First Drive: 2011 Chevrolet Camaro SS Convertible

Roy Ritchie

About the only thing that seems to elicit more feedback in New Orleans than our Chevy is the seemingly innocent question, "Where should we eat?" Everyone, it seems, has a list of ten restaurants we have to visit before we leave, and no one's list overlaps. The sheer multitude of popular restaurants tells a story of renewal that recent statistics seem to support. New Orleans's population is becoming wealthier and better educated. Tourism is strong, and the city's many colleges are expanding. No one downtown is willing to say he or she is thankful for the storm, but many have no problem predicting that it will lead to a better New Orleans. Oh, and the food rocks.

Meraux, Louisiana, about eight miles from downtown New Orleans, probably had plenty of good restaurants, too. But when we roll through the following morning, the only venue the locals can recommend for breakfast is McDonald's. The Golden Arches stand alone in front of a deserted shopping center, which, like everything else around here, was submerged under ten feet of water back in 2005. "My daughter used to work in that dollar store," drawls Claude Arnold, a native of nearby Chalmette. Like most of the pre-Katrina population here, he left before the storm hit and found nothing to returnto. "I had four inches of mud in my house. My furniture didn't look like furniture anymore."

Even with the sun shining, it's barely 40 degrees outside, and there's a stiff wind blowing off Lake Pontchartrain. Or is it coming from the Mississippi? Or the Gulf? Or one of the many canals? Or the marshlands? News flash: there's a lot of water around here. In any event, the Camaro's seat heaters are much appreciated, even if they don't provide as much bum-scorching comfort as those in convertibles like the Mazda Miata. There are a few other signs that the Camaro's cabin wasn't originally designed for top-down duty. The morning sun completely washes out the center radio display, and utility, already in short supply in the coupe, predictably becomes even more of a precious commodity. The trunk holds a respectable 10.2 cubic feet of luggage but shrinks to 7.9 with the top down. Whatever goes in there must fit through an acorn-size opening due to the trunk lid's origami cutline. On the plus side, the sunshine brings the dark interior out of the shadows, relieving the coupe's cavelike atmosphere.

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