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Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 long-term review

By Louis Cordony, 05 Jan 2020 Reviews

Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 long-term review feature

Chevrolet's brawny performance hero checks into the MOTOR garage

Introduction

When the GTS-R W1 sold out and signalled the Commodore's time at HSV was up, it revealed something remarkable about Aussie buying habits. Specifically, we'd hand over significant sums of cash ($169K) when an HSV is cranking out 474kW and 815Nm.

Of course, earth-turning power wasn't everything to it – those last-of-the-line serial numbers were pretty important too. But a GM-bred LS9 engine bolted into a rear-driver guaranteed a lot of appeal.

So it seemed good sense that when HSV secured the rights to re-engineer Chevrolet Camaros from left- to right-hand drive, it tried its best to nab something with close to the same grunt. Something like our newest long-termer, the Camaro ZL1.

What's a ZL1? Simply put, it's the most powerful and fastest Camaro sold in the United States. It relies on an LT4 V8 for firepower, a 6.2-litre small-block that spins a 1.7-litre supercharger to produce 477kW and 881Nm.

Matched to GM's 10-speed automatic transmission that, ironically, was co-developed with Ford, grunt is channelled to the rear wheels. There's an electronic differential up back as well, along with fat 305mm tyres.

Chevrolet claims accelerating from zero to 97km/h takes just 3.4sec and the quarter-mile is dusted in 11.4sec. We haven't come anywhere near that in our first few weeks together, but we look forward to trying.

You may have noticed we've driven this car previously. In fact, its 13,600km odo suggests that plenty of people have. Check out MOTOR August 2019, when it met the Mercedes-AMG C63 S Coupe and Ford Mustang Shelby Super Snake widebody. Sister magazine Street Machine even took it to the most recent Drag Challenge. Luckily, they didn't chew through the set of Mickey Thompson drag radials they took along, so we'll fit them to the ZL1 when we go to the strip.

But this is more than just some one-dimensional muscle cruiser hell-bent on quarter-mile times, as a ZL1 with an optional 1LE pack (only available in America) tore around the Nürburgring Nordschleife in 7min 16sec back in 2017. That's faster than the Porsche 997.2 911 GT2 RS.

It has adaptive dampers, something unavailable and much needed on the $86,990 Camaro 2SS, while up front are massive six-piston Brembo brakes. Adjustable electric Recaro seats also feature. We don't get the fearsome 1LE pack in Australia, but HSV does offer Goodyear Supercar Eagle 3 tyres as an option for $1000. They're the tyres it's meant to use but according to HSV they didn't pass the ADR split-surface test, so it comes with Continental ContiSportContact Sport 5s instead.

You can bet I'll see if the Continentals can handle its prodigious grunt. Maybe even sneak in a track session to try them back-to-back with the Goodyears. But our short time together so far suggests they'll struggle. Do as much as breathe on the throttle and you'll trigger the ESC.

Other impressions so far? It's a fairly stressful thing to potter around town. The car is 4831mm long, so half a ruler short of five metres, while WW2 machine-gun bunkers would boast better visibility. You sit low in what is an already low-riding car with a high beltline. I quickly gave up on darting traffic manoeuvres.

The doors are long, so it's fairly difficult to get out of, and it could use some front parking sensors.

Then there's its thirst. Its first fill came in at 17.1 litres per 100km and it hadn't even come close to a track.

Or full throttle.

Yet you don't need anywhere near that to sense the monster lurking just beneath the surface. That LT4's strong bottom-end means it lazily closes gaps in traffic, and the supercharger whine chimes in to remind you of how many horses it can unleash on demand.

But it's a smooth cruiser. And I'm impressed with how solid the interior looks and feels after all the hard, press-driven kilometres it's endured. There's not a squeak or rattle from the dash.

Ultimately, we're hoping to discover whether this $163,100 muscle coupe is everything that price implies it's cracked up to be.

No matter what the result, though, at the end of six months we know that this journey is at least going to be entertaining.

2019 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Spider Pros & Cons

Things we love
1 - Seats
2 - Looks
3 - Blower whine

Things we loathe
1 - Visibility
2 - Thirst
3 - Size

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*This article originally stated the LT4 V8 in the ZL1 used a 1.4-litre supercharger. That was incorrect, it uses a 1.7-litre unit.