By Lary Coppola
The Chevy Camaro became an American icon on the day the very first one rolled off the assembly line 45 years ago as a 1967 model. To celebrate, there’s a 2012 Camaro SS 45thAnniversary edition. Our test vehicle was a Victory Red 2SS convertible — to which this review will be confined.
All Camaro convertibles are equipped just like the coupes, and this generation Camaro was designed with reinforcements added to four key areas to increase rigidity — a cross brace under the hood connects the front shock towers, a transmission brace, an underbody tunnel brace, and underbody V-shaped braces front and rear help the convertible ride and handle like the coupe. Chevrolet claims the chassis so rigid the suspension didn’t need to be modified from the coupe, and it has more torsional stiffness than the BMW 3 Series convertible.
Camaro 2SS ($40,680 — $44,115 as tested) features special SS exterior trim, a beefier suspension, 20-inch painted aluminum wheels, and four-piston Brembo disc brakes. The 2SS upgrades include leather-appointed seats, heated front seats, rearview camera, multi-function auxiliary gauges, head-up display, Bluetooth, PDIM wireless auxiliary device control, Universal home remote, steering wheel-mounted controls, auto-dimming mirror, and heated mirrors.
Walkaround: Although it’s bigger in every way — longer, wider and taller — this latest-generation Camaro, which was completely redesigned for model year 2010, really does capture the retro look of the original — but with less chrome.
1969 Camaro headlights seemingly appear in the head-on view, and the rear lines reprise the classic 1963 split-window Corvette. In fact, the lines of the ‘63 fastback ‘Vette are obvious from almost any angle — but especially from above.
The shark nose sports a black mesh grille, and a long, eye-catching aluminum hood, with a suggestive 2.5-inch power dome.
Shapely strong hips above the rear wheels flare up and out to the short rear deck, and styling gills located just forward of the rear wheels add a nice touch. Even though the power dome hood and cooling gills aren’t actually functional, they add touches of style that don’t come across as phony.
GM designers sought to make the roofline of the convertible match the coupe, resulting in a top with a smooth, carefully tailored appearance virtually mirroring the sleek coupe roofline. While, the rigid B-pillar on the coupe is blacked-out, creating a clean side glass outline, blending into the hardtop’s roofline, there is no B-piller on the ragtop, so the look is almost identical.
The convertible top is made of thick, durable canvas, and the headliner is filled with an acoustic material that’s supposed to keep the interior quiet. The soft power top, which also incorporates a glass rear window with defogger, retracts in about 20 seconds, and latches with a single handle at the center of the windshield header. Once the latch is turned, a single button lowers the windows and top.
Interior: While the instrumentation graphics have been revised for 2012, and are better than previously, the cabin is seemingly more about style than
function. In a nod to the classic Camaro, the recessed speedometer and tachometer are set in square housings. Between those two is a digital driver information center controlled with a button located on a steering column stalk.
The climate controls on the center stack are easy enough to figure out, but appear to have been designed more for looks than functionality. The optional console-mounted gauge package featuring oil pressure, oil temperature, volts and transmission fluid temperature, is good, but the location by the driver’s knee just forward of the gear shift lever make them difficult to see while driving.
The front bucket seats are very comfortable, although the bolstering isn’t totally there for hard cornering. But given the wide spectrum of Camaro buyers, that’s a tough compromise. The low bolsters do make getting in and out of the Camaro easy, the front seat moves 8.5 inches, and the steering wheel tilts and telescopes, so all size drivers will fit. There’s a stitched leather wrap on the steering wheel, which has been changed for 2012.
Visibility through the windshield is compromised by the long hood, wide A-pillars, and raked windshield, although the strategic location of the driver’s seat helps.
The trunk is deep but the opening is almost flat. There’s a pass-through to the trunk behind the rear seat, although it’s not that easy to get to.
Under The Hood: Two 6.2-liter V8 Corvette powerplants are offered in Camaro SS models. The 426-horse LS3 is married to those with manual gearboxes, while the 400-horse L99 comes in those Camaros with automatics. The L99, coupled to the optional 6-speed TAPshift manual automatic, powered our test vehicle. The L99 features GM’s Active Fuel Management System, which saves fuel by shutting down half of the engine’s cylinders during certain light-load driving conditions, such as highway cruising.
Behind The Wheel: The SS uses firmer shocks, springs and anti-roll bars than the standard V6 models, but the ride doesn’t suffer for it. A limited-slip rear differential reduces wheel spin when trying to put all those horses to the pavement.
We found the ride, handling, and braking on the 2SS to be outstanding. The chassis structure is rigid, and the grip is secure. We never encountered any harshness in the ride, and on a trip to Portland and back — ironically to preview drive a new Lexus model — found the Camaro very comfortable on the highway.
The Camaro SS uses four-piston Brembo brakes, which makes them more resistant to fade — important on racetracks, but more so around here on mountain roads where the brakes are used repeatedly.
The TAPshift automatic does what you tell it to when using the paddle shifters in manual mode, and nothing more — just like it’s supposed to. In sixth gear on the freeway, there was sufficient torque for the transmission to not kick down under light acceleration if it didn’t need to.
The cabin on the convertible while comfortable, offers a lot of road noise from the wide tires and 20-inch wheels.
Safety equipment on all Camaros includes electronic stability control with traction control, anti-lock brakes, frontal airbags, front side airbags, airbag curtains, and tire pressure monitor.
Whines: I’m not real sure how effective the acoustic material in the convertible top actually is. On the highway at 70 mph, I could not hear very well using the Jawbone Bluetooth headset for my iPhone. Also, when I tried to remove the cell phone charger from the power port just in front of the optional gauge cluster, the entire plastic trim panel tried to come with it. Rear visibility over the driver’s shoulder isn’t too good, but frankly, it’s almost impossible to make it good with such a sporty roofline.
Bottom Line: The Chevy Camaro 2SS convertible is especially striking and delivers everything a Detroit muscle car should — tremendously fast, powerful engines with a throaty, head-turning exhaust note, great transmissions, superb handling and comfortable ride. In short, it’s a beautiful monster, and drivers who have always coveted a Camaro won’t be disappointed.