Fast, powerful and very technologically advanced
By Cam Benty
Few three-digit nameplates mean as much to performance fans as the code name ZL1. In the 1960’s, Regular Production Option (RPO) ZL1 signified big horsepower and a huge helping of aluminum engine components. The two ZL1 Corvettes produced in 1969 featured an aluminum 427cid big block engine rated at 525 HP despite actually producing a lot more ponies. The 69 ZL1 Camaros produced in 1969 carried the same powertrain and a lot of prestige from on-track performance. If you have any of these very rare cars today, you can pretty much name your own price – and go buy a house.
So with that legacy, when Chevrolet reintroduced the ZL1 moniker back in 2012 it carried a 6.2-liter engine cranking out 580 brake horsepower and 556 lbs. ft. of torque – impressive numbers for sure and substantially more than the original cars Since horsepower in the ’60’s was rated as GROSS horsepower (meaning without water pump, fuel pump, alternator an other accessories) rather than NET horsepower as is the case today (with all of these accessories dragging on the engine and reducing HP output at the flywheel) the 580 HP figure is approximately 18% .higher than that of the 1969 edition.
So not to leave a good thing alone, for 2019 Chevrolet has increased and refined the manners of their ZL1 stirring in better suspension pieces, body structure and a drivetrain that makes this Camaro the most powerful streetable F-Body ever to touch the tarmac. With a supercharged LT4 V8 engine that generates 650 NET horsepower and a symmetrical 650 lb. ft. of torque, its plenty fast yet can be driven down the racetrack or to the grocery store without issue. Today we demand vehicles that exhibit refinement and the ZL1 delivers.
Credit for the amazing streetability should also be given to the Standard Magnetic Ride control that allows you to pick the level of sporty driving you require for the road (or race track) ahead and the 8-speed automatic transmission (yes a 6-speed manual is still available fans) that shifts with melted-margarine smoothness . . . that is until you activate the sport driving mode and shift through the easily reachable paddle shift system. Then you’re gonna feel it.
A note about the highly advanced nature of the automatic transmission system used in the ZL1 from a fan of manual transmission shift systems. A highly decorated racer who had had considerably time behind the wheel of both the Camaro and the Corvette let me know that the automatic is actually faster around most road courses than the manual shift car. Furthermore he noted that the Camaro was slightly faster than the Corvette when placed head to head at the test track in Florida. Before you shout “heresy,” the source making these claims was the shake down driver for the Pratt & Miller Corvette Race team (no names will divulged here, sorry) – so I place a lot of credibility on his comments.
The ZL1 also receives a host of exterior elements that give it a very aggressive shape with things like a special rear deck spoiler and a front splitter that will certainly pick up its share of curbs for drivers who aren’t thinking ahead. The tire and wheel combination is exactly what you would figure for a car of this stature – massive. The ZL1 uses Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar 3 tires measuring 285/30ZR20 up front and 305’s of similar spec in the rear. The wheels are 20 x 10-inches wide in the front, an inch wider in the rear.
The interior of the Camaro features a layout we have grown accustomed to with a center monitor that contains all of the key readouts like entertainment, phone, climate controls and the like. Through the steering wheel there are a number of adjustable read outs as well from trip reset to mileage to speed The tach and speedometer are easy to see night or day.
Two vents at the top of the console (or the bottom of the dash/center) not only provide excellent airflow control, but a simple twist left or right for the outer ring will warm things up or cool them down. Just above that is a long row of buttons that control everything from seat heaters and coolers, climate automation, defrosters front and rear and a lot more.
Heads Up Display (HUD) controls are to the left of the steering column and can be tuned to the driver’s preference for content, illumination and position. We like the HUD display with the engine dyno graph to monitor engine rpm and the tiny digital read out next to the graph that gave us instant side cornering G-Force figures.
The seating position is good with great visibility even in the convertible we tested. The power seats are nicely articulated with lots of support even through the passenger side seat does not lay back as much as some passengers requested. The seats are deep and make you feel like you are tucked down in the car, something that has been the feeling since the Camaro 5th Gens debuted in 2010.
Technology is everywhere in the new Camaro. But some of the very cool stuff that can be had on this platform may not be obvious. The ZL1 and the ZL1 1LE (a race bred version that just did the Nurburgring in 7.16 minutes – that fast for the unaware) are highly sophisticated. The ZL1 features and highly advanced stability control, traction control and massive Brembo brakes (15.35-inch front/14.4-inch rear). But tap the traction control twice and a whole new screen is revealed (think video game – but real) to those looking for race aids.
The Camaro has an inner race persona that offers up things like Launch Control and Line Lock that will make you the hero of the drag strip, able to make Top Fuel style burns outs and impressive quarter mile times. The Camaro can also be ordered with a Performance Data Recorder that will video tape and chart you abilities around a course delivering F1 team-style educational information to help you improve your lap times. There is no better aid for the novice or advanced track racer.
So as you can tell, the new ZL1 Camaro is not only a brute force machine capable of 0 – 60 mph times of around 3.5 seconds and quarter mile time slips of 11.5 at 127 mph. It’s way faster than the original ZL1’s of yore, after all there were only a handful of special muscle cars from that era that could touch the 12-second quarter mile timing. Our test car, which was a ZL1 with a very efficient and cool-to-watch convertible top mechanism, listed for $72,537 and included a host of very cool upgrades. Racer or boulevard profiler, anyone can find peace in the ZL1 Camaro – unless they like it loud – and there’s a button to help irritate the neighbors too.
How times have changed – and that’s a good thing.
Supercharged 6.2L LT4 V8 rated at 650 horsepower, and 6-speed manual transmission with Active Rev Matching
Track cooling package with engine oil, differential and transmission coolers
Dual-mode exhaust system
Available 10-speed paddle-shift automatic that delivers nearly instantaneous shifts for maximum performance
Satin black hood with carbon fiber air extractor
Larger front splitter and integrated dive planes
Exposed weave carbon fiber rear wing adds up to 300 lb. of downforce
Multimatic DSSV dampers with adjustable front ride height
Adjustable front camber plates and rear stabilizer bar
Electronic limited-slip differential with 3.73 ratio
Available Performance Data Recorder