The Muscle Beach cruiser returns – We review the 6.2-litre V8-powered 2011 Chevrolet Camaro SS Convertible

When the Camaro returned from extinction last year it proved a sales winner as performance car fans clambered to dealerships to place their orders and put some new muscle in the garage. When GM followed up this launch with news that a new convertible version was on the horizon the surge to Chevrolet dealers gained momentum and pre-order lists started to amass extra pages. Well the Camaro convertible has now arrived, and after spending the better part of a week with one I must say I was impressed.

Also see: Chevy Reviews

As tested: loaded 2SS Camaro model equipped with a six-speed automatic transmission

My test vehicle was a loaded 2SS model equipped with a six-speed automatic transmission. It was cloaked in an eye-popping Rally Yellow and featured the optional stripe package ($585) and black leather seating. The car looks very aggressive as it rolls on large 20-inch wheels and features performance styling cues such as a front air scoop, brake cooling slots, rear spoiler, and a rear diffuser. With the top in the “up” position the car looks somewhat taller than the coupe model due to a slight alteration in the profile of the roofline and the use of larger side windows. In reality however, the convertible is only one-half inch taller than the coupe. With the top down the car looks very muscular and your eyes are immediately drawn to the wide rear haunches and raised fenders.

2011 Chevrolet Camaro SS Convertible Review2011 Chevrolet Camaro SS Convertible Review

Under the SS hood

The Camaro SS convertible is available with your choice of one of two 6.2-litre V8 engines (both of which share their architecture with the Corvette LS3 engine) and either a six-speed manual transmission or optional six-speed automatic with manual shift mode. If you choose the slush-box you will find Chevrolet’s L99 V8 under the hood, which generates a potent 400-horsepower and 410 lb-ft of torque, and also includes Active Fuel Management capabilities, which effectively shuts off half the engine’s cylinders when cruising. Those buyers who truly appreciate the act of driving will probably purchase the SS fitted with the manual transmission, a decision that will deliver the more powerful LS3 to the engine bay. This big thumper will put 426-horsepower and 420 lb.-ft. of torque at the ready but will rob you of some fuel efficiency.

Driving Impressions

The convertible top seems well constructed, taut, and did an excellent job of insulating the passenger compartment from excessive wind, road and engine noise. Visibility is still an issue for taller individuals due to the short windshield and tiny rear window (rear park assist is standard), but outward visibility through the side windows is much improved due to the frameless construction of the doors. Obviously outward visibility is much improved with the top retracted, which is a plus for taller drivers, but it is still hard to see beyond the tall corners of this car when it comes to placing it in your lane of travel.

2011 Chevrolet Camaro SS Convertible Review

Roof operation

Roof operation is quick and simple. There is a single latch at the centre of windshield cap which is operated by a lever to disengage it. At the touch of a console-mounted button the windows drop and the top folds quickly (about 20 seconds) into its recess in the trunk. Like previous GM designs, there is a rollaway shield that must be secured in place in the trunk for the roof mechanism to deploy.

On the road

The car comes with a semi-rigid, snap-in tonneau cover to hide the top when it is down, but this is best reserved for times when you plan to leave the top down for extended periods. Without it in place however, I did notice that the folded roof succumbed to a substantial amount of lift created by wind turbulence when travelling at highway speeds. It also makes the car look unfinished. The tonneau comes complete with a storage bag which allows you to safely store it in the trunk, but doing will rob you of even more of the convertible’s limited trunk space. Note: The tonneau was missing in my test unit so my photos reflect the look of the car without it in place.

2011 Chevrolet Camaro SS Convertible Review

My test vehicle was able to perform runs from 0-100 km/h in about five seconds all day long. The truth is, the Camaro SS is a fast car in any form, but the convertible variants are a little slower off the line than the fixed roof cars due to fact that they carry more weight (121 kg). Much of the weight gain can be attributed to the additional bracing and structural reinforcements required to preserve the stiffness and handling prowess of the new Camaro in an open car. I went out of my way to seek out railway crossings and drive on less than perfect road surfaces in an effort to induce cowl shake and squire out rattles, but nothing was significant enough to report on.

Handling is very good and the suspension delivers a very sporty feel. Weight distribution is near perfect (52 front /48 rear) and the car has a low centre of gravity. The car responds well to driver inputs and steering is precise and predictable due to the serious chassis strengthening program undertaken by the engineering team at Chevrolet.

2011 Chevrolet Camaro SS Convertible Review

Left alone the automatic transmission seemed to promote efficiency rather than brute force, so I found myself selecting my own shift points using the button shifters mounted to the back of the steering-wheel spokes. This allowed the fun factor to rise, but I would have preferred a proper paddle shifter design. This car is deceptive, as for some reason the designers created fake paddles to act as markers to indicate to the driver whether the hidden shift buttons perform upshift or downshift functions.

The four-piston Brembo brake units are heavy-duty and held up very well to my abuse. They are backed up by GM’s excellent StabiliTrak stability control, traction control, and a full complement of airbags.

Two Camaro trims

There are two trim levels available, 1SS and 2SS. Both share styling and are very well equipped in the comfort and convenience department, but the 2SS adds a very nice Boston Acoustics audio system,  Bluetooth connectivity, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, USB port, and a driver adjustable Head-Up Display. Other niceties include the console mounted  multifunction gauge set, auto-dimming rearview mirror, heated mirrors, heated leather seats, tonneau cover and a universal home remote.

Conclusions

There are very few sporty convertibles in the marketplace and fewer still that can comfortably haul more than two passengers. Factor in the relatively low price of entry for a car with the performance of the Camaro SS and this car starts to look pretty attractive if you live in a region with the appropriate climate.

Learn more – Chevy Camaro SS

CONS:

  • Poor visibility rearward with the top in place
  • Poor visibility forward for taller individuals
  • Interior trim and controls look chunky and dated when compared to rivals

2011 Chevrolet Camaro SS Convertible (2SS) Specs:

Base price (CAD MSRP):  (1SS): $43,255 / (2SS): $47,835

Price as tested: $53,600 (Includes $100 A/C tax, $4,215 options, $1,450 destination charge)

Type: 2-door, 5-passenger, full-size convertible

Layout: Front engine, rear-wheel drive

Engine: 6.2-litre V8, OHV, 16 valves

Horsepower: 426 @ 5900 rpm (LS3) /400 @ 5900 rpm (L99)

Torques (lb.-ft.): 420 @ 4600 rpm (LS3) / 410 @ 4300 rpm (L99)

Transmission: 6-speed manual / 6-speed automatic with steering-wheel shift controls (optional)

Brakes (front /rear): Brembo four-piston calipers / four-wheel disc with antilock

Weight (kg/lb): Auto – 1891(4168) / Manual – 1867 (4116)

Cargo capacity: Top up- 288 L (10.2 cu.ft.) / Top down- 220 L (7.8 cu.ft.)

Fuel economy (L/100km):  Manual- City 13.2 (21 mpg) / Hwy 8.2 (34 mpg)

Automatic- City 13.3 (21 mpg) / Hwy 8.0 (35 mpg)

Russell Purcell is an award-winning automotive journalist and photographer based in Vancouver, B.C. His passion for automobiles was sparked at the tender age of six, when a family friend gave the wide-eyed first grader a ride to school in a track prepared Porsche 911 RSR. He continues to fan the flames by building an impressive library of automotive related books as well as a vast collection of interesting automobilia and motoring artefacts. Russell is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada, and is active on Twitter as RoadTestRuss.