Most of the flashbacks I have to high school are positive ones. I went to an exceptional public high school, won letters in multiple sports, received multiple academic (and one athletic) scholarship offers, and was even offered a military commission. And I was the jock who was blasting Soul Asylym's Runaway Train in the parking lot before school in my Chevrolet Camaro. Yet the coolest part of my Camaro -- built in 1983 -- was the aftermarket sound system. You see, my high school Camaro was from the era when General Motors thought it was cool to produce some 4-cylinder models with under 100 HP. Not only did General Motors (deservedly) lose market share in the 1980s, my Camaro decades ago had fewer horsepower than a Nissan Versa today. My Camaro experience was thus a lot more "miss" than "hit". Twenty-three years later, I finally had a great Camaro experience.
AutoSlash and a Test of Sixt Car Rental
My reservation was a partial test of Sixt car rental. Platinum Sixt card holders are permitted a double-upgrade (if available) when booking "normal" cars. So I booked a reservation for a VW Eos or similar convertible. The Eos itself is a cute little intermediate sized convertible and I would have also been happy with that or the Buick Cascada (the most common "or similar" alternative). At the counter, the agent offered me a Camaro or Mustang convertible as my Platinum (if available) upgrade. I immediately jumped on the Camaro option in order to avoid taunts on Facebook about the Mustang meme*.
* Would have really been neat to meet a dinosaur but the Mustang was introduced before my birth.
Except the first vehicle assigned wasn't just a Chevrolet Camaro Convertible. It was a 455 HP V8 SS model that roared the moment the "start" button was pressed. Sadly, I had to have a few talks with the front-desk counter staff about this vehicle, as it had pretty substantial damage that was listed as a "Dent < 0.5 inches". I was uncomfortable taking out a car that likely had over $1,000 in damage listed as a relatively minor "dent" but neither the front-desk staff nor parking lot attendants were able to revise the paperwork. Besides, the 455 HP SS also priced right at the border of my personal insurance coverage ($50,000 MSRP) -- there were all kinds of potential for headaches ... Instead, I left with "just" a 275 HP RS Chevrolet Camaro convertible with nine listed damage items.
This was a "Dent < 0.5 inches" in Sixt land.
Not too much damage on the car I took ...
Sadly, I forgot to queue up Fat Pat's "Tops Drop" on my media player.
Hitting the Highway
Leaving the airport, one quickly realizes that convertible tops tend to be down at two places near Fort Lauderdale:
- At the beach, or
- Near the airport
Immediately marking myself as a tourist, I kept the top down for all of my driving -- more than 200 miles -- even during rush hour traffic and a few light showers. The mid-March weather was in the 70s for the days I had this vehicle. Cruising in a convertible uses all the senses except taste (well, at least we hope not taste) for the driver. Modern cars are designed to suppress road noise, while a convertible obviously cannot. There's the consistent slight buffeting by air; not enough to take off a ballcap but enough to remind the driver of being in a convertible. The smell of the air is better outside of rush hour and best right after a South Florida rain shower. And there are vastly different visual cues -- a quickly apparent fact in the construction zone named Florida is that the orange traffic barrels rapidly breeze by at head level.
I've held my motorcyclist license for more than a decade. For more than a decade, I've caught grief from my friends (where medical, law enforcement, and military are overrepresented) about the "dangers or motorcycles". A sports convertible has many of the interactive characteristics of riding a motorcycle, without the complaints from friends and family. That's always a win.
How Functional is the Car?
The car runs and is fun to drive. It has effectively no other utility. A driver could bring along an adult passenger plus an infant in a car seat behind the passenger or an adult who wouldn't get motion sickness from sitting sideways in the back seat. We'll express the seating capacity mathematically as:
2 ≤ Seating Capacity ≤ 3.
In most vehicles, the seating capacity is closely aligned with the number of seat belts. That would be a horrendous mistake to make in the Camaro, as the front seat touched the rear seat after my adjustments to drive the vehicle. And life didn't seem like a picnic for someone seated behind the front-seat passenger, either.
Got luggage? Well, that's too bad. The trunk holds one standard size (22") airline rollaboard. Not a rollaboard and a laptop. The laptop has to go in the back seat, as the trunk can't be overstuffed due to the convertible mechanism.
Some folks have described certain controls in the vehicle as "difficult to use". This vehicle is the first where I would recommend "get out of the car". Trying to plug in the USB charger for the cell phone in the impossibly shaped center "console"? Get out of the car if you want to preserve your rotator cuff. Drop a phone between the seats?* Get out of the car.
* I only did this once.
One exceptionally useful (but rare) feature in a sports car? The steering column adjusts high enough -- above the level of the dashboard -- for even an exceptionally tall driver to accurately read all the instruments.
How to Look Cool (and Prevent Looking Uncool)
The convertible mechanism is push-button. Simply start the car, hold the button, and stay out of the way. The car will roll down the windows and go through the entire sequence of folding the top. However, closing the convertible requires three steps. The first is pressing the button until the roof latches. Then, the user has to raise two different sets of windows, the main windows as well as the smaller "rear" windows. These are both operated by the driver but require switching a control on the door; these windows can't be raised simultaneously. It's entirely too easy to start walking from the car* to the hotel and realize the "back windows" are still down. GM's engineers should probably consider why a process that requires a single user step requires three user steps to undo.
* I only did this once.
The V6 engine is fairly capable at getting up to highway speeds and reverts to 4 cylinders when acceleration is not needed. Pulling just 1500 RPM at highway speeds, the vehicle has a ton of acceleration left from highway speeds (60-75 mph). However, there's a bit of a secret about this sports convertible.
Give me a V6 Impala (my default rental through National's Executive Aisle) and I would have dusted the Camaro on 0-60 mph acceleration; there's a reason it's the Impala that's modified for police duty.
Yet intentionally driving a vehicle other than the traditional Chevy Impala and Nissan Altima (the "official" vehicles of the AutoSlash team) is really about the joy of driving. The rear-wheel-drive Camaro can do many activities a front-wheel-drive Impala or Altima cannot. Similarly, a front-wheel-drive Impala or Altima can do many activities a rear-wheel-drive Camaro cannot. I'm accustomed to switching between the two types as a driver. I shy away from the Altimas because there's a feeling of "understeer" at times. A rear-wheel-drive vehicle is an exact opposite, with the Mustang meme being an example of oversteer (and poor throttle control). So of course, I put the Camaro through a worst-case scenario for oversteer.
About a mile southwest of (undisclosed city), I found an area that was prepared for development that had not yet come. There were a series of traffic circles—but no businesses, schools, home, police, and with clear visibility throughout. I spent some time legally driving traffic circles at the posted (white) speed limit, not the advisory (yellow) speed limit*. My trainer at a Jaguar event once made the statement "lightly squealing tires are happy tires". Indeed.
Do Not Do This Anywhere: My law enforcement friends tell me that while it was technically legal, donuts around traffic circles would result in a "What ya' doing?" stop.
* I did this way more than once.
As the drives were in South Florida, intermittent showers were to be expected (and did arrive). However, the car was capable in those showers and the aerodynamics were effective in redirecting rain. During one fairly substantial rain event, I was able to look up and quickly decide "I'm going to outrun this with the top down". The airflow at highway speeds required windshield wipers for a few minutes but the interior of the car (including me) stayed dry the whole time.
Thinking of getting a little too sporty? Just remember that the Camaro convertible has a bulky A-post but no B-post or C-post.
We were impressed with the variety of vehicles Sixt had on the lot -- these varied greatly from the array one would see at the average Hertz or National site. The Platinum Sixt status did indeed provide an upgrade from the reserved vehicle; with an Intermediate car, I likely would have received a "double upgrade" while from an Intermediate convertible, there really was only a single upgrade level available. The Chevrolet Camaro convertible is the type of car a couple (as in "two people") rents while on a tropical or sub-tropical vacation, provided that couple has three or fewer total pieces of luggage. Yet there's a lot of joy to be derived from an otherwise horrendously impractical car!
Ready to try your own luck with a Camaro convertible (or similar)? Request a quote now.