Late last year, the world got its first taste of the 2017 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Coupe. Fitted with a 650-horsepower supercharged LT4 V8, sport-tuned suspension and aero-enhancing body bits, it’s simply the highest performing Camaro ever. Now, we've had the chance to slip behind the wheel of the just-released ZL1 Convertible and also checked out the equally new 10-speed automatic transmission that can be had as an alternative to the car’s standard Tremec 6-speed manual. We drove both coupe and convertible ZL1 Camaros as part of a 500-mile run that took us from Charlotte to Daytona Beach in conjunction with this year’s running of the Daytona 500.  

Except for a mechanical rather than an electronic limited-slip differential in the new ZL1 Convertible (blame it on packaging issues),  a revised decklid spoiler to better accommodate the fabric top plus the supplemental bracing found in all Gen 6 Camaro drop-tops, the two ZL1 models are pretty much identical from a mechanical standpoint. While calibration of the ZF electronic power steering and tuning of the standard FE4 Magentic Ride Suspension with Tour/Sport/Track/Snow-Wet settings is body-style-specific to compensate for the Convertible’s extra 200 pounds of curb weight, Chevy made sure the stiffer ZL1-spec ride and handling parameters were at parity -- a contention our drive seemed to prove out.

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Shod with sticky ZL1-Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar tires – 285/30 front and 305/30 rear – on 20-inch staggered-width forged aluminum-alloy wheels, both cars are reportedly capable of pulling 1.02g readings in a corner while powerful Brembo brakes confidently bleed speed and can bring either one to a halt from 60 mph in a mere 107 feet. Although our route was geared more towards touring than thrashing, even a modest amount of pushing near the limits left no reason to doubt either of those contentions.

Two flavors of extremely fast

The heart of both ZL1 models is a supercharged 6.2-liter LT4 V8 that makes a heady 650 horsepower and 650 lb-ft of torque -- up 10 output units in each category from Chevy’s original estimates when the car was revealed last year at the New York Auto Show. More importantly, that represents 70 more ponies and 80 extra peak twist units beyond the engine in the Gen 5 ZL1 which also happened to be 200 pounds heavier. When backed by its sweet-shifting 6-speed Tremec manual transmission with Active Rev Match, the free-revving LT4 lets the ZL1 Coupe streak from 0-60 mph in 3.7 seconds and go blazing through the quarter mile in 11.8 seconds at 125 mph.

The stats get even more stunning for those who choose the new Hydra-Matic 10R90 10-speed automatic option. Making its first appearance in the new ZL1, the factory claims it can help take the Coupe to 60 mph in just 3.5 ticks and cover the quarter mile in a 11.4 seconds at 127 mph. While the heavier ZL1 Convertible is marginally less swift with either transmission, you’d be hard pressed to feel much of a difference. Beyond amazing off-the-line snap, Chevy says this new close-ratio/paddle-shift automatic serves up quicker cog changes than Porsche’s dual-clutch PDK. It also boasts a Liftfoot Gear Hold feature that hangs onto a given gear when the driver rapidly lifts off the accelerator to prevent unwanted up/down shifts midway through a corner.

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With much of our day-long drive spent heading South on Interstate 95 through Georgia and Florida, there was really no need or time to play with ZL1 features like Line Lock and Launch Control. However, we did find a lot to like about its highly-legible Head-Up Display, Bose premium audio system and extremely supportive but far-from-confining power-activated Recaro sport buckets, all of which are standard-issue in both models and contribute to making the ZL1 as cruise-friendly as it is circuit capable. Kudos also for the ability to adjust the steering effort, throttle, damping, engine response and even shift programming on cars with the 10-speed auto–either collectively by using the console-mounted Drive Mode rocker or individually via menus in the car’s MyLink system that works with an 8.0-inch high-res touchscreen. For most street running, we felt “Sport” offered the best one-touch solution. Given the Camaro’s somewhat compromised driver sightlines, it’s also nice to see Chevy fitted all ZL1s with welcome driver aids like Rear Park Assist, Rear Cross Traffic Alert and Side Blind Zone Alert.

A world-class soft top

The new ZL1 Convertible adds one more bit of cool tech to the mix. Like its regular Camaro counterparts, the car is crowned with an electro-hydraulically actuated multilayer top that cycles in 18 seconds at the touch and hold of a button mounted in the windshield header. This well-insulated fabric lid keeps interior noise levels virtually the same as those of the Coupe – although here too, inner sanctum serenity is still largely dependent on the smoothness of the road surface. The top can be raised or lowered at vehicle speeds up to 30 mph and tucks neatly away under a hard tonneau. Opening the top limits trunk capacity to a modest 7.3 cu ft.

Pricing for the 2017 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Coupe starts at $63,435 while the new ZL1 Convertible opens at $69,435 including Gas Guzzler tax and destination fees. Opting for the 10-speed automatic will add $2,395 to both numbers. While not for everyone, we suspect those who do appreciate the stunning capabilities of either member of this ultra-dynamic duo will likely find the investment to be money well spent.

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