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The entire experience of driving the 2012 Chevy Camaro Convertible 2SS could be summed up by the look of joy and wonder on my toddler’s face when the engine roared to life. In fact, I’m pretty sure that every passenger during our week of Camaro testing had some variation of the same expression. This car is just that much fun.

The Camaro succeeds because it doesn’t try to be all things to all people. It is not a family car. It is not eco-friendly. It is not for the budget conscious. All it tries to be is Chevy’s iconic muscle car: fun to drive and impressive to look at.

Any discussion of a muscle car has to start under the hood. Our Camaro was outfitted with a throaty 6.2-liter, 426-hp V8 coupled to a six-speed manual, rear-wheel-drive transmission. Lesser models come with a 3.6-liter, 312‑hp V6. The transmission gearing made it way too easy to get up to 40 or 50 mph before shifting into third. Sixth gear was fine for the highway, but didn’t get much use otherwise.

The Camaro’s 63.7-in. track and low-slung body, combined with MacPherson-struts (front) and a 4.5-link (rear) suspension, make it easy to take tight turns about 10 mph faster than advisable for everyday compact sedans.

With this kind of performance, it seems almost superfluous to mention aesthetics and creature comforts, but Chevy’s engineers outdid themselves here, too. The six-way-adjustable front seats were comfortable. But back seats, with only 29.9 in. of leg room, might not get much use.

The same is true of the 10.2-ft3 trunk, which loses even more space when you make room to store the roof. The roof retracts and stows itself in about 20 sec with the twist of a latch and push of a button.

That simplicity is echoed in the Camaro’s instrument panel and infotainment setup. The display isn’t cluttered by the large LCD screen seen on many cars. The view from the rear-looking camera, complete with distance markers, pops up in the rear-view mirror when the driver shifts to reverse. And the CD/MP3/Sirius XM/AM/FM stereo has been slimmed down to a CD slot, retro-styled radio buttons, and a small but adequate LED display.

The steering wheel obscured the tachometer and speedometer from our vantage point, but a heads-up display projected on the windshield provided relevant information, such as a digital representation of the tachometer, a numerical speed readout, changes to the radio station, warnings that the roof wasn’t secure, and alerts that the transmission entered a 1-4 shift mode.

The 1-4 shift was the only obvious concession we could see to fuel economy. At specific speeds and oil temperatures, the transmission locks out second and third gears to force a shift directly from first to fourth. As noted above, it’s not hard to get into fourth-gear speeds in first, so the 1-4 shift feels pretty seamless. And with EPA-estimated fuel economy of 16 mpg in the city and 24 mpg on the highway, we wondered why they bothered. We got 12.7 mpg in 195 miles of rural and suburban testing, mostly with the top down.

We also wondered why they bothered with the extra gages that take up space under the radio normally reserved for spare change or sunglasses. They show oil temperature and pressure, transmission temperature, and battery voltage in retro-inspired dial displays. Most drivers rely on dashboard icons for this information, but perhaps a backyard mechanic would keep an eye on them, and who wants the rattle of coins to compete with the engine’s pleasant rumble, anyway?

Of course, buyers can expect to pay a premium for that kind of rumble and the package that surrounds it. The 2SS Convertible we drove starts at $40,600. Adding the interior trim package (black with orange accents and contrast stitching, $500), an exterior package (high-intensity headlamps and 20-in. aluminum wheels, $1,350), and the orange metallic exterior paint ($325) brings the price to $42,775. Models with the V6 engine start below $30k.

— Jessica Shapiro

© 2011 Penton Media, Inc.