The all new Camaro ZL1: Mind over muscle

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The iconic ZL1 has been reinvented for the sixth-generation Camaro and is purpose-built to challenge the most advanced sports coupes in the world. A refined, driver-focused cockpit helps you get every last bit of performance from the supercharged 6.2L LT4 engine. Rocketing from 0-to-60 in just 3.5 seconds, running a quarter mile in 11.4 seconds and pulling up to 1.02 g in g’s, ZL1 is a sports car designed to dominate
in any setting.

2017 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1

Surprisingly, a lack of packaging space demanded the change. But what matters is this: 650 horsepower at 6400 rpm and 650 pound-feet of torque at 3600 rpm. It’s all ­managed, aurally, by a dual-mode exhaust, which is now electronically controlled rather than vacuum actuated as it was on the last ZL1. Chevy offers two transmissions here, including a high-torque version of the six-speed Tremec TR6060 that’s available in the Camaro SS. A tailored gearset allows the manual-transmission–equipped ZL1 to hit 60 mph in first gear, while both fifth and sixth are overdrive gears. At 0.54:1, sixth gear is a true fuel-economy cog, though the 3.73 final-drive is still low enough to serve up shovel-to-the-spleen holeshots.

2017 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1

But the 10-speed automatic, co-developed with Ford, is the one that’s so hotly anticipated and the one we experienced from the passenger’s seat. Even from that chair, it’s clear that it will be the go-to gearbox if minimizing lap times is a priority. Chevy engineers compared the 10-speed’s shift times with those of the dual-clutch units in the 991 Porsche 911 Carrera S and the McLaren MP4-12C, which admittedly are not the newest iterations of those cars.

The differences, though small, fall convincingly in favor of the Chevy. Here the 10-speed uses a ZL1-specific torque converter, clutch components, bearings, software, and controllers. Its 0.64:1 10th gear is numerically lower than what the transmission will offer in other applications. Ten-speed–equipped ZL1 coupes will have a 2.85:1 final-drive ratio.

2017 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1

Convertibles will be 2.77:1 and won’t get the eLSD. Most striking is the gearbox’s ability to keep the LT4 engine almost in­defi­nitely in the most potent portion of its rev range. When it’s working hard, the 10-speed is all nervous energy, ripping through tightly spaced gears with unrelenting pace. The resultant thrust and sound are gleefully rewarding.

Enough so that Link says the automatic is the component of the car that makes him most proud. “It just never falls off,” he says. “Even at the higher speeds we see on the ’Ring [the Nürburgring Nordschleife, where GM partially developed the ZL1], there’s always a building sensation to this car’s acceleration.”

Four drive modes influencing all the car’s manners remain: snow/ice, tour, sport, and track. It’s likely, though, that the 10-speed has crossed the don’t-bother threshold when it comes to do-it-yourself paddle shifting. Even Link admits that it’s hard to know whether to go down three gears or four in certain scenarios. But, let’s face it, the days of shifting automatics yourself stopped being rewarding back when they reached seven gears. Using drive, as Link did on our ride-along, frees up brainpower for steering and braking. If you want to shift yourself, get the six-speed.

2017 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1

Chevy hadn’t released the ZL1’s official ’Ring lap time as of our deadline. But it did say that the new car is more than 11 seconds quicker than the previous ZL1’s 7:41.27, which makes it a 7:30 or better. We’ve seen data logs confirming that it’s 10 mph faster than the old ZL1 (call it about 182 mph) going into Tiergarten, the fastest section of the track. A mid to low 7:20 seems possible.

Forged 10-inch-wide front and 11-inch-wide rear wheels wear 285/30R-20 and 305/30R-20 rubber, respectively. Goodyear, once again, is the ZL1’s tire supplier, and it worked with engineers through many variants of its Eagle F1 Supercar tire before arriving at the final compound and construction, which is called G:3.

Carbon-ceramic brake rotors, like those offered on the 2015 Z/28, aren’t available. This is both a cost-control measure and a practical one, as the iron brakes meet GM’s performance targets. The ZL1’s two-piece 15.4-inch iron front rotors are clamped by fixed, six-piston Brembo calipers.

Even with hefty brakes, the Alpha platform nets the ZL1 a 220-pound weight savings over the last model; at about 3950 pounds when equipped with the 10-speed automatic, though, it’s certainly no featherweight. Still, it’s quicker. Chevy says 10-speed–equipped coupes should hit 60 in 3.5 seconds and hammer through the quarter-mile in 11.4 seconds at 127 mph.

2017 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1

Customizable launch control that allows adjustable engine speed and wheel-slip between 5 and 15 percent is standard and can be had with either transmission. And, keeping pace with Ford, the ZL1 now offers line-lock, a feature that clamps the front brakes but leaves the rear free for epic burnouts. It’s so buried in the instrument-cluster menus that even Captain Liability himself couldn’t accidentally activate it.

2017 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1

Glued to the track, lap after lap

Virtually every design decision was made with performance and aerodynamics in mind. A functional carbon-fiber composite hood air extractor pulls heat from the engine compartment and helps reduce lift. The grille and front fascia provide even more airflow and features large outboard cooling ducts to push air to the brakes. Even the front Chevrolet bow-tie badge has been hollowed out for maximum airflow. Underneath, the air dam is designed to further reduce drag and increase down-force. A wing-style rear spoiler and diffuser complete an aerodynamic package that helps ZL1 maintain a high level of performance from the first lap to the last.

The power of engineering

ZL1 is the most powerful Camaro ever produced. Under the hood, you’ll find a supercharged 6.2L LT4 V8. The Eaton supercharger features a new intercooler design that provides more efficient heat exchange and prolonged, sustained power – 650 horsepower and 650 lb.-ft. of torque. While the competition fades, ZL1 delivers consistent, powerful performance.

2017 Camaro ZL1

Get in your gear
2 Comments
  1. Tom White says

    Love the coverage.

    1. Harry says

      We are glad that you do. Please stay tuned!

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