Whacked-out ZL1 Camaro is all testosterone
ALTON, Virginia - There are 17 turns on Virginia International Raceway - and only 4 expletives in the English language fit to express the sensation of the 2012 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 exiting them at full throttle.
Those hitting racetracks in Chevrolet's latest sheet-metal speed demon will be repeating themselves.
The 'ZL1' code once designated an all-aluminum Chevrolet racing engine from the sixties. Today, it's plastered around the body and cabin of the fastest production Camaro yet.
Numbers; The ZL1 is all about them. It gets a 6.2L LSA V8 good for 580 hp and 556 lb-ft of torque. That's thanks in part to a belt-driven Eaton supercharger bigger than a Hyundai Accent's engine.
Six forward gears come in the driver's choice of automatic or manly-man manual. As in, the kind with a clutch pedal that requires some muscle to stomp on. With power-twisting rear wheels the size of halved fifty-gallon barrels, ZL1 smashes 0-60 mph in under four seconds, and the quarter mile 8 seconds after that. That's worth another expletive.
Face peeling begins to describe the acceleration. Explosive is a good word, too. Really, ZL1's performance numbers are the sort that make enthusiasts drool. Gas station owners, too.
Magnetic Ride Control suspension (à la Corvette) is on board - as are Brembo brakes, transmission reinforcements, fluid coolers and Eagle F1 Supercar tires with the viscosity of warmed Gummi Bears. So, yea. Serious machine.
Of course, the Euro-car fanclub will whine and moan and post harshly in YouTube's comments section about the ZL1 merely being a blower-enhanced Camaro with a body kit. But engineers tweaked the chassis, suspension, brakes, aerodynamics and virtually all other systems for maximum awesomeness here. And ZL1 will put down numbers that'll embarrass, say, a BMW M3, an Audi R8 or a Mercedes-Benz CLS 63 AMG.
Oh, and its fifty eight grand. Those over-the-pond rockets aren't.
And since ZL1 isn't classy, prissy or delicate, owners can still rock out to AC/DC, eat fries from a greasy box on the dash and sport a mullet while driving it.
So, about the track. Assaulting the often gently twisting asphalt ribbon that is VIR requires initially ripping through gears 1, 2, and 3 like wrapping paper, en route to a tight right-hander. There's a lot of noise, violence and lung-squeezing torque in the opened-up ZL1. It's overlapped by a cool but alarming sounding whine from the supercharger. Holy fludgestickles.
Sweeping corners (VIR has many) saw your cautiously aggressive writer pressed into the door or centre console, hard, while the ZL1 bit down into the track's surface. Cornering grip is in the same ballpark as your average rail-mounted amusement park ride, and the steering ratio feels quicker and livelier than the standard Camaro SS, too.
You're working less to guide the ZL1 around. But you still work.
The heavy clutch, tight shifter and steering system all require some force. And though ZL1 is taut and locked down, you feel the car working hard to keep things stable while tossing its weight in various directions. You feel like you're applying a good chunk of your own muscle to control a manly, heavy beast of a car. That's because you are.
But the traction management system (left on slightly so your writer could live to thirty) kept things from getting scary-squirrely with the taps open. That Magnetic Ride Control suspension kept the body planted tautly to the wheels and the wheels to the track - even on lumpy bits at speeds over 110 mph. You feel the suspension adjusting fluidly in real time, and the car staying stable and flat on top of it. So for the weight and size of the ZL1, it does a decent job of feeling tight and tidy.
End of the day, this is a machine with big levels of hardware and software at play to make it stick and steer and go like absolute hell. But it's still a big heavy machine.
Braking performance is equally impressive. The Brembo clampers at each corner repeatedly defied my brain's projected requirement for pre-corner stopping space. It really decelerates "that quickly", and braking power is just as cussworthy as the acceleration.
So those Brembos are well matched the power output, which is massive. And chassis and steering and tires and suspension all feel nicely integrated with the package, too. No part of the ZL1's performance seems to overwhelm the others.
So, there's balance to be sure. But the pure velocity of this thing somewhat masks it for a ham-fisted driver like yours truly. Admittedly, the ZL1 is less graceful, classy and tactile - and more about encouraging its operator to grab it by the scruff and kick it around.
After some hot laps, I felt like I'd just been to the gym, a little. But the effort level was appreciated, as this is a machine that almost forcefully makes you part of its capabilities, rather than doing all the work for you.
And when you're piloting this level of six-digit performance for well below the six-digit mark, doing a little work is just fine.
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