by Gabe Beita Kiser
The overtly cartoonish, and yet most capable, American sports coupe available today, the 2019 Chevrolet Camaro has once again been subjected to the ZL1 treatment, with the Corvette's 6.2-liter LT4 doing duty under the long hood. Available with either a six-speed manual or a 10-speed automatic, the ZL1 is the more track-focused rival to its Mustang and Challenger counterparts. Specced with the 1LE package, the ZL1 can be turned into such a hardcore racer that a professional driver could lap the Nurburgring's Nordschleife circuit in 7:16:04. A true race car for the road, it is anything but subtle. It does have its foibles, though, most notably a lack of cargo space compared to the Ford Mustang, as well as very thick A-pillars which make outward visibility a challenge. But with 650 horsepower and 650 lb-ft of torque, you can easily get the car sideways and look out the side windows if you are all that curious about scenery; the Camaro ZL1's performance focus, fun-to-drive nature, and reasonable price for a pony-car outweigh the majority of its negatives.
2019's refresh sees the Camaro subjected to a new rear bumper and updated taillights, which are tinted with the inclusion of the 1LE package to differentiate it from slower models. More color options have been added to the ambient lighting menu, and the performance data recorder and rearview camera have also been improved. The Infotainment 3 audio system has received a software update as well, and the wireless charging system has been optimized to refill your smartphone's battery more conveniently. Forward collision warning is now standard as well.
A road-legal Hot Wheels toy, the ZL1 is garish, with spoilers everywhere. Fortunately, the wind deflectors are there for a reason and actively enhance the aerodynamics of the car. From the front, LED daytime running lights and headlamps make the Chevy easy to identify even at night, while the rear taillights and aft bumper have been restyled for 2019 so that Mustang owners in your wake know that they lost to the new model. Spinning in on 20-inch ten-split-spoke forged aluminum wheels, the ZL1 can be had with 19-inch black-painted wheels with the Extreme Track Package equipped.
The manual Camaro's curb weight of 3,883lbs is hefty, but not a problem for the seriously powerful small-block V8, even with the added weight for the automatic variant going up to 3,994 lbs. In terms of real estate, the ZL1's length is 190.2 inches, and with a height of 52.9 inches, only the convertible variant is lower. It's wider than normal too, at 75 inches, while its wheelbase is no different from lesser Camaros, measuring 110.7 inches.
2018's paint options included Nightfall Gray Metallic, Bright Yellow (a color reminiscent of Transformer's BumbleBee), Arctic Blue Metallic (which actually looked like a whitish silver), and Hyper Blue Metallic, but all four of these options have been scrapped this year. In their place are Shadow Gray Metallic, Satin Steel Gray Metallic, Riverside Blue Metallic, and a plain black, adding to the existing options of Red Hot, Silver Ice, and Mosaic Black. For $395 extra, you can have your ZL1 in Crush (orange), Shock (lime yellow), or Garnet Red Tintcoat - but be warned, each of these special colors will replace your red seatbelts with regular black items. Summit White is a particularly enchanting option, as it makes the ZL1 look more futuristic while highlighting the air dams, vents, and black bonnet bulge.
The Camaro ZL1 is stonkingly fast, and with its rear wheels powered by a 6.2-liter supercharged V8 straight out of the Z06 Corvette, you'd expect it to be. 650 horsepower and 650 lb-ft of torque can hurtle the ZL1 from 0-60 mph in around 3.5 seconds when equipped with the 10-speed automatic option - the manual is slightly slower. The top speed is supposedly capped at 198 mph, but independent testing by owners on closed roads somewhere in Mexico has shown a consistent reading of over 200 mph, more than the venerable Mustang GT350 can manage, but slightly less than the drag-focused Challenger Hellcat will do. This is a car built to be stupendously fast in more scenarios than just the occasional drag race. Featuring the 1LE track package, you get even more aero wizardry, semi-slick tires, and manually adjustable front camber plates and rear stabilizer bars paired with DSSV dampers and race-tuned suspension. All of this means a Nordschleife time of 7:16:04 with last year's mechanically identical 2018 model. The achievement places the Chevy behind only the insane Dodge Viper ACR as the fastest American car on the leaderboard.
The 6.2-liter LT4 supercharged small-block V8 in the ZL1 is the most powerful in the lineup, developing an even 650 hp and 650 lb-ft of torque. As standard, this is paired with a six-speed manual transmission. A 10-speed automatic with manual paddle-shift function is available optionally. The automatic is the slightly quicker, slicker option (claiming quicker shifts then Porsche's excellent PDK), but the manual is no slouch and shifts reassuringly, even when you're snap-changing. Even with super sticky tires, an excess of enthusiasm from your right foot can create plumes of smoke as you are catapulted towards the horizon.
When it's time to cruise, resting your foot on the loud pedal will give you the impression that the ZL1 is straining at the lead, wanting to go faster, but after a short while, the ECU will realize that you're not accelerating hard and half the cylinders can shut down to save fuel. When you want to pick up speed again, the breadth of torque from low down in the rev range makes acceleration effortless, regardless of what gear you're in. So not bad all in all as a daily, but the masochistic ZL1 does feel most at home when being abused.
The ZL1 is a car built for speed, and the bigwigs at Chevy don't care as much for straight-line speed as they do for being the quickest around corners - they aim to one day own the American Nurburgring record with this very platform, albeit with a likely higher output. With supreme handling prowess in mind, the ZL1 has spent countless hours in a wind tunnel to refine and sculpt its curves in a manner that maximizes downforce. The 1LE package builds on this with a massive carbon-fiber rear wing and canards on the front bumper that aid in stabilizing the car at high speed and keeping traction when taking corners.
Despite such an intense focus on driving dynamics, the ZL1 is actually pretty good in terms of ride quality, even over large bumps it won't shatter your spine - a revelation considering those 20-inch wheels. This is thanks to those adaptive dampers that can adjust in 10-15 milliseconds, smoothing the transition from a higher piece of tarmac to an incrementally lower one and soaking up mid-corner bumps even when the steering wheel is at extreme angles. While this gives the driver supreme confidence when attacking a stretch of road, the Brembo brakes are similarly confidence-affirming when you need to be on the defensive, giving a modular feel with the firmness you expect of a super-fast track special. A track weapon first and foremost, this car can do civility too, particularly with its variable drive modes to cater to your mood and environment.
The automatic version of the ZL1 claims EPA estimates of 13/21/16 mpg on the city/highway/combined cycles, but you don't have to feel guilty opting for the more engaging manual, as that's not far behind with 14/20/16 mpg. Fitted with a 19-gallon tank, you'll burn through a fill-up of premium gasoline in approximately 304 miles. This is on par with the range of the Ford Mustang Shelby GT350 and the Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat, but in a car like this, gas mileage figures are there almost exclusively to keep legislators happy - what matters most is how many smiles per gallon the V8 gives you - in this case, it's one single ever-lasting grin that never leaves your face.
As the top model in the range, the ZL1 is pretty well equipped from the factory. A heated steering wheel wrapped in faux suede accompanies a similarly trimmed set of heated and ventilated front Recaro power seats. Solidly built, and featuring an easy-to-use, well-placed touchscreen infotainment system, it is spacious enough for decent headroom and legroom for six-footers. The cabin is a pleasant, if ever-so-slightly cheap, place to be. The rear seats are useless for anyone other than small children though. A feature becoming more commonplace these days, but still a cool feature to have nonetheless, the ZL1 features a head-up display, projecting vital information on to the windscreen to keep your eyes aimed at the next corner. Unfortunately, despite a sporty driving position, outward visibility is hampered by thick A-pillars, making the car hard to place on claustrophobia-inducing roads.
Billed as a two-plus-two, the Camaro aims to project itself as a sports car with everyday usability, but the rear seats can only be occupied by small children. In front, six-footers will be fairly comfortable, even with the optional sunroof, but shorter individuals may find it difficult to see over the dash when the seats are adjusted all the way down. Getting in and out is easy, as long as you're not climbing in the back, and those Recaros are supportive and comfortable. However, despite adjustability in the seating, outward visibility is a challenge thanks to the overly thick A-pillars, while placing the ZL1 can be tricky due to its width. Overall, the interior isn't terrible, as long as you're of average height and can place yourself properly behind the wheel.
Only one interior option exists for the ZL1, which has its seats and trims covered in black leather and microfiber, all held together with red stitching. The gear-lever features more faux suede, as does the steering wheel. Optional carbon-fiber instrument panel trimming helps to offset the blatant cost-cutting here, but the hard plastics are a giveaway that the Mustang is more lavishly adorned. Still, at least the combination of fake suede and real leather is unique to the ZL1, as lesser models only get full leather or cloth.
This is not an all-rounder for weekend getaways. Even for a performance car, storage is relatively poor. We weren't expecting minivan capacity, but the Mustang and Challenger are semi-practical at least. With just 9.1 cubic feet of trunk space, the Camaro ZL1 is tiny on the inside, despite being large on the outside. The trunk also has a less-than-ideal opening and the rear seats do not fold, meaning that your suitcases will be better suited to a perch on the rear seats.
In front, the door pockets are practically non-existent and uncomfortable to reach, as is a small storage bin behind the center armrest. Two medium-sized cupholders and a small glovebox are as far as the interior utility extends. If you need some semblance of storage space, you'll have to use the rear seats - or just leave your personal possessions at home, because weight-saving, bro.
The ZL1 features dual-zone automatic climate control to keep both front occupants happy, but the buttons are a little small. A head-up display, remote start, wireless smartphone charging, a rearview camera, heated and ventilated seats, and a heated steering wheel also feature to spruce up the usability of the car. Blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, rear park sensors, lane-change alert, and forward-collision warning round off the safety features included as standard. In terms of performance features, a data recorder is available, and the ZL1 is capable of line lock and launch control, both useful when 650 hp sits under your right foot. A sunroof is optional.
The standard Chevrolet Infotainment 3 system fitted to the Camaro is made up of an eight-inch HD color touchscreen with WiFi capabilities, Bluetooth connectivity, and smartphone app compatibility. Apple CarPlay and Android Also are fitted too, plus navigation. All the infotainment functions can be accessed through the steering-mounted controls, and the navigation system can be activated by voice as well. When the wailing V8's supercharger needs some drowning out, a nine-speaker premium Bose sound system provides bass and clarity for your driving playlist.
The 2019 Camaro ZL1 has not been subjected to any recalls thus far, and scores a J.D. Power rating of 79/100 for quality and reliability. If there are any issues, the car is covered by Chevy's new vehicle limited warranty, which gives bumper-to-bumper coverage for the first three years or 36,000 miles. Standard is also a five-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty with roadside assistance and courtesy transportation for the same period. Finally, the first scheduled maintenance visit (in the first year) is free.
The ZL1 has not received a complete overall evaluation from the NHTSA but did score four stars out of five in their frontal crash test, and a full five stars for rollover evaluations. The IIHS gave it an overall evaluation of Good, their best recommendation possible, with optional frontal crash avoidance tech scoring a low Basic rating. Additionally, roof strength was awarded only an Acceptable score.
The ZL1's focus is more on performance than safety, but it does feature a few driver aids. Blind-spot monitoring with rear-cross traffic alert, rear park sensors, a rearview camera, and forward-collision warning are fitted. Front seatbelt pretensioners and lane-change alert are also included, as well as dual front airbags and dual side-impact and knee airbags. Head curtain airbags are fitted too, but not much more.
The ZL1 is a highly-focused track attack weapon, and with the extreme 1LE track package included, it becomes even more so. One of the best all-American performance cars out there, the ZL1 is almost untouchable on track and is highly capable on the strip too. If you want a car to tackle corners with and assault the ears of your neighbors, this is the one for you. The interior is fairly neat, and its looks are unmistakable. Standard features that you pay extra for on lesser models also abound, and while standard safety features exist, they are far from plentiful. It is built for speed, and it's damn good at it.
As an all-out drag monster, the Hellcat is a faster monster and is more comfortable to cruise in. Meanwhile, over at Ford, the Mustang was developed as an all-rounder and has more space and more comfort. It's got a nicer interior too. This means that the Camaro ZL1 caters to a very specific buyer. It's cramped in the trunk, stupendously loud, and definitely not built for cross-country cruises, but for regular track work and true fans, nothing else is worth looking at.
The Camaro ZL1 starts at an MSRP of $62,000 before taxes, registration fees, incentives, and the $995 destination charge. Thanks to its high-capacity motor, it is also subject to a $1,700 gas guzzler tax. Equipping the 10-speed auto box will also add $1,595 to the invoice. Fully loaded, your ZL1 will feature the 1LE Extreme Track Performance package and Chevy's 10-speed automatic gearbox; with all the available options ticked and a special lick of premium paint, your total bill (including a $400 increase in gas guzzler tax for the auto box) will hit $76,640 dollars before other fees and destination charges.
The ZL1 is only available in one trim and comes fully loaded with the options available on lesser models. This also means a 650-hp supercharged V8 is fitted with the option of either a standard six-speed manual or a 10-speed automatic. Power is sent through an electronic differential to the rear wheels exclusively. To make the most of that power, line lock and launch control systems are fitted. Adaptive dampers keep things surprisingly supple, and a Bose audio system is fitted to complement the Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality. Navigation is included and is voice-activated too. Heated and ventilated seats feature alongside a heated steering wheel and dual-zone climate control, while a head-up display with an optional performance data recorder can be had. The 1LE package can be specced to add more track-oriented upgrades, but the regular ZL1 is the only way to equip a sunroof. Safety features included as standard are blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, forward-collision warning, lane-change alert, and rear park sensors. A high-definition rearview camera is also included.
6.2-liter V8 Gas
One package offering is available, and true to form for the Camaro, it is track-oriented. The $7,500 1LE package downsizes the wheels one inch to 19-inch ultra-wide items to accommodate super sticky Goodyear Eagle F1 SuperCar 3R tires, and performance suspension with DSSV dampers, adjustable front spring seats, camber plates, and rear stabilizer bars are also included. The rear seats also get swapped out for a solid bench, while aesthetic enhancements differentiate 1LE-equipped ZL1's. A satin black hood wrap, red brake calipers, tinted taillights, clear-coated carbon rear spoiler and hood insert, and gloss black wing mirrors are part of the upgrades. A unique front splitter and functional dive planes on the front bumper improve aero and aid in traction when cornering. Finally, the rearview camera's display is removed from the rearview mirror and replaced with an auto-dimming option.
If you want a practical sports car, the ZL1, or any Camaro for that matter, should be skipped past, as far better options exist. However, if you plan to use your ZL1 for regular canyon carving and track attacks, the 1LE's adjustable suspension and grippier tires are tempting. We would stick with the regular ZL1, though, as it's still highly capable, and the track package's $7,500 premium is a little eye-watering. Keeping it simple ensures that the ZL1 remains a performance bargain capable of slaying supercars.
The Camaro has always been at war with the likes of the Dodge Challenger, and with the introduction of the Hellcat, the stakes went up. With 707 hp, the Hellcat is capable of a 10-second quarter-mile time, something that cements it as the power king. A bigger car, it's also easier to drive leisurely and will not be as difficult to live with daily, thanks to its larger trunk and more usable interior space. However, despite the additional horsepower, the Hellcat will be outrun in the corners by the far more adept and track-focused ZL1. The Camaro is a better car for twisty, aggressive driving, while the Challenger is a better commuter and drag racer. Which one to choose is down to what you want from a car. To live with every day, we'd definitely prefer Dodge's offer, but when the driving gets more technical and the need for agility increases, a ZL1 is what you want.
The Camaro's astounding performance has made it a worthy competitor to the ultimate sports car from its own manufacturer - the Corvette. Sharing the same engine with no tweaks to separate them, power output is identical at 650 hp. The Camaro is capable of just edging in front of the Corvette on the drag strip, provided the Z06 driver overcooks the launch; however, the Corvette is lighter and will, therefore, be quicker, if skill variables are matched. The difference between these cars is reflected more on the inside, though, as the 'Vette is strictly a two-seater and its higher price demands a more premium interior. That being said, the Camaro ZL1 isn't too far behind in quality, and performance on the strip is so closely matched that it takes the pick here. Yes, the Z06 looks and feels more special, but the Camaro offers Corvette performance for less money and with more practicality. The ZL1 gets the nod here.