I knew I was in for a rousing test drive when given the keys to a 426 horsepower Carbon Flash Metallic 2012 45th Anniversary Chevrolet Camaro SS as my shuttle vehicle. The SS is a potent pony car in its own right, however, I was out to conquer bigger game on this trip. And that beast was the ground pounding 580 horsepower 2012 Camaro ZL1 at one of Virginia’s most valued and technically challenging treasures, Virginia International Raceway (VIR).
I picked up my SS in Raleigh, North Carolina and headed directly to VIR. While en route, the thought of how easily taming this legendary vehicle could be kept arising. After all, this wouldn’t be my first time behind the wheel of a muscle car on a track nor my first experience at VIR having done the beautiful, but challenging course on a Yamaha R1 and R6. Upon arrival I laid eyes on them; a bevy of ZL1s calmly waiting for testament! I confidently buckled into the driver’s seat and turned on the ignition, quickly realizing how full my hands where when it literally growled with fierceness.
The ZL1 packs a supercharged 6.2-liter LSA V8 producing 580 horsepower with 556 lb.-ft. of torque; is capable of exploding from 0 to 60 mph in less than four seconds; and accelerates up to 184 mph. These stats align the Camaro within the same category as greats such as the Audi R8 GT, Maserati Gran Tursimo and Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG. All of which will set you back by a minimum of $120,000. The ZL1, however, has a starting price of $54,995. With only six options including the Hydra-Matic 6L90 6-speed automatic transmission; 20″ aluminum wheels; exposed carbon fiber hood; power sunroof; and a suede package, the ZL1 is a highly impressive bargain in comparison. The standard transmission is a Tremec TR6060 6-speed manual. In this case, the automatic tranny isn’t simply a “fluff” alternative for those that do not prefer manuals. The fastest time posted at VIR was actually done with the automatic, which offers a manual mode that makes full use of the steering wheel-mounted tap shifters.
On the track, the ZL1 is pure excitement with every aspect of the vehicle’s design having been developed specifically to enhance performance — including extensive wind tunnel tests to improve aerodynamics with a vented carbon-fiber hood, front splitter and a rear spoiler. Aerodynamics underneath were also modified with the use of brake and rear-differential coolers and dual belly pans for better airflow over the driveline components. Even the fuel pump was redesigned to improve performance. And yes, while having the tires extended beyond the vehicle’s body does aid in its menacing look, this was also done to improve drive function. “Regardless of how aesthetically pleasing some of our previous concepts may have been, if they didn’t improve performance, they were scrapped,” said Tom Peter, GM Performance Cars director. Several members of the ZL1 design team also worked on the record breaking Corvette ZR1. This of course was a great benefit to the development of the ZL1 as lessons from the ZR1 were directly incorporated into the ZL1.
With such incredible capabilities, certainly the ZL1 couldn’t be a “comfortable” everyday vehicle. On the contrary, it very much is. While touring the winding back roads of Virginia and North Carolina, I forgot I was in the ZL1 and felt as if I were back in the SS. This is credited to the ZL1’s Performance Traction Management system, first introduced on the ZR1. This system allows the driver to modify traction and stability control, magnetic ride control and launch control with the use of five modes; Wet, Dry, Sport 1, Sport 2 and Race. “We can always add more horsepower, but our goal was to make a track-ready vehicle (with a full manufacturer warranty) that combined the comforts of a daily driver,” said Al Oppenheiser, Camaro chief engineer. “We also worked purposefully on the sound of the ZL1 to provide a complete ‘drivers’ experience,” he continued.
One of my few disappointments, however, with the ZL1 (and Camaro in general) is the center console area. With today’s technological advancements, it’s a wonder why GM continues to cheapen their products with lackluster plastics. This, combined with an AM/FM stereo/navigation display that resembles a throwback to the late 90s is quite puzzling. The ZL1 is such an exceptional vehicle, why not put a little more effort into the interior design other than the optional suede package.
The ZL1 is set to hit the showrooms shortly. And though dealerships may not experience the madness and maelstrom as witnessed with the release of the Jordan Galaxy Foams, such a frenzy would be completely understandable…and more than worthwhile.