2017 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 amps up the muscle car battle
2017 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 unveiled (Photo: GM)
Brian Makse, Autofocus.ca
Published Friday, March 18, 2016 1:26PM EDT
General Motors has unveiled the 2017 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, its latest entry in the ongoing race for the superior modern muscle car.
The pony car war is one of the most hotly contested battles at the moment, and it’s been a game of one-upmanship since the latest Mustang was launched a year-and-a-half a go. Since then, GM has fired back with an all-new Camaro, based on the Alpha platform shared with the Cadillac ATS and CTS models.
Ford responded with their top-tier Mustang, the GT350, with its flat-plane-crank V8 and lightweight, track-specification GT350R package.
Now with the introduction of the 2017 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, it's a full-on super-pony car battle.
At the presentation I attended, Mark Reuss, GM’s executive VP of global product, flatly stated that this Camaro ZL1 can be compared to any two-plus-two. That’s a daring statement, but after going for a quick ride in a ZL1 development mule, Chevy’s onto something.
Where the fifth-generation ZL1 was more muscle car, comparatively, the 2017 model has spent some time at the gym, packing more muscle and trimming down. In fact, it’s 200 pounds lighter than before, and with 640 horsepower on tap (60 more than before), this is a recipe that makes the ZL1 the current winner of the pony car war.
Of course, there’s more to it that shedding weight and adding power. It uses a version of the LT4 – a 6.2-litre, supercharged small-block V8 – which carefully doesn’t exceed the Corvette ZR1’s 650 horsepower, although 640 isn’t too far off. It makes a stunning 640 lb-ft of torque, as well.
Reuss said the transmission choices are either a “track-oriented” six-speed manual, which translates to an uprated, close-ratio box with rev-matched downshifts; or a ten-speed automatic engineered and manufactured in-house by General Motors. While GM says it shifts faster than dual-clutch boxes and by ear it shifts remarkably quick, we’ll have to conduct our own testing to be sure.
The ZL1 also gets the excellent electronically controlled limited-slip differential, which is proven to work brilliantly on Corvettes and the Cadillac V models. Twenty-inch wheels are standard, fitted with bespoke Goodyear Eagle F1 rubber in 285-mm front and 305-mm rear widths. Brakes are conventional steel pieces, but the front rotors are massive, two-piece units clamped by six piston calipers. The superb, third-generation magnetic ride dampers are standard.
Aero changes include wider front fenders, under body panels with ZL1-specific components, like the front fascia, hood, rockers and spoiler. The grill’s bowtie is open for airflow, an idea piloted in the recent Camaro Z/28, which is of course called the “flowtie.” Corny, I know. Cooling is a major concern and Reuss pointed out that there are eleven heat exchangers on board the ZL1.
The interior is updated with a suede steering wheel (and the Camaro’s got what amounts to perhaps the best wheel in the business these days, so this could be steering wheel perfection) and shifter, as well as big, bolstered Recaro seats with suede inserts and leather trim.
That may sound a little luxe for track work, and perhaps it is, but in the strictest sense, if you want a race car, build a race car. The ZL1 was made to be a daily driver with a massive performance envelope that you can take to the track, blow away European sports cars all day, and then drive home in air-conditioned comfort.
Unlike the Mustang, the folks at Chevy have enough confidence that the ZL1 will perform anywhere and any time that there’s no need for a track-oriented option package.
Following this surprise presentation, I was afforded the opportunity to be taken for a spin in that six-speed, camouflaged ZL1 development mule by Aaron Link, one of GM’s very talented development engineers. As you may observe in the accompanying video of the drive, I don’t have much to say because I was absorbing as much about the Camaro’s dynamics as possible.
Sure, the mountain of power is impressive, but I was struck by how well-balanced the ZL1’s overall package is, and particularly its turn-in response. It was as sharp and as predictable as the best from Europe.
Reuss may be on to something with the notion that the ZL1 compares to any two-plus-two. Certainly, the ZL1 will trounce the Mustang GT350 in any test of performance, and there are only a couple of other two-plus-twos in the world that might outperform this Camaro—however, they cost multiples of this Chevy.
Pricing wasn’t announced, but expect the 2017 Camaro ZL1 to start a little north of $70,000 when it hits showrooms later this summer.