Camaros as convertibles have a checkered past. Dropping the top on a first-gen, especially on a '69 Pace Car convertible, was a near-religious experience and they command premium prices today. But that was the last F-body ragtop for almost 20 years. The second-gen was born in a time when open-air motoring was becoming a thing of the past and there was not another with a retractable roof model until '87.
These third-gen cars were stunning to look at, but the price was cowl shake, rattles, and (often) water leaks. When the fourth-gen was introduced in '93, the convertible was absent from the lineup. It would, however, make a comeback the following year. Unlike the previous incarnation, these convertibles would be built on the same assembly line as the coupes and they had improved build quality. The downside was the price point-there was a $4,000-$5,000 premium over the hardtop, a good 25-percent hike. (In '67, the tariff was about 10 percent, a little more if you ordered the power top.)
Now comes the fifth-gen convertible, as stunning a soft-top F-body as there has been. Lop the roof off many cars and they lose all their sexiness; not so the 2011 Camaro. In fact, it may look even better than the coupe. With the top down, the muscular rear fenders seem even more pronounced. The design loses none of its sleekness with the top up, either.
While we certainly would have felt more at home if our test car was an SS, the V-6-powered 2LT convertible was still a sporting automobile. Honestly, it pretty much looks identical to an SS and the average person on the street is hard-pressed to tell the difference. In fact, most were shocked when we told them it wasn't V-8-powered. Thanks to the performance of the 312-horse, direct-injected V-6, we'd say the stigma of owning a six-cylinder Camaro has been eradicated. No, it doesn't have 400-plus lb-ft of torque or that throbbing LS exhaust note, but the performance is definitely there. It'll run 14s in the quarter-mile all day, even with an automatic, equaling or bettering the performance of many of Chevy's sacred muscle-car icons of the '60s. In doing so, it'll deliver the kind of fuel economy (on regular) that a lot of customers consider mandatory in this era of $4-per-gallon unleaded. Despite our notorious lead feet, we averaged a respectable 21 mpg during our weeklong test. The EPA fuel economy estimates are 18 mpg city and 29 on the highway.
Our 2LT tester clocked in at a robust $36,185 with the automatic trans and RS package; opting for a cabriolet adds some 20 percent to the base price ($32,650 vs $27,350). With the average price of a new car being $30,000, this doesn't seem too unreasonable, though it still makes us kind of uncomfortable.
The good news is that the convertible delivers everything you've come to expect from a fifth-gen-balanced handling, a smooth ride, jaw-dropping stares and envy from others, and a very distinct lack of cowl shake. This is a very tight convertible. One negative was a water leak from the driver-side A-pillar after and during a heavy rain. This was problem our sister publication Motor Trend experienced with a different car; we can only hope this has something to do with our test car's early production status and Chevy can nip this problem in the bud before it tarnishes the car's reputation.
In the plus column is the way the car manages the air around you with the top down. The cockpit remains quiet and comfortable. If you put the side windows up, you can cruise at 85 mph without your hair getting mussed too badly. Over this speed and things get pretty windy. The Boston Acoustics premium eight-speaker sound system doesn't fare too badly either in open-air mode. The 10-inch subwoofer gets moved between the two rear seats and with the volume cranked, you'll hardly miss the roof.
It takes about 20 seconds for the top to go up and down, which we think is fairly reasonable. Like the current Corvette roadster, one latch in the center of the front bow is all you need to release and fasten the roof. As a bonus, when you unlatch the top, the four windows automatically retract.
Installing the top boot is fairly simple as well. Two clips attach the boot to the back of the rear seat. Then it's a matter of folding the ends of the vinyl apparatus under the fenders. You can remove it just as easily by lifting up on the snaps and folding it up.
The biggest downside is the trunk. Not exactly the Camaro's strongest point in coupe form, in the convertible it's pretty much a joke if you have any desire to put the top down. There's a horizontal divider that needs to stay in place if the top is being retracted and you can't store anything on top of it. Remove the divider and the canvas roof must remain in the up position. Hard to believe this car was designed to be a convertible from the start. When folded, the boot itself takes up a large share of the trunk.
All this seems completely unimportant with the top down and the vehicle in motion. It's a fantastic machine for sun-worshippers and convertible aficionados. Whether you are taking the family out for ice cream or that certain someone for a run to the beach, the Camaro convertible is a wonderful machine. On a starry night with the stars shining, a better way to experience open-air motoring is hard to find. True, there is the Corvette, but it costs nearly twice as much and seats half as many.
If you plan on doing any serious drag racing or open-track events, you'll probably want to stay with a hardtop Camaro (roll bars really detract from convertibles). If not, the newest convertible from Chevrolet makes a compelling argument for going topless.
2011 Camaro 2LT Convertible
|Options on test car|
|RS package* ||$1,500|
|(*20x8-inch front and 20x9-inch rear wheels, high-intensity discharge headlamps, rear spoiler, unique taillamps)|
|Final Assembly Point:||Oshawa, Ontario, Canada|