2012 Camaro ZL1 supercharged
|The 2012 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 coupe races to 60 mph in 3.9 seconds, tops out at 184 mph and covers the quarter-mile in 12.1 seconds and 119 mph. (MCT News Service)|
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The most race-track-ready Camaro ever, the 2012 ZL1 coupe lifts the performance of Chevrolet's all-American pony car to Olympian heights once reserved for demigods like BMW's M and Mercedes-Benz's AMG specialty models. The pony car has hit the big time, and it's pulling away from the competition.
The fact that this technical tour de force competes in a segment defined by the Ford Mustang – the original "pony car" and origin of that nickname for American sport coupes – must be maddening to Chevy partisans. All the more so because the new Mustang Shelby GT 500 has more power and uses less fuel than this fastest and most powerful car in Camaro history.
The ZL1 has plenty to recommend it, and plenty to fuel debates among Camaro and Mustang fans, though. It races to 60 mph in 3.9 seconds, tops out at 184 mph and covers the quarter-mile in 12.1 seconds and 119 mph.
Ford doesn't publish bragging-rights figures for the Shelby, beyond claiming a top speed over 200 m.p.h.
I can already see the Camaro owners flapping their arms and making chicken sounds as they challenge the Shelby to drag. After they shut down the Audi S5, BMW M3, Dodge Challenger SRT8 392 and Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG, of course.
Let the games begin.
Prices for the 2012 Camaro ZL1 coupe start at $54,095, $105 less than the Shelby. Chevrolet hasn't announced pricing for the 2013 ZL1 convertible.
The ZL1 coupe has a 580-horsepower 6.2-liter supercharged V8 engine and six-speed manual or automatic transmission. The automatic costs $1,185. It's slightly faster than the manual: 3.9 vs. 4 seconds for 0-60 m.p.h., 12 vs. 12.1 seconds in the quarter mile, and top speed of 184 m.p.h. vs. 180 m.p.h.
The manual has a higher EPA fuel economy rating, 16 m.p.g. combined city and highway vs. 14. Something tells me that's a secondary consideration in the world of 580-horsepower coupes. Both transmissions are subject to a $1,300 gas-guzzler tax.
The 2012 coupe I tested had the manual transmission and a couple of options. It stickered at $56,465, including the gas-guzzler tax.
The ZL1 is well-equipped. The base model includes leather trim, a Boston Acoustics sound system, and racy equipment like oil and differential coolers.
In addition to the Shelby GT500, the ZL1's power and handling put it in competition with luxury performance coupes like the Audi S5, BMW M3 and Mercedes C63 AMG.
The Dodge Challenger is the third American pony car, but it lacks a super-performance model like the ZL1 and Shelby. The top Challenger is the 470-horsepower SRT8 392.
The ZL1 is also far more powerful than the S5, M3, SRT8, and C63. Other than the Shelby, only $185,000-plus supercars like the Audi R8 GT and Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG even approach its 580 horsepower and 556 pound-feet of torque.
Grippy Goodyear Eagle Supercar G:2 summer tires, a fine chassis and advanced electronic controls make the Camaro ZL1 a comfortable everyday driver.
The adjustable magnetic-ride suspension reads and adapts to the road surface with every inch the tires cover at 60 m.p.h. Comfort and road holding are exceptional.
The suspension and stability control systems have several settings to maximize performance on anything from a wet, slippery surface to a closed track.
A launch-control feature calculates road surface, ambient temperature, barometric pressure and more for fast starts with no energy-wasting wheel spin.
The supercharged engine generates effortless acceleration at all speeds.
The transmission is much smoother than the notchy gearbox in the Camaro SS. Its ratios are also more performance-oriented than the SS' fuel-saving gearing.
The ZL1 has a unique rear spoiler, grille and rockers. They contribute significantly to its 200 pounds of net downforce, an aerodynamic measure that's important to the high-speed stability of racing cars. Those features, an exposed carbon-fiber hood insert and rumbling exhaust note combined to draw plenty of admiring attention.
The ZL1has the same shortcomings as other Camaros. Its narrow windows and high beltline limit visibility.
The trunk opening is pathetically small, and the trunk itself won't win any prizes.
The ZL1 uses Chevy's outdated last-generation smartphone interface. It can't stream Bluetooth audio, and voice-control for phone calls is much less sophisticated than what competitors offer.
Those are annoying faults, but the 2012 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1's combination of performance-oriented technology and handling is better than most enthusiasts would have dreamed a Camaro could be, a near-supercar dressed up in the Chevy bowtie.
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