THE Chevy Camaro certainly won’t be the first powerful sports convertible you consider if you’ve just under £50,000 to spend on a car of this kind, but hot dang it sure is a lot of fun.
Think of an American muscle car and it’s hard not to think of Chevrolet’s Camaro. Since the 1960s, it’s captured hearts, imaginations and bedroom wall space around the world, especially in Convertible form. Ownership, though, has tended to be a uniquely American pleasure – until the launch of this fifth-generation version. Here at last is a Camaro that a European buyer could also consider. Or is it? At the wheel of this desirable drop-top, we’re going to find out.
Since appearing in 1966, the Chevy Camaro has always been America’s idea of what a powerful, affordable sportscar should be, a concept that, over five generations, has seemed to owe more to bulk and bluster than to dynamic drive.
Chevrolet says that this Camaro has been “designed for Europe”, a curious statement to make about a left-hand drive-only 6.2-litre V8 petrol-powered sports coupe that could hardly be more out of step with our continent’s recession-ravaged, eco-aware climate. But at least we can now get a hold of one.
Well, the looks are still show-stopping, even though this fifth-generation version has been around since 2009, and under the bonnet lies a Chevy Corvette supercar engine with 400 or more bhp matched to ride and handling set-up designed precisely for roads this side of the Atlantic. And all for no more than the cost of the kind of mid-range, mid-spec executive convertible that by comparison will feel very ordinary indeed.
This car gets an appropriately iconic 6.2-litre V8 powerplant, with a development history that goes all the way back to what’s known as the “Chevy small block”, the most famous V8 engine the world has ever known. And it comes in two forms here. Opt for the six-speed manual variant and you get the “full-fat” 426bhp “LS3” unit straight from the Corvette supercar. Select instead the six-speed automatic and you’re treated to a slightly more efficient “L99” 400bhp unit.
Once on the move, the sheer charisma of this powerplant is easy to like as the V8 starts to clear its throat above 4,000rpm and make all the right noises. More importantly, it offers enough pulling power to haul a steam train, this six-speed automatic version putting out a 556Nm torque figure so mighty that once you get going and fourth gear is reached at speeds as low as 20mph, use of the standard steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters is pretty unnecessary almost all the way up to the 155mph maximum. But it’s fun playing with them anyway.
The left hand drive-only format is a bit of an issue, exacerbated by the woeful all-round visibility you get from behind the wheel. But if your heart doesn’t beat a little faster at the prospect of getting into something that looks like this, then stop right here. The Camaro experience won’t be for you. Driving one will see you stared at with either envy or astonishment, maybe eco-conscious horror – or more probably a mixture of all three. Yes, there’s the left hand drive-only set-up to adjust to but once you have, there are plenty of classic design details in the cabin to compensate, though not much room either in the rear or in the boot, despite the huge 4.8m exterior length.
Go for the Convertible version and you get a Z-fold canvas roof that goes up or down in 20 seconds and fits snugly enough but lacks the refinements of more modern rag tops. So, unlike rivals, you have to virtually stop before you can operate the thing and even when you do, you’ve to manually twist a heavy lock-down handle before the electrics will work. Also, the extra strengthening needed to account for the lack of a roof adds 121kg to the car’s weight.
In Convertible form, one of these will set you back around £40,000, a £5,000 premium over the Coupe model. Plus, there’s a £1,500 premium if, like most customers, you want the six-speed automatic gearbox. In other words, for around £15,000 less than Chevrolet’s Corvette, you can get yourself a Camaro with almost exactly the same 6.2-litre V8 engine and way over 400bhp, an output that would set you back getting on for double this car’s asking price in a BMW M3 or Mercedes C63 AMG.
Standard kit runs to 20-inch alloy wheels shod with Pirelli P-Zero rubber, high-intensity discharge xenon headlamps, six-way electrically adjustable sports seats with accent stitching, air conditioning, cruise control, a rear parking camera and Bluetooth compatibility for your phone There’s also a standard head-up display that projects information such as speed and stereo selection onto the windscreen. Safety stuff includes six airbags and the usual electronic assistance for braking, traction and stability.
The manual model V8s have a combined consumption figure of 20mpg, while the automatics return 21.5mpg. Emissions, meanwhile, make even more painful reading, rated at 329g/km for the manual and 304g/km for the auto.
There’s a decent five-year warranty with free roadside assistance for the first year and the car will have rarity value residuals, while insurance is rated at group 48 for the Coupe and group 50 for the Convertible.
Even if you ignore the fact that the steering wheel’s on the wrong side and the running costs are crippling, there are any number of more familiar sports convertible alternatives that will make more sense to buy, to own or to drive. But none of them will make you feel alive, inspired and excited every time you turn the key in the way that this Camaro does.
CAR Chevrolet Camaro Convertible
PRICE From £40,320
PERFORMANCE Max speed 155mph; 0-62mph 5.4 secs
FUEL CONSUMPTION (combined) 20mpg