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2011 Chevrolet Camaro SS Convertible Review & Test Drive

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‘KEEPING THE MOMENTUM GOING IN HIGH GEAR’

Everyone should know by now that the all-new 2010 Chevy Camaro outsold the Mustang in total sales for the first time in many years.  To keep the momentum going in high gear Chevy introduces a convertible model for 2011 that takes care of all of the problems that the older generation Camaro convertible came with.  That problem was a horrible cowl shake when traveling over rough pavement and a softer suspension tune for the heavier convertible model.  That was 2002, the last generation’s final year, and this is 2011 where competition from other domestics and import convertibles is fierce.

The 2011 Camaro convertible delivers great refinement, along with uncompromising coupe-like driving dynamics.  Its enhanced body structure helps prevent cowl or steering wheel shake for a strong, more confident feel in all driving conditions.  The power-top has a smooth, tailored fit, with acoustical foam in the headliner that helps keep the interior quiet when the top is up.

The all-new 2010 Camaro coupe’s architecture was originally designed to accommodate a convertible model, which means customers enjoy the fun of top-down cruising wit coupe-like driving dynamics.  Four strategic reinforcements enhance the already-stiff body structure to eliminate common convertible maladies of cowl and steering wheel shake.  They include a tower-to-tower brace under the hood; a transmission support reinforcement brace; an underbody tunnel brace; and front and rear underbody ‘V’ braces.  The goal in development was to make the convertible match the coupe as closely as possible in ride quality, handling precision and overall performance.

To compensate for the reduced structure of an open car, engineers often will make the suspension softer, making the convertible more into a ‘boulevard cruiser’.  Chevy engineers instead took the more difficult but better path of bolstering the structure rather than softening the suspension.  They didn’t change a strut, bushing or spring rate from the Camaro coupe.  The end result is a convertible that preserves nearly all the acceleration, road-holding and performance capabilities of the Camaro coupe.

Additional safety structural reinforcements were designed to improve noise and vibration characteristics, while also enhancing the elimination of cowl/steering wheel shake.  They include a hydroformed tube in the A-pillars, an inner reinforcement bracket in the windshield header, a reinforced front hinge pillar, and reinforcements inside the rocker panels.  The structural changes to the all-new Camaro convertible body give it superior bending and torsional stiffness than its closest competitor, and better torsional stiffness than the BMW 3-Series convertible.

The power-folding convertible top is also refined.  At the onset, designers and engineers sought to eliminate the common appearance of convertible top support ribs and they succeeded, using composite knuckles rather than aluminum ones, as well as extending the top material below the belt line and revising the top’s stitch lines.  The result is a top that has a smooth, taut and carefully tailored appearance that also retains the sleek roofline of the coupe.  It is a success as one look at the car from the side with the top up shows the coupe’s smooth and sleek roof line.

The power-folding top retracts in about 20 seconds.  It is built in partnership with the same manufacturer as the Corvette convertible top, and operates in a similar manner.  Why not copy the big brother convertible sports car?  That means it folds in a simple ‘Z’ pattern and latches with a single, convenient handle located at the center of the windshield header.  Other convertible models in this segment still offer convertible tops with dual latches, forcing owners into two-hand operations reaching across the car.

Once the latch is turned to the open position, the push of a single toggle button located to the left of the latch lowers the windows and activates the top.  The car doesn’t have to be parked for the top to be activated, allowing for spur-of-the-moment lowering while stopped at a stoplight.

The top is made of thick, durable canvas and it features acoustical headliner material that provides a quiet, coupe-like ride when the top is up.  It also incorporates a glass rear window and rear window defogger.  A folding one-piece tonneau cover is standard on the SS model that I tested and it covers the fold top for a finished appearance.  It is easy to install being constructed of one-piece, and easily fits in the trunk.  An accessory windscreen is optional from Chevy dealers and it installs behind the front seats to limit wind buffeting when driving with the top down.

Besides a world-class convertible structure and power convertible top, the new 2011 Camaro convertible SS RS (2SS) that I tested comes with world-class power and performance.

Two 6.2 liter V8 engines are offered in the SS models including the L99 on automatic equipped vehicles and the LS3 on manual-equipped models that I tested.  Both engines are derived from the LS3 that debuted on the 2008 Corvette, with an aluminum block, with cast iron cylinder liners, and aluminum cylinder heads.  Horsepower for the L99 is 400 and torque is 410lb.ft. and the LS3 develops 426hp and 420lb.ft. of torque.  Mated to these potent V8 engines are the Hydra-Matic 6L50 six-speed automatic and the smooth, short-throw shifting Tremec TR6060 six-speed manual.  The Tremec TR6060 that I tested came with a competitive/sport mode and performance launch control that optimized hard acceleration for quicker, more consistent performance.  The automatic equipped SS model races to 60mph from a standstill in just 4.9sec. while the Tremec TR6060 equipped SS model that I tested rocketed out to 60mph from a standstill in just 4.7 seconds.  A standard limited-slip differential puts the power down during hard launches.

Smooth highway cruising and the ability to cut through steep curving mountain roads is enabled with the unique, fully independent suspension system that is the same found in the SS coupe.  Up front is a double-ball joint multi-link strut setup with direct-acting hollow stabilizer bar, progress-rate coil springs and fully adjustable camber, caster and toe.  The rear features 4.5 links, progressive-rate coil springs over gas-charged shocks, a hollow stabilizer bar, and fully adjustable camber and toe.  A rear subframe with dual attachments lessons NVH and keeps the two tires firmly on the ground.  I was very impressed with how well the heavier SS convertible tracked through curves and gave back a smooth, controlled ride at all times with no cowl or steering wheel shake when traveling over poorly paved road surfaces.  The variable-rate, power-assisted rack & pinion steering system was the perfect choice for guiding me on my chosen path with quick, precise reaction to my inputs and a great feel for the road.  Just in case I ventured out of the adhesion parameters, the standard StabiliTrak electronic stability control system automatically and seamlessly keep me from over-steer.  If you wanted to take the handling power to the max you can turn off the system and wag the tail as you exit an extremely tight corner.  What fun it is to drive this new Camaro SS RS convertible!

Further keeping you out of trouble and safely and quickly slowing the SS RS down from speed are world-class brakes designed by Brembo.  Up front are 14 inch vented discs and in the rear are 14.4 inch vented discs.  Each disc is clamped with four-piston Brembo aluminum calipers for maximum braking power.  Standard ABS keeps you in control when braking hard on slick or wet pavement.

My SS RS rides on giant 20X8 front, and 20X9 inch flangeless, painted aluminum wheels with a midnight silver finish.  The front wheels are wrapped with Pirelli 245/45ZR20 front and 275/40ZR20 inch rear P Zero Nero low-profile high-performance tires for excellent grip and a compliant ride.  What more can you ask for?

The comfortable four-seat interior features the same retro-modern design as the SS coupe with a black interior with inferno orange accents on the leather trimmed front and rear seats.  The power-adjustable/heated front buckets are very comfortable and supportive with spirited and long-distance driving, the retro gauge cluster is easy to see and understand with a larger 180mph speedometer and 9,000rpm tachometer.  In between is a readout for your trip computer, setup and system checkups.  The leather-wrapped, tilt/telescoping, 3-spoke steering wheel feels perfect in your hands and the leather-wrapped stick shifter, steering wheel, armrest, center console and seats feature orange baseball contrasting stitching.  On the outside the SS RS Camaro convertible comes standard with front and rear body-color fascias with its unique grille, rear diffuser, lower extensions, front air scoop, rear spoiler, RS unique tail lamps and front brake cooling ducts.

More standard equipment not mentioned above in the SS RS model includes HID headlamps, a head’s-up display that lets you keep your eyes on the road while clearly seeing your speed, tachometer readout, radio station, oil pressure, etc., variable-speed intermittent wipers/washers, heated power sideview mirrors, self-dimming rearview mirror, dual, lighted vanity mirrors, foglamps, cruise-control, power express up/down windows with power door locks, dual map lamps, 245-watt Boston Acoustics nine speaker audio system with a 10in. subwoofer located between the rear bucket seats, universal home remote, automatic climate control with air filtration, 4-pack auxiliary gauges, center console with dual cupholders and storage bin with padded top, Bluetooth for your phone, front carpeted floor mats, dual power outlets, USB port, aluminum door kick plates, map/magazine pocket behind the front passenger seat, remote trunk release, 4 inch wide polished stainless steel exhaust tips cut into the diffuser, storage slots in each door, and ambient lighting on the doors.

Standard safety equipment includes dual front airbags, front seat mounted side-impact airbags, OnStar directions & connections with automatic crash response and turn-by-turn navigation, ultra-sonic rear parking sensor assist, 3-point seatbelts with front pretentioners/load limiters, theft deterrent system, tire pressure monitoring system, LATCH system for child seats, emergency trunk release, battery rundown protection, front-rear crumple zones and steel beams in each door for side-impact protection.

The all-new 2011 Chevy Camaro SS RS convertible is a break-through for GM as they now offer a world-class 2+2 coupe with world-class and unique retro-modern exterior styling and interior comfort and convenience, and world-class power and performance.

This SS RS model is a steal with a base price of just $39,650.00 and $41,350.00 for the loaded model that I tested.  The all-new 2011 Chevy Camaro SS RS is stepping up to world-class!

COPYRIGHT:2011:HARVEY SCHWARTZ

SPECIFICATIONS

  • Price: Base Camaro SS Convertible $36,775 As-Tested $41,350
  • Engine: 6.2-liter V8 426 horsepower @ 5900 rpm / 420 ft-lbs. torque @ 4600 rpm
  • Wheelbase: 112.3in.
  • Total length: 190.4in.
  • Total width: 75.5in.
  • Total height: 54.7in. with top up
  • Track: f/r-63.7/63.7in.
  • Curb weight: 4,168lbs. manual
  • Weight distribution: f/r-52/48%
  • Turning circle: 37.7ft.
  • Fuel tank: 18.8 gallons
  • Headroom: f/r-37.8/35.7in.
  • Legroom: f/r-42.4/30in.
  • Cargo volume: 10.24-top up/2.85cu.ft.-top down
  • 0-60 mph: 4.7 seconds
  • EPA mileage: 16mpg/city, 24mpg/highway

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