2012 Camaro ZL1 - Road Test

A cynic’s view on the 580hp, supercharged 6.2-liter 2012 Camaro ZL1

Justin Cesler Sep 28, 2012 0 Comment(s)
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So, you want to read yet another review about the 2012 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, but you're not interested in hearing what a cheeky British guy thinks of the build quality or a bunch of out of touch old men think about the interior. Awesome because this is the review for you. Now, before we get to you, let's go over a little bit about me, so that you can get some perspective on this deal. I'm a fourth-gen fan through and through and I've grown up around LSX engines my whole life. They are, without a doubt, the best engine family on the planet. I've been lucky enough to work around fast cars for the majority of my career (oh, I'm 28 by the way) and as such, I have a warped sense of speed. Five hundred and eighty crank horsepower is little kid stuff to the people we hang with, and if you're a regular GMHTP reader, I'm guessing you feel the same way. I suppose you could call me a jaded enthusiast with an intimate knowledge of the brand, a biased loyalty towards the cars of my youth, and a job that allows me to review cars I would otherwise never be able to afford. Lucky me, lucky you. Or something like that.

Anyway, let's get down to business. I was recently offered the chance to spend a couple of days in a brand new 2012 Camaro ZL1 in exchange for photographing it and writing about it. GM sent it to us and paid the insurance on it, while our company paid for my gas and a trip around the state of Florida. This was, for a web exclusive car test, as good as it gets. And since I didn't have to pay for anything, I should have been much more forgiving towards the little things. Alas, I'm a professional hater, which means I can find issues in almost anything that isn't perfect and not even the highly praised ZL1 was immune to my cynical eye. As you will see, we've broken the rest of the review into sections, so… that's that.


Let's not mince words here; the ZL1 is a gorgeous machine. One look at this beast and you know it means serious business. The GM design team responsible for the ZL1 clearly did their homework, taking the large stock fifth-gen body and adding just enough functional attitude to take the package to the next level. The redesigned front fascia, for example, is not only menacing but also fully functional. Same with the hood, which uses carbon fiber and physics to extract heat from the engine bay, reduce lift, and drop jaws. I have come to understand that they also make this piece in non-exposed carbon but let's be serious for a second; no one should ever order it that way. Out back, the ZL1 does slightly disappoint, although I am not sure that the problem could be solved without a completely new body. If you like the looks of a base fifth-gen rear, you'll be fine back here, as the new spoiler and exhaust tip arrangement does add a little style to the otherwise bulbous butt. Both wheel designs are awesome but not really worth talking about since you're going to change them out for an aftermarket set anyway.


The generous application of suede throughout the ZL1's interior pleases me, as does the new style steering wheel, but it's still not enough to make a driver or passenger get really excited. The seats are fine - if you've never sat in a factory Recaro - and the cluster setup is great, but it just needs something else to set everything off. The lack of a touchscreen navigation is disappointing, although it looks like '13 should offer that to drivers looking to match the head unit options of any other car brand since the turn of the century. The ZL1 does have a backseat, I think, but let's be serious; no one besides a new dad trying to sell his wife on the idea of a daily driver ZL1 really cares about that. Let's just say adults may or may not fit back there and I don't really care about their comfort anyway. Oh, and the new font on the gauge cluster is a major plus… that stock fifth-gen style was silly.


6-piston Brembo calipers up front with two-piece floating rotors. That's all we need to say about that.


For the money, the ZL1 offers one of the greatest powerplant configurations on the market. Make no bones about it, the LSA is a work of GM engineering genius and is an engine capable of delivering serious horsepower well above the factory's 580hp rating. Put some additional boost to it, a couple of simple bolt-on parts, and a tune, and you're ready to rock and roll with some serious thrust. If the ZL1 has any part that demands attention, it's the LSA. You just can't say enough about this supercharged 6.2-liter beast. That said, it is curious that you can only get the little 1.9-liter blower. I mean, I get that the Corvette ZR1 needs to make the most power out of the GM lineup, but for almost 60-grand it seems like an upgrade to the 2.3-liter supercharger would be a no-brainer. Oh well, maybe next year. Or, maybe you'll just pull the stocker off and smash a Whipple in its place... that'll make for an awesome dyno graph.




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