It's the 45th year of Camaro, an icon from the day it was born as a 1967 model. To commemorate, there's a 2012 Camaro SS 45th Anniversary edition with a powerful V8. The standard V6 has been upgraded for 2012, and a new ZL1 is available.
Camaro convertibles are equipped like the coupes but feature a soft top fitted with acoustical foam in the headliner to minimize noise with the top up. This latest-generation Camaro was designed from the outset to include convertible models, and reinforcements were added in four key areas to increase rigidity.
2012 Camaro LS and Camaro LT models come with a 3.6-liter V6 engine that's been revamped with many improvements. For 2012, there's a new cylinder head design with integrated exhaust manifolds, improved intake ports, larger intake valves, longer-duration camshafts, a composite intake manifold, new fuel pump, optimized-flow fuel injectors, cylinder block enhancements, stronger and lighter connecting rods, and finally a cleaned up camshaft cap and throttle body. This new engine makes 323 horsepower, 11 more than before, and it weighs 20.5 pounds less.
The revised V6 delivers better fuel mileage for the 2012 Camaro LS; the 2LS model, which uses a tall 2.92 rear axle ratio, gets an EPA-estimated 19/30 miles per gallon City/Highway. In terms of power, the V6 can pretty much pass for a V8, a bonus for the price. The V6 on 2012 models revs to 7200 rpm, which is 200 rpm sweeter than before. The V6 offers a choice between 6-speed manual transmission and 6-speed automatic (with semi-manual shifting).
Camaro SS uses the 6.2-liter Corvette V8, making 400 horsepower with a 6-speed automatic or 426 horsepower with a Tremec 6-speed manual gearbox (same as Corvette). The SS uses firmer shocks, springs and anti-roll bars than the V6 models, but the ride doesn't suffer for it. A limited-slip rear differential is included to reduce wheel spin when trying to put all that power down. With the optional 6-speed TAPshift manual automatic transmission, the SS uses a slightly different 6.2-liter V8, with Active Fuel Management. It makes only 400 horsepower and 410 pound-feet of torque.
The 2012 Camaro SS 45th Anniversary edition comes in black (Carbon Flash Metallic), with retro reddish-orange stripes on the bulging hood and deck, new 20-inch painted aluminum wheels, and special interior trim with 45th anniversary badging.
Stealing the headlines is the uber high-performance 2012 Camaro ZL1, making 580 horsepower by adding a supercharger to its 6.2-liter V8. It can accelerate from zero to 60 in 3.0 seconds and hit 184 mph, according to Chevrolet. While testing at the Nurburgring, the Camaro ZL1 set a lap record, beating the Porsche 911 GT3. At $55k the ZL1 is cheap, given its level of performance. GM is proving something to the likes of Porsche, Audi, BMW, Mercedes, and Maserati.
We found the handling, ride and brakes to be excellent in both the Camaro LT with the V6 and the Camaro SS with the big V8, although the SS suspension is stiffer and its 20-inch tires are firmer. The chassis structure is rigid, helping make turn-in precise for a car this size; grip is secure, and damping is solid and supple. We never encountered a harsh moment with the ride, in either model, during a full day of hard driving east of San Diego in both of them, and later a full week in the Pacific Northwest with a 426 horsepower Camaro SS with the 6-speed. We found the handling balance of the Camaro SS excellent.
As for the brakes, the Camaro LT stops superbly. The Camaro SS uses four-piston Brembo brakes, but because it's 200 pounds heavier, the stopping distance isn't much shorter. However, the Brembos with four-piston calipers make the brakes on the SS more resistant to fade, important on race tracks and mountain roads where the brakes are being used repeatedly.
The automatic transmission does what you tell it to do when using the TAPshift manual feature, nothing more. We love that. But the 6-speed manual transmission with the V6 is the most all-around usable sporty combination. We like the manual with the V6 because 426 horsepower is overkill on the street. The gearbox is solid but not quite slick, and the throws are shorter than some. The 6-speed shifts nicely, including easily down into first gear for hairpin turns.
Inside, the cabin is quiet, so 80 mph feels more like 70. Interior materials are good, but the instrumentation is disappointing, with GM still trying to be retro rather than clean with gauges. The bucket seats are comfortable, with decent bolstering. The front seat slides 8.5 inches and the steering wheel tilts and telescopes, so drivers of all sizes will fit, most notably Camaro's many female buyers. The standard cloth upholstery is good, with excellent leather available in black, gray, beige, and two-tone Inferno Orange. The windows are small, with high doorsills for safety, and the A-pillars wide, so it makes the cockpit feel a bit like a cave. Visibility through the windshield is compromised by the long hood and raked windshield, although careful location of the driver's seat helps. Rear visibility over the driver's shoulder isn't very good, but then it's impossible to make it good with a roofline this sporty. Rear seat legroom measures a meager 29.9 inches, so you'll want to avoid sitting back there.