The Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 convertible is something of a forgotten treasure. With the likes of the Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 and the Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat Redeye around, it's easy to forget that the brand with a bowtie makes its own seriously fast pony car. However, what neither Ford nor Dodge can boast is a seriously sorted sports car with the ability to drop its roof. Powered by a 6.2-liter supercharged V8 generating 650 horsepower and 650 lb-ft of torque, the Camaro ZL1 convertible may not be the most powerful car out there, but since when is 650 too low a number for you to have fun? With the added thrill of the wind in your hair, the convertible loses some points for all-out focus on performance but adds excitement in its own way. At a base price of around $70,000, is it still a performance bargain, or is it aging too rapidly?
Very little has changed for 2021 although rumors abound that an altogether new Camaro generation is in the works. For this year, the rest of the range (which we review separately) gets a few decent updates while the ZL1 only gains wireless smartphone integration and a new Wild Cherry paint option.
6.2L Turbo V8 Gas
The ZL1's exterior stands out thanks to a massive front air dam over a large splitter and a bulging hood that can be specced with visible carbon fiber. 20-inch wheels are standard and the profile also shows off aggressive side moldings and sills. At the rear, a diffuser houses a quad-exit exhaust arrangement while the trunk has a thin wing perched atop it. LED headlights, a folding soft-top, and black bowtie badges complete the look.
The dimensions of the ZL1 convertible are very similar to those of the coupe version with the same length of 190.2 inches and the same width (excluding the mirrors) of 75 inches. The convertible is slightly lower, however, measuring 52.6 inches compared to the coupe's 52.9. The wheelbase is 110.7 inches. Curb weight starts at 4,120 pounds, which is an increase of 213 lbs compared to the hardtop.
As the top trim in the Camaro range, there is no base model version of the ZL1. Just one trim is on offer but you can at least choose between transmission types. As standard, the 6.2-liter supercharged V8 sends its power to the rear wheels via a six-speed manual gearbox, but a slick ten-speed automatic transmission is on offer too. Output is the same on both configurations: 650 hp and 650 lb-ft of torque. With that much power, it should come as no surprise that you can get from 0 to 60 mph in around three and a half seconds. Top speed is similarly impressive. Actually, it's downright ridiculous, at 195 mph.
Much like its chief competition, the Shelby GT500, the ZL1's focus is more on handling than on outright speed, despite being vastly impressive in that metric too. It comes standard with launch control and adaptive magnetic dampers, but as fun as it may be to make use of these features, the ZL1 does suffer from a fairly harsh ride that can make long trips a little unpleasant. This is the problem with hardcore convertibles, and trying to balance comfort for when you're cruising with genuine track ability is a trick few have mastered. Nevertheless, once you're on a winding canyon road or out on the circuit, you'll forget all about ride quality and leave thoroughly impressed by the ZL1's poise and balance. Naturally, the coupe is sharper, but that takes nothing away from how remarkable the convertible is. It accelerates, turns, and stops brilliantly. Few coupes are even this good.
The EPA's review of the Camaro ZL1 convertible reveals that the manual version will achieve 14/20/16 mpg on the city/highway/combined cycles, while the auto will achieve 13/21/16 mpg on the same cycles. If those gas mileage figures sound bad, it's because they are. As a result, the ZL1 is subject to a $1,700 gas guzzler tax. With a 19-gallon tank holding fuel, you can expect roughly 304 miles of range with mixed driving. If you're a fan of that supercharger's whine, you'll likely find that figure impossible to achieve.
The Chevy Camaro ZL1 convertible may claim to be a four-seater, but the rear seats are useless for anyone but young children. That's nothing new for cars like this though, so the rear seats will best be used as additional storage space. For the front occupants, things are better with a pair of heated and ventilated Recaro bucket seats. The driver gets eight-way power adjustability while the passenger gets a six-way seat. The seats are both comfortable and supportive but interior headroom with the roof down isn't great. It's the same story with rearward visibility, particularly as your blind spots are massive. Fortunately, blind-spot monitoring is standard.
The Camaro's 7.3 cubic-foot trunk may sound generous to those who have never had to use it, but a narrow opening makes loading luggage very tricky. Sure, that trunk lid has a power release, but the high opening is another challenge. A couple of carry-on cases could just about fit in there, but not much else.
In the cabin, there are two cupholders, a very small spot in the center armrest, a small glovebox, and tiny door pockets. Those rear seats will be used more often than you'd expect.
The ZL1 is the top offering for Camaros so it comes well-specced as standard. Features include those aforementioned heated and ventilated power Recaro buckets, a head-up display, dual-zone automatic climate control, a heated steering wheel, multicolor ambient lighting that can perform a pulsing light show when the car is stationary, and adaptive dampers. Also included are performance upgrades like line lock and an electronic limited-slip differential with launch control. Cruise control, keyless entry and ignition, a power trunk lid release, and wireless charging are also included. In addition, you get rear parking sensors, a rearview mirror camera, and blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert. Remote start is also available if you spec the auto 'box.
The infotainment system in the 2021 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 convertible comes with an eight-inch touchscreen display hooked up to a seven-speaker Bose audio system (the coupe gets a nine-speaker setup). It now features wireless Apple CarPlay along with wireless Android Auto, as well as Bluetooth, a 4G LTE WiFi hotspot, and SiriusXM satellite radio. However, navigation is a charged option. Overall, there are no complaints with the interface layout nor the screen's response time, but the lack of shade over the screen can cause glare and make it near impossible to see the images clearly when you have the roof down.
Thus far, no variant of the 2021 Camaro has yet been subject to a recall. However, it is worth noting that the 2020 range was subject to a recall in November of 2019 for a missing pressure regulator on the fuel pump. Reliability otherwise seems great.
The Camaro ZL1 comes with a warranty providing limited coverage for three years/36,000 miles. It also gets a five year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty, roadside assistance for five years or 60,000 miles, and one complimentary scheduled maintenance visit in the first year of ownership.
The 2021 Camaro ZL1 Convertible has not yet been fully rated by the NHTSA, but it did achieve a full five stars for rollover safety. Over at the IIHS, only the 2020 coupe has a rating but it is the best possible score of 'Good' for all crashworthiness tests, besides the roof which was rated as 'Acceptable'. Naturally, it's difficult to compare the latter result to the convertible with its soft-top roof.
Standard safety features include frontal, side-impact, and knee airbags along with blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert. You also get rear parking sensors and a rearview mirror featuring a display from the rearview camera, an obligatory addition for all cars sold in the US.
The Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 convertible is one of the very few cars still on offer in the USA that can blend performance with light-hearted fun. There aren't many cars in this price bracket that can give you the thrill of 650 hp while you catch a tan. In addition, it's in even more exclusive company in that it still offers a manual gearbox. In short, it's still a performance bargain, but updates like wireless Apple CarPlay appearing highlight the fact that the rest of the car is getting on. Still, we would never steer you away from a car in any of our reviews simply because it's been around for a while, unless its competitors had left it behind. Fortunately, that's not the case here. However, we highly recommend a test drive over the sort of roads that you expect to use the car on most often, as that stiff suspension can become annoying. We'd also carefully consider how often you expect to use the trunk. Overall, the ZL1 convertible is definitely flawed but it's still full of character and is a brilliant machine.
The 2021 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 convertible comes with a base MSRP of $69,000. You still need to factor in the cost of the $995 destination charge and a $1,700 gas guzzler tax. This gives you a grand total of $71,695 before any options. The auto has the same price but is thirstier in the city so its gas guzzler tax will cost $2,100. How much more it can cost will depend on your choice of options, but there aren't many things this car doesn't get as standard. Thus, a fully loaded model will cost around 75 grand.
There's only one trim level offered for the ZL1 convertible. It's not available with the coupe's awesome 1LE package and most other options that you would expect to pay extra for on regular Camaro offerings are included as standard here. As a convertible, this car has a penchant for cruising and taking it easy, which it does just as well as it does the hard charging and aggressive cornering stuff. We love the idea of a manual in just about any performance car, but when that car has a drop-top, the auto just makes more sense. It also helps that the available ten-speed is very slick whether you're asking the car to accelerate hard or just cruise on the highway. If this were the coupe, we'd definitely choose the manual but here, the auto just feels right.
Before you assume that the ZL1 is the clear winner in this comparison, consider the fact that the 1SS Camaro comes with the same 6.2-liter V8 engine but without a supercharger. More important than that is the fact that this car starts with a price of under $45,000 and is not subject to a gas guzzler tax. Sure, that means you only get 455 hp and 455 lb-ft of torque, but that's plenty for a boulevard cruiser. Furthermore, without the ZL1's focus on track performance, the regular Camaro models are much more comfortable, making them easier to live with on a daily basis. The obvious savings in gas are attractive too, and there are still plenty of customization options available to make it stand out. If you can handle the ZL1's commitment to speed and the associated discomfort this can cause, then sure, go for it. Otherwise, the regular Camaro 1SS is certainly worth considering.
A very compelling alternative if you feel that the Camaro is indeed starting to get a tad old is the far more contemporarily styled Corvette Stingray C8. This model also comes with a 6.2-liter V8, but like the regular Camaros, there's no forced induction on this motor. Nevertheless, it still produces a respectable 490 hp and 465 lb-ft of torque in base form. In addition, thanks to two storage compartments, the 'Vette is actually more practical, offering a combined 12.6 cubic feet of storage volume. The trade-off is that you don't get two rear seats, but who cares about that? The cabin of the Corvette is stunning, its body belongs on a supercar lot, and it doesn't look like a convertible when you have the top up. In addition, pricing starts at $66,400. The only issue you may have is waiting for one if you don't want anything that dealers have in stock. Still, for proper supercar styling and performance, it's worth the wait.