We are mightily impressed by updated American big-hitter the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1
Why the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 might be the finest muscle car of all-time
We generally know what to expect with American muscle cars: big-hearted straight-line performance, a (generally) bassy exhaust note and cornering grip that is the result of an oversize wheel/tyre combo rather than any real finesse in the car’s suspension design or calibration.
Truth be told, this was my impression even after driving the much-hyped previous-generation Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, which had been touted as a new benchmark-setter for so-called “Yank Tanks”. Although decently rapid, I didn’t find it particularly tactile or enjoyable to drive, and had no pangs of regret when handing it back to the Chevrolet minders after a few days with the car.
What a difference five years can make. The latest Camaro ZL1 is nothing if not a revelation, and its starting price of a mite less than Dh255,000 throws the cat among the pigeons in the domain of high-performance coupes.
So what exactly is the ZL1? And what is it that makes it simultaneously a sledgehammer and a scalpel? Naturally, a big part of the recipe is a thumping great V8 – it could hardly be an American muscle car without one, could it? The motor in question is a 6.2-litre supercharged unit, thrashing out a towering 650hp and 866Nm.
The V8 can be had with either a six-speed manual or the brand-new 10-speed automatic, and I’m glad it is the latter that I get to sample because it serves up lightning-quick gear changes and has the almost psychic knack of being in the right gear at the right time.
Considering the fact the ZL1 measures more than 4.8 metres in length and is a tad less than two metres wide, and that it is stuffed full of a big V8 and supercharger, its kerb weight of 1,787 kilograms isn’t excessively lardy. The result? It dishes out a 0-to-100kph split of 3.5 seconds and standing quarter-mile of 11.4 seconds, which means the ZL1 comfortably has the legs on the much pricier BMW M4 and Mercedes-AMG C 63 S Coupe.
Another key ZL1 ingredient is the magnetorheological dampers that react based on inputs from sensors that read the road surface 1,000 times per second. Add to this the electronically controlled limited-slip differential that juggles torque between left and right rear wheels with great deftness and you already have the makings of a handy tarmac weapon.
But it is not just a case of throwing bits at the car and hoping for the best because GM’s development engineers reportedly made no less than six separate trips to the Nurburgring to get every aspect of the car’s tuning just so. They are also said to have spent more than a year calibrating the 10-speed automatic, and it shows.
There is no getting away from the car’s humble origins once you slide into the cabin, even though the ZL1 gets a lovely pair of Recaro sports seats with sueded-microfibre inserts, a flat-bottomed, suede-trimmed steering wheel and suede inserts in the dash and door trims. All around this, you will find lashings of hard plastic, as you would expect in a car that starts at Dh133,000 in base form. The rear seats are best left to the kiddie brigade, but it is useful to know they are there when needed.
Rouse the V8 into life and a fair bit of supercharger whine comes through to the cabin at low-to-mid engine speeds, so if you close your eyes, it is easy to visualise yourself riding in Mad Max’s Interceptor. There is ample grunt pretty much across the rev range, yet the build-up in power is much more linear than the latest German twin-turbo V8s, which kick like mules from almost idling speeds.
One example of this is the Mercedes-AMG C 63 S Cabrio recently reviewed in these pages. The German ragtop spun the rear tyres at the slightest tickle of the throttle, making it a handful on wet roads. No such problems with the well-planted Camaro and, boy, does that blown motor sound good when you get to the serious end of the rev range. Where it is the whine of the supercharger that dominates at low revs, at higher engine speeds, it gives way to the angry, hard-edged growl of that V8 spitting its spent gases out of those four drainpipes.
There is a massive amount of grip to play with, and the ZL1 remains impressively neutral, even as you begin to approach its cornering thresholds. If there is a slight criticism to be made, it is that the steering doesn’t relay a whole lot in terms of textured feedback about what is going on at the front wheels. That said, the tiller is pinpoint accurate and nicely weighted.
The overall impression is generally one of being gobsmacked, because the Camaro ZL1 is as quick as most Euro exotics around a racetrack or across a mountain road, yet it also has the knack of effortlessly transitioning into a docile, easy-to-live-with everyday coupe. The fact that it delivers all this at a price tag of less than Dh260,000 makes the Chevy a bona fide bang-for-buck titan.