It can take time to explain to shoppers what a car's best attributes are and why it's better or worse than its competition.
Take one look at the Camaro convertible, though, and it is apparent that it's a straightforward American pony car with looks that will turn heads.
It could have a tin can under its hood and the roof could rattle like a barn during a tornado, and people would still buy it. Luckily, the droptop Camaro loses little of the coupe's performance fun. In some ways, it's even more alluring.
The convertible Camaro comes with either a V-6 or V-8 engine.
My test car had the 312-horsepower V-6 with a six-speed automatic transmission. That's a lot of power for a V-6. It has strong pull as you hammer the gas pedal, and the exhaust note's subtle rumble makes it feel like you're driving a proper muscle car, even if it is down two cylinders from the Camaro SS.
Starting at $29,275, the V-6 will be the way to go for most convertible shoppers. It gets 18/29 mpg city/highway when equipped with the six-speed automatic transmission, 17/28 mpg with the standard six-speed manual.
But … there's certainly something to be said for the sheer power of the V-8. For an additional $7,000 or so you add more than 100 hp — the V-8 has 426 hp — but the mileage falls to 16/25 mpg with the six-speed automatic and 16/24 with the six-speed manual.
In addition to my weeklong test drive in a Camaro 2LT convertible, I also took a short drive in a manual SS.
The SS pulls from a dead stop with an enormous amount of brute force — and an exhaust note to match. It's an exhilarating ride that enthusiasts will covet, while the V-6 offers above-average fun for the common man.
Both versions were impressive in terms of stiffness in the body driving through twisty roads.
Many will opt for my test car's optional RS Package and its 21-inch wheels, which look terrific. However, the ride suffers. Standard 18-inch wheels might offer a smoother cruising atmosphere.
I was lucky enough to go from driving the Camaro convertible to the Corvette convertible. The changes in convertible design from the aging Vette to the brand new Camaro are obvious in one noteworthy attribute: Highway speeds in the Vette could impair your hearing — that's how bad wind buffeting is in there.
The Camaro, on the other hand, certainly allows in enough wind to move your hair, but you can still have a conversation with your passenger, and when you stop the car your ears won't be throbbing.
At cruising speeds of 45 mph, there was very mild wind intrusion, and cruising is what this car is all about.
The top itself also offers decent visibility, especially compared with the Camaro coupe, which is one of the most notoriously hard-to-see-out-of cars ever sold. There's no B-pillar in the convertible, which means that when you look over your right shoulder, you can see a bit more than you can in the coupe. Still, backing out of parking spots is a peril-filled task, especially considering a backup camera won't be available until the 2012 model year.
With the top up on the highway, I had no problem seeing traffic in the blind spot over my right shoulder.
The powered top closes or opens in 16 to 20 seconds, depending on how quickly you lock or release the top manually. The top can be closed while the car's in Drive, but it wouldn't begin operation unless I was stopped, with the brake depressed. I managed two emergency closures before rain, one at a toll stop and another at a rather long red light. In these instances, the mechanism seems to take forever.
The car can drive with the top down and no tonneau cover. Putting on the cover requires getting out of the car, but I managed to get my installation time down to a little over a minute after a few attempts. Removing it took much less time — probably 15 seconds, most of it walking from one side of the car to the other.
The tonneau stores in an already cramped trunk, which measures 10.2 cubic feet. A divider that reserves space for the lowered roof takes away a substantial chunk of that volume, bringing the figure down to 7.8 cubic feet. The Ford Mustang convertible has 9.6 cubic feet of luggage room without a divider. Most large items will have to ride in the Camaro's relatively cramped backseat.
The Camaro convertible is equipped almost identically to the hardtop, but there's no base LS model. Trims start with the V-6 1LT, which gets you 18-inch aluminum wheels, power driver and front passenger seats, cruise control, and a stereo with a USB port, starting at $29,275. The Mustang convertible has a more stripped-down model starting at $27,145.
My tester was a 2LT with the RS Package, for a total sticker of $33,625, which is more expensive than a similarly equipped Mustang, at $32,690. The top wheel package there, however, is only 18 inches, versus my test Camaro's 21s.
The Camaro's price is downright sensible when you realize the rather staid Chrysler 200 convertible starts at $29,960 with a V-6 and cloth top.
The Camaro convertible has not been crash-tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Unlike the Camaro coupe, which has side curtain airbags, the convertible only has frontal airbags for the driver and front passenger. Nor are there side-impact airbags mounted in the front seats.
Camaro Convertible in the Market
Since it debuted, the Camaro has found success because of its daring looks, not its overall practicality. Convertibles are inherently impractical, so the Camaro droptop scores even more points with me than the coupe.
It may not be a perfect car, but the Camaro may be the perfect convertible.
Starting MSRP $22,805–$39,775
City: 16 – 18
Highway: 24 – 29
312-hp, 3.6-liter V-6 (regular gas)
400-hp, 6.2-liter V-8 (premium)
426-hp, 6.2-liter V-8 (premium)
6-speed automatic w/OD and auto-manual
6-speed manual w/OD
New or Notable
• V-6 or V-8
• Rear-wheel drive
• Manual or automatic with paddle shifters
• V-8 hits 60 mph in 4.7 seconds
• Standard electronic stability system
• Futuristic styling based on 1969 Camaro
What We Like
• Sprightly V-6, beefy V-8
• Well-proportioned styling
• Ride quality
• Interior quality
• Safety features
• Gas mileage
What We Don't
• Cantankerous V-8 stick shift