Versus the competiton:
The 1995 Camaro Z28 convertible is a civilized hot rod.
The car is fast but also smooth and comfortable. It’s loud and sometimes raucous, but also agile and easy to drive.
Chevy has made numerous improvements in the Camaro this year. The convertible I recently tested for a week started easier and ran better than a Z28 hardtop I drove a couple of summers ago.
If you’re looking for a convertible with V-8 power and you don’t want to spend more than $28,000, the choices are rather slim. There’s the mechanically similar Pontiac Firebird and the Ford Mustang.
Both GM products offer more horsepower and better performance than the Mustang.
Chevy engineers have eliminated much of the ground-shaking rumble from the Camaro’s 275-horsepower V-8 engine.
When the latest generation of the Camaro debuted two years ago, the 5.7-liter (350 cubic inch) pushrod V-8 shook the car almost violently at idle.
The 1995 model feels a bit more tame, not just at idle but at all speeds. Performance does not appear to have been affected. The Z28 still lights up its rear tires when you push the accelerator deep into the carpet, and what a joyous experience that is.
A lower-horsepower version of the Corvette engine lies underneath the Camaro’s pointed beak, so power and performance are abundant. In a recent test, Motor Trend magazine clocked a Z28 convertible at an impressive 6.2 seconds from 0 to 60 mph.
I like the way the Z28 sounds when it starts. The engine crackles and rumbles, then settles into a smooth idle. Next you hear a deep burble from the fat dual exhaust pipes poking out under the rear bumper.
Our test car came with a computer-controlled four-speed automatic transmission, a $750 option. A six-speed manual gearbox is standard. I’ve driven the Z28 with the stick shift, and even though I usually prefer the manual transmission in muscle cars, I would be very tempted to buy this car with the automatic.
The shifts are crisp and strong under hard acceleration, and timed to extract the optimum performance from the engine. Not only that, but the Z28 is an easy car to drive in heavy traffic. As I recall, the Z28 with a manual gearbox has a stiff clutch, and that can make driving in heavy traffic tiresome and tedious.
With 275 horsepower under your right foot, passing slower traffic can be nothing more than a reflex action. The Z28 has enormous power between 40 mph and 65 mph – especially with the transmission in third gear.
Despite the fact that I drove with a somewhat heavy foot, our test car returned 18 miles per gallon in city driving and 26 mpg on the highway.
Although the Z28 does not have as much handling finesse as several other high-horsepower, rear-wheel-drive sports cars such as the Toyota Supra and Nissan 300ZX, it is an enjoyable car to drive once you learn its nuances.
For one thing, you have to take it easy on wet pave ment because the Z28’s rear wheels have a tendency to spin when you first begin to move from a stop. The car is so responsive from a stop that just a light touch of the accelerator is enough to make the wheels spin on wet pavement.
Traction control is optional, but our test car didn’t have it. I would recommend this safety feature, especially if you are not used to driving a car with so much power.
Also, the Z28’s power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering seemed heavy and dull compared with other sports cars I’ve driven, and the 40-foot turning radius makes even the widest U-turns a challenge.
However, the Z28 is quiet over the road, and the suspension system – short and long arms and struts up front and a solid axle in the rear – allows it to devour most bumps without rattling your fillings loose.
The Z28 doesn’t set the standard in cornering, but it is a very competent performer. And it will go where you point it without much fuss.
The body stays straighta d firm when you drive aggressively – and that might be quite often. I discovered that just being behind the wheel of the Z28 is an open invitation to drivers of Mustangs and other muscle cars to try and race you from stoplight to stoplight.
Chevy engineers have outfitted the Z28 with a responsive and strong four-wheel anti-lock disc brake system. The brakes bite hard and bring the 3,480-pound convertible to a quick stop in an emergency. The anti-lock system kicks in at just the right time, and there isn’t much pulsing at the brake pedal.
I think the Camaro could be a better-handling car if Chevy engineers could find a way to shave some pounds off its nicely sculpted body and tighten the turning radius. Despite its impressive performance, the Z28 feels like a heavy car. It doesn’t have a light, airy sports-car feel like a Mazda RX-7.
FIT AND FINISH
In the past two years, I have heard mixed reports about the quality of the Camaro. There’s no question that the 1995 model is better than the three previous generations of Camaros, but is the current model assembled well enough to be compared with Toyota, Nissan and other industry leaders?
I heard an occasional clunk coming from the axle of our test car. And this, apparently is not unusual for the Camaro.
I’ve heard from sources within General Motors that the tooling used to make the Camaro’s rear axle is so worn that it is difficult to produce high quality parts.
That said, our test car exhibited no other flaws that I could determine. Indeed, Chevy engineers are to be commended for building an airtight, watertight convertible – no easy feat.
When you drive down the highway at 65 mph with the top and windows up, the Z28 convertible doesn’t let in any more road noise than a hardtop. Not one drop of water leaked inside the car during a drenching rain. Also, the top has a thickly padded inside headliner that gives it a high-quality, luxurious look.
I also liked the analog gauges, which featured a 150-mph speedometer. The gauges, featuring gray numbers on a black background with orange needles, are attractive and easy to read.
Our test car came loaded. A $4,021 option package included air conditioning, cruise control, remote trunk release, fog lamps, power leather seats, power windows and remote control door locks, a powerful AM/FM CD player and much more.
Those leather seats, by the way, gave the interior a warm and inviting appearance. The seats provided excellent support and were very comfortable for long periods behind the wheel. I logged nearly 500 miles in a week’s time.
The rear seat is not very user-friendly. In fact, it just may be suitable only for small children. Average sized adults are going to find a severe shortage of leg and foot room.
To lower the power convertible top, all you do is unlatch the top’s frame from the top of the windshield header and a press a button on the center co nsole.
The top glides down silently and quickly and folds neatly all the way down behind the seats.
The steeply raked windshield routes air over the interior, so at highway speeds the Z28 is remarkably quiet. You don’t hear much wind buffeting the interior.
Surprisingly, rear vision is good with the top up, even though the top has a rather small rear window. And the trunk, though not wide, is deep enough for three bags of groceries.
All in all, the Z28 just may be the next best thing to a Corvette.
Truett’s tip: Chevy’s Camaro Z28, when fully loaded, is fast, luxurious and an easy-to-drive muscle car that delivers an enormous bang for the buck.