What if a Corvette Z06 had four seats? It’s a question more than a few people have no doubt asked themselves when trying to rationalize a Z06 with the realities of family life and one Chevrolet appears to be answering with the all-new 2017 Camaro ZL1.
No, a Camaro isn’t a Corvette, but hear us out. This new ZL1 uses the Z06’s LT4 6.2-liter, supercharged V-8 fitted with a Camaro-specific intake, two-mode exhaust, and computer tuning. It’s good for 640 hp and 640 lb-ft of torque. It employs magnetorheological shock absorbers like the Z06, careful aerodynamic tuning like the Z06, scads of fluid coolers like the Z06, an electronically controlled limited-slip differential like the Z06, a Drive Mode Selector and Performance Traction Management like the Z06, big Brembo brakes like the Z06, the Performance Data Recorder like the Z06, and racing seats like the Z06. The only thing the ZL1 didn’t copy is its looks.
Even if it’s not identical to the Z06, there’s a lot to like here. Where the old ZL1 was more dragstrip than road course, this one’s designed for curves. Adjustable magnetic shocks are standard, as is the electronically controlled limited-slip and the Recaro race seats. The exterior has been extensively reworked in the wind tunnel and on the Nrburgring to improve aerodynamics and features a big front splitter and rear wing, new rockers, wider front fenders, new underbody panels, a larger lower grille for more airflow, new front brake-cooling ducts, and a new hood with a carbon-fiber vent. The old Z/28’s famous “flow tie,” a hollowed-out Chevrolet bow tie badge that allows for more airflow into the radiator, makes its return on the upper grille. No need to worry about overheating, either; a ZL1 aerodynamics engineer told us that while keeping the LT4 cool is always a challenge, his team was able to shoehorn 11 heat exchangers into the Chevy. Like the Camaro SS, the ZL1 rides on 20-inch wheels at all corners, but now they’re wearing 285-width front and 305-width rear tires. Specifically, Goodyear Eagle F1Supercar tires designed for the ZL1. They’re backed by six-piston front and four-piston rear Brembo calipers chewing on 15-inch front and 14-inch rear rotors, themselves 1.5 and 1.0 inches larger in diameter than on the SS, respectively.
The lower curb weight will further enhance the new ZL1’s cornering ability. Chevrolet claims the new car is 200 pounds (91 kg) lighter than the old one, which would make it about 3,850 pounds (1,746 kg) based on our measurement of the previous ZL1. That’s about 150 pounds (68 kg) heavier than the SS, but the extra 60 hp and 84 lb-ft ought to handle it fine.
Handling that extra power will be a standard six-speed manual gearbox with active rev-matching and performance gearing. Chevrolet’s all-new, paddle-shifted 10-speed automatic (co-developed with Ford, in an amusing twist) is optional; the company claims it will offer incredibly fast gearshifts and close gear ratios. It’ll be GM’s first application of the new transmission and will be rolled out to numerous other products in the near future.
That’s the hardware, and there’s equally impressive software to go with it. Chevrolet’s excellent Performance Traction Management system, which allows the driver to dial in as much or as little assistance as desired, is standard. The ZL1 is also equipped with a Drive Mode Selector, letting you toggle from Eco mode all the way up to Track. It’s also got a new trick: Custom Launch Control, allowing you to dial in the exact launch rpm you need based on track conditions at the strip. Chevy’s Performance Data Recorder, which allows you to record video and data from your hot laps, is available.
Chevy is so confident in the Camaro ZL1’s track credentials that GM president Dan Ammann and executive vice president of global product development Mark Reuss surprised journalists with track rides at Nevada’s Spring Mountain Raceway on the Camaro Convertible launch. With Ammann and Reuss at the wheel, the 10-speed-equipped ZL1s were a thrilling ride. The Camaro is thrillingly quick—it hooks up and accelerates smoothly without the violence of something like a Challenger Hellcat. The 10-speed automatic appeared to shift instantly at the pull of the steering wheel-mounted paddles as the GM execs rattled up and down through the first six gears on the track. The Magnetic Ride shocks helped keep the Camaro ZL1 flat through corners, and it shrugged off the track’s curbing, much like the old Camaro Z/28.
After the lap we had a chance to catch up with Al Oppenheiser, the chief engineer behind the new Camaro. When we asked him if the new ZL1 was quicker around the track than the Z/28, he said, “The ZL1’s benchmark was the Z/28. And you know what benchmarks are for.”
The old ZL1 was good for a 3.9-second sprint to 60 mph at a 12.2-second quarter mile at 116.6 mph (188 km/h) on our test track, and we expect this lighter, more powerful car to bring those times down and that trap speed up. The old car’s 0.99 average sustained g and 24.0-second figure-eight lap time at 0.85 average g are both likely to bested, as well. The last ZL1’s 100-foot 60-to-zero stopping distance will be tough to beat, but that will probably fall, too. Given that old ZL1 was nipping at the heels of the 707-hp Dodge Challenger Hellcat on the dragstrip, this new car will likely outrun the Hellcat just as easily as it runs circles around the big coupe. Ford, if it does another Mustang GT500, will have a hell of a fight on its hands.
You can get yours late this year, sometime in the fourth quarter. Pricing hasn’t been announced, but the old model’s $57,650 USD starting price is likely indicative of where this new ZL1 will start.
|2016 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1|
|LAYOUT||Fr-eng, RWD, 4-pass, 2-door coupe|
|ENGINE||6.2L/640-hp/640-lb-ft s’ch’d OHV 16-valve V-8|
|TRANSMISSION||6-sp man; 10-sp auto|
|CURB WEIGHT||3,850 lb (MT est)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||188.3 x 74.7 x 53.1 in|
|0-60 MPH||3.3-3.5 sec (MT est)|
|EPA ECON||13-15/21-24/17-19 mpg (est)|
|ON SALE||Winter 2016|