Super Chevy First Drive: Camaro ZL1

A full 30-percent of the fifth-gen Camaro was re-engineered to create the ZL1

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Unlike the modified tuner Camaros we've driven, the ZL1 has two things going for it they can't offer: a 100,000-mile powertrain warrant and factory civility. Yes, there are faster Camaros out there, maybe some with more ultimate grip, but we've yet to sample one that was so sophisticated and enjoyable to drive. We can't wait to put it through our battery of instrumented tests. c

Both the Corvette and Cadillac CTS-V have used MR technology in the past, but this is the first application for the Camaro and we like it plenty. At VIR, you could drive over the rumble strips at speed and not upset the car in the least. Even purposely driving over our heads did not make the thing behave poorly.

"Traditional suspension systems at some point compromise ride quality for road-holding grip and body control, said Oppenheiser. "With Magnetic Ride Control, we can offer customers the best of both worlds: A comfortable ride that makes the ZL1 appropriate as a daily driver and the incredibly precise body control that makes the ZL1 so enjoyable on the track."

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Rack-mounted electric power steering and variable assist ratio help with stability, speed and lower the effort when parking/low speeds. Vastly improved over the 2010-11 SS models, the ZL1 steering feel is firm when it needs to be, and offers improved feedback and road feel. Rolling stock consists of forged aluminum wheels (20x10, front; 20x11, rear) and sticky Goodyear F1 Supercar tires (285/35ZR20, f; 305/35ZR20, r).

Braking (naturally) was upgraded. Huge 14.6-inch/two-piece Brembo rotors with six-piston calipers replace the 14-inch front rotors on the SS, The rear rotors are the same 14.4-inch/one-piece rotors with four piston calipers from the SS. Thanks in part to the brake cooling ducts, these stoppers hang in there forever. The rotors are said to have survived 24 continuous hours of track use and thanks to their aluminum hub, the fronts are no heavier than the smaller, standard SS counterparts.

But How Does It Drive?

We'd hoped to be able to deliver a balls-to-the-wall Super Chevy banzai strip test this month, but no ZL1s were being released after our test session at VIR until an unspecified problem with the model was worked out. This hiccup delayed delivery of the cars to customers and magazine editors alike. As this issue went to press, ZL1s were finally flowing to eager buyers; hopefully, our test vehicle will be here soon.

What we can tell you from our time on the street and on the road course is that Chevy has developed one heck of a dual-purpose machine. The power, as you'd expect, is delightfully demented. It rockets out of the hole and never stops pulling. Thanks to the suspension tweaks, it has a lot more poise than anything this heavy has the right to. Despite the extra 100-plus pounds on the nose, the ZL1 is more neutral and controllable than the SS. It doesn't fight you at all. The brakes never quit--heck, they don't even take a coffee break.

Virginia International is a demanding track and we pushed the ZL1 to our limits, but certainly not the car's. With each passing lap, we could explore its capabilities further. You could drive it hard and it rewarded you. The tail never stepped out unexpectedly and there was a ton of grip up front. Experienced drivers will love the way you can make it drift. Throw it around a corner and you can easily catch it. It was completely at home around VIR's NASCAR Bend and Left Hook, allowing you to go and stay flat-out for a long time after that.

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Given a chance to stretch its legs, we saw some big, big speed, like 128 in the back straight before reaching the Chevy-installed chicane way before the Roller Coaster. In total, we found the ZL1 an unflappable companion (though we hear three journalists found ways to flap it into the weeds before and after we had our chance).

The ZL1 proved itself a competent track car, but it also surprised on the street, with a compliant suspension and comfortable interior (the optional suede upgrade would be a must on our list). Even the shift knob in the stick model is new and vastly improved over the gourd-shaped unit in the SS. Yes, it's got blind spots. Get over it or buy the convertible ZL1, which will be available in 2013.

Unlike the modified tuner Camaros we've driven, the ZL1 has two things going for it they can't offer: a 100,000-mile powertrain warrant and factory civility. Yes, there are faster Camaros out there, maybe some with more ultimate grip, but we've yet to sample one that was so sophisticated and enjoyable to drive. We can't wait to put it through out battery of instrumented tests.

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