Damned are the days I used to say US cars were not good. Truth be told, I had my reasons. They gave me nothing to praise for a long time.
Dynamically speaking, aside from titanic amounts of torque and horsepower, they had not much else to offer. Internally, they were cheap.
With the 2008 crisis, US automotive industry was forced to manufacture better cars. Smaller and more efficient engines. New gearboxes. Consumers would not tolerate any attempt to give classic names to mediocre cars.
General Motors decided to resurrect the Camaro in great fashion. Retro look, possibly the best one alongside the Stang. Needless to say that the car was a huge success, in part due to its participation in the Transformers movie.
Although the Camaro SS V8 is a horsepower bargain for the price, the cream of the crop of the current Camaro line up are the Z28 and the ZL1. I am yet to experience the Z28, however, I have spent five days with a convertible ZL1 in the my latest trip to the US.
The ZL1 was launched on 2012. Its only purpose was to be the most powerful and torquiest Camaro ever. The LSA engine derived from the C6 Corvette ZR1 – a V8 coupled with a supercharger. The results: 580 Hp at 6000 rpms and 75 NM of torque at 4200 rpms. The engine itself is not much a stretcher, redlining at 6100 rpms.
You can either choose a manual or automatic, both with 6 gears. GM says the original manual gearbox can manage up to 900 Hp, meaning the company acknowledges certain owners have second intentions tuning up the car. If you think that they have neglected those who went for the auto, you are wrong. It is an all new auto gearbox compared to the one found in the ordinary versions and can also handle a little bit more than the OEM spec (not as much as the manual gearbox though).
Your Camaro ZL1 can be had as a convertible or coupé. ZL1’s kerb weight is between 1.8 (coupé with manual gearbox) and 2 tons (convertible with auto).
GM claims that the coupe version can go from 0 to 62 mph in 4.2 seconds and hit a top speed of 185 mph. Expect worse figures for the convertible.
INSIDE THE CAMARO ZL1
The great advantage of the convertible version is that the claustrophobic feeling you get from the hardtop is absent. Inside, everything looks rather similar to the ordinary version, except for the details. Alcantara throughout the cabin. Better finish and materials. In this aspect, the ZL1 feels more special and better built than the 2011 Shelby Mustang GT500, its main rival.
Driving position is low. It is very hard to see where the car begins and ends. With the roof folded, life is much easier. The steering wheel can be adjusted in high and depth. Easy to find the perfect spot.
Onboard amenities and gadgets offer everything you would expect from a modern car – bluetooth, GPS, satellite radio, rear view camera. All very complete and simple to use.
DRIVING THE ZL1
A very nice feature is that you can actually start the car remotely. It is a very scary trick for those who are simply “poking” around the car in curiosity.
As soon as I ignite the engine, the ZL1 does a terrific job showing it is a special product. Props to GM. Nothing like buying a top model and feeling different from those who bought the cheaper versions.
At idle, there is no way of resisting the temptation of pressing the accelerator. You will be pleased with the typical NASCAR V8 burst joined by the supercharged purr. Once the revs go down, those delicious “burbles” coming out of the exhaust pipes. Time to give it a go on the beast.
Driving under normal conditions, around town, the ZL1 feels as common as your typical daily commuter, aside from the greater dimensions. Light steering and soft accelerator. All very civilized. I refuse to believe this is an american muscle. It is just so polite and kind.
So I decide to mess with its gentle charms by pressing hard the pedal on the right. A bit of torque steer makes the rear end bounce a little to the left. I compensate the giggle with a counter steering. As soon as I let go of the gas, the ZL1 straightens up, finds traction and it goes! Loud exhaust, supercharger screaming… first, second and third gears gone… hard on the brakes! Right turn and I point the steering, the car obeys like a charm until I decide to give a little throttle mid corner to see how it reacts… WHHHHHHHHHAAAAAA… the back end wants to say goodnight in a not so polite manner.
At this point, my wife was as white as a milk bottle.
Ok, better treat the car (and the wife, as we just got married) with a bit of respect. Seconds ago, it was such a civilized machine and instants later it wanted to bite me.
A couple of miles went by and I become a little more intimate with the ZL1. Driving around as a normal human being, it is so refined. I am living the American dream. As I arrive at the hotel, time to rest and save the beast for tomorrow, with clear reflexes.
The upcoming day, early morning, I drop the top off, get out of the garage slowly. As a 60 thousand dollar car, the coolest thing about this bad ass ZL1 is that it draws the attention of people wherever you go. I was not expecting this in Miami, a City so cramped with Ferraris, Porsches, Mclarens and Lambos. I guess that due to its far more “achievable dream” nature, people would come to me and ask a bunch of questions. Furthermore, it seems that Americans treat their national products with a lot of pride.
So… time to face another high-speed turn. I am very light on the steering angle at this point. I decided to give it gas one more time to see the ZL1’s reaction. Again the tail end becomes alive and graces me with a sound good morning. My wife, once again scared as hell, tells me that I am going to jail if I don’t end up killing us.
I confess that I was becoming a little skeptical about the car’s handling. As I stopped by a gas station, I decided to check the rear tires, only to find out that their lives were gone a long time. There was no more safety mark and this was probably the reason why the car was behaving so aggressively. At one point, I thought about replacing it with a brand new C7 Vette, but I decided to give another go with the ZL1.
I found out that the once the PZEROS heated up a bit, the car’s behaviour became more predictable. Patience is always a good thing, otherwise I would have had a bad impression about the ZL1. As I get used to it, I started a love affair with the ZL1. In several instances I found myself enjoying the lack of grip caused by the poor tires and the incredible torque of the car (every u-turn basically).
Covered parking lots? An excellent opportunity to fire other people’s’ alarms.
Inside car, even during the most boring traffic jams, I felt comfortable. ZL1 features magnetic ride which results in a very versatile and well sorted-out suspension. It can be as aggressive and sharp as you want when going for a spirited drive or as smooth as it goes. Furthermore, the combination of such suspension technology with huge tires in the front (285) and back (315) of the car simply made it glide through irregularities.
Although this is not the Z28, I am impressed with the drive feel I get doing turns with the ZL1.
The way to approach corners, no matter how they are, is to be gentle with the ZL1. Aggressive steering and fast acceleration should be avoided at all costs. Progressive moves are the way to go. Do not think about trying to drive this thing as you would in an European car. As soon as you understand this, you will be surprised with the response and amount of grip provided.
Four things put the ZL1 ahead of the previous GT500 (2010 and 11 models, which I have driven) – it does not feel nose heavy; suspension does a much better work for the car’s performance; brakes are really good; and the steering wheel is miles more direct and sensitive.
The automatic gearbox is neither in the same league as a 8-geared ZF nor it shifts as fast as a double clutch. Nevertheless, for a conventional technology (not to say old school), it is really solid. The flaps behind the steering are quite actually good in terms of response. In the right RPM band, it will never refuse your downshift.
There are two driving modes essentially, which can be selected through two buttons right above the gear lever: (a) the normal and (b) the sport. I struggled a lot to find a relevant difference between them in the five days with the car. GM has done a superb job congregating performance with every day usability. The pedals are light, but accurate. It is a very well sorted out piece of machine. The ZL1 is not a dyslexic experience trying to figure out your most dirty intentions – there is very little delay in response. It is indeed a lecture for modern-day European cars and their thousand driving aids and modes.
The track settings for the ZL1 consist of basically turning everything off. As soon as you press the traction control button (third button above the gear lever to the right), it warns you that you are on your own and track mode is engaged.
The great downside (if one can say that about a car like this) is fuel consumption. When I returned the car, the employee for the car rental company looked at the range available with full tank and stared back to say “Ow… you really enjoyed this. I have never seen this car with a full tank and only 135 miles of range!” It was a perfect ending for such an intense week. Sad to see it go.
To summarize how I felt about the ZL1 I will put it down the following way: as soon as I got home I did a little market research to see how much I would pay for one of those in Brazil. Obviously, here, the car is brought only by independent importers, which freaks me out. The price was above 100 thousand USD.
I simply loved it. It is an emotional and very sorted out piece of equipment. You can drive it calmly, just enjoying that V8 burbling or aggressively. It can be precise and direct, as well as it can behave like a lunatic. GM’s V8 coupled with a supercharger is one of the best exhaust notes you can get.
I have never thought I would say this but I want a Camaro ZL1… exactly as the one tested: all black, convertible and auto. It is a blast.
I sincerely thank Prestige Luxury Rentals in Miami for making it possible!