by Roger Biermann
The Chevrolet Camaro is the all-American sports coupe – with a famed heritage and a penchant for some spectacular performance models. The ZL1 is such a model. It’s available in coupe and convertible body styles, packing a Corvette engine under the hood and rear wheel drive with an electronic slip differential and 11-inch wide rear tires. For a more hardcore experience, there’s a 1LE package that crushed the 12.9 mile Nurburgring lap in 7:16:04. This is the most hardcore Chevrolet Camaro money can buy, then, and arguably one of the best sports cars you’ll set eyes on this decade.
Inside the Camaro ZL1, there are a couple of tweaks to make it unique, such as a suede wrapped gear shift lever and steering wheel. Recaro front bucket seats are standard too.
Ingress and egress are both awkward, namely due to those Recaro’s and their rather large side bolsters. The rear seats are tiny and awkward for anyone larger than a child to sit in. The standard Recaro front bucket seats are surprisingly comfortable, and offer plenty side bolstering and support to cope with the car’s intended track use. The seats are comfortable both on track and on road, but are crucially lacking decent lumbar support.
The seating position is comfortable too, though visibility is severely impaired due to the chunky front roof pillars. There are also rather large blind spots, and the small rear window impairs visibility. Thankfully, a rear-view camera is standard.
The Camaro ZL1 is the most hardcore Camaro money can buy. To increase grip, handling, and performance, Chevrolet has fitted the ZL1 1LE with 325/30ZR-19 Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar 3R tires at the rear, up from 285-wide rubber on the standard ZL1. The suspension has also been sufficiently upgraded – Multimatic has supplied the spool-valve dampers, and the magnetic ride suspension has adjustable camber for road and track use. The Brembo brakes are steel items rather than carbon ceramics, but live up to road and track usage fairly well.
The steering can be adjusted between 3 modes, but remains heavily weighted regardless of mode. It feels sharp and direct though, communicating the front wheels adeptly. Grip from the Goodyear rubber is exceptional, allowing massive speed carriage through corners. When you expect understeer, there’s neutrality, but apply the throttle too liberally and not even the 325-wide rubber can contain the Corvette-derived V8’s power.
A ZL1 wouldn’t be complete without massive power – in this case being delivered by a supercharged 6.2-liter LT4 V8 from the Corvette Z06. The figures are mighty – 650 horsepower and 650 lb-ft of torque, driving the rear wheels. The standard ZL1 offers either a 6-speed manual with rev-matching function or a 10-speed automatic, and drives the rear wheels, though the 1LE is available with only a manual shifter. Performance, in addition to the blistering Nurburgring lap time, is exceptional. 0-60mph takes just 3.5 seconds on its way to a top speed of 198mph. Performance is understandably brutal!
With only one trim level, standard specification is pretty high. A dual-mode performance exhaust, rear-view camera, heated and ventilated seats, dual-zone climate, MyLink infotainment, a heads-up display, and a Bose 9-speaker audio system are all standard. The only optional extras are Chevy’s Performance Data Recorder, navigation, and carbon fiber interior trim. In the way of safety, there’s blind spot warning with cross traffic alert and lane departure warning, in addition to stability control and ABS. The ZL1 hasn’t been crash tested, but base Camaros achieve 5/5 stars from the NHTSA and achieved Good ratings from the IIHS.
The Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 possesses absolutely monstrous performance both on the road and on track. The 1LE’s extra grip and sportier suspension make it the one to choose if you’ll be tracking your ZL1 on a regular basis – but if you’re buying a ZL1 for any other reason, you’re missing the point.