Turning a sporty coupe into a breezy convertible is a practice as old as the pony car itself. First-generation models of the Ford Mustang, Chrysler ’Cuda/Challenger E-bodies, and GM Firebird/Camaro twins arrived with droptop siblings in tow or underwent the knife shortly after birth. So it surprised exactly no one when Chevrolet announced that the nostalgia-steeped fifth-generation Camaro would be available as a ragtop. But when word got around that a convertible version of the mighty ZL1 would arrive for , more than a few people wondered whether the convertible’s chassis was up to the task of keeping the ZL1’s hp and lb-ft of chassis-twisting torque in check.
Chevy reminds us that the current Camaro was conceived from the start to accommodate a convertible model. In addition to a host of chassis-stiffening measures already found on lesser Camaro convertibles, such as hydroformed steel tubes in the A-pillars, beefed-up door-hinge pillars, and a reinforcement bracket in the windshield header, ZL1 versions swap out the standard front chassis V-brace for a beefier four-point X-brace to help keep the body from pretzeling on hard launches. All this stiffening and the convertible top add a few pounds to an already portly vehicle; this manual-transmission convertible weighed pounds, more than a similarly equipped ZL1 coupe we tested.
We put the top down and took to wavy and broken rural roads determined to elicit at least a quiver from the chassis. There was some subtle movement where the doors meet the bulbous rear fenders, and the car had a less-solid feel on seriously cratered pavement than did the coupe. The ZL1 is relatively stout in convertible form, but if you’re expecting the body to be as rock solid as the coupe’s, you’re going to be disappointed.
Much of the credit for this convertible’s civilized behavior goes to GM’s Magnetic Ride Control. Like the coupe, the droptop ZL1 uses the third-generation system, which features twin-wire, dual-coil dampers at all four corners for faster response. Chevrolet says the setup can adjust damping levels up to times per second, which equals roughly one adjustment per inch of vehicle travel at 60 mph.
Tracks of My Gears
With the ZL1 badge on the rear and the same supercharged liter LSA V-8 that powers the coupe, brutal acceleration is a given. Forward thrust can be summoned in any gear, and with all that torque, shifting is almost optional. Stab the pedal for short spurts, or toe in easy for a long, linear ascent, and the powertrain responds accordingly and without complaint.
The same Tremec TRMG9six-speed manual that appears in the coupe is standard here. GM made some changes intended to improve shift feel, but the setup still telegraphs a heavy-duty vibe to the user. Its action is reasonably precise and direct, but it doesn’t try to conceal the fact that it’s on the receiving end of lb-ft of torque, which it’s attempting to send to the rest of the driveline without exploding.
The rest of the driveline can take the punishment, too. According to GM engineer Mark Dickens, not a single rear end was grenaded during ZL1 development. And they tried. Empowered with that information, the “no-lift shift” feature that permits foot-to-the-floor gearchanges, and the ZL1’s nifty launch control, we wasted at least an hour re-creating several of top-fuel drag racing’s greatest moments.
For the full picture, we also got some seat time in an automatic-equipped convertible. This six-speed transmission is itself just back from finishing school, incorporating a tweak in Chevrolet’s tap-shift software that lets it execute paddle-actuated upshifts 60 percent ( to milliseconds) quicker than with the previous setup. The shifts indeed click off with little hesitation, and in manual mode, the transmission will hold a gear indefinitely. If you simply must have an automatic, you could do a lot worse than the ZL1’s Hydra-Matic 6L
VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, 4-passenger, 2-door convertible
PRICE AS TESTED: $62, (base price: $61,)
ENGINE TYPE: supercharged and intercooled pushrod valve V-8, aluminum block and heads, port fuel injection
Displacement: cu in, cc
Power: hp @ rpm
Torque: lb-ft @ rpm
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed manual
Width: in Height: in
Curb weight: lb
C/D TEST RESULTS:
Zero to 60 mph: sec
Zero to mph: sec
Zero to mph: sec
Zero to mph: sec
Rolling start, mph: sec
Top gear, mph: sec
Top gear, mph: sec
Standing ¼-mile: sec @ mph
Top speed (governor limited): mph
Braking, mph: ft
Roadholding, ft-dia skidpad: g
FUEL ECONOMY (C/D EST):
EPA city/highway driving: 14/19 mpg
C/D observed: 16 mpg
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Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Review
The Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 is all about numbers bestowed upon it by an engineering team concerned with your bragging rights. Namely, you get a L “LSA” V8 good for horses and the better part of lb-ft of torque. That’s thanks, in part, to a belt-driven Eaton supercharger the size of a toaster oven.
Some serious output
Owning a Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 is sort of like owning a bazooka. Both use combustion to propel metal quickly through the air, and can be dangerous to operate. Neither are useful, but, man oh man, if you had a bazooka, you just know some cool stuff would happen.
So, the Camaro ZL1 has a whole lot of power. Enough to, say, put you sideways through an intersection if you (theoretically) dropped your right foot to clear a (theoretical) yellow traffic light on a mid-fall morning while the road’s surface was a bit on the cold side. Did I mention the ZL1’s traction control is a bit on the “relaxed” side?
Tame, as needed
On the one hand, the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 can be remarkably tame and uneventful. Clutch take-up is firm and easy, if a little heavy. You could take off in fourth in the Camaro ZL1, if you wanted. You can even get an automatic transmission (don’t). The engine makes scarcely more than a muted, crackling burble when driven gently through traffic. Gears shift easily and with minimal effort.
When driving the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 gently, the tremendous amount of unused power translates into a sheer sense of effortlessness and unused awesomeness. Driving the ZL1 modestly is like going to Barberian’s Steakhouse and having a salad.
It’s easygoing on board, too. Terrible outward visibility and cheap trim aside, there’s decent at-hand storage in the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, a very modern touchscreen radio, a great stereo, and fairly logical control layout.
The big, comfortable seats are superb, even for very large folks. You can relax in here, even if you’re north of and afraid of celery. The ZL1 even rides nicely, thanks to a fantastically tuned Magnetic Ride Control suspension system borrowed from the Corvette.
However, those horses are always there; as is the handling tuned to benchmark the Corvette Grand Sport. And the fact that available performance figures will embarrass AMGs and Porsches costing numerous times as much.
And the Camaro ZL1 always tells you that (while you’re behaving yourself) you’re wasting its potential.
The Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 fires up with a nearly distasteful belch. You can hear the gears engaging and the rear differential whining. Ditto for the pebbles and sand as it's flung from gummy-bear-sticky tires against the wheel wells. Should a bump in the road cause a sudden poke on the throttle, the Camaro ZL1 leaps forward as if it’s been rear-ended by a rhinoceros.
Translation? The Camarao ZL1 can play nice -- but it never really lets you forget that it’s ready to go. It’s always inviting you to open it up.
Accept the invitation by hammering down in first on some bare, warm pavement, and it lurches ahead in a startlingly way as if it’s had a cattle prod shoved into its backside. Usually, there’s no squirming or sliding, just traction, grip, a massive increase in speed, and NASCAR sound effects pumped thickly into the cabin.
Get to banging some gears in the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, and mere seconds separate you from “step out of the car please” territory should you wind up on the wrong end of a radar gun.
Mind you, massive Brembo brakes make decelerating just as instantaneous and abrupt in the Camaro ZL1 as getting up to speed. A good stab on the middle pedal will get you out of demerit-point territory in quick order when the radar detector goes off. Steering, handling, grip and even high-speed brake-system durability are all right there, too.
Unmistakably, this is a car with performance far exceeding what any driver needs on a public road. Realistically, on said public roads, you can drive the bejesus out of the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 in brief, carefully dosed chunks when nobody’s looking. The rest of the time, you enjoy the looks and noises, and the flocks of nearby youngsters loudly demanding to see a burnout or hear the supercharger.
The Camaro ZL1, like the even more powerful and license-threatening new Mustang Shelby GT, demands massive respect. And forget that the Chevrolet doesn’t smash the horsepower mark, because anything beyond about ponies on the road is way too much, anyhow. For both Chevrolet and Ford, the power alone is going to sell a lot of units.
Is the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 an insane thing to drive? Is it unmanageable? Scary? Menacing? Will it get your driver’s license shredded by an angry radar-cop with a thick moustache and set of Ray-Bans? That’s largely up to the communication between your right foot and the warm, grey mass between your ears.
Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Review A Perfectly Reasonable Minivan Alternative
Im sorry, but my life doesnt switch over to an evenings-at-the-dragstrip, weekends-at-Laguna-Seca existence simply because a Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 lands in my driveway.
GoodCarBadCars unlimited budget for premium-grade fuel and an infinite supply of Goodyear Eagle F1 tires is well, theres no such budget.
Life continues as per the norm when a horsepower Camaro ZL1 arrives at GCBC Towers. lb-ft of torque wont change the fact that my niece needed to throw her luggage in the Camaros trunk.
A vast front splitter cant put a halt to my requirement for a load of groceries. Even with 65 pounds of downforce at km/h, I still need to pootle across the Angus L. Macdonald bridge at 50 km/h for metres.
A carbon fibre hood insert doesnt stop the seagulls from defecating, although the noise emanating from underneath the carbon fibre does prompt the sparrows to stop their singing.
I demand from a test vehicle the ability to join with me in living a normal life. A cars knack for accelerating to 60 mph in four seconds flat doesnt change that. Allegedly lapping the Nürburgring in wont magically remove the potholes and pseudo-speedbumps in downtown Dartmouth. Topping out just six clicks below the km/h barrier is mostly irrelevant, given the limits foisted upon me when travelling down the TCH. I need usable real world performance in a usable format.
Would I have enjoyed the Volkswagen Golf R half as much if it wasnt a roomy 5-seat hatchback? If the Ford Focus STs ride quality wasnt, superior to that of most small cars which dont make handling their prerogative, would I have been impressed at all?
Maybe Im not telling the whole truth. Maybe there are certain exemptions from my real world automotive performance rules. Maybe, if a car makes a noise like this, I dont care what else it does, can do, or cant do.
You can argue that emphasizing the ZL1s noise doesnt accurately portray a cars real life potential. But youre wrong, I tell you. Daily life continued during my time with this Camaro, and I was utterly consumed by what sounded like the offspring of a mama grizzly and the king of the jungle. This child of an angry bear and a hungry lion roared and barked and growled and snarled and howled at the slightest provocation of the throttle pedal: reversing slowly out of my driveway, meandering through the grocery store parking lot, leisurely strolling past three HRPD Crown Vics on my very first drive.
CHEVROLET CAMARO ZL1
Engine: supercharged L OHV valve V8
Horsepower: @ rpm
Torque: lb-ft @ rpm
EPA City: 14 mpg
Its true, throughout my week with the ZL1, a large part of me ignored everything else that was good and bad about the Camaro because its full-throated bellowing was intoxicating, savage, and downright transcendental.
Every time I stopped to think about how the ZL1 fits in the automotive marketplace which was hard to do since I couldnt hear myself think I realized that there was very little stopping me from labelling the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 as a daily driver.
Undoubtedly, the few issues that do exist are rather serious. Visibility in many a modern car is dreadful, but in the Camaro, even seeing out the front is a challenge.
The windshield header is low, the pillars are wide and angled in such a way as to stop you from seeing whats coming from the left and right, and it feels as though the rearview mirror interferes with much of what you could see. For many buyers, poor visibility will be more than enough reason not to buy the car.
If any car was permitted to drink excess amounts of fuel, this ZL1 would be it, wouldnt it? Nevertheless, 17 litres of premium for every kilometres of city driving, while not legally restraining you from making the Camaro a daily driver, will probably limit how much you drive it on a daily basis. Around here, the Camaros consumption means kilometres currently costs me $, nearly a quarter per kilometre.
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Of greater consequence to forum trolls and barroom brawlers who drive 03 Cavaliers and 99 Escort ZX2s is the presence of Fords horsepower Shelby GT The Mustang and Camaro have been, currently are, and forever will be rivals. But theyre two wildly different cars, not only because of their very different rear suspension formats but because of how they look; because of the customers who favour them. The ZL1 comes second in the numbers game, but Chevrolet doesnt build hi-po Camaros because GM thinks itll roll a Mustang owners socks up and down.
Complaints about the Camaros cheap interior are much less valid in the suede-covered ZL1. At the very least, the Camaros interior has a moderate sense of style. Equipment levels arent high for a $60K car, as the money youre spending is most certainly spent on other performance-oriented parts. Chevrolets touchscreen verges on the invisible in low light, cargo space is decent but the trunk opening is narrow, seatbelts are really hard to reach, and the rear seat is only child-friendly.
But the ZL1 produces a noise that makes grown men cry out for mommy. Honestly, the noise is more obvious than the ZL1s outrageous power. Naturally-aspirated V8-engined Camaros are wickedly fast, as well. Modern turbocharged L hot hatches are bizarrely quick. Sure, the ZL1 conquers the quarter-mile in less than twelve seconds, and it can do so in foot-to-the-floor launch control mode. For a car that weighs more than pounds, the Camaro is rather surprisingly fast through twists and bends and curves, too. But this experience remains noise-centric.
Pushing hard through corners is a little nerve-wracking at first. For that matter, its still disconcerting the second and third time around. Only with time can the ZL1s driver start to learn where the Camaro ZL1s corners are and how the car will respond when, upon exiting a downhill hairpin, you realize you prematurely applied the throttle.
The end results are manifested in a ZL1 thats docile. Its a mama grizzly that growls but doesnt bite; a lion that roars but doesnt hunt for unsuspecting prey. Nothing makes the ZL1 feel more genteel than its gentle ride. This Camaro lopes along like it has all the suspension travel in the world. Thank-you, magnetorheological dampers.
So much about the Camaro ZL1 feels so mechanical. There is not much in the way of traditional dynamic feel, that which communicates to you the constant interaction with the road à la Subarus BRZ, but there are a lot of things to feel. A thrust of the shifter from first to second gear sets off a cacophony of wonderfully industrial sounds in front of, underneath, and behind the driver. Come in touch with a hint of gravel and youll be wincing as it sprays the wheelwells for minutes. As a unit, the whole Camaro does a V8-inspired wibble-wobble, even at idle.
Power, power everywhere
Relaxed ride quality
Mean and nasty and angry
Cant see out the back
Cant see out the sides
Cant see out the front
Droning engine on highway
When not driving, I spent much of my week with the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 thinking that this cars extreme nature, high price, and outlandish exterior design made for something silly, a dream car for the muscle car enthusiast who already owns a 67 Camaro and Jim Rockfords Firebird.
By day three, however, I realized that if Camaros are going to look crazy, they might as well look this crazy. On day four, the gearbox and clutch and I became friends. Day five? These seats have just the right amount of cush and bolster. By day six, the noise and power overwhelmed the lack of visibility. And on day seven, I filled up the ZL1 with premium fuel, which threw cold water on the fire.
To review the ZL1 as though its a normal car is to miss the point entirely. This isnt a count-the-cupholders kind of car. Yet to imply that nothing matters beside the power is to deny the fact that performance cars, even the ultimate pond OEM muscle cars, must do more than accelerate.
In an era that sees Kia building a horsepower front-wheel-drive sedan and $, Porsche SUVs generating horsepower, the Camaro nameplate must possess something special to set it apart from conventional cars. In the ZL1s case, that special something could be its talent for putting prodigious power to pavement. Or, in an unlikely twist, the special something could just as easily be the Camaros ability to cosset and carry on with everyday life.
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