Beernpotatoes Reviews Cars: Chevrolet Camaro Convertible
A few weekends ago, I rented a Chevy Camaro Convertible to cruise around Southern California. It is a habit of mine to write a review of any car that I have the privilege of driving and this car certainly deserves a review. So here it is:
The 2014 Chevrolet Camaro Convertible.
There are two types of people who will buy this car: (1) people who've always wanted a 67-69 Camaro, and (2) people who are buying the image that this car represents. The former will likely be sorely disappointed while the latter will be perfectly happy... mostly.
First of all, this car SCREAMS Americana. Every one of them should come draped in an American flag and Bruce Springstein's "Born in the USA" should be the only song that plays on the radio. Of all of the American cars on the market today, it is the most in-your-face American car out there. Just looking at it will make you pump your fist and yell, "Woohoo! Bald eagles 'n sh*t!"
With the top down, I can think of no better car to cruise the strip through Santa Monica. As I drove around Southern California's iconic beach town, even I was surrounded by Lambos and Ferraris and Porsches, but this car was the better cruiser. Those cars belong on the Autobahn or screaming up and down the Amalfi Coast. They look silly slow-cruising down Main Street. That's Camaro territory. The Camaro is rock and roll. It is bright lights and cheeseburgers and sun-drenched girls in bikinis. It is Santa Monica on a Saturday afternoon and it was in its element.
That said, I can think of nothing else that this car is good for.
It's a big, American car and it drove like an even bigger American car. It wasn't comfy; it was cushy. The giant body felt like it was the length of a city block, and it wallowed along on giant wheels and too-soft suspension. In town, I felt like I had to swing wide to make each right turn, and each time, I was rewarded with a a little roll in the chassis, like a motorboat settling into its own wake. On the highway, it was so cushy that there was a complete and utter lack of feel or feedback. Driving this car at speed is a lot like sitting on your sofa playing a driving game on your Xbox. Accelerating, decelerating, cornering, stopping... when I applied the inputs, the car would appear to do what I wanted it to do, but I had no sense of it actually happening. I'd press the gas pedal and the the transmission would make its clunky drop into a lower gear, and a second or two later, the engine would make an angry noise... but I had to keep looking down at the speedometer, because I couldn't tell any difference.
Saturday morning, I decided to try chasing a Porsche Boxster up Palisades Drive - a steep, twisty canyon road wide enough to take a racing line through the curves. I soon regretted it. With absolutely no feel in the steering, suspension or accelerator, I quickly backed off. I couldn't tell whether the car was holding the road or about to careen off sideways.
I tried going back down Palisades Drive later that day using the paddle shifters. Now, I've driven a number of high-performance cars with various versions of the electronic manual transmission and the best (BEST) part is when you are heading into a curve and you shift down right at the breaking point and the gear change is instantaneous - the tires bite in and the car powers through the curve. But sadly, not so with the Camaro. Hit the paddle and the dash display indicates a gear change, but that's it. Nothing else changes - not the speed, not the revs - it's as if the paddle shifter does as much as the "close door" button on an elevator.
Does it have power? I dunno. Maybe? The speedometer certainly climbed with no problem, but with no feel, it was pointless. The whole purpose of a big muscle car with a V-8 engine is to FEEL the power... and that power had better be instantaneous and ferocious. With the Camaro, you get a lot of noise, and then look down to discover, "Oh, I'm going over the speed limit." Basically, the Camaro delivers all of the pleasures of sh*tty gas mileage with none of the hassles of good performance.
Like the sofa in your grandmother's living room. Also, it has lots of bells and whistles. American manufacturers like to load up their cars with gimmicky doodads, but in a car like the Camaro, it just doesn't work. Or maybe they just have the wrong bells and whistles, like the back-up camera, which displays on an LCD screen on the dash, along with an annoying bonging noise as you reverse... to give you the experience of driving a garbage truck? Sitting in the car, my over-sized butt comfortably carressed by the cushy seat and surrounded by dials and gizmos, it felt like I was driving a Buick or a Lincoln - something my grandfather would drive, not a rock-and-roll muscle car.
Or, if I'm honest, it felt like something a big, fat redneck wearing a "Bikini Inspector" tee-shirt and bad tattoos would drive.
Not that the back-up camera wasn't needed. Even with the top down, visibility was a challenge. The low styling of the body coupled with the deep bucket seats meant that you were never sure where the front and back ends were. With the top up, I found myself leaning and scrunching to look out the windshield just to keep an eye on other cars and traffic lights. Plus, the latch mechanism for the convertible top partially blocks the rear-view mirror and prevents you from adjusting it. You basically get whatever view they set it at in the factory.
Ha! The back seat is "token," meaning that, even though the car is big enough to take up two parking spaces, it still only fits two people comfortably. The trunk was barely big enough to fit my backpack, and all of the gimmicky dials, buttons and touch-screen doohickeys on the dashboard were overly complicated and more distracting than helpful.
How would I rate a car like this? Well, compared to its 1960s predecessor, which was a ground-breaker and a top performer, this one is all show and no go. Sure, you can upgrade to the SS model and you'll get a little more noise and the gauges will indicate a little more speed, but what's the point? As a car... it's crap. It reminds me of the car Homer Simpson designed. It's comically impractical, it guzzles gasoline, it doesn't perform particularly well, it's way too big, it's difficult to drive and will probably get its ass resoundingly kicked by all of the other big, American muscle cars in its class.
On the other hand..... if you WANT to cruise down Main Street on Saturday night blaring old-style rock and roll... there is no better car for it, and I felt like a serious badass while doing it.
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