This ultra extreme and massively hardcore Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE is one of the most satisfying ways to turn petrol into speed and fury.
Chevy’s LT4 supercharged small block is the core, but it’s the rest of the package that makes this GM’s most approachable, focused, and least compromised track car in recent memory.
While the ZL1 uses the top engine available in the Camaro, with gargantuan outputs of 485kW and 868Nm, the 1LE adds a track-optimised package that’s anything but window dressing. It’s the sort of car that defines street presence and has the performance to back it up.
Even at 1725kg, Chevy’s lapped the Nurburgring Nordschleife in a remarkable 7min16sec. For context, that’s a couple of seconds shy of Chevy’s own Corvette Z06 and, perhaps more tellingly, two full ticks quicker than the time set by a d'Ring specialist in a Porsche 991.2 GT3.
Yes, this Camaro is blazingly quick. The 1LE’s platform has been developed, without compromise, for track performance, and careful attention has been paid to the driver’s ability to easily access nearly the entirety of its performance envelope.
While it helps if you’re a professional pilot, this Camaro has that same easy approachability as an MX-5, but at a much, much higher level. As a road car, the 1LE should be reserved for the hardest of hardcore.
With racetrack-spec spring rates, minimal suspension travel, and matched damping rates, the Camaro bucks and bounces just as you’d expect from a caged and numbered racing car. It’s only on the smoothest road surfaces when the 1LE feels perfectly at home, and when you find that impeccably finished stretch of asphalt, it’s bliss.
It starts with a wonderfully fitted cockpit, the Recaro buckets set low to the floor, a small diameter steering wheel on a highly adjustable column, perfectly placed pedals, and a wonderfully direct shifter within easy reach. Chevy’s done an excellent job with first-level controls so that the driver can extract this Camaro’s obscene amount of performance.
Steering assist changes with each drive mode and, whether you’re in Touring, Sport, or Track mode, precision is excellent and on-centre feel is strong. The lesser assist and heavier input in Sport and Track modes feels a bit artificial, but doesn’t detract from the system’s inherent precision and high level of control.
The 1LE’s 19-inch wheel and tyre package is lighter and wider than the 20-inch set-up of the standard ZL1. The ultra-sticky, barely street legal, dry-weather-only Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar 3Rs are 305/30 R19 on 11-inch wide wheels up front and 325/30 R19 on 12-inch wheels at the back.
Not only is the grip immense, but the 3R also has predictable breakaway characteristics, making throttle-controlled yaw angles easy. Up front, six-pot calipers clamp two-piece, 390mm rotors, while the rear axle uses one-piece 365mm rotors and four-pot calipers.
Brembo is the brake caliper supplier of choice for good reason – brake feel, control, power, and fade resistance score five stars across the board. Springs, dampers, and anti-roll bars are all bespoke for the ZL1 1LE package. In front, the dampers are adjustable for ride height and include camber plates, while the rear anti-roll bar is adjustable for stiffness.
The ZL1’s magnetic ride dampers are dropped in favour of a set of coil-over, spool valve dampers from Canadian racing specialist Multimatic. They’re not just lightweight, but the engineering behind these dampers ensures predictable body and wheel control in a simple, lightweight package.
Among a list of famous motorsport clientele, Red Bull Racing notably won its F1 world championships on spool valve dampers from Multimatic. At speed, the 1LE’s aero package glues the Camaro to the road.
The enormous front splitter and dive planes take care of front downforce, and the decklid-mounted, highly sculpted carbon-fibre wing adds downforce at the rear axle – and robs the driver of some visibility out the rear window. The aero package also resulted in punishing fuel consumption – over 1600km, the 1LE averaged 17L/100km.
The vast output of Chevy’s LT4 is channelled through a perfectly geared six-speed manual ’box from Tremec and GM’s excellent electronically-controlled, limited-slip differential. Shifting that six-speed is one of the highlights of the 1LE, with its wonderful, precise feel from the shifter and a clutch pedal that provides clear engagement feedback.
The LT4’s torque ensures that downshifts are rarely required, but it’s so satisfying that you’ll find excuses to change gear. Rev matching is easily switchable, on or off, via the steering wheel-mounted paddles. The e-diff is similar to the units we’ve found enjoyable in the Corvette Z06 as well as the ATS-V and CTS-V Cadillacs.
It works nearly as well in this application, but has a little too much lock at city speeds, and with the sticky rubber, you’ll notice a little crabbing when parking. Zero to 100 km/h launches are accomplished in the mid-threes and its top speed is unquestionably limited by its extensive aero kit.
Lateral grip is said by Chevy to be 1.1g, which makes the deep Recaro buckets necessary. The real trick to the ZL1 1LE is how each system is optimised to give the driver complete confidence at any speed.
Everything from power, steering, braking, outright grip, feedback from the chassis – it’s how everything is harmonised into this beautiful machine that makes it one of the most approachable, mega fast cars available today. There are plenty of track specials, but none are as easy to drive as quickly and as confidently as this Camaro.
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By no means is it the perfect road car, but it may be the most perfect track-ready road car. You could, in theory, weld a cage into it and go racing. You’d be crazy, because it’s such a wonderfully engineered road car, however, perhaps it’s best kept as that special car you reserve specifically for track-day domination.
4.5 stars out 5
Likes: Accessible performance; shift action; presence
Dislikes: On-road ride quality; unusable rear seats; fuel consumption
2018 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE Specs:
Engine: 6162cc V8, OHV, 16v, supercharged
Power: 485kW @ 6400rpm
Torque: 868Nm @ 3600rpm
0-100km/h: 3.6sec (claimed)