2019 Chevy Camaro SS Convertible: Keeping the flame alive
Compared to plug-in hybrids and subcompact luxury crossovers, muscle cars are a very easy automotive concept to understand — a rear-wheel drive car with a big engine in the front that destroys speed limits when you get on the gas.
Understanding why the regulators who are trying to squeeze all the fun out of life still allow any of them to be made is another matter. Fuel economy standards should have eliminated all of them years ago. But a handful persist — and we should all be thankful.
Exhibit A is the 2019 Chevy Camaro SS Convertible, the subject of this week's test. It is a completely impractical drop-top sedan that is hard to drive around town and only justifies its existence when the massive 6.2-liter V8 comes fully alive.
But when it does — hopefully on an open freeway or certified race track — drivers and passengers are instantly transported back to a more innocent time of cheap gas and an American future that seemed to stretch out forever. The exhaust roars, everything to the sides becomes a blur, and the only thing that matters is what lies directly ahead, including watching out for other drivers that might unknowingly pull across the lane or police cars lurking nearby. Crank up the Bruce Springsteen songs on the available satellite radio station or personal playlist.
Muscle cars were first created in the 1960s when American manufacturers stuffed big engines into what were then called intermediate cars and offered them with stiffer suspensions and the choice of manual or automatic transmissions. The first was the Pontiac GTO and many followed.
Many variations quickly followed, when even slightly smaller cars with optional performance engines called Pony Car were introduced. Named after the original Ford Mustang, they included the Dodge Challenger and Chevy Camaro — all of which were soon available with the most powerful V8s available.
The horsepower race ended in the late 1970s because of federal noise, emission and fuel economy regulations. Although the Challenger and Camaro and went out of production, Ford kept the Mustang alive, reviving it from the parodied Pinto-based Mustang II (driven by Farah Fawcett in Charlie's Angels) to more serious versions in the 1980s and finally the current popular retro version that inspired Dodge and Chevy to bring back new versions of the Challenger and Camaro.
The retro Challenger was and is much closer to the original version than the Mustang — comparatively unrefined with optional Hemi power that more than makes up for its lack of sophistication.
But the retro Camaro was completely different. It looked like the Batmobile designed by Tim Burton in his 1989 "Batman" movie. Despite some slight design nods to the original 1960s models, it was actually closer to the second-generation version, with a very long hood and short trunk. But it felt much heavier than either of those versions, requiring the biggest engine possible and suspension upgrades to make it drive right. And the hood slopes down so fast that, from inside the car, it's hard to know where the front end is when pulling up to a curb.
The Camaro was slightly tweaked for 2019, with a revised grill that looks more a Silverado pickup and quad taillights that look a little out of place. The overall look is still striking, however, even though it remains more futuristic than the Mustang or Challenger.
The normally-aspirated 6.2-liter V8 in our test car pumped out an impressive 455 horsepower and 455 foot-pounds of torque — not as much as the supercharged V8s available these days, but plenty to move the two tons of Detroit steel briskly down the road. It was equipped with a new 10-speed automatic transmission, which handled all that power extremely well, and never seemed to be searching for the right gear, a problem with some other multi-speed autos.
Available drive modes range from Touring to Sport, Track and Snow/Ice, giving drivers the option of cranking up the performance levels. But seriously, the question is, is the the 2019 Chevy Camaro SS Convertible a daily driver or some kind of exotic machine reserved for weekends and closed courses?
During a week of driving, it fell in the middle. On the downside, the Camaro required concentration to drive on in town a day-to-day basis, especially when the convertible top was up, restricting outward visions. But on freeways or when the top was down, the Camaro as transformed into something else again — much more fun to drive, largely because of the greater visibility.
Although all muscle cars are unlikely survivors in this heavily-regulated automotive environment, it will soon be the very last of a vanishing breed. When Chevy debuts the new mid-engine Corvette, the Camaro will be the last front-engine, rear-wheel-dive car built by General Motors. Enjoy it while you can.
2019 Chevy Camaro SS Convertible
Base price: $48,000
Price as tested: $53,670
Type: Midsize convertible
Engine: 6.2-liter V8 (455 hp, 455 lbs-ft)
Transmission: 10-speed automatic
EPA estimated mileage: 16/27
Overall length: 188.3 to 190.2 inches
Curb weight: 3,354 to 4,113 pounds
Final assembly: Lansing, Michigan
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