A week with the 2011 Chevrolet Camaro SS convertible | Wildsau.ca

A week with the 2011 Chevrolet Camaro SS convertible

I was really looking forward to hangin’ with Bumblebee from Transformers.

I recently got to spend a week with a 2011 Chevrolet Camaro SS convertible.  Sadly, this example came in Rally Yellow with the optional black hood and trunk stripes.  I say sadly because a) I’ve never been a huge fan of the color yellow on vehicles, b) I always think sports cars in yellow make the driver look somewhat desperate for attention and c) I invariably consider a guy driving a yellow sports car as someone who is enjoying his mid-life crisis ride.  That said, I would estimate that about 90% of the people that had a closer look at this car indicated they really like the color scheme.  Of course, the sea of yellow is blessed with an island of black in the form of the ragtop.

The car I drove is the 2SS package, which is essentially the top-of-the-line.  It includes most things you can get in a Camaro these days, and I’ll get into some of those goodies later.  Retail price on this bad boy sits at a lofty CDN $53,600 before taxes.  Ouch.

When you buy a Camaro, you have to care what’s under the hood.  Well, when you buy an SS, you do.  Lift the gas-shock-supported hood, and you’ll find an upgrade that fills the engine bay with 6.2 Litres of all-American V8 muscle.  It’s so all-American, in fact, that it’s built right here in Canada, at GM’s Oshawa plant.  The V-8 cranks out 426 HP @ 5900 RPM and a chunky 420 lb.ft of torque @ 4600 RPM.  Not bad, not bad.  Whooops.  Hang on a second there, cowboy, before you go ambling into the dusty streets, pointing your 426 HP six-shooter at anyone who dares confront you.

I warn you, because should you opt for the six-speed automatic, which was the case here, the power ratings drop.  Strangely, the automatic must make do with a paltry 400 HP @ 5900 RPM and slightly-reduced 410 lb.ft of torque @ 4300 RPM.  I’m not sure what the story is, but I just found that out, and was irritated by the disparity between the two models.  And also that I’d told people the car had 426 HP.  I’m sorry I didn’t tell you the truth, people – it wasn’t on purpose.  Blame the Bowtie!

There’s nothing especially modern or groundbreaking about this V8 – it subscribes to the “there’s no replacement for displacement” theory and I suppose it’s right.  There is something about feeling an entire automobile twist to the will of spinning metal bits under the hood.  It’s disconcerting, but comforting at the same time.  I love big displacement vehicles and I love V8s, so driving this was fun.

This drivetrain is hilariously rated at 13.3 L/100 kms (17.7 mpg) in the city and 8.0 L/100 kms (29.4 mpg) on the highway, for a combined cycle of 10.9 L/100 kms (21.6 mpg).  Honest to Pete, you’d need to be coasting, downhill, with a gale-force tailwind to achieve that in this car.  I drove with a heavy foot the first couple of days, and averaged a sobering 21 L/100 kms (11.2 mpg) – after a week, and having let up on the gas a bit, I averaged 17.3 L/100 kms (13.6 mpg) – that included some heavy-foot work around town, nearly 100 km of speed-limit highway driving, and mostly average commuting.  Zing!  That’s going to burn at the pump, where you’ll spend quite a bit of time and the 72 Litre tank seems annoyingly small when you’re going through fuel at this rate.  To be fair, nobody is going to buy a Camaro SS and weep about its mileage.  But the fuel economy ratings seem ridiculous to me.

As for what else you might find under the hood?  Well, a bunch of useless plastic shrouding that wants to make the engine look really modern, and a funky curved sway bar stretching from one strut tower to the other.  It appears that about 3/4 of the engine sits behind the front axle, and that helps achieve the 52/48 weight distribution.

The Camaro tries to stuff all that sausage into a relatively old-tech automatic transmission.  That six-speed transmission isn’t anything to write home about – it has a Sport/Manual setting below the typical P-R-N-D ones – that puts it into “Sport” setting, which acted much like the Cadillac Coupe I reviewed earlier – it is supposed to hold shifts longer, but you can barely notice when it does that, and on occasion, but I can’t tell you what triggers it, it will downshift automatically as you’re slowing down – sometimes that’s great, and sometimes I soiled myself because it scared the wits out of me.  Something that I felt was definitely missing was the manual shifting option on the shift lever.  There are “paddles” on the steering wheel, which are just big buttons.  They work fine – in a straight line.  When you’ve got the wheel turned, and you’re trying to find the button to shift up around a corner, well, it’s just not good.  This is a vehicle that could really benefit from a manual up/down shift gate for the auto-stick.

Most people who buy an SS with a monster V8 lurking under the hood are going to be enamored with what a V8 sounds like.  A V8 is like an addictive drug.  I got addicted with my Audi’s V8, and haven’t turned back since.  I found it interesting that there is barely a hint of V8 when you fire this car up – it’s not a noisy bark, and there is no real rumble at idle.  Strange for a 6.2 L V8.  Also, under throttle and under load, the sounds in the car are lovely, but still seemed muted.  It does sound good when you’re stepping on it, but not what you might expect.  I found it sounded milder than anticipated, and perhaps I was a bit disappointed by that.  Others commented on how quiet it was too.

The Drive

You’re buying a sports car for one reason or another.  For many, it’s the driving experience.  My brother had a 1981 Camaro Z28, and it was the first big-displacement, American sports car I ever drove.  It felt as though you were attached to that crazy thing cranking under the hood, and when you stepped on it, the whole car twisted under the torque and reacted as one unit – it was as if you became part of the whole mess, whether you wanted to or not.  I think Chevrolet definitely has built the spiritual successor to that car here, because the driving experience was strangely similar.  You feel connected to the huge V8, and the car feels heavy.  It IS a heavy car (3913 lbs!), but it never seems to be able to shed the heavy feeling, even at higher speeds.  The car does feel planted on the road, and with the traction control on, will retain its composure around corners, even fast ones.  Tap the traction control for the “Competitive Mode” or hold it down to completely disable it, and you can get all kinds of squirrelly around corners.  That torque, though partially trapped in an ugly automatic transmission, does come out to play.  Turn a corner slowly, or at an intersection, and then step on it and you can easily slide around the corner – stay on the gas long enough (and it won’t take long), and you can be looking at the opposite curb quite quickly.  Happy little fishtails around corners are easily achieved, and you can do a brake-stand any time you feel like it.

0-60 mph is rated at 4.8 seconds, and the quarter mile at 13.0 seconds – I believe those are for the manual transmission, so you can add 0.2 seconds or so for the automatic.  The car doesn’t feel slow, and it’s not.  You need to get into that tiny little gap in traffic, and that traffic happens to be travelling at 80 km/h?  It’s no problem.  Step on it – you’re in.  Its forte is accelerating from a standstill.  It could do it all day long, and so could I – it was that much fun.  Once you’re rolling, it feels a little more sluggish, but really, it’s not.  It hauls, and it can gather momentum very quickly, and surprise you when you look down at the speedometer.  With all that said, I think my own preference when it comes to living with something more long-term might be less muscle-car and more finesse.  If something like a Nissan 370Z is a sharp knife, and a Lotus is a scalpel, the Camaro could be considered a machete.  It’s a blunt, primitive tool and it gets the job done.  Want to do some precision carving?  You’ll have your work cut out for you, it will feel taxing, but it is possible.  You’ll just have a better time doing it in something else.  Want to hear a V8 (sort of) thunder between each green and red light?  This is a fun car to do it in.  Just bring a gas card, or *a siphon hose.  *Wildsau.ca does NOT condone stealing fuel, ever.  Except for maybe during a nuclear holocaust.

Hauling this beast down from speed was a breeze – it came equipped with a Brembo brake package, and the dinner-plate sized rotors are 14″ at the front and 14.4″ at the back.

I read somewhere that, at the time of its release, Chevrolet engineers told the media that they had made the convertible Camaro as stiff as the BMW 3-series.  They achieved this by adding steel reinforcement and bracing where it was required to ensure the chassis was stiffened and reduced flexion.  I can attest that they were lying.  The chassis flexed, and not just a little bit.  Truthfully, if you’re going over any road that is less than smooth, the cowl shake is very noticeable and your rear-view mirror is vibrating and moving with the windshield frame – so much so that you can’t see what’s behind you.  I’m sorry, but this is possibly the most “flexy” chassis I’ve ever driven.

Exterior

Of course, in terms of being competitive, it can often come down to styling in this segment depending on what the buyer wants out of the car.  In my opinion, the Camaro got it right.  I enjoyed the combination of classic retro cues, set into a framework of modern muscle-car interpretation – aggressive; wide; angry front-end; traditional Camaro power bulge on the hood; bulging fenders barely containing fat rubber; huge 20″ wheels shod with meaty 245s in the front and 275s in the rear.  The convertible model looks good with the top up or down, and the design’s lines aren’t molested by the addition of the ragtop, which is more than I can say for some other convertible cars.  The high beltline leaves the Camaro with gun-slit height windows all the way around – you do pay a price in outward visibility, but it wasn’t as bad as I feared.  The worst is the shoulder-checking with the convertible top up – it’s futile.  Of course, you may always put the top down, in which case the outward visibility becomes exemplary.

You’ll find HID headlights at the front, with a bit of a halo-effect around them – I thought they looked great at night.  There are a couple of faux-details – fake “gills” ahead of the rear wheel well, and that non-functional air intake slit at the leading edge of the hood.  There’s a sharkfin antenna for your radio/satellite needs, and some cool side-view mirrors.  Unfortunately, for a car this wide, they don’t fold, manually or under power.  There is nothing beyond some simple badging adorning the car – “CAMARO” on the cowls, and small, inobtrusive (and difficult to find if you’re looking for it) “SS” badges – front and back.  Heading around the back side of the car, you’ll notice all the ugly internals of the convertible top if it’s down, and you’re standing next to the car – those can be covered up with plastic shrouds that are included.  The rear window is glass and has a defrost option.  There are two BIG exhaust tips, nicely angle-cut, and they’re separated by a rear diffuser.  Although the exhaust pipes are huge, they don’t look like it on a wide car where everything is fat and big.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Top

Obviously the top matters on a convertible.  This came with a basic black ragtop.  Inside, in the center of the bulkhead at the top of the windshield, you’ll find a handle – you pull it down slightly, and twist it – that releases the top from the windshield frame.  At that point, you hold down the power button.  And you keep holding it.  You can’t just press “up” or “down” – you must hold the button for the duration of the lowering or raising of the roof.  And it’s quite a duration – about 21 seconds up or down.  It feels longer than that.

Interior

Opening the wide and heavy doors, you step over a lovely “Chevrolet” sill, avoid the low roof and drop yourself into a very snug interior.  The word ensconced came to mind as I sat there, taking in my surroundings.

Styling-wise, the interior wasn’t for me.  I think it’s quite polarizing – some agreed with me, others quite liked it.  There are a couple of retro-touches – two round, concave gauges are set into rectangular bins and separated by a digital Driver Information system as well as four wide, rectangular analog gauges are set into the front of the center console.  I didn’t care for either, to be honest.  The speedo font is horrible and gets so cramped that they had to put some of the higher speed numbers in a different color, a different size, and on the inner ring of the speedo.  It looks absolutely ridiculous and like an afterthought.  Oh yes, and do you see that “Fuel Level Low” on the screen?  Get familiar with it.  You’ll be close friends, and soon.

The materials around the cabin don’t scream quality, and to be honest, if I really listened intently, I heard whispers of rental-car.  Hard plastics, with middling quality textures, easily scratched by keys and anything harder than plastic, cover the dash and the center console.  The doors are panelled with a glossy grey-ish inset, which didn’t work for me either.  The top arc of this panel is lit by a blue LED strip in the dark, which was a cool touch.  Oh yes, the parking brake.  The entire lever assembly is shrouded in a soft, rubbery black plastic that is noticeably bigger than the mechanics underneath, so when you grab the handle, it just squishes together in your hand.  I know it’s just a small detail, but it felt incredibly cheap and poorly executed.

The seats are nice sport buckets, with decent bolstering all the way around.  They’re heated in the front, and the driver’s seat is power-adjustable.  The passenger’s seat is manually adjusted fore and aft, and power tilts.  All seats are nicely upholstered in leather, with perforated areas and a lovely contrasting white stitching.  The front seats have great adjustable headrests with “SS” stitching.

The center console is topped with a flat grey-ish plastic.  The automatic shift lever felt good, but looked cheap, especially the surround.  Again, it’s a shame they don’t offer a manual shift gate for this lever – this car could use it.

There is no true center stack in this car.  You’ll find a pregnant belly of climate controls and audio/media system controls sticking out of the dash, above the center console.  The climate control is an ergonomic mess.  There are two main rotary dials, controlling fan speed and temperature – within those dials are a mish-mash of buttons with small pictures, allowing for controlling where the air flows within the cabin, A/C, rear defrost, etc.  I kept looking for the automatic climate control button, because surely a car that is priced well over CDN $50,000 has automatic climate control, right?  Um, no.  Not happening.  Terrible ergonomics, coupled with no automatic setting, so you HAVE to use those terrible ergonomics all the time?  Not cool, Chevy, not cool.

The steering wheel looks good, and feels good at first, but I couldn’t get comfortable around the 9 and 3 positions, which is how I drive.  There are fat sections and contoured, almost flattened sections to the wheel, and it’s chunky – you can manually adjust it for height and telescoping.  One thing I found ergonomically ridiculous was that the steering wheel spokes sink away from the rim to the center hub.  That’s fine, except those spokes contain buttons for the cruise control and the media/handsfree systems, and they are almost impossible to use while keeping your hands on the wheel.  Frankly, I found it difficult to reach the inner-most buttons, period.

No swanky push-button start here – just a traditional key.  Oh, and I can’t forget the sun visors.  They are the smallest visors I’ve ever seen – about 2-1/2″ high.  That said, they work just fine, and anything taller would be too much.  It IS a conversation starter though – people invariably started laughing when they saw the visor-slivers.

The interior lighting for the gauges and switchwork is primarily a cool blue, with dark red accents – I quite liked those colors and thought they worked well.

Tech/Convenience

Above that miserable climate control system sits the stereo system.  It looks simple, and it feeds a basic information screen.  I thought it worked well and remained ergonomically basic using a rotary knob and single selector button, which was a decent compromise.  The Bluetooth phone integration and handsfree goodies were easy to set up and to use.  The 8 speakers and amplification come from Boston Acoustics, and I was impressed by the sound.  Media sources are typical AM/FM/XM radio, a single slot CD player and USB/auxiliary connections in the center console bin.

The Driver Information System between the gauges lets you access trip meters, fuel economy, your speed, etc. and is controlled by a rotary ring around the left stalk.  The Camaro does come with GM’s ever-present OnStar system and all the goodies that that brings to the table.

You have power door locks, power windows and power mirrors, of course as well as a trunk release on the driver’s door panel.  A three setting HomeLink garage door opener is there, and you do get rear park assist with the audible warnings – a necessity when backing this thing up.

In terms of cool tech, I really did enjoy the Heads-Up Display (HUD).  You can toggle between different screens – a simple digital speedometer, a digital tach and speedometer, or speedometer/compass/outside temperature information.  You can control the brightness, including turning it off completely, and the angle at which it displays, moving it up or down on the windshield.  It is completely invisible outside, or even a few inches over from the driver’s head position – the passenger would never know it’s there.  I liked this feature alot and found it quite useful.  Unfortunately the font on the display is sourced from 1970s Ataris, just like the other displays in this car, and I wish it weren’t so.

If you have been paying attention, you’ll note that you can have up to 3 speedometers going in this car – the speedo dial, the Driver Information System and the HUD.  In my opinion, you should never be getting a speeding ticket in this thing, because your speed should never be a surprise to you, right?

What else?  I suppose you could call the two 12V plugs (one in the center console at the front, and one in the bin) a convenience.  But that’s about all you’ll find.

Storage

This should be a short section.  Obviously you’re not buying a convertible 2+2 coupe for its cargo capacity, so this shouldn’t surprise you, but the storage space is negligible.  The biggest space, the trunk, is small.  The access to the trunk is small, limiting what little you might fit in there.  I’d estimate the opening size at 1-1/2 feet high by 2-1/2 feet wide.  No chance on a bigger suitcase getting through that opening.  The trunk is further limited by the convertible top – if it’s down, it will occupy the upper portion of the trunk.

You do get a decent sized lidded center console bin, and two inline cupholders in front of it.  The glove compartment is also a decent size.  Oh, I almost forgot the door pockets – they are perfect for transporting between one and two candy bars.

Rear Seat

Again, this is not going to be a deal-breaker for whoever is considering this car.  But I’m a family man and I have to consider it.  So you’ll hear about it.  First of all, getting into the back seat isn’t pleasant – but not worse than any other competitor out there.  There’s a latch on the back of the front seats, which allows them to lean forward.  One small thing that does make ingress and egress slightly more achievable is the front seatbelt.  It comes out of the rear vertical edge of the door frame, but it can just hang vertically along that edge, completely out of the way, so you’re not forced to climb over or under it.  The seatbelt can also be held to the front seats for easier access by a nifty magnetized loop above the front passenger’s shoulder on the seat – a considerate and simple solution.

Once you’re in, the rear buckets are comfortable, but with a caveat – if you’re sharing the back seat, it’s perfect if you’re a one-arm amputee.  If not, you’ll be uncomfortable, because the seats are essentially together, and anyone but kids will be rubbing their inside shoulders and arms back there.  It’s fantastic if you want to get to know someone better though.  You do have a tiny but effective armrest for the outside arm.

Considering this is a convertible coupe, the headroom in the back is acceptable (there are no headrests), as is the leg- and foot-room even though you’re sharing it with a massive drive shaft tunnel.  There is, of course, no storage back there, nor any semblance of comfort or convenience allowances, such as air vents or 12V plugs, etc.

As always, I did try transporting as much of my family as possible.  I got two kids back there, who absolutely loved the experience.  There are two sets of LATCH connectors for kids’ seats, if you’re considering this as a family transport – and let’s be honest, who wouldn’t?

Nitpicks

I realize I might have touched on some of these already, but I did take issue with some things on the Camaro.  This car could really benefit from blind-spot warning system – it would be a lot safer to drive with the top up.  Also, and I’ve mentioned this plenty of times in my reviews, I hate the power door lock button on the dash.  I prefer it on the driver’s door where we’ve traditionally found it.

Those tiny sun visors have no lids over the mirrors, meaning you can see reflections from all over the place while you’re using them, and the mirrors aren’t lit.  On a CDN $50,000+ car?

Speaking of price points, the lack of automatic climate control at this price was shocking to me.  I’d be very pleased if someone contacted me to let me know I’m just blind and I somehow missed the “AUTO” button there, because otherwise I’d have to say that’s just simply unacceptable.

The convertible top’s union with the passenger windows was unsuccessful.  They tried to work it out, and even went to see a counsellor.  But in the end, something drove them apart.  The result of this divorce?  Permanent, and highly irritating, noise from outside.  Wind noise, and when driving beside someone, plenty of road noise – it always sounded as though the passenger window was partially open.  I’m not sure if that’s a general quality issue, or an anomaly here that can be adjusted.

And finally, a horribly noticeable squeak pervaded the interior, triggered by anything resembling a bump – of which we have a lot of.  So I heard it a lot.  After only 5000 kilometers on the road, a vehicle should not be making sounds like that.

The Verdict

This is a tough one.  I wanted to love this car.  It’s an icon.  The styling is lovely – top up or down.  The power, especially for muscle-car style driving and tearing up green-light starts and sprints to the next red light, is awesome.  But there was too much amiss here for me to remain excited about driving the Camaro.  There were too many oversights at this price level.  It doesn’t ever feel like a modern or high-tech car.  Now, I don’t get the impression that’s what Chevy is trying to achieve with it, but it needs more in that department.  There’s a difference between a nod to a glorious history and an inability to do that without moving forward.  It didn’t have to overwhelm me with finesse, but it could offer at least some of it.  If you’re looking for a monster maul to split logs with, this is the car for you.  Look no further.  But if you’re after something a little more high-tech, and something that offers a little grace and something that feels like it was built in this decade, you may be disappointed.  I’m a details guy, and sometimes a simple detail is just that.  But a vehicle is the sum of an infinite amount of details, and it is the sum that leaves us with a final impression.  Overall, I felt Chevy missed out on too many details on the Camaro to make it a winner.

I’m saddened, because I didn’t want to be disappointed by this car.  But I was.  If I was paying for the fuel and the rubber, I’m guessing I’d have buyer’s remorse by now.  But because I wasn’t paying for it, I really did have a blast with this car.  I’m rating this car a 6 out of 10.  WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor) was relatively low – the yellow colour wasn’t her thing, the convertible top wasn’t either (you have to do your hair after every drive, you know?), and she didn’t even appreciate my demonstrations of its rather impressive acceleration capabilities.  Mind you, she drives a mini-van and loves it.  You can’t trust people like that.

Disclosure:  Vehicle was provided by GM.

If you enjoyed this review, feel free to check out my other vehicle reviews under the car reviews tab at the top of my blog.

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