2012 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Review
By Tom Wilson of MSN Autos
As if they were unhurried by the success of its archrival, the Ford Shelby GT500 Mustang, Chevrolet has taken its time delivering the ultimate Camaro, the ZL1. But now that it's here, it's a winner. Track-ready off the showroom floor, the ZL1 Camaro is massively powerful and filled with expensive heavy-duty hardware, including a sophisticated suspension to offset its prodigious weight. It's strong drink, but expertly flavored for those with a performance thirst.
Chevy has aimed the ZL1 at those wanting both a real-world daily driver and a hot rod that can take the abuse of a day lapping a road-racing circuit. Consequently, the ZL1 offers the expected power windows, locks and so on, but also boasts three years of OnStar navigation, a backup camera, 12 months of Sirius satellite radio, and Bluetooth connectivity as standard. A 245-watt, 9-speaker sound system from Boston Acoustics is also standard, along with heated front seats and a leather-wrapped steering wheel.
The bucket seats are trimmed in suedelike microfiber to keep you planted during spirited driving, and the steering wheel can be covered in the same material if desired.
Under the hood
The soul of the ZL1 is its 6.2-liter 580-horsepower pushrod V8 engine with 556 lb-ft of torque. Its supercharger gives instant power that stays strong until long after you've run out of road. A dual-mode exhaust system uses a valve to accommodate a civic-minded exhaust note around town, and offers a more voluminous roar at high rpm and power levels.
Curiously, the ZL1 is marginally faster with the automatic-transmission option, 3.9 seconds at zero to 60 mph compared to 4.0 seconds for the manual. Chevy quotes quarter-mile times right at 12 seconds flat at 119 mph and a top speed of at least 180 mph. This is very serious performance for the most speed addicted.
Just as notable are the ZL1's "magnetic" shock absorbers. These use electromagnets and iron-filled fluid in the shocks to tune shock performance in real time. These second-generation magnetic shocks feature faster reaction times and play a big part in giving the ZL1 its combination of a civil street ride and muscular track firmness. They also allow exceptional bump absorption, especially when hammering over curbs at the track, and are a natural ally to the Camaro's independent rear suspension.
The Camaro driver sits deep in the cockpit, with tall window sills and something of a mail slot for a windshield. Taller drivers don't notice this as much, and for many the enclosure is reassuring. Sound insulation is very good and control efforts not overly high.
We especially enjoyed the control given over the automatic transmission; it can be left to shift for itself or be quickly overridden with the standard paddle shifters. Or, if the center console shift is put in the manual slot, the paddle shifters go to a full manual mode. The latter is very useful during sport driving.
On the road
What is unexpected is the ZL1's ability to seamlessly transition from street to track. Or, in other words, despite its racing abilities, the ZL1 is a perfect companion while puttering to the store or piling on freeway miles. Some of this is the ZL1's aforementioned effective sound deadening; the lack of wind noise and minimal road rumble means this muscle car is easy and relaxing to drive fast. It's one of those cars where, until you get used to it, you drive 15 mph faster than intended on the freeway. Mostly it's because the ZL1 drives smoothly, with no hiccups or flat spots, no leg-straining brake-pedal effort nor weightlifting steering requirements.
As a sports car the ZL1 is definitely on the massive side. Its size combined with its raw power and less than airy cockpit views makes the car a bit intimidating to hustle along winding secondary roads. It takes a while to know where the corners of the car are, but a few miles in the driver's seat quells much of this. Still, as a corner-carver the ZL1 is an expert partner, if not exactly puppy-dog eager. Give the ZL1 even moderately open roads, however, and it eats up the miles with off-handed ease.
We should also note that as a track car the ZL1 is without surprises. The power is linear and easy to modulate. The suspension soaks up bumps and curbs, the steering is precise and the brakes powerful. At nearly two tons, the ZL1 does have daunting momentum; new owners must work up to this car's eye-opening abilities in tiny increments. Once mastered by the best drivers, the ZL1 rewards with precise power on demand.
Right for you?
Chevy says the ZL1 coupe goes on sale in spring 2012, so that would be by June. The ZL1 convertible is due this summer as a 2013 model; pricing for the convertible will be announced later.