I was fortunate enough to have the Camaro Convertible over a weekend and was blessed with plenty of top-down weather. This was the first Camaro of any stripe to come through the office during my tenure, so I was excited to check it out and spend some time driving and shooting it.
The Great: The exhaust note. This car just sounded as bad-ass as it gets. My wife was completely intimidated riding shotgun, and I was hardly jumping on the throttle with her and the kids along. Also filed under "great" is the car's decapitated look -- both from inside and out. I can only imagine the closed in feeling of driving a coupe, but the view from behind the wheel, looking over that big, red hood on a country road with the top down and a canopy of trees flying over your head was just tremendous. And, of course, visibility all around was fine despite the high beltline. From outside, the bright red Camaro was a head-turner and had just the right amount of menace in its personality. Big five spoke alloys and wide rubber gave it a look of a car ready to pounce.
The Good: I thought the manual 6-speed was fine -- nothing fantastic, but no glaring flaws. This car, with its natural inclination for cruising is one where I might consider an automatic -- something I rarely would do -- but it somehow feels like that's the more natural fit for this car. The Camaro felt big and heavy -- like a muscle car of yore--and not as sharp and crisp as a new Mustang. It feels planted to the pavement (unlike a Challenger) over dips and hillcrests and around curves, and the body remains tight and rattle-free with the roof removed despite the washboard condition of some of the Michigan backroads I drove it on. This is a car made for the type of aimless country driving I did or boulevard cruising, not so much for the track.
Interior space and layout was fine, the backseat accommodated a couple of carseat-bound kids with ease, and would probably have been fine for an average adult. The overall look and style of the interior is nice, with the sweeping dash and door panel inserts and classic instrument cluster, but it falls apart under closer inspection...
The Bad: The instruments and controls in this car are just abysmal. I can appreciate the goal of the retro styling, but the execution is poor. The gauges look like a mechanized version of a toy car's decal dashboard. The overabundance of colors and clumsy, plasticky needles were a constant irritation to me, because they seem so inexcusably bad, and easily remedied. The Mustang excels in this exact scenario, with retro-styled gauges that look solid and convincingly "old" yet remain highly readable and somehow modern. The HVAC controls are also style-first, function-last with their low placement and illegible symbols on tiny buttons. And, again, despite the goal of a retro look, the Camaro again misses the mark with a cheesy silver plastic for the fixtures.
In summary, I had a great time with this car, and I think it's a well done cruiser that puts a smile on the face of anyone in it or watching it drive by, but Chevy has some homework to do on the details.
Matt Tierney, Art Director
Asking the Camaro Convertible to move with agility and grace is like expecting your 300-pound uncle to be the best dancer at your wedding. Then again, I don't really subscribe to the convertibles-as-sports-cars thought school, so this drop-top muscle car is all right by me and I can see why open-air drivers would choose the louder, bad-ass looks of the Camaro over the better-driving Ford Mustang.
It's definitely cool, but the Camaro could easily be a whole lot cooler. The manual roof release latch is awkward to use and the power softtop is unusually slow, discouraging you from lowering the roof at a red light that could turn green at the wrong time. When raising the top, the motors keep on humming as long as you're holding the "close" button, with no clear indication of when the top is fully up. And then there are the same flaws that plague the fixed-roof Camaro. Lazy gearing makes this car feel much more tame than the 6.2-liter V-8 should be and who could argue against a smaller, more nimble car?
Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor