Since the rebirth of the Detroit Three, I have been enamored by only a handful of new vehicles from the domestic manufacturers.
What can I say, I am not easy to please.
One of the has been the Cadillac CTS-V. Boasting over 550 horsepower and featuring the same suspension tech found in the Chevrolet Corvette, the fun factor is there. And while many folks were running after the BMW E60 M5, I would have put my money into the V.
BUT even at its relatively low price of admission at $63,215 some people still find it to have a somewhat steep barrier of entry. That's because realistically you'll be paying $71,000 for it to feature the equipment that should have been standard. In addition, the car isn't without its faults. The CTS-V cornered with a bit of body roll and, overall, feels a bit too heavy. This is OK for the road but not so for the track. So, General Motors decided to improve upon this.
This neatly brings us to our subject, the ZL1. Compared to the Cadillac CTS-V it has a touch more power and has a bit more rawness to it. That's a good thing if you appreciate performance. And if you're debating snatching up a car with over 550 horsepower, I am sure you do.
2013 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1
Powered by the LSA V8 found in the CTS-V, this motor produces 580 horsepower and 556 lb.-ft. of torque. Coupled with this power plant is a six-speed manual gearbox and if you can handle the force being put to the ground, zero to 60 can happen in four seconds. If you'd rather let the car do the work, you can slim the time down to 3.9 seconds, which is the same as the CTS-V.
Probably the most distinguishable characteristic about the ZL1's six-speed row-it-yourself is the clutch pedal. It is easily the heaviest clutch I've ever had the chance to drive. Your left leg may just fall off if you find yourself stuck in a traffic jam. The good news about this though is that this makes it particularly easy to launch the car and feel the engagement point.
Then there's the exhaust. While the V is not going to make you feel as though you're in a library, the ZL1 seems to be a bit louder especially at wide open throttle. While the V has to have a bit more refinement to it because it's a Cadillac, the Chevrolet can let it all hang out without any repercussions.
So far, so good then, it seems. And just think, I haven't even gotten to the best part.
What will really shock anyone who drives a ZL1 is the steering. Remember how I said the Cadillac felt a bit too heavy and you felt it in the corners? Remarkably, General Motors worked the kinks out big time. Rather than have that ponderous feel of the V, the ZL1 is much more direct and dare I say nimble.
When I took this Camaro on my usual, windy test roads I literally laughed out loud when I took the corner at speed and the vehicle responded much faster and flatter than I ever expected. Though the ZL1 weighs 4,120 pounds — only a 132 pound difference from the CTS-V with an autobox — its dynamics are significantly different.
In addition, the ZL1 also features the same suspension tech found in the Corvette and CTS-V, with the magnetic switch. At the touch of a button you feel the car tense up a bit and get hunkered down. And, surprisingly, even with my test cars' blacked-out set of 20-inch wheels, the ZL1 didn't feel too rough over broken pavement. You'll feel it, that's for sure, but it isn't as bad as one would suspect.
If your preconceived notions are that the ZL1 is simply "just another Camaro" or a "watered down CTS-V" I encourage you to take one for a spin. It feels NOTHING like a Camaro SS and it is MUCH more fun than a V, any day of the week.
It feels like an entirely new vehicle. So, how did Chevrolet decide to let the ZL1 stand out from the Camaro family? It's all pretty subtle, actually.
While not everyone will find the carbon fiber insert on the hood subtle, as well as the strategically placed "ZL1" badging, you do have to keep in mind that in the mod-happy world of Camaros, this is pretty tame. The dead giveaways are the new front grille, modified front valence with its extra large front splitter, the quad-tipped exhaust at the back and enlarged rear decklid spoiler.
All in all, I'd say that this is one seriously well thought-out set of packaging that gives the ZL1 some flair without overdoing it. It's just right and in line with what you'd find on an AMG, M or RS product.
BUT, as expected, the interior could use some more work.
On the inside the interior remains essentially unchanged from the standard Camaro. Sure, you get some Alcantara-covered bits on the seats, steering wheel and dash but that's it. The Alcantara make the seats more grippy and a touch more comfortable but at the end of the day with 580 horsepower this baby needs a set of hip-hugging Recaros. Something tells me this will likely become an option in 2014 as we saw at the 2013 New York Auto Show, the Z28 has a killer pair of Recaros up front.
The complaints mentioned in previous Camaro interiors still rings true: It looks great; however, once you start feeling around you're bound to be disappointed. The plastics aren't so hot and when you think of cars at this price point, a proper navigation set up — with a LARGE screen — would be nice. A nice feature is the head's up display (HUD) but when compared to what other automakers are creating, it could be more visually appealing.
Frankly, this isn't a surprise though. If you've followed the GM formula over the years it's simple. Start with a boatload of power, improve the driving dynamics over the stock car, give the exterior some panache and just spice up the interior a little bit. That's it.
The decision you have to make is simple: Do I want a more refined interior and sacrifice power? Or, do I want the power with an interior with a lower standard?
If you're in-market for a new highly powerful coupe, that's what you have to ask yourself. Oh, and if you don't mind getting around 12 mpg.
For around $55,000 it's hard to do much better.
- Powerrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr! No matter the gear you're always being pulled
- The exterior looks awesome — specifically in Orange with the blacked-out wheels
- Hands down more fun than the more expensive Cadillac CTS-V Coupe
- Chevrolet did not splurge on the interior — could do with some proper seats given the high horsepower and cornering ability
- REALLY heavy clutch
- It's a Chevrolet, which means brand cachet is lacking
- If you're looking at a CTS-V Coupe, you owe it to yourself to give this a drive. AND, if you don't care about interior accoutrements, THIS is the vehicle to have.
2013 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1