|2017 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1|
|DRIVETRAIN LAYOUT||Front-engine, RWD|
|ENGINE TYPE||Supercharged 90-deg V-8, alum block/heads|
|VALVETRAIN||OHV, 2 valves/cyl|
|DISPLACEMENT||376.0 cu in/6,162 cc|
|POWER (SAE NET)||650 hp @ 6,400 rpm|
|TORQUE (SAE NET)||650 lb-ft @ 3,600 rpm|
|WEIGHT TO POWER||6.0 lb/hp|
|SUSPENSION, FRONT; REAR||Struts, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar|
|BRAKES, F; R||15.4-in vented, 2-pc disc; 14.4-in vented, 2-pc disc, ABS|
|WHEELS, F;R||10.0 x 20-in; 11.0 x 20-in, forged aluminum|
|TIRES, F;R||285/30ZR20 95Y SL; 305/30ZR20 99Y SL Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar 3|
|TRACK, F/R||63.4/62.6 in|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||188.3 x 74.7 x 52.4 in|
|TURNING CIRCLE||38.4 ft|
|CURB WEIGHT||3,926 lb|
|WEIGHT DIST, F/R||54/46%|
|HEADROOM, F/R||38.5/33.5 in|
|LEGROOM, F/R||43.9/29.9 in|
|SHOULDER ROOM, F/R||55.0/50.4 in|
|CARGO VOLUME||9.1 cu ft|
|ACCELERATION TO MPH|
|PASSING, 45-65 MPH||1.4|
|QUARTER MILE||11.5 sec @ 125.0 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||96 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||1.07 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||23.1 sec @ 0.91 g (avg)|
|2.4-MI ROAD COURSE LAP||1:26.48 sec|
|TOP-GEAR REVS @ 60 MPH||1,400 rpm|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$67,425|
|AIRBAGS||8: Dual front, front side, f/r curtain, front knee|
|BASIC WARRANTY||3 yrs/36,000 miles|
|POWERTRAIN WARRANTY||5 yrs/60,000 miles|
|ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE||5 yrs/100,000 miles|
|FUEL CAPACITY||19.0 gal|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB ECON||13/21/16 mpg (est)|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||259/160 kW-hrs/100 miles (est)|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||1.24 lb/mile (est)|
|RECOMMENDED FUEL||Unleaded premium|
The Bugatti Veyron quite famously came complete with 10 heat exchangers. That 1,001-horsepower projection of Ferdinand Piëch’s ego made so much heat it needed 10 intercoolers to keep it from boiling. The 650-horsepower 2017 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 has 11. Insert Spinal Tap joke here.
Such is the extreme nature of the latest, probably greatest, and without question most powerful Camaro the Bow Tie brand has ever sold to the public. Unlike the obvious competition (Chevy’s looking at you, Hellcat), the ZL1 isn’t simply extreme for extreme’s sake. The Camaro team gave the sixth-generation Camaro all flavors of performance enhancers for a reason. Three of them, actually: Camaro boss Al Oppenheiser wanted the ZL1 to be the best ponycar on the drag strip, on a canyon road, and on the racetrack.
Chevy is marketing these three objectives in the parlance of our times as #ZL1triplethreat. That’s no small task. But luckily for Oppenheiser, he had the right platform, the right team of engineers, and the right parts bin to make an attempt at glory. For instance, even though horsepower is up by 70 ponies compared to the last-generation ZL1, weight is down by 169 pounds, driven in large part by the Alpha platform, which also underpins the Caddy ATS and CTS families. The front fenders on the ZL1 are flared compared to other Camaros in order to accommodate the 285-width Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar 3 tires, which are shared with the SS 1LE. On the 1LE, the front tires just stick out.
Since I drove it last July, I’ve been describing the Camaro SS 1LE as one of the very best handling cars currently on sale. We gave it fourth place at last year’s Best Driver’s Car competition behind the aforementioned Carrera S and the GT350R, as well as the winning McLaren 570S. There’s a strong temptation to think of the ZL1 as merely a 1LE with an extra 195 horsepower. However, all that auxiliary cooling and the addition of nearly 200 pounds from the engine saps the ZL1 of the 1LE’s grace and fluidity. As a result, the ZL1 does not dance like a ballerina. Instead, it hits like a heavyweight boxer’s fist with a horseshoe hidden inside the glove. There might not be a whole lot of feel, connection, subtlety, or whatever other sparkly words scribes such as me use to wax poetic about the ineffable. You’re not dancing with the road; you’re beating it to death.
Would the Shelby GT500 or Hellcat be able to keep up? No way. This thing freaking flies. Those Goodyears are not only remarkable, but the Camaro team also did a wondrous job with the ZL1’s rearend, both lowering the roll center and making the familial electronic limited-slip differential (eLSD in GM speak) work better here than in any other application. This baby is a drift machine. Also, and quite importantly, the rear wheels have no problem putting down all the LT4’s power. I tried several of the Performance Traction modes (Wet, Sport 1, Sport 2, Race), but I quickly realized that the ZL1 is so capable that turning off all nannies was the optimum way to roll.
Don’t just take it from me. “In the aggressive driving modes, such as Sport and Track, the throttle actually opens more slowly to get more control. That’s necessary when the tires are near the cornering limit,” our on-call pro racer, Randy Pobst, says. We often have the manufacturers’ engineers out to watch us lap their cars. Sometimes they even listen to what we have to say. Especially Randy. “Chevy engineers gave me credit for suggesting that. And I think it’s fantastic. I have long believed that a more aggressive throttle opening in sport modes is a bad idea because it makes the driver less smooth. I am flattered.”
At the big track at Willow Springs Raceway, we had Randy lap a SS 1LE, a ZL1 with a six-speed manual and a ZL1 with the 10-speed auto. The 1LE ran a 1:28.29. That’s a great lap, especially when you consider that time is 0.1 second ahead of the previous-generation Camaro Z/28, which is a former BDC winner and track-focused monster with more horsepower and torque. Next up was the ZL1 with a manual. That stick-shift ran a blistering quick 1:26.16, besting the 2017 Corvette Grand Sport (1:26.28), a 2016 Mercedes-AMG GT S (1:27.04), a 2015 Porsche Turbo S (1:27.17), and a 2017 McLaren 570S prototype (1:27.21). Impressed yet?
Next up was the ZL1 with the automatic transmission. Randy only managed a time of 1:26.48. That’s enough to embarrass all of the European sports cars mentioned above but slower than both the Grand Sport and the manual version of itself. To be fair, Randy felt the tires’ pressures weren’t set correctly, and that the abuse meted out through Turn 8 was heating the driver’s side front too much, causing understeer through terrible Turn 9 . The 10-speed should be quicker than the six-speed, but it just wasn’t happening.
Randy strongly felt there were some tenths left in the automatic ZL1. He worked with a couple of engineers from Chevy and kept adjusting tire pressures and lapping. The result? An unofficial lap time of 1:25.87, recorded on the ZL1’s optional Performance Data Recorder (PDR). A McLaren 650S Spider—a mid-engine, 3,239-pound, 641-horsepower, carbon-fiber supercar—does a 1:25.88. Yes, you read that right. The quarter-million-dollar McLaren got beat by a Camaro. But because our test team didn’t run the numbers—meaning we don’t have a Vbox data file of the lap—we have to asterisk Randy’s lunchtime lap. It’s simply not official. These things happen. But here’s the thing: You’re not supposed to mention Chevy’s other sports car in the same breath as legit, flat-out elite supercars such as the Chevrolet flagship. But if the lap holds, the ZL1 has the eighth-best lap we’ve ever seen around Big Willow and is less than a second behind the best we’ve seen from big brother Z06 (1:25.00). What a world. More important, what a beast of a machine.
Of course, there’s also the matter of the miniature atomic device of an engine. It’s called the LT4, and its most familiar iteration is the 650-hp, 650 lb-ft dry-sump version found in the Corvette Z06. A slightly detuned 640-hp, 630 lb-ft wet-sump version sits under the hood of the Cadillac CTS-V. All three versions are 6.2-liter directed-injected V-8s with a top-mounted 1.7-liter intercooled supercharger.
Here’s the part Chevrolet doesn’t want me to say: In the Z06, the LT4 has cooling issues. The mighty Corvette’s heart heat soaks or overheats. Remember those 11 heat exchangers I was talking about? The Camaro ZL1 will not overheat. I tried, but even after six sets of rear tires in four days—not joking—the thunderous V-8 never so much as simmered. Two of those 11 heat exchangers are actually the intercoolers that straddle the supercharger. They are redesigned and repositioned for ZL1 duty. It’s also important to note that the ZL1 version of the LT4 makes exactly as much power and torque as the Z06. In generations past, the Corvette would have to (officially at least) make the most power. These days, Camaro is free to be as strong as can be.
Also of great interest on the ZL1 is the debut of GM’s 10-speed automatic transmission. Co-developed to a point with Ford, Chevy’s hopped up Camaro version gets unique gearing, valving, and control software. Gears one through six are very tightly spaced, seventh is direct, and eight through 10 are for highway cruising. Should you opt for the six-speed manual version of the ZL1, the feds are going to hit you with a $1,300 Gas Guzzler tax. The EPA jury is still out on the numbers for the auto, but there’s a chance that because of those three overdrive gears, 10-speed ZL1s might only get hit with a $1,000 tax, or nothing at all. Meaning that the 10-speed slushbox might just go from a $1,595 option to a $295 one. That said, I’m still betting on the $1,000 tax.
When the old 580-hp ZL1 made its debut in 2012, it was soon beaten in a straight line by the 662-hp 2013 Shelby GT500. That burly Shelby and its weirdly long gears hit 60 mph in 3.5 seconds (in first gear) and rocketed down the quarter mile in 11.6 seconds at 125.7 mph. The old ZL1 got to 60 mph in 3.9 seconds and ran the quarter mile in 12.2 seconds at 116.6 mph. Chevy is claiming that the 2017 10-speed ZL1 needs 3.5 seconds to 60 mph and runs the quarter in 11.4 seconds at 127 mph. Luckily for you, we have a test team, and we were able to verify the 3.5 seconds to 60 mph claim. However, in the quarter mile, the best road test editor Chris Walton could get was 11.5 seconds at 125 miles per hour. Why the discrepancy? We’re chalking it up to California’s 91-octane premium gasoline versus the 93-octane good stuff in Michigan. Yes, Virginia, the 650-horsepower Camaro requires premium. Still, 11.5 seconds in the quarter mile is quicker than both the phantom (out of production) Shelby bogey and the Dodge Challenger Hellcat, which needs 11.7 seconds at 125.4 mph. A time of 11.5 seconds in the quarter mile beats a hell of a lot of supercars, too.
The ZL1 isn’t just quick in a straight line. The monstrous Chevy also excels on our figure-eight handling circuit, where it laid down an elite time of 23.1 seconds. To give you some context, the 1LE version of the Camaro, the BMW M4 GTS, and the Shelby GT350R all require 23.3 seconds. A time of 23.1 seconds ties the nearly two-ton Camaro with the 3,353-pound 2017 Porsche 911 Carrera S with all-wheel steering. Speaking of Porsche, the quickest figure-eight lap we’ve ever recorded was laid down by the 918 Spyder: 22.2 seconds. Meaning this Camaro is less than 1 second off the best there is. The GT500 takes 24.2 seconds, whereas the two-door Hellcat needs 24.7 seconds. The ZL1 needs only 96 feet to stop from 60 mph. Anything less than 100 feet should be considered excellent.