x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Road Test: 2013 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Convertible

Chevrolet's Camaro ZL1 Convertible is a fully blown muscle car that even your grandmother could drive.

The 2013 Chevy Camaro Convertible has a powerful, imposing exterior but suffers from an uninspiring interior. Fatima al Marzooqi / The National
The 2013 Chevy Camaro Convertible has a powerful, imposing exterior but suffers from an uninspiring interior. Fatima al Marzooqi / The National

I'm often told that I sound older than I actually am (41) but it really was not that long ago that any car with 580hp being directed to only the rear wheels was basically a Le Mans racer. Even just 20 years ago, having more than 500 horsepower at your disposal in a road car was practically unheard of, and yet now this is considered the norm for performance SUVs, saloons and even estate cars. It's a little bit nuts.

Yet, in my experience, driving cars with this much firepower is usually a doddle. The sheer amount of computer intelligence packed into modern performance cars means that the power rarely corrupts the driving experience, which you would rightly expect from German manufacturers that plough untold millions into research and development every year. But a Chevy? Really?

The Camaro has, since its rebirth in 2009, been a massive sales hit. The recipe is a simple yet effective one: take Sixties-inspired, almost comically retro styling, cheap-as-chips interior appointments, huge levels of V6 or V8 grunt and mix everything together to form a car that costs less to buy than a newspaper. They are absolutely everywhere here and you can see why. Bang-for-your-buck, only the Mustang can really touch it.

See the two letters "SS" on a new Camaro and you know it's pretty potent. See "ZL1", however, and you know you're looking at the most powerful and psychotic of the lot. Chevrolet has just unleashed the ZL1 Convertible on our region and I'm fully expecting it to make its way into the hearts and minds of this nation, where Americana seems to have such a stronghold. And previously that might have been enough for me to slate it in a review because I'm British and we Brits really don't "get" American cars.

This one, though, is a seriously impressive piece of kit. It's a physically imposing car, huge, in fact. At almost two metres wide and 4.8m long, any Camaro takes up more than its fair share of road space but the ZL1 looks even meaner than the others, with wheels and tyres that threaten to poke their way out from under the wheelarches and a lower, more satisfying stance. The bonnet's over-the-top power bulge is pure theatrics but then the entire car looks bonkers - in a good way.

Start the engine and the ZL1's personality is undeniable - this car is as subtle as a brick in the face. Wubwubwubwubwubwubwubwub - the enormous, supercharged V8 shakes the car's structure, making no attempt at hiding its performance potential. Which is what's known as "a good thing". So long as it's able to get around corners, which is where most American performance cars have previously let themselves down.

Before I let rip on the road, however, let's just take a moment to consider the Camaro's unavoidable flaws. The interior isn't offensive to look at but the materials used in its construction are pretty shabby. Hard, scratchy plastics abound, even capping the doors. Seriously, if Ford can fit out its most basic Focus with soft-touch surfaces, there's no excuse for this. The other problem, and this is by no means unique to the Camaro Convertible, is that the inherent stiffness of the coupe's structure has been sacrificed in the name of top-down motoring. Unlike most, though, GM says the Camaro was designed to be a ragtop in the first place, so quite why the car is so creaky on uneven road surfaces is a mystery. There's only one solution: lower the roof to take your mind off it.

The other problem with this car is the inordinate amount of road noise prevalent in the cabin when the roof is up and you're doing anything more than 100 kph, when the engine fights a losing battle for sonic dominance. No, far better to lower the hood and enjoy that awesome soundtrack to the full.

Power delivery, as you might expect, is breathtaking, even with an automatic box. Whatever gear you're in, drop the hammer and the ZL1 simply demolishes the road to a soundtrack that has to be heard to be believed. But the thing that impresses most is the car's composure in all conditions, thanks to the magnetic suspension, which endows the Camaro with road manners that Lexus would be proud of. And yet there's no need to fear the occasional corner because it takes them flat and true, with an almost benign nonchalance, even when you're pressing on hard.

Pretty soon, I forget the Camaro's foibles, and revel in the way this car goes and stops. It feels totally sorted once you're on the move, and boy, does it move. A frankly ludicrous peak torque of 753Nm sees to that but the ZL1's ability to put down that amount of grunt without scaring its driver is truly amazing. The convertible isn't supplied with the coupé's track settings because Chevrolet realises it isn't that sort of car - instead, it should be viewed as an accomplished, well-built muscle car that few others could hope to compete with. And while it isn't a car I would consider owning myself, I fully understand the appeal, especially in light of the Dh265,000 asking price.