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2011 Chevrolet Camaro Convertible

Camaro blows its top Add to ...

Here’s something to think about: every seven-and-a-half seconds, someone, somewhere in the world, is purchasing a General Motors product. And most of those are Chevrolets of one kind or another.

GM’s largest division seems to be on a roll these days, and has been churning out one new model after another over the past year. Chevys are now sold in more than 130 countries worldwide, and some 3.5 million of them were sold globally last year.

The newest model to hit the asphalt in North America is the Camaro convertible. According to Russ Clark, Camaro product marketing director, the coupe version caught and passed the Ford Mustang in overall sales last year – the first time since 1985. “It’s now the segment leader,” he said at the convertible launch in San Diego, “and 90 per cent of the cars have been sold through retail sales, with no incentives.”

Starting at five bucks less than $34,000 in Canada, the new Camaro convertible will be offered with either a V-6 or V-8 engine, with your choice of a six-speed manual or automatic transmission. The V8 also comes in two power configurations: 400 and 426 horsepower. Interestingly, the V-6 and V-8 models have different gearboxes, but there are four basic trim levels, and about $9,000 separates the V-6 model from the V-8. Chevrolet has packaged the new Camaro soft-top in various ways, and if you want the V-8 engine, for example, you have to get the SS package, while the V-6 comes as an LT.

All models come with a canvas power soft-top that deploys in about 20 to 25 seconds. There is one lock-down latch point in the centre of the windshield frame, with a windscreen-located button. The tops were actually designed by the same team that builds the Corvette, with a glass rear window and Z-type folding mechanism. “We didn’t want to use the dual-latch system that some of our competitors use,” adds chief engineer, Al Oppenheiser. “The driver can unlatch the top without having to lean all the way over and it can be lowered or raised while you’re stopped at a traffic light.”

Oppenheiser is also quick to emphasize that the new convertible is not just the coupe with the roof hacked off. “This car was planned as a convertible from day one, and is not a boulevard cruiser. Drivers will find that there is virtually no difference in ride quality between the coupe and the convertible, and the Camaro convertible has better torsional stiffness than the Mustang or the BMW 3-Series.”

This is thanks in part to reinforcing along the rocker panels, along the front body pillars, and in the engine bay and firewall areas, all of which add some 112 kilograms to the car’s weight, and give it a slightly slower acceleration time from 0 to 100 km/h. Otherwise, it shares the same platform and brakes as its hard-top counterpart.

And it is just as quiet in operation. Top up or down, engine noise and NVH (Noise, Vibration, and harshness) is about as minimal as I’ve ever experienced in a convertible.

Under way, cowl shake is almost non-existent, and you literally can’t hear the drivetrain. With the windows up, you’re well shielded from wind turbulence and, needless to say, peripheral visibility is 1,000 times better than the claustrophobic coupe. The V-8 does generate a bit more drivetrain noise under hard throttle, but overall, this is a pretty civilized al fresco driving experience.

Depending upon the trim level, you can order things like two-stage heated front seats, leather interior, a rally instrumentation package, folding rear tonneau cover and a rear turbulence-reducing buffer.

Performance-wise, the V-8 is the better-rounded engine of the two. That’s not to say the V-6 is a slug –with some 312 horsepower on tap, it moves the 1,800-kg-plus convertible along at a good clip, with adequate reserve and revving power. But the V-8 is smoother, more robust, more responsive and seems to suit this car a little better. Whether it’s worth the extra money is another question, because the V-6 will give you a similar driving experience. Plus, it delivers better fuel economy: a 9.4 litres/100 km combined rating with the automatic transmission for the V-6 versus 10.9 for the V-8.

2011 Chevrolet Camaro Convertible

Type: Four-passenger convertible

Price Range: $33,995-$47,835

Engine: 3.6-litre V-6/6.2-litre V-8

Horsepower/torque: 312 hp/278 lb-ft for V-6

400 hp/410 lb-ft and 426 hp/420 lb-ft for V-8s

Transmission: Six-speed manual/automatic

Drive: Rear-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/ 100 km): 11.4 city/6.9 highway (V-6/automatic); regular gas

Alternatives: Ford Mustang, BMW 3-Series Cabriolet, Volkswagen Eos, Audi A4 Cabriolet, Chrysler Sebring Convertible

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