2012 Camaro V-6 convertible road test: The easy rider is a lot of fun, too

2012 Chevrolet Camaro convertible

2012 Chevrolet Camaro convertible

Despite the impression given by an option that includes glaring Inferno Orange stripes along the hood and trunk, the 2012 Camaro 2LT convertible is actually the kinder, gentler version of Chevrolet’s retro/modern muscle car.

Instead of a burly V-8 engine and manual transmission essentially pilfered from the Corvette parts bin, this handsome soft-top features a newly massaged V-6 engine and a six-speed automatic transmission with steering-wheel mounted paddle shifters.

The emphasis is clearly different — no smoky burnouts, no leader of the pack at the track — but there’s a lot to like about the less edgy ragtop that should appeal particularly to folks who are satisfied with simply having a great-looking car for top-down cruising in warm weather.

In fact, for those who reside in traffic-clogged, warm-weather regions such as southern Florida and southern California, the V-6/automatic-shifter combination probably makes the most sense most of the time.

But, before I start giving a wrong impression, it should be made clear that the V-6 is no slouch, either.

For 2012, the 3.6-liter, direct-injection engine delivers 323 horsepower and 278 pound-feet of torque, good enough for a 0-60 mph run of, maybe, 6.5 seconds.

Hold on, you might be thinking right now, the 2012 engine has only 11 more horsepower than the 2011 model and its EPA fuel economy ratings are basically unchanged at 18 mpg city/29 mpg highway.

True enough, but there is added refinement in the revised engine, with changes to everything from cylinder heads, to fuel injectors, to intake camshafts,

Suffice it to say that the V-6 is smooth, quick and, best of all for Camaro lovers, now 18 horsepower stronger than its chief competitor, the V-6 Ford Mustang. However, it must also be acknowledged that the two cars are nearly equal in overall performance.

The six-speed automatic transmission is also smooth, adding to the Camaro’s overall relaxed demeanor.

But, don’t let the paddle shifters fool you.

Yes, they allow the driver to move from gear to gear pretty much at will, but the transitions aren’t particularly quick and the transmission will override the driver’s commands if it rules that the desired gear is not appropriate.

In addition, it doesn’t offer the rev-matching downshifts that contribute greatly to a sporty feel in automatic-transmission cars. My advice, for what it’s worth: Just put the gearshift lever in “drive” and let the car make all the shifting decisions.

For those who really do want to wring out the car’s performance potential, a better option would be the six-speed manual transmission. That’s probably the way I would go.