up, I would have to get out and pull the thing off, only to awkwardly fold it back into the trunk. If I was lazy, the canvas top was left to the exposure of high speed winds. I don’t see the top lasting long in the hands of an under-attentive owner.
As far as the heft goes between the SS Coupe (3,859 lbs.) and SS Convertible (4,116 lbs.), a near 300 lb. weight difference is pretty significant and it can especially be felt when cornering, not that the SS coupe was particularly graceful around turns to begin with. What’s more, the Ford Mustang GT Convertible weighs in at 3,725 lbs. That’s not skinny either, but at nearly 400 lbs. lighter than the SS ‘Vert, it makes the Chevy look like a pig, though in Chevy’s defense the Camaro is a larger car. Despite this, the SS stops better than the GT, needing just 109 feet to stop from 60 mph compared to the ‘Stang’s 113 feet. Courtesy of that miracle goes to a standard set of Brembo brakes. Acceleration for the SS Convertible is pretty good for a 4,100 lb. car, as it can touch 60 mph in just 5 seconds flat with a foot of rollout. At the same time, it’s .3 seconds slower than the SS Coupe and Mustang GT Convertible.
Despite the car’s inability to be graceful, shifting gears on this thing was actually surprisingly easy. The shift knob was comfortable, the throws were short and it was easy to feel through the clutch pedal when the transmission grabbed a gear. Though sometimes I had to fight the knob in and out of a gear selection for whatever reason.
So, if not to buy the Camaro SS Convertible for superior driving performance of the Mustang GT Convertible or Camaro SS Coupe, then why even consider one? Well, there’s a wide open reason as to why the Camaro SS Convertible is better than its closed canopy counterpart and its cross-town rival. And it’s all about style.
Too many times do auto critics measure up the stats of two cars on paper and decide on a verdict from there. It’s getting old really, and I’m a firm believer that a car’s looks can trump a lot of numbers on paper if it came down to it. Forget the hindered performance. Forget the cheap interior. This car has enough looks to arouse people. And with the top down, the yell of the 426 horsepower LS3 engine can be heard with much more clarity, the exhaust popping and grumbling after taking my foot off the throttle was something I could never, ever grow tired of. What we have here folks, is a modern day Woodward summer cruiser. And it fits the bill perfectly.
The GM Authority Bottom Line
If driveability is what you want from your Camaro, get the SS Coupe. If you want the flashiest Camaro on the market, go for the SS Convertible. Now, how about some T-Tops?
Why You Would Buy One
- The Style, the sound and the sex appeal
- The nostalgia of perhaps owning one in the past
- You want a 426 horsepower motor that doesn’t demand premium
Why You Wouldn’t
- Lack of practicality
- The preference of a Mustang
- The preference of a closed-top structure
- Final Assembly Point: Oshawa, Ontario, Canada
- Engine Origin: United States
- Transmission Origin: Mexico
- North American Parts Content: 81% (66% U.S./Canada, 15% Mexico)