2012 Chevy Camaro - ZL1: The Ultimate Camaro Goes To The Drags

Out with the old, in with the new

Jim McCraw Oct 12, 2012 0 Comment(s)
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Camaro ZL1 at Palm Beach International Raceway

While we loved having Our Man McCraw in Indy for the ZL1 press event--talk about coming full circle--in some ways it felt like little more than sending him to an automotive free-for-all. A bunch of journalists treating a couple of ZL1s like Chatsworth porn queens might make for a good time, but it is not a scientific experiment. We wanted to put a real test car through our usual drag strip/road course regimen, in an environment where we could control things and extract maximum performance from Chevy's latest and greatest.

We didn't end up with our Inferno Orange Metallic/six-speed manual coupe until the last week of June, the hottest part of the year in Florida, a time when the humidity is oppressive and rain is pretty much an everyday occurrence. Sure enough, this test--performed at the legendary Palm Beach International Raceway, home of the Super Chevy Show season opener--was conducted in 89- to 91-degree temps, 80-percent humidity, and repeated rain squalls. Not exactly ideal conditions, but the PBIR crew did an amazing job of prepping the strip surface, and the humidity dried the track no matter how much water Mother Nature dumped on it (or how often).

Chevy has claimed low 12s with the ZL1, and we were anxious to see if we could duplicate this, despite the soupy conditions. Remember, all that water in the air is displacing oxygen. Supercharged or not, the odds were against us. The first pass was an encouraging 12.434 at 118.82 (2.161 60-foot). We left at 3,500 rpm and cracked off three powershifts right around 5,900 rpm. For some reason, GM has the rev limiter set at 6,200. The horsepower is still climbing at this rpm (according to the seat of our pants and later borne out on our office Dynojet), but hitting the rev limiter on gear changes will kill e.t. and mph.

About a half hour later, we were back on the line. With the revs at 4,000, we carefully traded pedals and were rewarded with a 2.057 60-foot, and a best yet of 12.352 at 116.70. The heat was worsening, which was reflected in our mph, but we loved the e.t. Then the rain came. It didn't last more than 30 minutes, but it kept us off the dragstrip for quite a while. No problem. Once the precipitation stopped and while the quarter-mile was drying, we took the ZL1 for some hot laps on the 2.03-mile road course at Palm Beach International. The track has some great technical sections, and a super-long back straight (0.6-mile) that would really allow us to stretch the Camaro's legs. A road course can dry a lot faster than a VHT-prepped dragstrip, but it was still pretty damp, with standing water in some places when we hit it.

Did this bother the ZL1? Not in the least. I was almost uncomfortable going around a wet track for warm-up laps as quickly as we did (I rode shotgun to dial in our Racepak G2X test gear). I expected the Camaro to break loose at any time, sending our pretty new high-tech F-body into the track's Safe walls. But the ZL1 hung in there like it was dry. Finally, I got out to take photos and test driver Evan Smith hit the pavement in earnest. As his familiarity with the course grew, so did his confidence. Even on a damp track he clicked off a 1.36.25 and 1.34.04. As the track dried out, the ZL1 went even faster: 1.32.36, 1.32.21, a best of 1.31.19, followed by a 1.31.29 and a 1.31.58. On the back straight, the mighty LSA propelled our tester to a hair over 138 mph. To put these lap times in perspective, we know of a modified '10 SS that runs PBIR on sticky Nitto NT05 tires, and its best lap has been 1.40.40. To have the ZL1 run over 9 seconds a lap faster in 100-percent bone-stock trim puts it squarely in supercar territory.

Soon it was time to put eight gallons of fuel in the tank (the gas gauge was way below "E" and screaming "feed me!") and head back to the strip. After the road course adventure, we let it cool for 30 minutes before hitting the 1320. At 3:54 p.m., we boiled the stock tires, shut off all the electronic nannies--Launch Control? We don't need no stinkin' Launch Control--and revved it to 4,500. Again, we carefully traded clutch for throttle and were off with our best 60-foot yet, a stellar 1.950.

Three perfect powershifts later, we got an e.t. slip that said 12.243 at 116.19. Mission accomplished. We tried the Launch Control, different settings, and different drivers, but that was as good as it got. No doubt, we could have found 11s in good air, or with drag radials, but on this day we had neither. It was time to grab a steak and have a nice ride home.

We learned a lot about the ZL1 in our week with it. If you drive it like a cop is riding your tail, it'll get over 19 mpg on the highway at a steady 75-80 mph. At speeds over 160 mph--and it'll do that quicker than you can find your favorite satellite radio station on the factory stereo--it is remarkably stable, even on less-than-stellar pavement. Love the magneto rheological shocks. You'll also see your fuel economy drop to 14 mpg, but damn, it's worth it. With the suspension in the "Tour" mode, it rides just like a Cadillac CTS, but even in its most aggressive electronic suspension setting, it still rides comfortably. Firm, sure, but solid and sure-footed, not '84 Corvette Z51 harsh. The tradeoff is pretty much perfect.

With the faux suede interior trim (a must, in our opinion), unpainted carbon fiber Mohawk (hood insert) and blacked-out wheels, our test car came in at $57,120 (including $1,300 gas guzzler tax). That's a lot of coin, and while we would never call it a bargain, it is certainly money well spent. After all, it is the quickest, fastest, best handling Camaro ever built by Chevrolet.

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...With said mods and drag radials, no question we could have gone 11s.

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