Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Test Drive: 2015 Chevrolet Camaro V6 Convertible

The latest generation of the Chevrolet Camaro has been one of those cars that, to me at least, looks pretty interesting, but I have never felt the urge to drive. While planning a trip to visit some friends and their toddler in Northern California, I stumbled upon a rental car deal using my AAA membership that was too good to pass up. When I left the Enterprise desk at the airport, I ended up driving off with a bright red, 2015 Chevrolet Camaro V6 convertible...for $35 a day. Considering that it was only a mere $3 more per day than whatever crappy sub-compact car I was originally going to get, I definitely call this a worthy upgrade.

One of the first things I noticed about the Camaro was how big it looked. My perception of how big a sports car should be falls into the size range of cars like my own S2000, or the Subaru BRZ/Scion FR-S, or even the new, 2016 Mazda Miata. To me, the Camaro looks more like it should be classified as a Grand Touring car and not a sports car, but to each their own. As for the look of the car, it is getting a little old. I understand that Chevy was going for the retro Camaro look, just like Dodge and Ford have been doing with their pony cars. The difference though, is that it feels like the Camaro's look is not aging quite as gracefully as its competition. Take the all new 2015 Ford Mustang for example. It retains the styling cues of its 60s era predecessor, but still looks modern and sleek. The Charger, on the other hand, goes in the opposite direction, with a look that resembles the muscle car era Charger as closely as possible. I feel like Chevy tried a little too hard to go for that "in between" look: not too retro but not too modern that it does not evoke the retro look. Instead, it ends up looking and feeling big and clumsy. Certainly not helping the car's looks are the standard 18 inch wheels. The wheel wells of the Camaro are huge, and clearly designed for 20 inch wheels. Strapping 18 inch wheels with tires that have a sidewall as tall as the Great Wall of China just seems wrong.

As I got into the car to settle in, I just could not help noticing how cheap it felt. It was not quite rental car cheap, but it was very close. Everything pretty much felt as cheap as the Chevy Sonic I got as a rental last time I flew into Northern California. The car's only saving grace was the Chevrolet MyLink (R) touch screen infotainment system. It sort of lessened the cheap feeling of the interior of the car ever so slightly. The worst part of the interior of the car was the dash cluster. Those square gauges are actually very difficult to read, and if I wanted the steering wheel adjusted to a comfortable level, it would block the gauges. This is not a car where you can see the speedometer and tachometer in your peripheral vision. I found myself having to look away from the road just to check my speed. Oh, and I hope you are not very tall. At 5'8", I felt the top of my hair brushing against the soft top. Thank goodness it was a convertible, the weather was decent, and I could actually put the top down.

I will say that the Camaro's 3.6 liter V-6 is surprisingly quite good. At 323 horsepower and 278 lb./ft. of torque, this engine provides plenty of grunt for the big, heavy convertible (it weighs about 1000 lbs. more than my S2000). It is surprisingly quite smooth too, albeit not as smooth as a Honda J-Series V-6. While I did not push the engine particularly hard, it did feel like it provided ample power from down low all the way through the mid-range of the power band. My one complaint about the engine is how it sounds though -- a bit raspy, and not like something you would expect from a sports car. It sounds more like it belongs in a practical sedan. The car's very average feeling six-speed automatic transmission adds to the sedan like sensation.

Pretty much everything regarding handling, including braking and steering, are nothing to write home about. As I mentioned when talking about the vehicle's size, it should be considered more of a grand touring car than a sports car, and the suspension setup reinforces that feeling. While not spongy, it is certainly far more comfortable than I would expect from a sports car. In fact, the entire car feels about as soft as our 2014 Acura RLX, maybe even a bit softer than that. It does, however, roll much more than the RLX when cornering quickly. Given that this vehicle starts life as a coupe and ends up missing some structural bracing in its transformation into a convertible, that was to be expected. Steering was your usual electric power-steering cocktail of nice weight with zero communication. And the brakes? Well, they were there. The brakes on this car certainly were not bad, but they were not spectacular either. There was a nice progressive feel to the pedal and the car always stopped within a reasonable distance, but other than that, they were pretty average. Really, there just is not that much more to say about this car's handling capabilities.

When the Enterprise clerk handed me the keys to the bright red Camaro Convertible, I was pretty
excited. After spending an entire day with the car though, I have to admit that my enthusiasm subsided pretty quickly. I did not exactly have extremely high hopes for the V6 Camaro Convertible, but I also did not expect the car to be so...dull. Driving this car felt a lot like driving a rental car ready, V6 powered family sedan but with two less doors, tiny rear seats, and a convertible soft top that creates a very low roof line when closed. I can almost be certain that if this were the SS model, with its Corvette sourced LS3 V8 and sport tuned suspension, I would be singing a much different tune. As it stands though, the V6 powered Camaro Convertible is kind of bland.   


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