Driven: 2012 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1

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Driven 2012 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1

Chevy Takes Its Classic Muscle Car to the Gym


Alton, VA – Nestled in the rolling hills of southern Virginia, hard up against the state line it shares with neighbouring North Carolina is Virginia International Raceway, a 17-turn, 3.27 mile natural terrain road course located in the tiny hamlet of Alton on the banks of the Dan River. It’s so close to the state line that the road leading in actually crosses back and forth between the two jurisdictions.Driven 2012 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1

VIR, as it is known, is a country club of a track, complete with impeccably manicured grounds that are dotted with tidy, barn-like buildings. Lodges overlooking the racing surface – where we were put up for one night – provide the weekend race attendee with very comfortable accommodations, and if he or she would like to set up camp at the track on a more permanent basis, condos are available for purchase.

The purpose of our visit to this scenic circuit was to sample the Oshawa, Ontario-built 2012 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, the new top of the line, all-out performance model from Chevy’s iconic muscle car nameplate.

Considering the arena in which the ZL1 is going to do battle – Ford’s 650 HP 2013 Shelby GT 500 and the recently unveiled 2013 Dodge Viper that promises something north of 600 ponies, will serve as its primary competition – GM had to crank the aggression factor up to 11 just to remain relevant.

Hence the ZL1 comes equipped loaded for bear some impressive performance credentials, beginning with GM’s 6.2 litre LSA Supercharged V8 engine (the same mill that powers the Cadillac CTS-V), which boasts 580 HP and 566 lbs-ft. of torque.

The LSA engine features a Roots-style blower with a four-lobe rotor set and compact intercooler. The ZL1 also features a standard dual-mode exhaust system, with vacuum-actuated valves in the exhaust pipes for an appropriate deep-bass rumble at low speeds as well as a free-flowing system for peak performance.

Power is delivered to the rear wheels through either a six-speed manual or automatic transmission. With either transmission, the ZL1 puts down some pretty impressive performance numbers (all figures courtesy of GM):

  Manual Automatic
0-96km/h (from rolling start) 4.0 seconds 3.9 seconds
1/4-mile (from a rolling start) 12.1 sec at 191 km/h 12.0 sec at 191 km/h
Top speed 290 km/h 297 km/h
Max lateral grip 1.0 g 1.0 g

Camaro chief engineer Al Oppenheiser, on hand at VIR, summed up the ZL1’s performance credentials thusly: “With 0 to 96 km/h taking less than four seconds, and a top speed in excess of 297 km/h, the power and acceleration of the Camaro ZL1 rivals many supercars. And, horsepower is only half of the story, as the most significant measurement of the ZL1’s potential is lapping the Nurburgring inDriven 2012 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 7:41.27. That is a great testament to the power, braking, grip, and balance of the Camaro ZL1, and to the well-rounded performance of the ZL1 that sets the bar for the sports-car segment.”

Putting all of this power to the ground are a pair of 6-speed transmissions, a Tremec TR6060 twin-disc manual and a Hydra-Matic 6L90 automatic equipped with a manual mode. The rolling gear is also pretty impressive thanks to 20-inch forged alloys that come wrapped in Goodyear Eagle F1 rubber. Stopping power is delivered thanks to massive two-piece Brembo rotors measuring 14.6 inches up front and 14.4 in the rear, with six and four piston calipers.

To keep all of this power adhered to the road GM has equipped the ZL1 with some sophisticated suspension technology. Now in its third iteration, GM’s Magnetic Ride employs valve-less damping and Magento-Rheological fluid technology to adjust suspension firmness to match changing road and driving conditions.

“Traditional suspension systems at some point compromise ride quality for road-holding grip and body control,” Oppenheiser said. “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.”

Driven 2012 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1

Integrating all of this technology together – along with traction control, launch control, electronic stability control and electric power steering – is the ZL1’s standard Performance Traction Management system, first employed by the Corvette ZR1.

With launch control, for example (available only with the manual transmission), the system modulates engine torque to minimize wheel spin. The system keeps the engine at a predetermined speed until the driver releases the clutch, and then it modulates engine torque 1,000 times per second in order to maximize available traction.

The system has five driver-adjustable settings which govern Performance Traction, Active Handling, Suspension Mode and Steering. As the driver cycles up through the settings, system intervention is gradually curtailed up to Mode 5, when everything is shut off. At this point, the car is in basically ready to race- probably not the ideal setting for public roads.

On the aesthetic side of things, GM’s designers have spent plenty of time making sure the ZL1 looks the part, too. The car looks fast and track-ready, thanks to its flared front and rear fenders, vented carbon-fibre hood, front splitter, rear spoiler and quad outlet exhausts.

Driven 2012 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1While it might look like a garden variety SS model from a distance, these styling details –along with options like black forged alloy wheels and a vented carbon-fibre hood – and some tasteful ZL1 badging serve as fair warning that this is no ordinary Camaro.

Some of these touches merely enhance the ZL1’s appearance, while others such as the vented carbon-fibre hood, front splitter and rear spoiler exist to improve the car’s stability at high speeds through the production of downforce – the physics principle that helps to keep a vehicle planted to the road. According to GM, the ZL1 generates 65 pounds of downforce, compared to 200 pounds of lift in the Camaro SS.

The ZL1’s muscle car character continues on the inside where GM has put forth a good effort to update and refine the cabin, while not extinguishing the rough around the edges feel that American muscle cars have had for decades.

Make no mistake, the ZL1 is a thoroughly modern car, and comes equipped with an array of amenities one would expect, including satellite radio, Bluetooth integration, a host of power controls (many of which are mounted on the steering wheel), a performance gauge cluster on the centre stack, and GM’s ubiquitous OnStar navigation system. The ZL1 also comes with a very futuristic-looking head-up display (HUD) which provides the driver with various data, such as speed and – get this – G-sensor readings.


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