Six Years in the Making
Driving the 2011 Chevrolet Camaro Convertible SS reminds us of being at a family pig roast (they do those in the south). Much like watching the grown-ups tend to the giant hog on a spit while shivering in the night, there's a chill in the Camaro convertible's cockpit as we wait to get to the good roads in the hills above Malibu.
And just like when we were five, we know it's all going to be worth it.
After a frigid wait, the taste of fresh roasted ham always warmed us up, and the Chevrolet Camaro SS convertible does the same when we open it up on Mulholland. The LS3 V8's stock exhaust note is louder and deeper in the open air, with a tastier, more substantial burble on the overrun.
Pretty much, this is the whole reason you'd get a 2011 Chevrolet Camaro Convertible, or any muscle car with a removable top.
Years in the Making
That's why a Camaro convertible was always in the plans when Chevrolet and GM's Holden division in Australia started on the project six years ago. Work stalled of course when GM was in financial arrears, but picked back up after we all invested in the company's future.
The 2011 Chevrolet Camaro Convertible is no different in its basic dimensions from the Camaro coupe — same 112.3-inch wheelbase, same 63.7-inch track, and it's exactly the same length at 190.4 inches. The suspension still consists of struts with dual lower ball joints in front and a multilink rear. Chevy engineers tell us they haven't changed the tuning, but the convertible incorporates extra structural reinforcements.
The strut tower brace is right there, polished and beautiful, as soon as you open the hood. If you crawl around underneath the rear-drive convertible, you'll spot V-braces in the front and rear. There's also extra bracing under the Tremec TR6060 six-speed manual transmission and the tunnel behind it.
Chevrolet claims that the Camaro's torsional rigidity beats both the 2011 Ford Mustang convertible and the BMW 3 Series drop top. Officials won't specify which generation 3 Series when we ask, so we expect it's the older E46-generation convertible that existed when Project Camaro began.
Not that it matters much, because our Chevrolet Camaro Convertible 2SS tester feels secure going down the highway at 70 mph, top up or down. For such a big car (it's based on a full-size sedan, remember), it's impressively solid with its roof chopped off, and its ride is as composed as the coupe's.
Panoramic View of Where You've Been
Every convertible has a soft underbelly, of course, and on the rougher canyon roads north of Malibu, we notice the body flexing a fair amount. But it's small potatoes compared to the convertible's visibility situation.
Just as in the coupe, the view over the power-domed hood is comically bad. Yes, even with the sweeping vista over the rear deck when the top is down, it's still frustrating when you can't spot the car's front corners while setting up for a turn.
"As usual, locating cones is the biggest challenge when slaloming a Camaro," says Chief Road Test Editor Chris Walton. "It feels like I'm blindfolded I hit so many."
Yet, the 2011 Chevrolet Camaro drop top manages 67 mph through the cones — not bad for a car of some 4,133 pounds.
The front end grip is also there on our beloved two-lanes, even if we aren't precisely sure of where we begin and end. Turn-in response isn't exactly crisp, but you can run through a series of tight turns without looking foolish. Steering effort levels are about right, though we could do with a little more conversation through the awkward, pre-ZL1 steering wheel.
The Camaro convertible's slalom number is a little slower than most of the SS Camaro coupes we've tested. They've all worn the same Pirelli P Zero summer tires (P245/45R20 103Y front, P275/40R20 106Y rear), but carried 275 fewer pounds, on their way to 68-plus-mph slalom speeds.
For reference, the Mustang GT convertible weighs 400 pounds less and slaloms at 68 mph even. The best-handling convertibles in this price range are the Nissan 370Z Roadster (69.8 mph) and BMW 135i convertible (68.6 mph).
Skid pad performance is 0.88g in the Camaro convertible — same as on the coupe and the Mustang drop top. It splits the difference between the 135i (0.85g), which ran on cement-filled run-flats, and the Z roadster (0.94g), which had sticky Bridgestones.
Stopping is absolutely not a concern in our 2011 Chevrolet Camaro, as the Brembo brakes on this car live up to their badging and then some. The convertible's 109-foot 60-mph-to-0 braking distance is nearly as short as the 370Z's (106 feet), and the firm pedal has a live-wire feel that you don't get from the rest of the chassis.
Numbers To Match the Noise
Even as it makes a full range of satisfying noises, the 2011 Chevrolet Camaro Convertible has a way of not feeling that fast in normal driving. The 426-horsepower 6.2-liter V8 has so much bottom-end torque that you can nurse it along at 2,000 rpm and still make smooth progress. Peak torque (420 pound-feet) hits at 4,600 rpm, and somewhere past 3,000, the docility ceases and you start to feel the brunt of the V8's wallop.
Our SS convertible trails the hardtop Camaro by a half-second to 60 mph, with its 5.2-second run (or 5.0 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip), but pulls closer by the quarter-mile mark — 13.3 seconds at 109.1 versus 13 flat for the coupe at 110.9. The Mustang GT drop top is off the pace at 13.5 seconds at 105.4 mph, though in fairness, its V8 isn't making as much power or torque, and the GT convertible only comes with a 3.31 rear axle ratio (whereas the Mustang GT coupes we've tested all had 3.73 rear ends and ran 13.0-second quarters). The 370Z and its far less potent V6 hang in there with a 13.7-second quarter at 102.7 mph.
The Camaro convertible's straight-line numbers are hampered by the six-speed's shifter. It sticks in the gates and forces you to think about how much effort it will take to dislodge it — which is about 10 times more thinking than you should ever have to do in a pony car, even one that costs $41,800.
What $42K Buys
That sounds like big money for a convertible based on a muscle car, but you'll pay the same for a comparably equipped Mustang GT convertible, while the 370Z roadster and 135i convertible cost a few thousand more.
Chevrolet packages the 2011 Camaro convertible just like the coupe, so our test car resembles our long-term Camaro, which also had the 2SS and RS packages that provide the heated seats, Bluetooth and HID headlights we won't go without.
The convertible's cabin has all the same shiny plastic bits and toylike gauges we've never cared for in the coupe, but the bigger annoyance is the convertible top. Actually, the top itself works fine, even with its old-school manual center latch and leisurely power-folding mechanism (20 seconds). We just don't like installing its fully manual tonneau cover.
The process begins with a walk to the trunk to retrieve the cover from its guitar-shaped bag, followed by arranging it over the folded top, tucking in the edges and then futzing with two plastic tabs to secure it. Once, in a moment of laziness, we skip the cover and then catch sight of the naked canvas top in the rearview mirror flopping around like an asphyxiating fish. So it's cover it up or buy a new top later.
Undercooked and a Little Fatty
On the surface of it, the 2011 Chevrolet Camaro Convertible SS should be a real winner among the handful of rear-wheel-drive convertibles under $50,000. Its design bears out a painstaking reinterpretation of its 1960s forebears, and it's the Reaper-incarnate with its black paint and snug-fitting black top. It's also quicker than any rival, and it sounds meaner, too.
But the parts don't quite add up to a whole we can love. Between the small glass area and the terrible steering wheel, the driving position just doesn't work. The cheap-looking cockpit and labor-intensive convertible top/tonneau cover design add insult to injury. And although the Camaro is decently stiff with its top chopped off, it's carrying too much weight and doesn't feel lively on back roads.
The Mustang GT 5.0 drop top won't accelerate or stop as well as the Camaro, but it's lighter and we'd have more fun driving it. While we can't offer up any particular numbers to define fun, we're pretty sure the Chevrolet engineers lost sight of it when they were tuning the Camaro convertible.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of this evaluation, which originally appeared on insideline.com.