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November 9, 2011 2:18 PM

Auto Review: Camaro Convertible is a head-turner

110911Behind-The-Wheel-2012_Kenn_604x372.jpg

(AP Photo/General Motors)

Thank goodness you don't need one of the 100 special-edition Neiman Marcus Chevrolet Camaro Convertibles to enjoy a special open-top Camaro ride.

For $44,000 less than the $75,000 Neiman Marcus cars, a regular 2012 Camaro Convertible offers ample attitude, fun and unique style.

All Camaro Convertibles, which started to arrive in showrooms earlier this calendar year, look like the hard-top, reincarnated Camaro Coupe that was introduced in 2009.

But the Camaro Convertible wears a fully-lined fabric top and adds some 210 pounds over the Coupe because of structural reinforcements needed when a fixed roof is missing from a car.

Riders sit down well below the side window ledges in the Camaro Convertible, hunkered behind a narrow windshield and a long hood and thoroughly immersed in a retro-turned-modern Camaro environment.

Still, with the open sky above as the convertible's power roof retracts and folds away, the test Camaro Convertible felt more comfortable and less confining than its sibling coupe, even if shorter passengers still strain to see over the surrounding sheet metal.

Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, is $31,000 for a 2012 Camaro Convertible with six-speed manual transmission and 323-horsepower V-6. A Camaro Convertible with automatic starts at $31,995. These prices compare to the $24,100 and $25,300 starting retail prices for 2012 Camaro Coupes with manual and automatic transmissions, respectively.

The competing 2012 Ford Mustang Convertible has a starting MSRP, including destination charge, of $28,105 with six-speed manual and 305-horsepower V-6. The lowest starting retail price for a Mustang Convertible with six-speed automatic is $29,300.

Camaros date to 1968, when they were introduced to compete with the increasingly popular Mustang.

These two models, plus the Dodge Challenger, were known as affordable, American-made, two-door coupes that could be had with high-performance V-8s for sporty and high-energy rides.

Today, with gasoline priced much higher than the 35 cents a gallon it was in the late 1960s, the Camaro uses modern engine technology, like variable valve timing and direct gasoline injection, to get the most out of every gallon.

The highest government fuel economy rating for the 2012 Camaro Convertible is with the V-6 that was in the test car, and the window sticker listing was 18 miles per gallon in city driving and 29 mpg on the highway.

This is close to the 19/30-mpg rating for the 2012 Mustang Convertible, and the base Mustang Convertible has 18 fewer horsepower.

The Camaro's V-8 is a 426-horsepower, 6.2-liter powerplant that delivers 420 foot-pounds of torque at 4,600 rpm. Premium gasoline is recommended for the V-8; regular gas is fine for the V-6.

2012 Chevrolet Camaro 2LT Convertible
  • BASE PRICE: $30,100 for 1LT manual; $34,100 for 2LT manual.
  • PRICE AS TESTED: $38,530.
  • TYPE: Front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, four-passenger, compact coupe.
  • ENGINE: 3.6-liter, double overhead cam, direct-injection V-6 with CVVT.
  • MILEAGE: 18 mpg (city), 29 mpg (highway).
  • TOP SPEED: NA.
  • LENGTH: 190.4 inches.
  • WHEELBASE: 112.3 inches.
  • CURB WEIGHT: 3,986 pounds.
  • BUILT AT: South Korea.
  • OPTIONS: RS package (includes high-intensity discharge headlamps with light-emitting diode halo ring, 20-inch Midnight Silver painted aluminum wheels) $1,375; six-speed automatic transmission $1,185; interior trim package (includes black interior with Inferno Orange accents on front and rear seats, accent stitching on shift knob, steering wheel, door armrest and seats) $500; orange stripe package $470.
  • DESTINATION CHARGE: $900.

Even with the base, 3.6-liter, double overhead cam V-6 mated to an automatic in the nearly 4,000-pound Camaro Convertible tester, the ride was fun and energetic.

I had difficulty keeping the Camaro under the speed limits, and with 60 percent of my travel in the city and on country roads, I averaged just 16.4 mpg. This translated into a disappointing travel range of 310 miles with the sizable, 19-gallon fuel tank.

Power came quickly, but not rashly, from the engine when I wanted to accelerate. With 278 foot-pounds of torque peaking at a high 5,200 rpm, the car merged into traffic without being overtly sporty.

Strong, deep exhaust sounds -- yes, from the V-6 -- got onlookers turning to see what kind of car was coming.

The test Camaro Convertible, a 2LT, looked flashy, too, with white exterior paint accented by a large Inferno Orange striping. The car wore big, 20-inch, aluminum, low-profile wheels painted black that added more drama.

The fun look carried inside to black leather seats accented by orange stitching, plus orange plastic trim on the doors that was beautifully illuminated at night.

Gauges had an old-school style, but a blue-lighted head-up display that I set to show my speed digitally on the windshield glass was something never found in a Camaro in the '60s. It was one way I tried to keep my speeds under constant scrutiny.

This is a car that begs to be driven. There's no settling in and moseying around town or idly coasting down the roads.

The firm-feeling suspension in the test Camaro 2LT Convertible handled road bumps without sending too many sensations inside to passengers.

Structural rigidity of the car -- with roof on and off -- was impressive. As the car traveled over railroad tracks, the cowl of the test Camaro Convertible didn't shake and the body didn't shudder, for example.

The roof looked good and fit snugly, but it didn't insulate against sound. I heard a lot of outside noises, such as diesel semis approaching and stereos blasting from cars nearby at stoplights.

The retractable roof, which I loosened via a latch inside the car and then pressed a button to activate, also wasn't the fastest convertible roof going up and down.

Trunk space suffers because of the need to store the roof behind the rear seats. There's just 10.2 cubic feet of space with the roof on the car and less when the roof is down.

Fit and finish on the test car was excellent.

But I had to be careful parking the car because the turning circle is rather large at 37.7 feet and the low-profile wheels can get scraped on curbing.

Doors are long, too, and can bang into nearby cars in parking lots.

The two rear seats are cramped. At 5 feet 4, I hated the closed-in feeling when the roof was on. It was better, but still leg-confining, with the roof off.

Don't expect to see those Neiman Marcus special edition Camaro Convertibles. They sold out in 3 minutes when they went up for sale.