So here I am, Mr. Hotshot driving an arrest-me-red 2011 Camaro Convertible in downtown San Francisco on the hottest evening of the spring, and I look in the rear view mirror and see a guy in a 1969 Camaro Convertible tailing me, taking a picture. We pull over and have a chat — mostly so I can tell him how cool his car is. And thanks to the miracle of camera-phones, I was even able to snap a couple of pictures of the cars together. They’re separated by 42 model years, but it was a trip to see a modern Camaro next to the car that inspired its design.
I’m not a muscle-car kind of guy, but I can definitely get wrapped up in the appeal of the Camaro. In fact, I love it. But I confess: my love for the badass Chevy is skin-deep. It took a week together for me to realize that if the Camaro didn’t look so damned incredible, I wouldn’t like it much at all.
The reality is that the Camaro’s styling promises a sports car that the rest of the car doesn’t deliver on. It’s only when you take a step back and notice how huge this muscle car is that you realize it’s not a sports car; it’s a big, bad cruiser. Yeah, it handles well, but like the Dodge Challenger (and my waist), the Camaro is a size or six larger than it should be.
If I look at the Camaro through the lens of objectivity, it doesn’t hold a candle to the Ford Mustang. (And it’s not even on the same planet as the Mustang Boss 302). The Camaro’s steering is way too slow. The mechanical noise the engine makes is 1960s thrashy. (Obviously, the V-8 exhaust music is delightful.) It revs so slowly it feels like it’s half asleep. And worst of all, GM neutered the big V-8 with what must be the longest gears in the history of the automobile.
Breaking traction in first gear requires abuse because the overall ratio is longer than the second gear in both of my personal cars. Speeding up on the highway requires a three-gear downshift. C’mon Chevy, if someone’s ponying up the extra money for the V-8, they’re obviously okay with the fuel economy penalty — there’s no need to ruin the fun to gain what, 1 mpg? (And what, another 0.003 real-world miles per gallon thanks to the first-to-fourth skip-shift feature that, happily, is only rarely invoked?) I got 14.7 indicated mpg over 175 miles of mixed driving, but I would have been happier with 13 mpg and appropriate gearing.
On the good side, the Boston-branded stereo kicks hard. Every display in the car is low-res and monochrome, including the head-up display — but I’ll take an HUD any day, in any color and at any resolution. The chassis is commendably stiff with only the slightest hint of cowl shake over horrible pavement. It rides well despite having a twenty-inch wheel at each corner (credit a suspension design that might as well be an exact copy of the E39-chassis BMW 5-series).
And then the back seat is half the size it should be. Ditto the trunk. I don’t care though — both of those sacrifices are well worth it. If women can tolerate stilettos for fashion, the Camaro gets a bad-packaging pass from me because of its looks. And even if I swear I can’t get past the laughably long gear ratios and slow steering, the fact is all I have to do is look at the Camaro and I forgive it. Judging by the thumbs-up, hollers, and waves I got driving it, I’m not the only superficial one.
2011 Chevrolet Camaro 2SS Convertible
Base price (with destination): $40,500
Price as tested: $41,700
On-Star with six months coverage
Power retractable roof
Rear park assist
Aux audio input and USB port
Boston Acoustics eight-speaker stereo with 10-inch subwoofer
XM Satellite radio
4-pack auxiliary gauges
Heated front leather seats
Options on this vehicle:
RS Package ($120) includes 8×20-inch front and 9×20-inch rear painted aluminum wheels, HID xenon headlights with halo ring DRLs, RS-unique taillights
Key options not on vehicle:
Twenty-one-inch rims ($4680)
Six-speed automatic transmission ($1185)
16 / 24 / 19 mpg
Horsepower: 426 hp @ 5900 rpm
Torque: 420 lb-ft @ 4600 rpm
Curb weight: 3849 lb (mfr.)
Wheels/tires: 245/45-ZR20 (front), 275/40-ZR20 (rear)
Ford Mustang Convertible
A drop-top version of the still-gorgeous Camaro.