We expected the 580-horsepower Chevy Camaro ZL1 to be a total beast to drive. We were wrong. Sure, it's a muscle car on steroids, but one with comfortable seats and, for the most part, a surprisingly civil manner.
Appearance: The ZL1 looks more mean and aggressive than the Camaro SS, mostly because of its large front-end splitter and aluminum hood with functional carbon-fiber composite air extractor. The splitter helps to keep the front end planted and increase air flow to the lower grille. The headlamps are ringed with LED halo lights and help to give the car a mean stare. Then there are the 20-inch forged-aluminum black wheels with Eagle F1 performance tires. Sharp.
Performance: Chevy's website brags that the ZL1 is "barely street legal." Though that might be hyperbole, the car certainly has more sound and fury than most of us will ever experience in city driving (not to mention it's a rolling invitation for police scrutiny). The ZL1 has a 580-horsepower 6.2-liter supercharged V-8 that catapults it from 0 to 60 in 4.1 seconds. We both loved the low, menacing growl of the dual exhaust, which grumbles at idle and erupts in an all-out roar when you put the hammer down. But it's just a low rumble while cruising at highway speeds. We were impressed with the 6-speed manual transmission: The shifts were smooth, quick and precise. The clutch also has a nice feel — firm but with good feedback. The Camaro's ride is composed and comfortable, thanks to its Magnetic Ride Control, which gives you three settings: Tour, Sport and Track. Still, it's a performance car, so the ride is taut. The Brembo brakes provide decent stopping power, but this is a heavy car: 4,120 pounds. We drove the ZL1 a lot in heavy rain and never felt uncomfortable or unsafe, although hard acceleration can be an adventure until the traction control kicks in. The electronically assisted steering provides good feedback, and the handling is nimble for a heavy car.
Interior: Chevy kicks it up a notch for the ZL1, using optional black suede microfiber trim with red contrast stitching throughout the cockpit, including on the dash. The seats also have suede microfiber inserts to help keep you in place. We liked the race-inspired steering wheel with its flat bottom, but Lyra didn't like the microfiber wrap, which didn't have the same grip as a leather-wrapped wheel. Of course, the 2+2 configuration means there's room for only small passengers in the back. In a pinch, though, you can make a grocery run because the trunk (11.3 cubic feet) is actually big enough for even a small stroller or golf bag. The rear seats also fold down for pass-through storage. The major liability is side and rear visibility. Our tester had a camera and park assist, which were both much needed. The high hood also makes it difficult to judge your parking line — we both found ourselves getting out of the car to see it surprisingly crooked.
Our 3 favorites
Acceleration: Sensory overload.
Old school: The bar radio tuner and four-gauge cluster on the console recall the classic Camaros.
Color: Our tester's Inferno Orange reminded me of the classic muscle cars.
Magnetic Ride Control: Sports cars don't have to be back killers. I drove it to Orlando and was comfortable.
Tires: Extra-wide Eagle F1s on 20-inch wheels keep you planted in style.
Menacing looks: Carbon-fiber air extractor, black splitter, black wheels and flared rear fenders.
The bottom line: The ZL1 is a lot of car for $57,000. If Chevy hasn't built the ultimate Camaro, it sure comes close.