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Relax, all you Camaro lovers. The new model is OK

Published May 25, 2012

If this was a review of the new Chevrolet Camaro convertible, you’d read here about its horsepower claims, its quality of finish and the terrible blind spots endured by its driver when the top is up.

There’d be a price and performance comparison to the Ford Mustang, which is its direct competitor, and maybe a passing reference to the BMW 3-Series, which is sort-of similar but not really.

But this isn’t a review. It’s a column for the converted, a reassurance for all those people who have already put down deposits on the 800 Camaros that come off the line every day at Oshawa to say that when their car is ready, everything’s going to be okay. They’re not going to be let down.

After all, once you’ve decided to buy a car that’s more than just an appliance, there’s a period of waiting and anticipation that is always a concern. If you’ve ordered it from the factory instead of just driven off in something from the dealer’s lot, then it builds and builds in your mind until there’s only one question to be answered: Will it deliver, or will it disappoint?

Review: Steve Bond drives the 2012 Camaro SS Convertible

In the olden days, buying a car from General Motors was always a bit of a crapshoot. Would it have been built at a shift change, so you could lose a finger in the gaps between its plastic? Would a wheel fall off driving out of the lot? Would the seat stitching come unraveled in the first week?

Would it be louder than you remembered, out on the road? Would it be quieter than you recalled when you step on the gas? Would it be quite as quick as you thought, or stop anywhere near so short?

That was the olden days. Not anymore. The Oshawa assembly plant is recognized by JD Power as one of the best in North America for quality and efficiency, and modern Camaro drivers seem pretty happy on their many online forums.

I had pre-delivery anxiety in the past few weeks waiting for a new Camaro convertible, except that the last time I drove a Camaro was three years ago and it was a six-cylinder hardtop. I went out with some enthusiasts who declared it a nice car, but worth waiting for the V8.

This year, I needed a car to drive for three months for a book-writing project, and there really wasn’t any other choice. I’ll be travelling the length of the Trans-Canada Highway on its 50th anniversary this summer and I wanted a vehicle that’s built in Canada and reminiscent of the cars of the 1960s.

It would be nice if it could be convertible, to make the most of driving through the Prairies and the mountains, and it would be best as a stick shift, so that it won’t just coast across the country. Performance isn’t a big deal, especially since I’m paying for my own gas, so the smaller engine will be just fine.

On the Camaro, the smaller engine is a V6 that makes 323 hp, which is more than enough for everyday driving. But I remembered the sighing of those enthusiasts, and I listened to the wind howling past the long-perished window rubber of my Chevy Cavalier, and I wondered if the glossy brochure wasn’t promising something that GM couldn’t possibly deliver.

But now, three weeks after going to Oshawa to see the rally-yellow Camaro come off the line, and one week after being given its key by GM of Canada president Kevin Williams, I’m as pumped as I can be about this Camaro. With a price of $44,000 after adding 20-inch wheels and a go-faster stripe, its finish is exemplary, its performance is fine, and it keeps surprising me with little touches.

The tonneau cover slips quick and snug over the lowered roof, making it as flat at the back as any Audi. It comes with a useful Heads-Up Display on the windscreen that keeps the driver’s eyes on the road. The radio is easy to tune and adjust, and sounds terrific. The steering wheel is reassuringly solid. Everything falls to hand just where you would expect it to be.

As for road manners, I took it directly to the track at Mosport for a few laps with the Apex Driver Training school, where it held its own comfortably and even blew a pootling Corvette into the weeds.

The next three months and 25,000 kilometres will be interesting, though. The Camaro’s passed the one-week trial — now comes the real test.

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