Talk about deja vu. This is the second weekend I've spent behind the wheel of a bright red Camaro convertible, although I've somehow traded summer heat for autumn gloom, baseball for college football, and apple pie for apple cider.
I've also managed to trade a bruiser for a cruiser. The previous car, a 2SS model, featured both a 376-hp, 6.2-liter V-8, and a six-speed manual transmission. Instead, this 2LT model makes do with the Camaro's latest base engine -- a 323-hp, direct-injected 3.6-liter V-6 and a six-speed automatic.
Apart from a different engine note (it's more a wailing growl than a ferocious *blaaaat*) and a little slower acceleration, the experience is about the same as that in the SS. The extra power of the new-for-2012 LFX V-6 helps make the car pretty quick, despite its hefty weight. The Camaro generally rides well but exhibits some cowl shake on rough roads. Buyers expecting sports-car-like handling are best advised to look to the SS, for its firmer suspension, if not for another model altogether.
The retro/futuristic interior is whimsical to a point, but small HVAC controls and the lack of a true navigation system (you're forced to use OnStar's turn-by-turn telematics service) are a bit annoying. The same can be said for cargo space: along with a pint-size trunk opening dictated by the cut of the rear fenders, the convertible top mechanism - which still uses a soft, install-it-yourself tonneau cover -- eats up roughly half the available space when stowed.
But for many folks, none of this matters much. The Camaro's looks and legacy alone are enough to woo many buyers -- and being able to translate the same experience offered by the eight-cylinder car to a more affordable, fuel-efficient package without losing much of the character is a commendable achievement.
Evan McCausland, Associate Web Editor
We've always hated the Camaro's chunky deep-dish steering wheel, which made it nearly impossible to place your hands in the proper position. Apparently, the car's engineers hated it too, but the designers wanted it and Bob Lutz backed them. This year it's gone, leaving a standard-issue Chevrolet steering wheel in its place. Wouldn't you know, it doesn't look bad at all, and it feels much more natural. Score one for the engineers. Another nice bit of added substance is the interior accent trim package -- $500 well spent in my opinion. It adds stitched leather overlays that class up the usually barren, hard dashboard. Mind you, it's still a Camaro, but it does make an appreciable difference.
Nevertheless, the Camaro remains, for better and for worse, a styling exercise.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
A large part of the appeal - and mystique - of the Camaro is its looks. Chopping off the top makes it look even more alluring, and with the black cloth top in place even more fiendish. Sadly, with the V-6-powered version there is little more to the car than its looks. Thankfully, some of the car's quirks that had put form before function have been smoothed out - there is now a secondary set of door lock switches on the door and not just on the center stack, the steering wheel is chunkier and no longer canted inward, and the gauges have been redesigned with smaller numeral and needles. (No longer does the speedo point to a range of 10 mph with a half-inch wide needle to indicate your speed!) For those who want more substance with their style, look to the Camaro SS, which has a 376-hp V-8 and handles much better. For those who want impress onlookers, a V-6 Camaro will do the trick. Days after I brought the Camaro home, my friend's neighbor came up to her and said, "Your friend has a gorgeous car!"
Donny Nordlicht, Associate Web Editor
The best thing about driving the Camaro was that other people seemed very impressed by it. Drivers peered out of passing cars to get a look, neighbors shouted "Nice ride!" and my girlfriend dubbed it "awesome."
Actually driving the Camaro, though, is not so much fun. This particular car is clearly designed for open-air cruising, rather than for driving excitement. Although there is plenty of power, tall gearing and a heavy curb weight make the Camaro feel ponderous and slow. I found merging onto the highway was best accomplished by using the paddle shifters to overrule the performance-dulling automatic transmission.
The Camaro convertible excels as a way for four people to enjoy top-down motoring. As a sports car to get enthusiasts' blood pumping, not so much. No matter -- the innate cool factor of a Camaro convertible will ensure that it sells in spades.
Jake Holmes, Associate Web Editor
This Camaro is definitely a bold fashion statement, and it's not a bad straight-line performer with the V-6 and an automatic transmission. I'd never buy one in this spec, though, because the engine is just too darn quiet -- if I had a convertible pony car, I'd want the V-8 burble to go along with it. The V-6 does sound good in its own right, but you pretty much have to be in a parking garage or a tunnel to get the most out of it in that regard.
To get the most out of the convertible top, however, it doesn't have to be 70 degrees and sunny. I found this car to be plenty comfortable with top down and the windows up in 45 to 50 degree temperatures. The top retracts too slowly for my liking, though.
Sure, the trunk is tiny, the rear seats are small, and it's certainly no sports car, but four 5.5-footers could have a great night on the town in a V-6 Camaro convertible.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
Typically, I can bury my apathy toward the Camaro in the sentiment of "Oh, this one's just not for me." Not so with this V-6 convertible. The cowl shake is nasty, the V-6 is unenthusiastic, and the automatic transmission is pedestrian. Calling it a sports car would be a stretch.
I find it difficult to believe that automotive reviewers were once espousing the virtues of this 3.6-liter engine as enthusiastically as they did. "No need to buy the V-8!" they trumpeted. This engine was supposed to be lively and fun and fuel efficient -- the best of both worlds. It's no slouch, but it feels utterly common.
Maybe you're into the Camaro not for performance but for its commanding presence and the top-down driving. Fair enough, but the price you'll pay for those qualities is terrible outward visibility and a painfully slow retractable roof with a clumsy manual release. Unless you lust after the Camaro's lines, I suggest you look into the Ford Mustang convertible or Volkswagen Eos for drop-top transportation.
Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor
For the price, there are few cars that have more of a street presence than the Camaro. Even today, four years into the current design, it continues to look fresh, with a sporty and purposeful stance that clearly communicates its sporting pretensions. Unfortunately, it's all a facade. The promises made by the Camaro's exterior prove to be bogus at the first turn of the wheel. I've driven Chevy's pony car before so I wasn't expecting it to be a sports car but what I did find surprising this time around is just how compromised it is -- especially in convertible form -- for simply getting from point A to point B. Poor visibility, considerable cowl shake, and an overall feeling of heaviness make it a largely unsatisfying daily companion. But if you are simply looking for reasonably priced eye-candy the Camaro will likely not disappoint.
Jennifer Misaros, Managing Editor, Digital Platforms