Ihave mixed feelings about the fifth-generation Camaro. It certainly deserves praise and I want to like it, but this could have been the latest Firebird, the greatest motor in automotive history in my view (barring a different front and tail end), had GM not killed off that fire-breathing monster in 2002. It got worse when Pontiac was laid to rest a few years later and with its demise went any hopes of the iconic Firebird line being resurrected.
The Camaro and Firebird were based on the same F-body platform from the very beginning in the late Sixties, shared a large percentage of parts and, to the untrained eye, were almost identical. Chevy was able to bring back the Camaro in 2009 and it’s gone from strength to strength.
Now the facelifted fifth-gen is here and I’ve begun to warm to it – although those new horizontal taillights are atrocious; had this been a Firebird, they’d have looked much better. Fine. I’m bitter. I can’t help it. But when behind the wheel of this mighty ZL1 with its supercharged 6.2-litre 580bhp V8, I also can’t help but say that it is awesome.
That headline-grabbing 580bhp figure isn’t all that this ZL1, which traces its nameplate back to 1969, has to shout about. Fire it up and you won’t hear anything else over the ferocious growl from that force-fed V8. It sounds like a yelling match between the king of the jungle and a great big grizzly.
And it doesn’t just take off like a bolt of lightning; it is equally adept at handling corners as it is at obliterating the straights. Chevy didn’t just give this one enormous power, making it the fastest Camaro ever. No, it also gave it the fabulous Magnetic Ride Control, four-wheel independent suspension and a Performance Traction Management system influenced by the Corvette, which has five performance settings from road to track— with each one ensuring the ZL1 delivers total exhilaration. Mechanically, not much has changed during the refresh but cosmetically, it’s had a nip and tuck.
The ZL1 is still equipped with Brembo brakes (with massive 14.6in front discs and cooling ducts that route air from the fascia to the callipers), unique 20in wheels with performance summer tyres and a retuned power steering. The exterior’s functional carbon-fibre air extractor on the bonnet is still the most eyecatching element of the muscular body. It’s gained a unique rear spoiler and refreshed front and rear fascias; there’s a wider, lower mouth and compressed upper grille, making the front still the most aggressive in the segment.
You can’t miss the large lower splitter that reduces front lift, while the LED headlights are even more piercing than before. Maybe in time the tail end will grow on me. It’s not that bad to be fair; the decklid and diffuser look pretty tasty.
Inside, it’s more upscale than before and features suede trim, a flat-bottomed steering with paddle shifters and Recaro sport seats.
On the tech front, it makes the 1969 ZL1 look very much like the dinosaur it is. Back then, a cigarette lighter was a big deal. For 2014, you get amenities like the new MyLink connected radio, a rear-view camera displayed on the 7.0in diagonal colour touchscreen, sat-nav, premium Boston Acoustics sound system, a USB port and a colour head-up display.
But it’s on the move where the ZL1 impresses most. It feels taut and connected to the road; those adjustable shocks make all the difference and though I only drove it on the road, I could feel it’s geared up to destroy the track.
Speaking of gears, the six-speed automatic swaps the cogs without a fuss, matching the rev range perfectly. But in manual mode and while operating the paddles, it really shines. It’s even more responsive and just adds to the overall fun factor that this car delivers in spades. Some
Specs & ratings Model Camaro ZL1 Engine 6.2-litre V8 supercharged Transmission Sixspeed auto, RWD Max power 580bhp @ 6,000rpm Max torque 754Nm @ 4,200rpm Top speed 296kph 0-100kph 3.9sec Price Dh230,000 Plus Exhaust note, power
Minus Visibility isn’t the best things could be better; visibility from the front, of all places, is restrictive, while the A-pillars are so thick you can’t see what’s coming at you from your left or right.
But you’d forgive the ZL1 this the moment you turn the key. Its fullthroated bellowing is so savage you’d think twice before criticising any aspect of this car. Is the raucous exhaust note more obvious than the car’s actual power? No. Not when it’s armed with 754Nm of torque, can hit 0-100kph in under four seconds and go on to a top speed just under 300kph. Its acceleration is almost on a par with some exotic supercars that cost three times as much.
For what you get, this is a bargain. It’s built to perform and it does so – only after it’s left a massive plume of smoke created by those sticky 305/35 rear tyres. It’s heavy but agile and happy in the corners, which is nervewracking at first but you soon grow in confidence with its ability to grip, remain totally planted and the fact that it steers with precision.
This isn’t a normal car, so forget about fuel efficiency or boot space. Worry about that and you’ll miss the point. This is about brute power, smokey sideways action and killer looks. I’ve fallen madly in love with this car. It’s so good that it’s softened the blow that a fifth-gen Trans Am doesn’t exist. Almost...