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Ginger or Mary Ann? Paper or plastic? Hillary or Trump?

Life is full of vexing, self-defining choices. Here at The Detroit News, we take on the hard auto choices every year at the Woodward Dream Cruise, America’s greatest rolling car show. We schedule the coolest cars in the press fleet and put them through the ringer: Hours of grueling Woodward cruising, rubber-smoking stoplight burnouts, and constant Sirius/XM radio tuning. It’s a tough job but somebody has to do it.

In years past we have addressed great existential questions like: Stingray or Hellcat? Mustang or Camaro? V-8 or inline-4? This year your intrepid auto critic took on the burning issue: Convertible or coupe?

I was well equipped with cutting edge examples of both breeds: The soft-top 2017 Fiat 124 Spider and the fastback, 50th anniversary 2017 Chevy Camaro SS.

The Fiat is everyone’s favorite Italian roadster. Nicknamed the Fiata because it is the dizygotic twin of the Mazda Miata, the 124 comes in convertible trim only. The Camaro SS, by contrast, is a coupe fortress, its windows narrower than a Normandy pillbox (and with more firepower under the hood, too).

I last rowed the delightful Fiata over California mountain roads. Despite sharing everything but its skin and engine with the Mazda, Fiat has done a good job of separating the two brands. With retro-styling that updates the 124’s ’60s look for a new century, the Spider fits right into a Cruise culture that treasures nostalgic designs like Mustang, Challenger, and Camaro.

The 124’s turbo four-banger is not as lively as the Miata’s 2.0-liter naturally-aspirated mill, but Woodward party accentuates the Fiat’s greatest virtues: Italian styling and topless cabin. Fiat is the tightest fit for my 6’5” frame of any auto. With ragtop in place, my head is stuffed into the roof, my knees one with the dashboard, and I have to dislocate my shoulder to operate the rotary screen-controller knob.

But with the top down, the tiny Fiat is a delightful fishbowl with a 360-degree view of Woodward. Inching along in the Friday evening Cruise jam, I chatted with cars on the right and left of me while routinely taking smartphone “selfie” shots of cars streaming for miles behind me. Best of all, the Fiata soft top is a cinch to take up or down without ever leaving the driver’s seat. When a pattering of rain drops came Saturday afternoon, I simply popped the latch, reached back and pulled the cloth top over me as simply as I would yank on a blanket on a cold summer’s night.

In the Camaro, you’re lucky to see in front of you.

From the outside, the 2017 car is a knockout. Sculpted with muscular flanks and squashed greenhouse, Camaro might pass for a front-engine Lamborghini but for the bowtie Chevy logo on the grille. But inside, the angled windshield is so shallow that I had to lean forward just to watch stoplights change. The surrounding view? Fuhgettaboutit. The only way you know the guy in the tiny Fiat is at your elbow is the blind-spot monitor flashing in your rear-view mirror.

The Fiata is for extroverts. If you want to show off your hot girl-/boyfriend, get the 124 — no one will see ’em in Camaro Cave.

Chevy’s coupe is for a different kind of display: horsepower. With 455 horsepower on tap from the same small-block V-8 found under the hood of cousin Corvette, the SS is a master at the Woodward burnout. I tried a burnout with the 124 Spider’s 160 horsepower turbo-four and the tire squeak was louder than the engine. Spectators thought someone had stepped on a mouse.

Cruising up Woodward on Thursday morning in Camaro’s 50th Anniversary Parade, I was followed by Kansan Logan Lawson — owner of the first Camaro ever made — attending his first Dream Cruise.

Got to roll out the burnt-rubber welcome mat for these Kansans.

Each stop signal on Woodward became a routine. Green light. Spike the revs to three-grand. Pop the clutch. Fill Logan’s cabin with tire smoke. With its 455-pound feet of torque and a limited-slip differential, the Camaro makes burnouts easy — and safe.

Which reminds me of another advantage of coupes — when the air gets too thick with tire smoke and carbon monoxide, you can always roll up the windows and marinate in cool air conditioning. With 4G LTE WiFi and Android Auto connectivity, the Camaro is an easy refuge.

Of course, readers looking for the perfect mix of topless roadster sociability and tire-smoking coupe macho may have already figured out the solution: The Camaro SS convertible. Happy cruisin’.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.

2017 Fiat 124 Spider

Specifications

  
  
  
  

Vehicle type

Front-engine, rear-wheel drive,

two-passenger sports car

Power plant

1.4-liter, turbocharged inline 4-cylinder

Transmission

Six-speed manual (as tested)

Weight

2,428 pounds

Price

$25,990 ($27,285 as tested)

Power

160 horsepower, 184 pound-feet torque

Performance

0-60 mph, 6.8 seconds (manufacturer);

top speed: 136 mph

Fuel economy

EPA 26 mpg city/35 mpg highway/30 mpg combined (manual)

report card

  

Highs

Hassle-free drop top; Classic retro looks for Dream Cruise

Lows

Tight interior quarters for six-footers; Turbo lag

Overall:★★★★

Grading scale: Excellent ★★★★ Good ★★★Fair ★★Poor ★

2017 Chevy Camaro SS Coupe

Specifications

  
  
  
  

Vehicle type

Rear-engine, rear-wheel drive,

four-passenger sports coupe

Power plant

6.2-liter push-rod V-8

Transmission

Six-speed manual (as tested)

Weight

3,685 pounds (SS as tested)

Price

$44,695 (50th anniversary editon base price, as tested)

Power

455 horsepower, 455 pound-feet torque

(6.2-liter V-8 as tested)

Performance

0-60 mph, 3.9 seconds (Car and Driver);

top speed: 155 mph

Fuel economy

EPA 16 mpg city/25 mpg highway/19 mpg combined

report card

  

Highs

Cool console ergonomics; Woodward burnout addict

Lows

The visibility of a Normandy pillbox; gotta take your legs off to fit in backseat

Overall:★★★★

Grading scale: Excellent ★★★★ Good ★★★Fair ★★Poor ★

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