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2012 Chevy Camaro ZL1: Driving a new kind of muscle car

By KBB.com Editors on February 29, 2012 4:32 PM
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The 2012 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 is the most powerful and technologically advanced Camaro ever built. Its debut intensifies the great Chevy vs. Ford rivalry and enhances the Camaro nameplate with supercar-like performance figures. The ZL1 is currently winning the horsepower war over its Ford and Dodge rivals with its 580-horsepower supercharged V8 engine and 556 lb-ft of torque — that is, until the arrival later this year of Ford's 650-horsepower Shelby GT500. The ZL1's high-performance engineering and racetrack prowess further expand the potential of the American muscle car. 

Class Leading: Power (for now), handling, traction management
Above Average: Value, ride comfort
Below Average: Fuel economy

Quick Comparison
2012 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500: Less power, lighter weight, more available interior creature comforts
2012 Dodge Challenger SRT8: Less power, lower starting price, runs on regular unleaded gasoline

Inside
One of the Camaro ZL1's shortcomings stems from its simplistic and dull interior styling. While high-performance sports cars are not obligated to immerse their interiors in opulence, the ZL1's lack of multimedia options and widespread use of callous materials leave something to be desired. Opting for the available suede package will add a dose of richness to the interior by wrapping the steering wheel, shift knob and shift boot in soft microfiber. 

Outside
It's easy for a manufacturer to over-style a high-performance variant with gimmicky add-ons, but the 2012 Chevy Camaro ZL1 utilizes a plethora of purpose-built aero parts that actually create downforce for additional high-speed stability, while providing a more aggressive look as well. Similarly, while the ventilated hood adds to the ZL1's sinister look, it also dissipates heat. The ZL1 rides on massive 20-inch 10-spoke wheels with a low-gloss black finish or available bright aluminum 20-inch 5-spoke wheels.

On the Road (and the Track)
Most high-end sports cars perform magnificently on the racetrack, but few posses the ZL1's civilized daily driving characteristics. The Camaro ZL1's third-generation Magnetic Ride Control suspension system provides sharp handling on the track and a comfortable ride on public roads.


The engineers of the 2012 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 realize that 580 horsepower looks great on paper but needs to be tamed. To help channel the power to the pavement, the ZL1 features a five-mode Performance Traction Management system capable of adjusting the suspension, steering, stability control, traction control and launch control (manual transmission only) systems to your preference.


Despite its electric power steering system, the ZL1's flat-bottom steering wheel transmits adequate feedback and provides a connected feel. To prevent overheating and prolong the life of vital components, the Camaro ZL1 is outfitted with rear differential, engine and transmission coolers as well as brake-cooling ducts.


On the track, the ZL1's primary drawback is its hefty curb weight. Navigating and stopping a 2-ton vehicle under race conditions leads to excessive brake and tire wear, and replacing wide 20-inch rubber does not come cheap. 

Starting Price: $54,995
Although the 2012 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 possesses the category's highest starting price, it also offers the most comprehensive list of standard equipment:

* 9-speaker Boston Acoustics sound system
* iPod/USB audio port
* Bluetooth hands-free phone capability

* Heated front seats
* Sonar proximity-warning system for those difficult parking spaces
* Rear backup camera
* Magnetic Ride Control suspension system
* Limited slip differential


The 2012 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 is track-ready in base trim. If you feel track days are about as appealing as a second-hand toothbrush, your pocketbook may favor the Shelby GT500's sub-$50,000 base price. 

Loaded Price: $60,595
The well-appointed 2012 ZL1 is available with six convenience and appearance options, including:

* 6-speed automatic transmission with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters
* 20-inch bright aluminum 5-spoke wheels
* Power sunroof
* Black or gray hood and trunk stripes
* Carbon fiber hood insert
* Suede microfiber-wrapped steering wheel, shift knob and shift boot

 

KBB Value Analysis
The Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 was built to withstand the demands of any racetrack. Unlike the majority of its competitors, track days will not nullify the ZL1's warranty - a true testament to Chevrolet's recent commitment to reliability. The Chevrolet Camaro is the bestselling car in its class and is expected to offer better resale values than its Ford and Dodge competitors.


Under the Hood
The 2012 Chevy Camaro ZL1 features a supercharged 6.2-liter V8 engine that sends power to the rear wheels via a 6-speed manual or an optional 6-speed automatic transmission.

Horsepower
2012 Chevy Camaro ZL1: 580 horsepower (highest)
2012 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500: 550 horsepower
2012 Dodge Challenger: 470 horsepower (lowest)

Fuel Economy
2012 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500: 17 combined, 15 city/23 highway (highest)
2012 Dodge Challenger: 17 combined, 14 city/23 highway
2012 Chevy Camaro ZL1:

     Manual transmission - 16 combined, 14 city/19 highway
     Automatic transmission - 14 combined, 12 city/18 highway (lowest)

580 horsepower does not come without a price - a federally mandated price. As a result of the Camaro ZL1's thirst for gas, it incurs a $3,700 gas guzzler tax.

Final Thought

Playing the numbers game, at the Camaro ZL1 press launch Chevrolet compared the 2012 ZL1's power output against exotic supercars such as the Audi R8 GT, Maserati GranTurismo and Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG — and won. However, car enthusiasts understand that horsepower plays a modest role in a vehicle's overall performance. The ZL1is a blast to drive, but it's a muscle car and lacks the trim physique, refined interior and nimble handling characteristics of its imported competitors.

While we realize many muscle car shoppers are predisposed towards their favorite brands, the ZL1's remarkable power combined with its impressive daily driving manners make it difficult to overlook.

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