2012 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Road Test Review
2012 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1: Supercar Performance in a Muscle Car Nameplate
Scores High: Brings world-beating performance to the Camaro name at relative bargain, given track capabilities.
Scores Low: Still can't see out of it, still too much plastic inside -- particularly given price.
Total Car Score Analysis
The 2012 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 earned a higher than average Total Car Score in the High Performance segment. This is the result of it setting a new performance bar for the pony car portion of the high-performance segment. The ZL1 version still suffers some of the mainstream Camaro's faults (like outward visibility), but its capabilities more than offset them.
Standing apart from the rest of the Camaro line, the ZL1 Coupe is an unabashed track-day car, but one that doesn’t need a trailer to get to and from the race course. Its torquey supercharged V8, Magnetic Ride suspension and multiple levels of traction control can just as easily accommodate high-g corners as the daily slog to work.
For those who like more fresh air with their 4-second 0-60-mph sprints, a convertible ZL1 will go on sale in the summer of 2012 as a 2013 model.
The 2012 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 is named for a limited-production (and now highly collectible) version of the 1969 Camaro that was equipped for drag racing with a 427-cubic-inch big-block V8. Today’s ZL1 can hold its own in the quarter-mile -- it’s capable of 12-second e.t.’s at 119 mph, says Chevrolet -- but it can also do much more. Its 6.2-liter, 580-horsepower supercharged V8 works in concert with a Tremec six-speed manual transmission (or optional Hydramatic TapShift six-speed automatic), Magnetic Ride suspension, electric power steering, sophisticated traction controls, Brembo brakes and downforce-producing aerodynamics to deliver a level of all-around motoring performance that’s more like what you’d find when pushing a Corvette to its limit. In fact, a Camaro ZL1 lapped Germany’s Nürburgring Nordschliefe test track within a half-second of the 658-horsepower über-Corvette ZR1.
Few of us mere mortals will get an opportunity to challenge those Nürburgring numbers. But the ZL1 will reward the enthusiast driver at track-day events with smooth and rapid power delivery right up to fuel cut-off, along with responsive steering that offers plenty of feedback and a suspension that keeps the car firmly planted and fairly neutral through the corners -- until you start steering with your right foot. Speaking of which, the ZL1’s Performance Traction Management system offers five different modes to manage the car’s traction and stability controls. The expert driver can turn most of the electronic nannies off, while the less experienced can take advantage of the help when needed.
Though a race track will allow you to enjoy the Camaro ZL1 to its fullest potential, it’s still a fun mount on public roads. This is not a high-strung, skittish race car. With 556 pound-feet of torque available from the V8, you don’t have to constantly row through the gears to match road speed to powerband, though the Tremec’s short-throw shifter is such a joy you’ll want to use it often. Ride quality from the magnetic suspension is taut without crossing the line to harsh, and you can choose between Sport and Tour modes to further tailor the ride’s firmness. The big Brembo brakes that work without fade on the track are more than up to the task of halting the 4,000-pound Camaro from legal speeds.
All this performance does come at a cost, and we’re not referring to the MSRP. The supercharged LSA V8 requires premium fuel, and none of its EPA mileage ratings get beyond the teens (14 mpg city, 19 highway and 16 combined for the manual trans version; 12/18/14 with the automatic). Track days (and spirited daily driving) will also take their toll on the Camaro ZL1’s big, sticky Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar G:2 tires, a set of which will set you back around $1,800.
Still, it would be hard to find more performance bang-for-the-buck than what you’ll get with a 2012 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Coupe.
Interior Design and Function
The Camaro’s cabin has received a fair amount of criticism, and many of those negative traits carry over to the ZL1 Coupe. The Camaro’s basic body design -- specifically its very low roofline -- restricts outward visibility in all directions and limits headroom, especially for rear-seat passengers. That back seat is so tiny, though, and with such limited knee room that it’s more suitable for groceries and gear than people.
The front-seat headroom issue is mitigated somewhat by the ZL1’s six-way power front seats, which can be lowered enough so that all but the tallest drivers can wear a helmet inside the cockpit.
Reviewers have also called out the Camaro’s interior materials as less-than-premium in their look and feel. While there is some plastic trim on the instrument panel and steering wheel, the switchgear in the ZL1 feels fine. Optional suede inserts in the front seat upholstery and covering the steering wheel rim and shift lever add both a functional and aesthetic appeal. The seats are firm and supportive, though more aggressive bolsters would be welcome given the ZL1’s cornering abilities.
The instrument panel is dominated by the tachometer and speedometer, set in two oblong gauge pods, with a digital driver information center between them. A head-up display, which projects digital readouts for speed and other vital information onto the bottom of the windshield, was very useful on the race track. There are four gauges clustered in the center console in front of the shifter – for oil pressure, oil temperature, voltage and supercharger boost – that are just as hard to read now as they were when the gimmicky option was introduced in the ’60s.
Far worse than awkward gauge placement is the design of the steering wheel, which positions thick spokes (thanks to the cruise control and audio switches built into them) at the 9 and 3 o’clock positions – exactly where we want to wrap our hands for optimal car control – but can’t. Pushing our hands up to 10 and 2 just doesn’t feel as secure, though that’s the position forced on you by this design. It’s a corporate thing, apparently, as we drove several Chevrolet products during a ZL1 introduction and found this same issue in each, from Sonic to Malibu.
Primary Features and Options
The 2012 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 is the top trim level in the Camaro lineup, which also includes V6 powered LS and LT models and the V8-equipped SS. Standard ZL1 equipment includes the 6.2-liter LSA supercharged V8 engine, Tremec TR6060 six-speed manual transmission, Magnetic Ride Suspension, Performance Traction Management, Brembo brakes (six-piston front, four-piston rear), aerodynamic body pieces (including a carbon-fiber “Mohawk” hood vent), 20-inch wheels, Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar G:2 tires (P285/35ZR20 front, P305/35ZR20 rear), 3.73 axle gears, leather upholstery, power front seats, a premium AM/FM/CD/MP3/satellite sound system with Bluetooth and a backup camera.
Just six options are available for the 2012 ZL1: Hydramatic six-speed automatic transmission with TapShift ($1,185), bright aluminum wheel package ($470), power sunroof ($900), stripe package ($470), exposed-weave carbon-fiber hood insert ($600), and suede package ($500).
It’s Perfect For…
A muscle car is a burly machine, offering a driving experience like no other type of car. Muscle cars aren’t lithe, nimble or tossable. They move with a sense of purpose, and it can take a certain amount of skill to wring out the full measure of their performance potential. Chevrolet would like to compare the ZL1 to the world’s best supercars – Audi R8 GT, Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG, Maserati GranTurismo, even its own Corvette ZR1 – and in some respects, especially on paper, they are on par. But even with all its power and high-tech features, the ZL1 is unmistakably a Camaro, for better and worse.
Vehicle Tested: 2012 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Coupe
Base MSRP of Test Vehicle: $54,995
Options on Test Vehicle: Powwer sunroof ($900), stripe package ($470), suede package ($500), bright aluminum wheel package ($470), destination fee (included).
MSRP of Test Vehicle (including destination charge): $57,335
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The manufacturer provided Total Car Score this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
Photos Courtesy of the manufacturer.