ROAD TEST: 2013 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1

The Camaro ZL1's supercharged V-8 produces 580 horsepower and 560 lb-ft of torque

Published: September 8, 2013, 1:00 PM
Updated: May 6, 2018, 11:36 AM

2013 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1

Mine is bigger than yours! It’s a game GM and Ford have been playing with their "pony" cars for more than four decades.

The Camaro and Mustang have gone through more changes than an aging Hollywood starlet over this period, but one factor has been almost constant – horsepower. There was a period during the early "emissions" era when their V-8 engines put out a paltry 190 horsepower, but things have long-since picked up and we are back into serious numbers now.

Not too long ago, anything over 300 horsepower got you in the game. Now, base rental fleet V-6 Camaros and Mustangs do better than that – you need more than 500 to play these days.

The king of the hill currently is the Mustang Shelby GT500 with a supercharged 5.8-litre V-8 belting out an astounding 662 horsepower and 630 lb-ft of torque.

Chevy’s top offering

The Camaro ZL1 is Chevy’s top pony-car offering and it also has a supercharged V-8, shared with the Cadillac CTS-V, displacing 6.21 litres and producing 580 horsepower and 560 lb-ft of torque.

2013 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1

See what I mean about a horsepower race or bragging rights? Who’d have thought 580 horsepower would put the Camaro in the runner-up spot!

But Bow Tie fans need not despair. Chevrolet also has something called the Corvette to plug into this dust-up while Ford is limited to the Mustang. GM saves its really big stuff for the plastic two-seater.

The testosterone-laden Camaro ZL1 is far from a wallflower though. The most technologically advanced Camaro ever is more than a giant engine stuffed in a sporty body.

This latest effort from the racers working inside GM’s engineering department has a raft of the very latest and effective go-fast technologies.

Fifth-generation styling

The current, fifth-generation, Camaro came along in 2010. The distinctive design with gun-slit windows, long hood and short deck stands alone – there is no mistaking it for anything else.

2013 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1

Low, wide and mean-looking, in ZL1 form it has a unique deep fascia and splitter and a bulging hood with a carbon-fibre insert to clear the four-lobe supercharger positioned between the cylinder banks.

Huge, black, forged 20-inch wheels wrapped in a thin layer of high performance Goodyear rubber are obvious from the side view while at the rear a quartet of three-inch polished pipes and a dark diffuser panel hints at what lies beneath.

Dated interior design

Inside, the ZL1 is pretty much standard Camaro with an old-looking instrument panel, cheap trim and a trio of gauges atop the center console where you should not be looking.

2013 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1

The steering wheel blocks the top of the speedometer and tach while the HVAC controls pretty much obliterate the console-mounted instruments. Thankfully there is an adjustable Head-Up Display putting critical information in line of sight.

The seating position is low, the beltline high and the windows narrow making visibility difficult to say the least.

The leather and suede seats are big, comfy and hugely supportive. But entry and exit are made difficult because of the low roofline and long, heavy doors that requires a lot of space to open wide

The brochure says the ZL1 comes loaded with a voice-activated infotainment system, navigation and a pretty elaborate sound system. I couldn’t tell you anything about them.

Obviously my exclamation of "Holy ####!" under wide-open throttle was not recognized and the voice-activation system. The tunes I was interested in came from under the hood and the quartet of polished pipes out back.

Track pack plus

The Camaro comes in a variety of guises from mild to wild. Atop the list are the 1LE Performance Package and ZL1. The 1LE is basically a "track pack" with suspension, brake, tires and other upgrades designed for track duty – items such as upgraded half- shafts, additional structural bracing, unique gearing for the manual gearbox and differential.

2013 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1

The ZL1, introduced for the 2012 model year, builds on the 1LE package, adding significantly more performance thanks to its supercharged V-8.

The fastest Camaro ever produced bristles with technology that stretches the performance envelope, including:

> Magnetorheological shock absorbers – tiny metal particles within the damper fluid are re-aligned instantly when subjected to an electric current, up to 1,000 times EVERY SECOND! This enables the shocks to absorb major road blemishes with complete aplomb, yet stiffen up as needed. The result is a Cadillac-quality ride and Nurburgring lap times in the 7:41 range – an amazing combination.

> Magnetic Ride Control – a console-mounted switch lets you take advantage of those magic dampers. Choose from Tour, Sport or Track modes.

> Launch control – with 556 lb-ft of torque and only two tires to get it to the pavement, help is needed.

> Performance Traction Management (PTM). This little item integrates the magnetic ride control, traction control, active handling and launch control. There are five driver-selectable modes: Wet, Dry, Sport 1, Sport 2 and Race.

With each step up the ladder, electronic aids are disabled. The first two positions are suitable for all skill levels.

Sport 1 stiffens things up and allows a small degree of slip and GM suggests "intermediate skill levels".

The final pair are really best left to those with considerable track or higher performance driving experience as most aids are disabled. This beast can put an unsuspecting driver in an embarrassing position very quickly, and an inexperienced one in the guardrail – or worse.

All about the engine

The ZL1 is all about the engine. Lord, what a magnificent powerplant!

The LS3 V-8 with the Eaton blower is a jewel. This torque-monster responds instantly to any throttle input with a seemingly endless stream of power – goose the gas and in less than five seconds you are into big ticket territory.

2013 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1

There is a real Jekyll and Hyde feel about the car. Unlike the aforementioned Shelby 500, it can be civil and driven in a normal manner on the street. The engine can burble around town with complete ease.

The clutch is heavy, but not too much so. The short-throw shifter works through a well-defined gate . The steering has lots of feel and feedback without being too stiff.

But the frosting on this cake is that magic suspension, which can tackle track or boulevard with equal aplomb.

In addition to the array of features and equipment standard on the top-of-the-line ZL1, my test vehicle had a $630 carbon fibre hood insert, $525 worth of additional suede on the instrument panel, steering wheel and shift knob and a $660 grey stripe. The bottom line, at more than $60,000 in Canada, was bordering on Corvette territory.

Some sacrifices are necessary to drive this car. But the engine, music it makes and sheer performance it produces are sufficiently awesome to make them seem insignificant.

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