2016 Chevrolet Camaro Convertible Review

Top-down style with top-up speed

Michael JordanwriterThe ManufacturerphotographerPatrick M. Hoeyphotographer

DEATH VALLEY, California -- It's the kind of car that's perfect for a little pleasant sightseeing, and we're running low and slow with the convertible top retracted so we can appreciate the unexpected splash of color from the springtime wild flowers in Death Valley's moonscape of sand and rocks. It's just the sort of convertible experience you hope for.

And then, as you're rolling along at 30 mph, you trigger the power-operated top. Within seconds, you're buttoned up beneath a tautly stretched multi-layer canvas top, and you're ripping down the road past Zabriskie Point as fast as you can go. Sure, the 2016 Chevrolet Camaro convertible looks dramatic and behaves like something adults can enjoy, but it hasn't sacrificed its soul.

More driver, less machine

Once you have the top laid back, the Camaro experience is a lot more enjoyable in so many ways. Instead of being enclosed in the coupe's bunker-like environment with the narrow slits that serve as windows, the world's largest sunroof opens. Now you're styling in a luxury environment, especially if you choose brightly colored upholstery over the customary black.

This transformation in the driving experience comes from the 2016 Camaro convertible's new power-operated top. It retracts just as you remember from the 2015 Camaro convertible, but now you can conduct business at 30 mph instead of waiting until the car is idling at the next stoplight. (You can even trigger the top remotely with the key fob when the car is parked.)

After some 18 seconds, the top is stowed beneath a hard tonneau cover. The hard tonneau might seem to be no more than a matter of style to you, but ask owners of the previous generation of the Camaro convertible about the condition of the canvas top's headliner after a few years of zipping around in freeway traffic with the top retracted and uncovered by its soft tonneau bag. Unless you enjoy the availability of a ready source of road grease as a substitute for hair product, the answer will not be positive.

As you expect in any convertible and especially one with a power top, the 2016 Camaro convertible becomes even more of a 2+2 passenger proposition, as the backrest of the rear seat is narrower and more upright. Then again, who cares what the people in the back seat think? You're probably going to end up paying for their dinner anyway. The Camaro convertible is about a different kind of driving, where the experience is more about simple driving pleasure, not so much about the machine.

The machine is pretty happy nevertheless, thank you

Sightseeing is all well and good, and indeed you can cruise for hours in the 2016 Chevrolet Camaro convertible with the top down and the windows up (the two big ones in front and two tiny ones in the rear), and you'll be perfectly happy in a little bubble of warm sunshine that's so free of turbulence that she won't complain about having to brush her hair for an hour afterwards. But this is a Camaro, remember?

So we buttoned up the convertible top and rocketed down the road in this test car with its 335-hp 3.6-liter V-6, an engine so good that we should send the GM engineers who designed it a gift of candy and balloons every National Camaro Day. (There is one, right?) The surprise here is that you can shift hard, rev out the engine to its power peak of 6,800 rpm, and then dive through corners at completely stupid speeds and not feel let down by shake and shudder from the Camaro's structure or skitter and skating from the Goodyear tires. The convertible's weight penalty is about 150 pounds, and we're promised that the car will get to 60 mph only a tick slower than the coupe, whether you choose the Tremec six-speed manual or the eight-speed automatic.

This secret here is a little Rubik's Cube of interdependent efforts by the Camaro engineers to ensure the structural rigidity of the chassis. It starts with the new modular platform (shared with the Cadillac ATS), which is so good that slicing off the roof reduces torsional rigidity by only 30 percent. (Back in 1983 when Porsche cut off the top of the 911's well-designed unibody, the engineers were surprised to learn that torsional rigidity dropped by 80 percent, which was the customary result in convertible design for decades to come.)

After this, the Camaro engineers have applied a package of 11 components to improve structural integrity, including a strut-tower brace, a special shear piece beneath the engine, and a giant X-shape brace beneath the platform. This is not the work of a moment in the world of high-strength steels, as all the components must have aerospace-like accuracy in order to come together happily on the production line. The overall result is 10 percent more torsional rigidity than the previous Camaro convertible delivered.

Just like a Camaro, only topless

When hammering down the road with the multi-layer top erected in place, you're well insulated from both weather and wind noise. The interior seems only slightly more claustrophobic than the enclosure created by the coupe's turret-like top, and the available suite of active-safety measures (notably blind-spot warning) takes away some unease in heavy traffic situations.

We were also pretty astonished at the minimal level of vibration the Camaro convertible's structure registered through its tires over the roads through the mountains east of Death Valley. With convertibles, you usually expect the windshield header to shimmy like a hula doll in a Saturday night low rider, and indeed it once was customary for carmakers to pack the interior of the header with lead to reduce such vibration.

Instead, all is calm, even in our RS-specification version with its 20-inch tires, and the car feels like a Camaro, not a convertible.

Have it in any flavor you want

As near as we can figure from looking at Chevy's sales site on the Internet, you can pretty much have a convertible version of any Camaro configuration you can think up. This means you can have a Camaro convertible with the new 275-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-4, the 335-hp 3.6-liter V-6, or the 455-hp 6.2-liter V-8. For all that, we prefer the V-6 in this car, as the convertible still has the liveliness we crave, yet delivers docile behavior in everyday driving and useful fuel economy on the freeway.

It's been possible to buy a Camaro convertible in the past, of course, but it has been kind of the optional Jersey Shore package. The convertible would give you a new level of extravagant style, but you had to give up varying degrees of driving performance at the same time. With the 2016 Chevrolet Camaro convertible, the soul of the car remains in place. Instead of a one-dimensional parade car, the Camaro convertible remains a driver's car, only one with a bigger, more well-rounded personality.

2016 Chevrolet Camaro 2LT RS Convertible Specifications

On Sale: Now
Price: $36,800/$41,985 (base/as tested) (est)
Engine: 3.6L DOHC 24-valve V-6/335 hp @ 6,800 rpm, 284 lb-ft @ 5,300 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Layout: 2-door, 4-passenger, front-engine, RWD convertible
EPA Mileage: 18/27 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H: 188.3 x 74.7 x 53.1 in
Wheelbase: 110.7 in
Weight: 3,435 lb (est)
0-60 MPH: 5.2 sec (est)
Top Speed: 155 mph (est)

 

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