A favorite childhood memory was riding around the hills of Oakland, California in my uncle’s 1960’s First-Generation Pontiac Firebird Convertible. When I was a teenager in the late 1970’s, my head would turn every time a Second-Generation Chevrolet Camaro rumble by me in the parking lot. The rich kids in high school would be given Chevy Z28’s for graduation gifts, and the really-rich kids owned Pontiac Trans Am T-tops.
My senior year, the 1977 ½ Chevrolet Camaro Z28 came with a 350 cubic-inch V8 with a four-barrel carburetor. Most Z28’s were sold equipped with air conditioning and a four-speed automatic transmission because convenience was still a more powerful selling point over/against performance. No matter how sporty or comfortable the Camaro drove, I always wanted a Chevy small-block V8 convertible muscle-car to cruise around in. The 2018 Camaro can be had today with all the comfort and performance driver’s desire. From the LS to the LZ1, from a four-cylinder to a monster V-8, Camaros can be comfortable and economical all the way up to track-car crazy in one platform, as a Coupe or a Convertible.
Amazingly, 1978 350 cubic inch engines only produce 185 horsepower (175 horses in California due to emissions requirements), choked off with a huge catalytic converter and a small exhaust pipe. Although I did not understand the importance of CO2 emissions in high school, I remember coughing up brown slug after swim practice and not being able to see the hills of Riverside, CA on warm afternoons. Thankfully, Southern California was starting to address the smog issues. Sadly, this meant anemic performance from big engines in the pony cars.
Times have changed and the newest 2018 Chevrolet Camaro Convertible did not disappoint my expectations for pony car cruising, and one can still get a V8 that now rumbles through large dual exhaust pipes. Now, one can also buy a Camaro Convertible with a standard turbocharged 2.0-liter four-banger which produces 100 horsepower more than the 1978 small-block V8. At 275 hp @ 5600 rpm and 295 lb-ft of torque @ 3000-4500 rpm, mated to an 8-speed transmission, and it makes for some fun driving.
The 2018 Camaro engines also include a 3.6-liter V6 with Direct-Injection (335 hp & 284 lb-ft of torque); a 6.2-liter V8 DI (455 hp & 455 lb-ft of torque); and even a 6.2-liter Supercharged Direct-Injection V8 cranking out 650 hp @ 6400 rpm and 650 lb-ft of torque @ 3600 rpm. This kind of power is unthinkable but keeps the Chevrolet Camaro competing against the Ford Mustang 51 years after the Camaro’s introduction in 1967.
Although the 2.0-liter Turbo SIDI engine is a little slow off-the-line, the base Camaro gets very interesting from 3000 rpm all the way up to 5000 rpm. The paddle shifters allow the driver to keep the revs high and to push the Camaro around corners with some throttle steering. The surprise came at the gas pump when I discovered this 2018 Camaro Convertible achieved 29.8 mpg with a combination of canyon roads, city driving, and some freeway cruising. There is no real rumble out of this dual exhaust, but that is a small price to pay for such great fuel mileage.
Driving this sixth-generation Camaro is a blast as it rides on the newest General Motor’s Global Rear Wheel Drive platform. Improvements to the independent rear-suspension setup allow the Camaro to compete with the best road cars in the world. The Camaro has a Holden-inspired fully independent multi-link strut front suspension and a 4.5-link independent rear suspension (IRS) out back which was introduced in 2010. When the convertible top is up and locked in, the body has very little flex on rough pavement. There is less chassis rigidity with the top down, but this won’t be noticed at normal speeds.
Speaking of the convertible top, it can be raised or lowered anytime with the car traveling under 30 miles per hour, and it only takes a few seconds so passengers can always change their minds if the weather changes during their open-road adventures. I noticed the lack of road and wind noise with the top up thanks to multiple layers of material and triple seals to insulate the interior. I could also carry on a Bluetooth-enabled phone conversation around town with the top down. Chevrolet has spent some time developing a usable and comfortable soft-top roadster.
My 2018 Camaro Convertible LS came with a host of standard goodies such as keyless entry & remote start, paddle shifters, speed-sensitive Electric Power Steering (EPS) with variable ratio, really good 4-wheel antilock disc brakes, and all the traction control assistance to keep the car on the road. The cap-less fuel fill door takes some getting used to but has been effective in other models, including Fords.
The Driver Selector Mode can change the throttle response, transmission shift points, and steering resistance between Sport and Tour. I felt very little difference between these modes but do appreciate the setting for Snow/Ice which de-powers the engine torque and controls transmission shifts for better traction. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any snowy roads to work within California.
The exterior is dramatic and a little sinister-looking from the front and the rear. The low beltline and narrow windows look like a chopped roadster and create a slightly claustrophobic interior. Dual-outlet chrome exhaust tips complement the rear spoiler and flared hind-quarters, while the front air-dam indicates that even the base Camaro uses some downforce at higher speeds.
The interior is a carryover from 2017 but has a larger 8-inch center screen as an option. The standard Chevrolet MyLink with a 7" diagonal color touch-screen operates entertainment and vehicle feature settings. The Bluetooth 2 streaming audio worked well with music and phones calls and the Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto was flawless for all 300 miles. Like most of the Camaro’s switch-gear, the volume control knob is too small for grabbing at higher speeds or when traveling over uneven pavement. The convertible comes with a good 6-speaker sound system. There are one 12-volt port and two USB ports located on the center console for charging.
Like all GM vehicles, they include OnStar 4G LTE and a built-in Wi-Fi hotspot for connectivity while on the road. There is a free Data Trial for three months or 3GB (whichever comes first), and then a subscription is required like SiriusXM Satellite Radio.
The 8-way power-adjustable driver seat was comfortable and supportive for hours. The rear bench seat is for short people but can work in a pinch. The leather-wrapped steering wheel is flattened on the bottom to make ingress and egress easier, but it is still a “crawl in and out” cabin for taller drivers. Headroom with the top up is generous for my 6’3” frame, but the windshield was still too short for a full view of the street signs and lights. Chevrolet, please give driver’s another inch or two.
The automatic climate control temperature is controlled by the bezel rings surrounding the low vents. The system keeps the cabin warm enough on colder days and cool on hot days with plenty of air movement, even with the top down. The digital readout displays average vehicle speed, fuel range, average fuel economy, tire pressure, oil life, trip odometer and vehicle warnings.
The 2018 Convertible comes standard with cruise control, 18" silver-painted aluminum wheels and 245/50R18 all-season tires, LED Daytime Running Lamps, and a power-folding convertible top. With the top stowed under the hard Bimini cover, there is room for two large backpacks. With it up, there is room for even more for luggage in the trunk for longer weekends.
There is a lot to like about the newest Chevrolet Camaro Convertible with its sporty looks, agile handling, and great gas mileage. I would have been the coolest kid in high school, even with a four-cylinder engine.
I would also have been the safest teenager with a configurable Teen Driver feature that, according to GM, “lets you activate customizable vehicle settings associated with a key fob to help encourage safe driving behavior.” Parents can set maximum speeds and volumes GM has developed an “in-vehicle report card” which will inform the parents about the teen's driving behaviors and gets the family involved. The integrated driver and right-front passenger, side, and knee airbags that work with the safety belt system will also help if things go wrong.