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2015 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1: Real World Review

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author photo by Josh Sadlier December 2014

If you don't own a 2015 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, chances are that you'll never get to drive one. I was chatting with a Chevy salesman the other day, and he told me that unless a customer agrees to purchase a ZL1, his dealership won't permit a test drive. There are no joyrides allowed -- simple as that.

I feel particularly fortunate that I recently had an opportunity to stretch a 2015 ZL1's legs on the Big Willow racetrack at Willow Springs in the California desert. Big Willow is also known as the Fastest Road in the West, with speeds in excess of 160 miles per hour a frequent occurrence on the home straight. When I plopped down into the ZL1's optional Recaro sport seat, the key was in the car, and the only rule I had to follow was the 3-lap limit. I've never been a big fan of the current Camaro, mainly because you can't see out of it, but I'd heard enough about the ZL1 that my heart was pumping as I approached the starting line.

Relentless Acceleration

The first thing to know about the Camaro ZL1 is that it basically has the same motor as the previous-generation Cadillac CTS-V. I was fired up because I knew something explosive was going to happen when I dropped the 6-speed manual's clutch. I remembered driving a CTS-V sedan when it came out, and the numbers related to its supercharged 6.2-liter V8 popped into my head: 556 horsepower, 551 lb-ft of torque, 0-to-60 in 3.9 seconds. As for the drive itself, I remembered a lot of generous throttle applications and another number: 8.5 miles per gallon, the worst fuel economy I'd ever recorded while driving on the street.

Of course, I wouldn't be measuring mpg numbers on this particular drive. Also, I knew that the ZL1's supercharged V8 was slightly more capable than the CTS-V's, making an absurd 580 hp and 556 lb-ft. As I accelerated onto the track, shifting from first to second gear like I was on a dragstrip, those dizzying numbers seemed entirely plausible. The ZL1 surged forward with massive supercharged thrust, and unlike the turbocharged engines that are so in vogue these days, it keeps right on pulling until you hit redline. The track had been modified a bit to limit top speed, so I didn't see much beyond 135 mph, but the ZL1 got up there with awe-inspiring ease. I've heard people say that the ZL1 is old news now that the 707-hp Dodge Challenger Hellcat exists. What that says to me is that those naysayers obviously haven't put a ZL1 through its paces.

Racecar Handling

The other central feature of the ZL1 is its suspension. With adaptive magnetic ride control dampers and a Corvette-inspired traction management system, this is not your garden-variety Camaro. Chevy says the ZL1 ran a 7.41-second lap at Germany's Nurburgring, just three seconds behind a Porsche 911 Carrera S. In my laps around Big Willow, it felt pretty much invincible. There was hardly any of the body roll I remembered from the lesser Camaro SS. The grip was prodigious, with remarkably progressive breakaway at the limit. Visibility will always be an issue in the current Camaro due to its high beltline and gun-slit windows, but I've certainly never felt as confident in one of these cars as I did in the ZL1.

Creature Comforts

There's another Camaro with track-ready handling called the Z28, which Chevy also took it to Nurburgring. It completed a 7.37-second lap, edging out the aforementioned Porsche. But here's the deal -- the Z28 isn't much more than a stripped-out racecar with less sound-deadening material, a 1-speaker audio system and no air conditioning by default. The ZL1, on the other hand, is a car you can drive every day. The magnetorheological dampers that are great in fast corners also provide a supple ride, and standard features include xenon headlights, a 9-speaker audio system and a touchscreen infotainment system. To me, that's the real magic of the Camaro ZL1 -- it's as comfortable on the street as it is on the track. That makes it a pretty amazing all-around car.

The Bottom Line

I'll admit that the Camaro isn't really my cup of tea -- I'm more of a Mustang guy. But the 2015 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 left a strong impression. If Camaros are your thing, the ZL1 is as good as it gets.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2015 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1: Real World Review - Autotrader