Welcome to the Camaro ZL1, the latest iteration of Chevy's sixth-generation Camaro, a car that has impressed us at every turn. Smaller, lighter and sharper than the previous model, Gen 6 came out swinging in 2015, facing off against a similarly reborn Mustang and, in the eyes of many, coming out ahead.
Chevrolet has followed that up with the predictable bevy of editions since, but now it's time for the big boy. It's the $63,435 Camaro ZL1, and this year it's rolling with 650 horsepower and 650 pound-feet of torque courtesy of the supercharged, 6.2-liter LT4 V8.
2017 Camaro ZL1
1 - 6 of 48NEXTPREV
It is, quite simply a monster, but it's much more than that: this is a monster that you can live with on a daily basis. That's especially true if you go for the automatic transmission, and though such a statement has historically been blasphemy, the new ZL1 doesn't have time for such sentiment.
The tech behind a better launch
2017 Camaro ZL1
With the standard line lock function, you can make all the tire smoke you want -- without burning out your clutch or your brakes.
The modern muscle car can't just be a straight-line demon. That isn't good enough anymore. Performance on the racetrack is a desirable part of the equation, too, and of course streetability will always be key.
Strip, street and track, the ZL1 tries to be all things to all of those places. Chevrolet engineers call it "the trifecta" and, for 2017, the drag strip was a big focus. The new ZL1 will hit 60 in 3.5 seconds and scream its way through the quarter in 11.4 with a 127 mph trap speed. That's about a half-second faster than before.
A big reason for the extra performance is the additional power, some 70 up over the last generation. The car has also lost weight, over 200 pounds worth, and while those two factors necessarily equate to a faster car, it goes a lot deeper than that. The new, 10-speed automatic transmission shifts in just 300 milliseconds, making the absolute most of those 650 lb-ft of torque, and the upgraded launch control has received some huge upgrades.
Launch control is almost expected functionality on sports cars these days, but the ZL1 truly raises the bar. Not only are there different levels of launches enabled depending on the available traction, you can actually create your own, custom flavor. Use the controls on the steering wheel to specify exactly what RPM the car should hold and precisely how much wheelspin will be allowed. How precise? How about 0.5 percent increments.
After a few tweaks the result is perfect launches, every time, and those wanting the fastest trap times will definitely want to select the 10-speed auto. It's four-tenths of a second quicker over the quarter.
On the track
2017 Camaro ZL1
The requisite giant Brembos are present, and capable.
Going fast in a straight line doesn't typically equate to handling ability in the corners, but the ZL1 doesn't disappoint here, either. We were given a few sessions on the big circuit at Willow Springs, sadly not enough to properly get comfortable with the car, but plenty to realize the potential.
Like the other performance-oriented GM autos, the ZL1 has a whole slew of driving modes to choose from. Yes, you'll want to be in Track of course to start, but from there you have five further gradations to customize your experience based on the track's level of grip and your level of expertise.
With 650 horsepower on tap and a torque curve offering all the subtlety of a sledgehammer, there's no shame in wanting a little help to smooth out the power delivery.
Or confidence, perhaps. With 650 horsepower on tap and a torque curve offering all the subtlety of a sledgehammer, there's no shame in wanting a little help to smooth out the power delivery.On Willow's fast, sweeping turns the ZL1 felt planted, MagneRide suspension coping with the numerous surface imperfections and the 285/30ZR20 front and 305/30ZR2 rear Goodyear Eagle F1 SuperCar 3 tires acting like velcro on the vintage but grippy pavement. Here, I was less convinced that the 10-speed auto was preferable to th