The soft-top Camaro is a firmer vehicle and a better handler than the Mustang.
SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA – With the muscle car wars in full force, the engineers at Mopar’s SRT division have been the first to break into the 800-horsepower bracket. We recently tested a Hellcat Redeye with 797 horsepower and came away with the question “how much power is too much?” Chevrolet’s Camaro is an iconic muscle car with models ranging from the turbocharged four-cylinder 1LE, right up to six and eight-cylinder models with two body styles (coupé and convertible) and with availability of automatic and manual transmissions.
On a visit to the gorgeous Bay Area to explore the canyon roads around San Francisco, we were tossed the keys to a 2019 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Convertible, which ends up being the most powerful variant offered. Just by looking at it, it becomes obvious that the ZL1 is not your ordinary Camaro. Aggressive ground effects, massive brakes, and a unique hood with vents and ZL1 badges set it aside as something special. Even still, the looks aren’t far enough off from the regular model, so it flies under the radar a little bit.
What makes the ZL1 more unique is the engine under the hood. Chevrolet has put the supercharged 6.2L LT4 V8 from the Corvette Z06 under the hood, and it’s a winner. It puts out 650 horsepower and 650 lb-ft. of torque, sent right to the rear wheels. A six-speed manual transmission is available, but our tester was equipped with the optional 10-speed HydraMatic transmission. It hits 100km/h in the mid-three second range, and on to a top speed of 313km/h (195mph).
This is one seriously fast car, and the 10-speed automatic isn’t a bad transmission. It’s geared well enough to be able to get decent highway mileage, and in more performance oriented driving, responds quickly. The supercharger emits a continuous whine on acceleration that’s intoxicating, and for this enthusiast living in a world dominated by turbochargers and small displacement, it’s a welcomed throwback. The blower also means there’s no lag and response is instantaneous, with the Camaro ready to pounce like a lion in heat at any given time.
Moreso than any model of the Challenger (reviewed here) though, the Camaro ZL1 is a corner carver. If anything, it’s sharper than any variant of the Mustang too, including the new Shelby models. GM’s Magnetic Ride Control is one of the best damping setups around right now, and can transform the Camaro’s chassis from a rigid performance car into a subdued cruiser at the touch of a button. We did about 300km of highway driving and when the car was set to “Tour” mode, it soaked up the mileage without issue.
Carving canyons and taking in the car culture around San Francisco, we learned about the car’s intricacies. If anything, the Magnetic Ride Control goes the extra mile to compensate for some of the floppiness caused by the convertible pool-noodle effect. In this configuration at least, the soft-top Camaro is a firmer vehicle and a better handler than the comparable Mustang. Steering feel is fairly good too, and the Alcantara wheel on this ZL1 tester is nice to the touch and great to hold onto while pushing the car through corners.
The immediacy from the supercharged V8 compensates a little bit for the lack of a third pedal. The LT4 handled the elevation changes effortlessly, with the car shooting up mountainsides quickly and urgently, where other vehicles would need to downshift a lot more. Adding to this is the ferocious roar from the exhaust, complete with burbles on gear changes as well as backfires when letting off the throttle. The 15.35” rotors and six-piston calipers up front can bring the Camaro to a stop quickly too, when that large animal decides to jump onto the roadway.
If opting for the fixed-roof ZL1 Coupé, there is a 1LE track pagkage for $8,495. It adds wheels, performance suspension with DSSV dampers, rear stabilizer bars, front spring seats, an electronic limited-slip differential and more. Pricing for the Camaro ZL1 starts at $72,395, and the ragtop comes in at $79,395. The ZL1 adds Brembos, Recaro seats, Magnetic Ride Control, Performance Traction Management, launch control, and of course, the LT4 engine. Additional options include the premium infotainment for $795, and the Garnet Red paint for $595.
Despite it being an unpopular opinion, I actually find the Camaro’s interior to be relatively nice and functional; it’s my pick of the three muscle cars in this regard. There are plenty of hard plastics everywhere, but that’s fairly typical for a car that’s basically built to a $30,000 price point. The climate control settings are easy to use and work well, the seats are heated and ventilated, and the eight-inch touchscreen with Chevrolet Infotainment 3 is one of the better mainstream examples out there, with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto connectivity as well as a WiFi hotspot. The rear seats are almost unusable with the top in place as there’s almost zero headroom, but the front Recaros are more than comfortable.
There are a few flaws with the Camaro Convertible, and they’re not necessarily limited to the ZL1. Firstly, the visibility out of this car with the top in place is atrocious, and this has been a common trait with all Camaro models since the model’s re-launch nearly a decade ago. It’s a great car that you can’t really see anything out of. Secondly, in order to open the convertible top, a divider needs to be in place inside the trunk. This means that if you want to drive top down, you can’t have any more luggage than a backpack. There is simply too much intrusion to the cargo area by the convertible top mechanism.
Lastly, we averaged 15.7L/100km over our 700km test, factoring in plenty of performance driving. This isn’t necessarily a flaw, because fuel efficiency doesn’t really matter when you’re talking about a 650hp performance car. It’s worth noting, though, that light-footing it on longer highway drives will net a much more reasonable 10.0L/100km effortlessly, especially with the 10-speed automatic. The Camaro will only accept 91-octane into its 72L tank.
The 2019 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Convertible is a very interesting car, and has an advantage that the Hellcat and Shelby (reviewed here) don’t. While all three are fairly similar in actual acceleration time, the Camaro is the only one that can be mutually had with the high-performance engine and convertible configuration. It’s a car that’s just as happy cruising down the highway on a nice day as it is setting quarter-mile times at your local track on weekends. If raw performance is what you want, get the fixed-roof coupé with the wild 1LE package and six-speed manual transmission. If you need a ragtop and will find yourself daily driving the toy, this one might be worth a look.