by Michael Butler
The 2019 Camaro ZL1 is an American treasure. With a 650 horsepower supercharged V8 growling beneath the hood and exterior styling that shouts freedom louder than that drill instructor from Full Metal Jacket, one would be hard-pressed to imagine a car that's more American. That was until Chevy decided to chop the top off of the standard ZL1 Coupe; how else are you supposed to enjoy all that freedom with a roof over your head? The ZL1 Convertible forms part of the sixth generation of Chevrolet's household muscle car brand and is more accomplished than ever. Besides the monstrous V8 power plant, the ZL1 rag top comes with some of the best gear Chevrolet has on offer, such as magnetic ride control, massive Brembo brakes and racy Recaro bucket seats. Chevrolet has positioned the ZL1 Convertible awfully close to its big brother, the Corvette Stingray, as both are priced in the mid sixty thousand range. Is the ZL1 America's greatest convertible? Maybe not, but it sure as hell is the craziest.
The Camaro range has received a refresh for 2019. The ZL1 benefits from a new high definition rearview camera, improved wireless smartphone charging, and optimized performance data recording software. The infotainment system now comes standard with an eight-inch full-color touch screen, and Chevrolet has made this class-leading system even better by improving the user interface for more intuitive operation. Full navigation and cloud storage services are also standard for 2019.
See trim levels and configurations:
6.2L Supercharged V8 Gas
The sixth-gen Camaro is instantly recognizable on the street and has had its fair share of the limelight in pop culture circles, but the ZL1 adds a bucketload of hot sauce to an already spicy pot of chili. The ZL1 Convertible features an aggressive rear stanchion spoiler, quad exhaust pipes, a race-car style front splitter, and massive 20-inch Graphite alloy wheels wrapped in Goodyear Eagle F1 S 285/30R20 front and 305/30R20 rear summer tires. For some reason, Chevrolet has decided against offering the convertible with a center stripe, which is only available on the Coupe. The overall impression is that the ZL1 is here to destroy tires and egos.
The 2019 Camaro ZL1 Convertible shares some key dimensions with the Coupe, such as its 190.2-inch length and 75-inch width. But it measures shorter at 52.6 inches tall. The Corvette Stingray Convertible is a noticeably smaller car, and the numbers agree. The Stingray is nearly 13 inches shorter than the Camaro and rolls on a 106.7-inch wheelbase. Where the most glaring difference comes to light is when you put the ZL1 Convertible on the scales. At 4,113 lbs, the drop-top ZL1 weighs an astounding 751 pounds more than the Corvette Stingray Convertible.
No matter how cool the Camaro ZL1 looks, how great it's infotainment system is, or how helpful that HD rearview camera is, the biggest reason by far why people will pay it any attention is due to what lies beneath that bulging hood. What it is, is a 6.2-liter supercharged V8 that produces 650 hp, 650 lb-ft of torque and approximately 725 cougar growls per minute (cg/pm) - the fictional measure for how many attractive middle-aged mommy's necks will snap when watching you drive past. Channeling all of that power is a daunting task, but the standard six-speed manual gearbox makes it look easy, and delivers crisp shifts. The eight-speed auto is just as good but lacks street cred.
With standard rear-wheel-drive and no option for a second driven axle, the ZL1 is a true sports car, and the numbers will agree. 0-60 mph is a sub-3.5-second affair, while the ZL1, at least in coupe guise, is capable of lapping the Nurburgring in 7:16. Sure, the convertible will be a little slower, but this is still performance pedigree at its finest.
The Camaro Coupe drives like a smaller sports car and has been lauded by owners and test drivers across the nation for its ability to hide its weight around the corners. Steering is sharp and precise, and the steering wheel weighs up progressively, but unfortunately, steering feel is left by the wayside. Thanks to a set of serious rubber, the Camaro will cling onto corners with surprising tenacity, and the standard Magnetic Ride dampers have an uncanny ability to keep the occupants as comfortable as possible while delivering near-perfect dampening levels for sporty driving. The Brembo brakes on the ZL1 will tear your face off, and can only be truly tested on a fast track or road course. Slightly more flexible than the coupe, there's a noticeable difference in handling, but against comparable rivals, the ZL1 still more than holds its own.
Those who are seriously considering purchasing a new ZL1 will skip over this section without even a moment's hesitation. For those of you still reading, the ZL1 will manage, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, fuel consumption estimates of 14/20/16 mpg city/highway/combined. Those figures will most likely dip into the single-digit range for the first few years of ownership. The Stingray, which doesn't get force-fed by a supercharger, manages a more respectable 16/25/19 mpg.
With the top down, the otherwise cramped and slightly awkward interior of the Camaro becomes much more tenable, despite the fact that some of the controls are still difficult to get to, and will require a good while to get used to. Chevrolet has done an admirable job of making the ZL1 feel like a special place to sit, mostly thanks to a pair of seriously good seats from Recaro, and the suede microfiber-wrapped steering wheel. The hard plastics that do remain are well put-together, which makes it all the easier to live with. As part of the ZL1 package, the interior gets a heated steering wheel and eight-way power-adjustable driver seat as well as a head-up display system and wireless phone charging.
Are you planning on taking the family down to the lakehouse this weekend? Don't. The 2019 Camaro ZL1 has just enough trunk space for two cases of your favorite beer and a two-man tent. The official number is 7.3 cubic feet, but in reality, that number seems even smaller due to the Camaro's high liftover height and small trunk opening. Small-item storage isn't any better; the small under-armrest bin offers minimal space but will accommodate a cellphone and wallet. At least Chevy has gifted the ZL1 with a set of decent cupholders.
As the range-topper, the ZL1 comes with all the bells and whistles, which is saying something, as even in base trim, the Camaro impresses with a competitive standard features list that includes climate control, bucket seats, eight-way power-adjustable seats and more. The ZL1 takes things up a notch: there's dual-zone climate control, 24-color interior spectrum lighting, and even illuminated sill plates. The seats in the ZL1 are ventilated, and power-adjustable and the driver gets a head-up display system that can show lap times and g-force readings. Tech junkies will be pleased to hear that there's a wireless phone charging pad and built-in 4G LTE Wi-Fi included as standard. Unlike the ZL1 Coupe, the Convertible doesn't receive forward collision alert but does receive blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and rear park assist.
The ZL1 benefits from a recently updated infotainment system that now offers navigation and cloud storage options. The eight-inch touchscreen display provides excellent visibility, even during bright sunny days with the top down, but because of odd positioning, the sun tends to catch on the screen, which is an entirely survivable issue. Menus are easy to access, and the system has a logical flow to it. Connecting your phone or other devices is a walk in the park with Apple CarPlay and Google Android Auto. A nice little premium touch on the ZL1 is the nine-speaker Bose sound system that manages to sound flawless even in roofless, high-speed driving. New owners also benefit from a 12-month trial subscription to SiriusXM satellite radio.
Despite its rowdy nature and high output engine, the Camaro ZL1 has proven to be a reliable car and has only had one recall in recent years. The recall, issued in 2017, affected Camaros produced in that same year and was due to an issue with the power steering assist system that could fail, causing the steering to become heavier and potentially too difficult to control for some drivers. Chevrolet backs the ZL1 Convertible with a standard three-year/36,000 mile warranty which includes corrosion protection, five-years/100,000 miles of drivetrain protection, a one year/one visit maintenance plan, and five year's worth of roadside assistance.
Such a beast of a car needs to be safe, and Chevrolet has made sure that all limbs are kept within the vehicle at all times. The NHTSA has given the Camaro range a full five out of five stars, with only the front crash tests earning four stars. The IIHS was equally impressed, giving a good rating in all categories except for roof strength, which received an acceptable score. It should be noted that these scores were given to the Camaro Coupe.
The 2019 Camaro ZL1 Convertible has to be one of the easiest cars to sell in the history of the automobile, but before we get to that point, there should be made mention of all of its strengths and weaknesses. First off, the ZL1 looks like it wants to fight random strangers on the street, and its bite definitely matches its bark. It's an American muscle car through and through. Standard features are impressive, as they should be: Bose premium sound, a head-up display, and wireless phone charging are premium touches, and the interior is well put together in general. It drives beautifully and makes for a convincing sports car through the bends, although some of its competitors will be more involving. Cargo space is non-existent, and you'll have to rent an apartment near a gas station, but these cons should be a non-issue to serious buyers. At the end of the day, making the decision to buy one is simple. Do you love going fast? And do you love America? Go buy a ZL1
The 2019 Camaro ZL1 starts with an MSRP of $68,000 for the six-speed manual version. The eight-speed automatic transmission commands a $1,595 premium. The only optional package available is the $535 Protection Package which is basically an expensively branded car cover. The $495 infotainment upgrade consists of a navigation and cloud storage package. These prices exclude a $995 destination fee and a $2,100 Gas Guzzler tax.
Seeing as there is only one model, the only big decisions new owners will have to make is whether or not they want to shift gears themselves or go with the more relaxed eight-speed auto. The other choice will be what color to paint the thing and seeing as the Camaro ZL1 is so out there, it deserves something wild like Crush Orange or Shock Green. The convertible will always be the more impractical option, and on some days all convertible owners would have wished for the coupe, but on the right day and time, nothing can beat the drop-top.
The Corvette has, and will always be seen as the premier sports car offering from Chevrolet, which makes sense when you look at the capabilities of both cars. At a base level, the Stingray comes in at around $6,000 less than the ZL1's asking price of $68,000, but there's a 195 hp gap between the Camaro and the Stingray. However, a few grand and nearly 200 horses don't tell the whole story. The Corvette, despite being down on power, will still accelerate to sixty in under four seconds, and while it might lose out in a straight line, it will carve up the Camaro through the bends. The Corvette is the better driver's car, and surprisingly offers more trunk space, but misses out on a pair of back seats. Coming from the same stable, the Vette features the same infotainment and in-car tech as the Camaro. In the realm of American sports cars, the Camaro ZL1 Convertible can be considered a hammer with a mullet, as opposed to the ponytailed steak knife that is the Stingray.
It is highly unlikely that these two cars will ever be considered by the same person, but seeing as both are V8-powered four-seat convertibles, a comparison is warranted. The C63 Cabrio is powered by a twin-turbo V8 that produces 469 hp and 479 lb-ft of torque, a long way off of the Camaro's numbers, but th big-brother S upgrades those to more than 500 on both fronts and gets to sixty in 3.9 seconds. Inside, the Merc has very similar dimensions to the Camaro: backseat passengers need not apply, and trunk space is only slightly better. The Mercedes is a more comfortable car and offers a truly premium driving experience. Interior materials and build quality are peerless, and there's also a lot more going on in the tech department. The AMG C63 can't beat the Camaro for pure driving enjoyment, but it does feel more refined and relaxed when doing the daily run. If you ever see these two next to each other at a red traffic signal, whip out your phone - it's bound to be an action-packed battle.