Because strong-performing cars still are on the market, not yet banished by the less-is-more consciousness, or driven into irrelevance by fuel prices. They make their brisk ways propelled by V-6 engines rather than the expected but perhaps eco-tainted V-8s.
But today’s hot-scoot V-6s outpower the V-8s of yesteryear, making them fair choices on their own, rather than wanna-be V-8s.
•Ford Mustang: 3.7-liter, 302 horsepower, 280 pounds-feet of torque
•Dodge Challenger: 3.6-liter, 305 hp, 268 lbs.-ft.
•Chevrolet Camaro: 3.6-liter, 312 hp, 288 lbs.-ft. Chevy says the 2012 V-6 Camaro, due this summer, will be rated 323 hp with no drop in fuel economy.
The fly in what appears to be an eco-salving ointment, however, is that the fuel-economy ratings that add to the V-6’s appeal aren’t always realistic.
The Camaro convertible test car is an example. Equipped with a V-6 and six-speed automatic transmission, it is rated 18 miles per gallon in town, 29 mpg on the highway and 24 mpg in mixed driving. Very good numbers for a car that hustles like this Camaro.
But even driving with a lighter right foot than usual, we struggled to stay in the low-teens in the suburbs. We typically hit close to the city rating in our ’burbs driving, but not with the Camaro convertible.
So if mpg is why you’d eye the V-6, maybe you should consider the V-8, which — judging by government mileage ratings — shouldn’t be much worse.
But there are other reasons than mpg to favor the six. Its relatively light weight over the front wheels offers a nimbleness you don’t quite get in the SS model Camaro with its heavier V-8 engine.
And maybe you’re sure you’d get better mileage than we did. Or maybe you just like the idea of a high-tech, punchy V-6 under the hood.
So, what else is there to like or dislike about the latest addition to the Camaro lineup? Upsides:
•Styling. The low, wide stance of the convertible — especially with top down — shouts “fast fun” as loudly as the rival Ford Mustang does, probably louder.
•Top. Making a good convertible is an art. It’s easy to uglify a car via its folding top, or make it useless in any but the balmiest weather. Camaro escapes the common pitfalls. The top goes up or down in about a snappy 15 seconds (though the top’s motor is loud and sounds crude, and you must hold the switch the whole time).
With top down, Camaro manages to minimize the buffeting and drafts that plague some ragtops. As a result, you can drive it open at unexpectedly low temperatures. (We were almost comfy top-down at 50 degrees, running the heater about two-thirds of full blast.) If you’re not looking for excuses to fold down the top, why are you driving a convertible in the first place?
•Behavior. The blend of go, stop and turn that, taken together, makes up the dynamic personality of a car was pleasing in the test car.
Chevy put a massive stiffening bar between the shock-absorber towers in front, impressively visible under the hood. And braces elsewhere do a good job replacing the structural stiffness a car loses when you cut off its top.
So, minimal cowl shake and body shimmies. In fact, not enough to notice unless you’re especially sensitive.
Brakes felt solid, reassuring and prompt. Steering had no trouble staying on-center down a straight road, and responded in well-proportioned fashion when you asked for a direction change.
•Controls. Climate-control knobs rotated sloppily. Steering-wheel-mounted controls were a tad hard to reach due to the deep dish of the wheel. That’ll change for 2012, Chevy says.
•Seats. Fronts were lumpy due to too much lumbar bulge and no adjustment to minimize it. Rears — typical among cars of this ilk — had too little legroom for any but kids, and then only with front seats scooted forward.
•Ride. Pretty stiff. We expect the V-8 model would be even firmer.
It is, you know, possible to combine a bump-absorbing ride with taut handling, but you might have to pay BMW prices to get the just-so blend.
•Visors. Last week we called the subpar sun visors in the Mini Cooper Countryman the worst in memory. Camaro convertible recalibrates that with visors at the nadir of such devices.
Tiny enough to be nearly worthless. And, inexplicably, they don’t swivel to work if the sun’s to your side.
We continue to be amazed that there are no regulations requiring effective visors, and that there have been no big lawsuits over crashes by sun-blinded drivers.
•Trunk. That’s where the folded top goes, so not much room for luggage when the car’s operated open-air. Too, you have to lift your cargo very high to get it over the lip and into the trunk. That’s a styling issue, one of those “function follows form” deals. Making the trunk opening more practical, as it would be on a family sedan, would put body-panel cut lines where they’d break up the nice, wide, smooth rump in a car that bases a lot of its appeal on how it looks.
Swell, until you have to heft that overstuffed computer case up and over into the trunk.
You don’t buy a sporty convertible for the same reasons, or with the same expectations, that you apply to a family sedan. Using the overall standards of the genre, the Camaro convertible is an exceptional piece of work.
2011 Chevrolet Camaro convertible
What? Convertible version of the popular sporty coupe rolled out in 2009; front-engine, rear-drive, two-door, four-passenger; available with V-6 or V-8 engine.
When? On sale since February.
Where? Made at Oshawa, Ontario, Canada.
How much? $30,000 including shipping for base 1LT V-6; $40,500 for 2SS high-end model with V-8. Test car, a 2LT V-6 automatic: $36,185.
How powerful? Base 3.6-liter V-6 rated 312 horsepower at 6,400 rpm, 288 pounds-feet of torque at 5,200 rpm. Optional 6.2-liter V-8: 400 hp at 5,900, 410 lbs.-ft at 4,300 (with automatic transmission), 426 hp at 5,900, 420 lbs.-ft. at 4,600 (manual).
How big? Midsize exterior, subcompact interior — typical for sporty convertibles. Camaro convertible is 190.4 inches long, 75.5 in. wide, 54.7 in. tall, on a 112.3-in. wheelbase. Weighs 3,986 to 4,168 lbs. (Coupe weighs 3,719 to 3,902 lbs.)
Trunk: 10.2 cubic feet when top’s up, 7.9 cu. ft. top down.
Turning circle diameter: 37.7 ft.
How thirsty? Rated 18 miles per gallon in town, 29 on the highway, 24 in combined use (V-6 automatic), 17/28/23 (V-6 manual), 16/25/21 (V-8 automatic), 16/24/20 (V-8 manual).
Trip computer in V-6, automatic test car showed 12.9 mpg (7.75 gallons per 100 miles) in suburban driving.
Burns regular, tank holds 18.8 gallons.
Overall: Well-done ragtop.
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