For the first time since anyone can remember, the Chevrolet Camaro is outselling the Ford Mustang. According to Automotive News, Chevy moved 40,275 Camaros for the first five months of 2011. During the same period, Ford sold 30,206 Mustangs.
One could suppose that the Camaro's new shape is still fresh when compared to that of the Mustang, whose look remains relatively unchanged. In the world of sport coupes, new designs always garner more buyers than do the familiar.
And boy, is the Camaro a looker.
Its design reveres it roots without being beholden to them. Instead, it moves the styling needle with a menacing futuristic scowl and burly stance. The 1969 Camaro — which was the modern car's inspiration — looks dainty by comparison.
And for 2011, the Camaro's top goes down in less than 20 seconds.
If anything, the Camaro convertible is better looking than the coupe. With the top lowered, you get to see the sensuous, flowing body sculpting. It's quite alluring, with a graceful air missing from '80s and '90s Camaros.
The droptop Camaro comes in two flavors: LT and SS. The former uses GM's ubiquitous 3.6-liter double-overhead-cam V6 rated at 304 horsepower. The latter has GM's legendary 6.2-liter V8 rated at 400-hp with a six-speed automatic transmission, 426-hp with the six-speed manual. Six-cylinder buyers get the same transmission choices.
All of the car's important bits are placed on a platform originally developed for the Pontiac G8 sedan.
Among the options on the LT test car was a $1,500 RS Package with 20-inch aluminum wheels, rear spoiler, unique tail lamps and high-intensity discharge headlamps.
Like the coupe, the V6 can reach 60 mph in 6.1 seconds. OK, it's not the V8's 4.7 seconds, but fast enough if you're cruising with the top down. Besides, giving up 1.4 seconds allows you to enjoy this car's style while yielding 18 mpg city, 29 mpg highway.
That's not bad, but try both models before you buy. The V6 certainly is fast on paper, but for some reason, it doesn't feel so when driving. The driveline has a surprisingly sedate feel, especially when compared to the Ford Mustang's V6.
But there's no quibbling with the way this rear-driver handles.
There is plenty of reinforcement to quell vibration. The car's tight, solid feel can be seen when traversing bumps; there's little of the flex one experiences in some convertibles. The rearview mirror can be used; it doesn't vibrate.
The steering is a willing partner in crime, telegraphing what's going on. It's neither too light nor too heavy. Like the steering, the suspension muffles road imperfections without filtering out their presence. Road and wind noise are nicely muffled.
The front seat is spacious, although it feels as if you're sitting very low thanks to this car's small windows. Unlike the coupe, which can be hard to see out of, the convertible's top goes down, eliminating that problem.
High-quality materials line the cabin; it's nicely assembled. The gauges and switches are distinctively styled, especially the audio system. It has eight buttons, six for station presets. But each button is, in reality, a toggle switch. Hitting the top of the button offers up your favorite station, while hitting the bottom activates a different function. Each button has a backlit label, and the primary function of each shines brighter. It's a small thing, but it indicates that GM sweats the design details.
That said, the already small trunk is puny on the droptop: 10.24 cubic feet with the top up, 7.85 cubic feet with it stowed.
But hey, that's what the back seat is best used for.
If you've waited to buy one, think of the money you'll save. Someone bought one of the first convertibles recently at a Barrett-Jackson charity auction for $205,000. One hundred others bought the 2011 Neiman Marcus Edition Camaro convertible for $75,000 each. They sold out in three minutes.
But you can stroll over to your nearest Chevy store and grab this year's hottest muscle car for half of that price.
And these days, we're all looking for bargains.
2011 CHEVROLET CAMARO CONVERTIBLE:
—Base price, base model: $30,125 (after destination charge)
—As tested: $36,185
—Engine: 3.6-liter DOHC V6
—Wheelbase: 112.8 inches
—Length: 190.4 inches
—Weight: 3,986 pounds
—Cargo space: 7.85-10.24 cubic feet
—EPA rating (city/highway): 18/29 mpg
—Fuel consumption: 23.5 mpg
—Fuel type: Regular