"Drive...He Said" 2012 Wind-In-Your-Hair Summer Wind-Down - Convertible Sport Car Comparison

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As the summer season of 2012 draws to a close, we here at “Drive…He Said” can’t think of a better time to drop the tops of a few convertibles. We can’t think of a better way to enjoy the cool autumn breezes wafting through our manes [for those that have ’em]. Oh, and don’t forget to flip on the seat warmers.


Burnt Orange Flame in the Wind:

The “heartbeat” of the 2012 Chevrolet Camaro SS convertible comes from a small-block overhead valve LS3 6.2-liter V8 with enough American exhaust rumble to tickle your butt. This is a “pony car” that has a corral full. As in 426 horsepower. All bolted to a Tremec 6-speed manual transmission. As if to remind that this is a “muscle” car, rowing that odd-covered shifter in the Camaro SS requires some strength. With 420 lb-feet of torque you won’t have to shift often, though. Tires are some real steamrollers. Front to rear there are 245/45, 275/40 Pirelli P-Zero summer rubber on massive 20″-inch alloys protrude well outside the tire sidewall.  Can you say, “Hello, curb rash?” Sticky as those summer Pirelli’s are, they just so happen to be on the noise -free side.  The independent front strut / rear multi-link suspension, with mucho suspension travel, is liveable on the worst of public  roads. Powering out of a turn, and still expecting axle hop? You’ll need a live axle Mustang. Rarely does the brute force of the Camaro SS get ahead of the driver. Steering boost is more than we’re accustomed to at speed. The Camaro’s 4000-pounds generate some lean. However, understeer is so minimal that the tail can easily be whipped into line. Before laying fully into the Brembo binders it’s a good idea to make sure everyone and everything in the cabin is tied down or stowed. The Camaro SS  feels securely put together. Doors close with a solid thud. But for an as tested price $42,995 there is a fair amount of body quiver. Reflection prone driver’s instrumentation is set in some cheezy-looking bezels. Center console buttons have a plasticky appearance. After what seems an eon that it takes to secure the flimsy tonneau cover over the folded fabric roof, watch and hear how it flaps crazily in the wind. If you absolutely have to get into the Camaro SS back seat, top-down,  nothing will look “cooler” than jumping the rear quarter panel.

Time to: Retract Roof15 sec.    Roof Integration: C     Storage SpaceB

Price As Tested: $42,995             Combined Fuel Economy: 16 mpg


A Ninja Making Atmospheric Re-Entry:

Nissan’s 2012 Z Roadster Touring wields a Samurai Katana sword. Gauges in traditional round analog pods, the digital clock and LED fuel indicator excepted, provide all the information that a driver requires with but a quick glance. The entire  instrument binnacle tilts and telescopes which is a good thing because the one of the better bolstered driver’s seats this side of a Sparco plants driver  just inches above terra firma. Extensive use of aluminum yields a Z-car cabrio that is 400-pounds down on the Camaro, despite the hard tonneau cover featuring an array of powered hydraulic lifts. And you can feel the weight difference. The Z-Roadster’s vaunted 332 horses-strong 3.7-liter DOHC V6 with variable valve timing and lift counters American V8 lion rumble with Japanese cheetah like growl. This over-square motor needs to be spun above 3000 rpm to develop much of the 270 lb-feet of torque. That necessitates lots of shifting of  the Z-car’s ultra-short throw 6-speed gearbox with Synchro-Rev rev-matching. Long travel clutch which can be rewarding on the track becomes tiring on the street. Be prepared for some horn-honking as the 370Z is guaranteed to stall in urban stop-and-go. The independent suspension with front upper wishbone and lower locating links is set-up with plenty of negative camber to keep the F/R 245/45, 275/35 Bridegtone Potenza RE-050As on forged Rays 19″ spider-spoked alloys planted. And planted the Z-car remains until 9/10ths, where there is slight oversteer. The multi-piston Akebono big brakes with [optional] track pads develop such a fierce cold bite. As premium as the Alcantra trim and other bits are, they can’t remedy the  cabin noise and vibration in the 370Z. Despite a nicely insulated soft-top, there is always a din present in the cabin. You are constantly aware of exhaust volume, a driveline whose vibration can be seen in the shifter, and some real tire roar. Just think of the Nissan Z Roadster Touring as “a $45,000 4-wheel version of the Japanese “crotch rocket” motorcycle.

Time to: Retract Roof15 sec.   Roof Integration: B    Storage SpaceC

Price As Tested: $47,270            Combined Fuel Economy: 18 mpg


The Suit Makes the Man [and the Woman]:

The 2012 Lexus IS250C is priced about as affordably as an off-the-rack Armani suit. Not so coincidentally the Lexus feels just as well tailored. Slip into the luxury “2+2” roadster and you are treated to an interior whose semi-aniline hides must have been sourced from steer bathed in milk. Gauges, screens, dials, and switchgear have a jewel-like tactile feel and precision which you would expect from a fabled Geneva watchmaker. Not so the front seat integrated seat belt guides. If you were to be issued a second birthday suit, the Lexus cabin would be it.  Even if the posterior of the IS250C, with top retracted, seems positively rotund. This solid ingot of top-down motoring, is utterly isolated from what lies beneath. Occupants will barely notice as they pass by the outside world. Only once the driver steps into the throttle does a muted growl bellow forth from the 2.5L V6. For maximum ease in advancing the tachometer, may we suggest the machined magnesium paddle shifters. Linked to a seven-speed manu-matic slushbox, shifts occur with immediacy.  Lacking an “F”-version (to be remedied in 2013), steering in the IS250C belongs to the Lexus of old, over-boosted, slow and slightly numb. Not that the all-season F/R 225/45-17, 245/45-17  Brigdestone Potenza RE92 rubber, selected for touring, could possibly help. The sophisticated independent suspension, with double wishbones in the front, succeeds at absorbing most impacts with aplomb, while the severest generate a mild slam. The 3800-pound IS250 cabrio manifests a fair amount of body roll when pushed. Even if this is called a “four seater” the back seat in the IS250C is clearly meant as a supplement for a mole-sized 2.5 cubic foot trunk with top folded. Few other machines, though, offer such a masterfully choreographed ballet of gears, lifts and sliding aluminum / glass roof panels as does the Lexus IS250C.

Time to: Retract Roof15 sec.     Roof Integration: A     Storage SpaceD

Price As Tested: $46,087              Combined Fuel Economy: 20 mpg


The “Mother” of all Roadsters is Good for Pushups:

Nearing the end of its third generation the 2012 Mazda Miata MX-5 Touring is still the “Mother” of two-seat roadsters. We might agree with echoes from the gallery that “it’s the perfect ladies’ tourer,” if the ladies we are referring to include Danica Patrick and Lynn St. James. About the silkiest 6-speed manual transmission out there is just at home being man-handled on the track or finessed on the street. The twin-cam inline-4 mill displaces but 1.8-liters or just one-third  that of the Camaro SS. Saddled with one-third less weight than the Camaro, the 167 horses-strong Miata never feels winded while winding out to the 7500 rpm limit. A short-take up clutch pedal and short final drive places most of the 140 lb-ft of twist within single gear away. Coil over Bilstein mono-tube sport dampers keep the 205/45-17 Bridgestone Potenza RE050 rubber pasted to the pavement without imparting much energy to the chassis. Steering effort that is light enough for a neighborhood cruise is capable of precise response to inputs. Single piston calipers clamp down on brake rotors at each corner which aren’t the hugest; still they are well up to the task of halting the low mass Miata, whether lap after lap or traffic light after traffic light.  With a scant  4.7″ of ground clearance occupants will be doing one-arm push-ups on the high door sills. In the Miata, seat, steering wheel, pedals and shifter can be aligned in perfect geometric form.  The only concession to traditional analog dials with mechanical needles is the dim LCD display for the dim-sounding Bose audio system which cannot overcome road noise. A folding hardtop, covering but two, stows neatly in its own compartment, without intruding  into the trunk. Truly, the Mazda Miata hearkens back to a time when corniches were defined by Alfa Romeo Spiders and Triumph Spitfires.

Time to: Retract Roof15 sec.    Roof Integration: A     Storage SpaceC

Price As Tested: $31,720             Combined Fuel Economy: 26 mpg


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