I sure as hell have. The revelation took place in the fall of 2013 at IMPA’s Test Days at Monticello Motor Club (MMC). At the event, I spent some time at the wheel of a 2014 Chevy Camaro SS with the coveted 1LE package. Suddenly, the Camaro came to life.
I’d long since been a Mustang fan and never really gave the Camaro the time of day. Like most kids my age, we were enthralled by the 3rd gen Camaro (especially the 1987 when the L98 5.7L 350cu V8 engine landed in the IROC-Z). But it was always the Mustang LX 5.0L or GT that really had me excited about the Pony car. Then the Boss rolled into town and my soul no longer had any worth unless it was traded for a new yellow 302 Mustang with hockey stick graphics on its flanks.
I’m still gaga over the Boss, but a new sheriff waltzed into our hood recently and he carries some seriously freakin’ huge guns with only one flaw when compared to the Boss: he’s expensive. Otherwise, the new lawmaker owns the territory. He has a very familiar name, but he’s wearing some heavy-duty garb this time around: he is the Camaro Z/28.
Road and track
At last year’s IMPA Test Days, I spent an inordinate amount of time with a 2014 Ford Mustang Roush Stage 3, both on the road and on MMC’s superb race track. A funny thing happened when I spliced my repeated beatings of the Roush with some time in the 1LE… I liked the Chevy more even though it wasn’t quite as fast or vocal.
This year, I made certain not to miss out on the car I’d hope was going to be on hand at the 2014 edition of Test Days: the Z/28. The moment I saw it, I got on it. And because GM can be very generous at times, they also had a ZL1 and another 1LE available for drives. By the end of day two, I’d logged about 80kms worth of laps in all three Camaros.
I have to admit that if it wasn’t for Bumblebee, the 2010 Camaro would have done little for me, aesthetically. I know that BB’s likeable character is what softened the car’s retro-kinda-cool styling and made it digestible pour moi.
The 2014 model-year facelift with revised head and taillights transformed (not bad, eh?) the Camaro’s aura from old school to badass.
Sadly, not much (if anything) was done to the car’s cabin, and I guess that’s fine since what truly matters, as we all know, is how it all looks on the outside.
All three ‘Maros are brutish, wide, and angry but as the horsepower ratings climb, so too does the coefficient of badass-ness. The Z/28 is especially monstrous thanks to its huge front splitter, rear decklid spoiler, flared fenders, massive wheels and tires, and lowered ride height.
So much GO!
The SS 1LE is obviously the more reasonable Camaro of the bunch. It is the one I would drive on a daily basis, and track on weekends. The 426-horsepower SS’ exhaust system now makes the right kind of noise. What makes the 1LE special are the larger stabilizer bars and Goodyear Eagle Supercar G:2 tires; along with chassis upgrades, and the same close-ratio transmission as the ZL1 included with an air-to-liquid cooling system.
The ZL1 gets a supercharger wedged onto the SS’ LS3 6.2L V8 (name changed to LSA) and output climbs to 580 horsepower. Magnetic ride control takes on suspension duties, and Brembo upgrades the brakes to 6-piston front and 4-piston rear callipers from the 1LE’s 4-piston all around.
Both cars track beautifully with an enormous amount of grip and poise. It is surprising how civilised the Camaro is at speed despite its (some would say) archaic layout and general design. Turn-in is sharp and the ZL1 excels at leaving apexes, and does a much better job than the 1LE. Both are tremendous track cars.
The Camaro Z/28 is on another scale completely when compared with the 1LE and ZL1. The LS7’s immediate throttle response and roar send tingles down the spine as the grin sets in. The hyper-focused nature of the Z/28 is immediate, creates sensory overload, and a rushing desire to pin the throttle to the firewall and aim for the horizon. If the car’s looks don’t get you, the rush that comes from being at the wheel of the Z/28 will.
Then, I lined up to get on MMC’s track. My first time around was a little bit of a bust. I’d stepped out of the CLA 45 AMG and was only about to embark on my 2nd lap of the circuit. In a nutshell, I was on the brakes far too early, gun-shy in some corners, but was full-on retard as the steering wheel unwound. Instantaneous impressions were of tremendous front-end grip and immense stopping power.
The next time I took the Z/28 for a track romp, I was properly warmed up. The LS7 loves to rev and is happiest north of 4,500 rpm. Max 481 lb-ft of torques crash in at 4,800 rpm, and 505-horsepower at 6,100. The swell of power generated from the LS7 is fabulous and very much under control as the Z/28 is designed to tame it all. Fast is insufficient a word to describe this car’s pace. Although the ZL1 is more powerful, the Z/28 feels far quicker and more at home around the track.
The standard carbon-ceramic brakes are almost arrogant about their abilities. They reminded me early on that I could dive into corners later than I was comfortable with. Fade is non-existent and pedal feel is very user friendly.
The Z/28’s suspension is comprised of Dynamic Suspension Spool Valve (DSSV) dampers that feature individual control of high- and low-speed compression and rebound, providing stiffness and ride comfort. In other words, the setup is track-focused, but still very daily-driver friendly.
Let’s not forget that the Z/28 is 300lbs lighter than the ZL1. And then there are the “chunkerific” P305/30ZR19 Pirelli PZero Trofeo R tires located at all four corners…
A Camaro for all
Sadly, my time with the Z/28 was far too short and more than a tease; kind of like ScarJo blowing me a kiss, winking, then running away…
The bottom line is that the Camaro Z/28 is the most honed of race-prepped street legal cars one can buy under $100k. If the $78k starting price is too steep, the $60k ZL1 is a very acceptable alternative.
For you and I, the $42,465 SS 1LE is the solution. It’s fast, looks boss (2 for 1 review, boom!) and you know you want one.