Before this review, the 2012 Nissan GT-R that I reviewed had the most horsepower of any car I have reviewed. That is not the case anymore. Another car has claimed the title of having the most horsepower of any car that I have reviewed, and that is the 2013 Chevrolet ZL1. 580 horsepower mated to a six speed manual transmission. Before I get into the review itself, I should start with the expected introduction about what exactly is the ZL1 model and how it differentiates itself from other Camaros. Alongside the regular Camaro, the ZL1 originated in late 1960’s, 1969 to be exact. This is a little complicated, so do not take my word on the history of the ZL1. It is my understanding that the ZL1 came to fruition because Chevrolet dealers wanted bigger engines available for the Camaros. 69 models were made in 1969. Its exclusivity and performance made it a rare and coveted Camaro for car collectors (Do not take my word on the history of the ZL1). In 2012, the ZL1 was revitalized as a performance version of the Camaro. Even though I have already reviewed a Camaro, a SS version, I was keen on trying out the ZL1. As mentioned, the 580 horsepower engine makes for one memorable Camaro. The question is, is the ZL1 worth it?
In addition to mechanical upgrades, the ZL1 also receives cosmetic enhancements. Just from looking at it, the Camaro looks the part of a fast car. With its Inferno Orange Metallic color, the ZL1 looks as if it is from a Fast and Furious movie. The first thing that grabs my attention when looking at the front is the headlights. Or more specifically, the white rings in the unit. I like this feature because with the headlights being placed back rather than protruding outwards, it helps gives this car a menacing appearing. The menacing appearance is further accented by a hood bump and sharply shaped fog light housings. The blacked grille and lower portion mesh well with the front of the car. The hood bump features slats/vents which are both aesthetic and functional. While slightly gaudy, it is a neat touch. Moving on to the side view of the car, the Camaro features ideal proportions of a sports car. It has a long hood and a short rear deck. It is simple and curvaceous. The aftermarket flames do spice it up, but I do think it would look better without the flames. I like how the subtle fender flares add some machismo to the appearance, and the side strakes aft of the doors are a nice touch. The character line starts at the edge of the hood and it continues towards the edge of the rear. It dips down very slightly but rises back up when reaching the side rear door, suggesting dynamism. It is not as “fast and furious” as the front, but it is still well done. The rear, while still appealing aesthetically, is probably the most disappointing aspect of the car, exterior wise. There is nothing wrong with it; it is just that it looks the same as a lesser Camaro. Save for the different bumpers, the rear looks similar to an SS model. With that said, the split quad taillights are attractive, and the chrome detailing gives it a classy look. I am divided on the placement of the reverse lights. I cannot say if it would be better if they were not placed there, disrupting a smooth surface or it is best that they are placed there to make use of such a big space. Anyways, the contouring and molding of the surface adds flair. The quad exhausts are a nice touch, although the bumper could have been edgier. The interior may seem similar to a normal Camaro, but it is all about the details. There is red stitching abound, and most of the interior is covered in suede. The interior has a very futuristic ambiance thanks to the oddly shaped gauges, big circular knobs, and a big screen positioned low on the dash. Inside and out, the Camaro is a good-looking car.
My biggest beef with the Camaro SS was that while it was capable and agile, it just felt slightly aloof. The ZL1 remedies this issue. The steering is excellently weighted for a car of this type; it is slightly stiff to let you know that you are driving something substantial, but not too heavy that it becomes taxing. As the driver, you are never left in the dark as the steering faithfully telegraphs the road textures to your fingertips. In a car as low as this, with a low windshield and a wide hood, trust me, you will appreciate the road feel. The amazing thing about this car is how calm and collected it is. I suppose if I had the opportunity to review it on a track, the hidden furious animal inside would emerge. But from what I could tell from taking the back roads in the countryside, it was just calm. Don’t take that to mean that it is more of a gran tourer than a sports car. On the contrary, this thing is a beast. Calm, yes, but a beast nonetheless. No matter the speed, the ZL1 remained stable and controlled. I do not have much experience with machines featuring this much power, but even then, I found the ZL1 easy to drive. Despite the bulky size of it, it drives like a much smaller car. Tire grip is excellent. Even when I launched this car in first and second gear, the tires struggled for a split second, but gripped to the surface well. In corners, this thing just clings for life. The car reacts alarming quick to inputs; there is some semblance of a go-kart feel in this machine. You simply feel that the car reads your mind the instant you are about to do something. It just reacts instantaneously. It is not as razor-sharp as the GT-R or as you expect, but it is still a mind-boggling experience. Despite the fact that this is a convertible, there is no loss in rigidity compared to the coupe. Typically with convertibles, when you remove the top of a car, the car looses its rigidity and becomes more flexible as a structure. But GM engineers worked hard to ensure that this is not the case, and it shows. The Camaro is a heavy car, but it handles light enough and feels more alive than the SS coupe did. The ride quality is exceptionally comfortable for a car of this caliber; it soaks up bumps surprisingly well, making for a decent commuter. The heavy weight of this car also means that it feels solid over rough roads. The brakes are phenomenal. I swear, if I had the guts to slam the brakes, my eye balls would fall out of my head just from the sheer force of the brakes.
Now on to the point about the ZL1: its powertrain. The party piece of the ZL1 is its engine. This is not the basic 323 horsepower V6 model we are talking about. This is not the wannabe 426 horsepower SS V8 model. This is not the plebian 500 horsepower Z28 model. This is the top dog ZL1 with 580 horsepower. A 6.2 liter V8 engine provides the power with available six speed automatic and manual transmissions. The six speed manual in this example is a delight to use. Initially, the shifter feels a bit heavy at first, and there is some resistance when going into gear. But after a few minutes of shifting, it feels second nature. The gear ratios feel well matched to the engine, and the clutch is light with some heft to it. The intuitive nature of the clutch makes driving this car easier than you would think. Cruising in traffic, this shifter is silky enough so you do not spend more time focusing on it than you have to. In fast driving, the shifter is smooth enough so you do not miss a gate, but it is weighty enough so you feel as if you are driving something substantial. Now onto the 6.2 liter V8 engine… what a fine machine this is. General Motors’ V8s are known for their enormous torque and horsepower. This engine does not disappoint. At 580 horsepower, it better not disappoint. As expected, the engine delivers massive thrust. I am not exaggerating but launch it from a stop, and it feels like you are in the seat of a commercial airplane taking off. Even in third gear, there is so much power that the rear tires are still scrambling for traction. When you are not busy ridding the tires of their rubber, there is more than enough grunt at low revs to cruise easily in traffic. Start it in third gear from a stop, and it will get to speed effortlessly. Drive at 40 mph in sixth gear, and give the gas pedal a prod, and you will still feel a slight shove. You are always aware that the V8 is a beast waiting to be unleashed. This V8 is linear and silky smooth in its power delivery. Not once during the rpm range does it feel lagging or ruffled. No matter what engine speed, it will deliver that shove that reminds you why you sprung for the ZL1 in the first place. I simply cannot put it into words; it is simply magnificent. With a 0-60 mph time of 3.9 seconds (for the coupe version), this is the second-fastest car I have ever driven (The GT-R is the fastest).
For a car with such sporting pretenses, you cannot expect it to be as refined as a luxury car or even your average family sedan. In this case, you may be right. Surprisingly, With the top down, there is not that much wind buffeting. With the top up, there is an abundance of road and engine noise. At 6.2 liters, the V8 is a big engine, meaning that you are always constantly hearing it drone. While opening up unleashes an addicting and hearty growl, at cruising, the monotone humming can be tiring. Even on moderate roads, there is significant tire roar, and you can distinctly hear the tires slapping against the surface. Of course, this is a small trade-off to pay for the superb handling and power. The growl that emanates from the V8 makes it all worth it. At low rpms, you can hear a slight hum/grumble, and it escalates into a loud and harmonious growl.
The upgrades that come with the ZL1 version is a suede interior. If you do not know this about me, I love suede interiors. Sure, they may get hot in the sun, but the feel of the material is worth it in my opinion. Wrapped in suede, the steering wheel feels nice to hold, and it is a good size. The pedals are nicely spaced, and the seats with its numerous adjustment modes means it is possible to find a good driving position. However, I suspect that some people will feel claustrophobic, especially if they are of tall height. I say this because the cabin is very narrow, and there is not much foot space, and the roof impedes on headroom. Seeing that this is the convertible version, the coupe might have better headroom. Visibility is probably the worst drawback of this car as it is just horrendous. As a driver, I was taught not to just rely on my mirrors and actually turn my neck and look behind me. But with this car, not only do you have giant blind spots, but the thick roof pillars obscure your visibility, leaving you with a tiny slit disguised as the rear window. Of course, when you put down the top, the visibility issues go away. The controls are easy to understand, and the big knobs and buttons help with readability. The set of gauges that are positioned below the center controls cluster add to the coolness factor, but they are distracting as they force you to avert your eyes away from the road just to check the coolant, engine oil, transmission, and engine temperature. The Recaro seats that come fitted with the ZL1 are extremely supportive and comfortable. They are designed more for support rather than comfort as they are heavily bolstered to keep you from sliding around when cornering. However, they are reasonably comfortable, although some may find the firm cushioning tiring over a long period of time. As this is a low car with an equally low roof, care must be taken when entering and exiting the car. Unsurprisingly, there is no room in the rear. Headroom is minuscule with the top up, and legroom is scant. The trunk is a decent size, but the opening makes it hard to utilize. At first glance, the gauges seem tiny and hard to read, but they are legible enough. The fit and finish, especially for the price, could be better. General Motors’ vehicles are not known for their quality, and the Camaro is no exception. While acceptable, the interior does not feel as high quality or sturdy as it should be.
When it comes to cars like these, I try to downplay the hype so I do not get disappointed. Yes, it has 580 horsepower but that does not mean anything…or so I thought. I should mention that I do not have much experience with cars featuring this much horsepower. If you want a more “qualified” opinion, a car magazine would better fit your needs. Naturally, a car with this much power just astounds me and then some. The engine itself is just amazing. The power. The torque. The way it shoves you into the seat when it is at full throttle. Oh yeah, it has a six speed manual transmission. My mother says that sports cars with an automatic are a joke (Don’t get this car with the automatic). On paper, the ZL1 seems like a proper sports car. As enticing as horsepower is, there is more to a car than just sheer output. In my opinion, a car does not mean much to me if it is outright fast but cannot handle well. As mentioned, I reviewed a Camaro SS, and while I found it very capable, it was just lacking. It handled well, but it did not have that zest that gave you the chills. However, the ZL1, makes my heart race. Sure, with this much power, you could get yourself in real trouble, but that is what makes life exciting, I suppose. Not only that, the agility and responsiveness from this machine is to be believed. You just feel like you are in control. Sure, the car is not the most practical or the most refined or the most well-built, but as a classic, it is hard to fault.
Thanks to Ray Skillman Ford for letting me review their car! Check out their inventory by clicking on this link!