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Auto review: Camaro ZL1 a race-ready daily driver

By G. Chambers Williams III, McClatchy Newspapers –

ALTON, Va. — On the track or on twisty country roads surrounding the Virginia International Raceway, the all-new 2012 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 coupe feels right at home.

The coolest thing about it is that it comes out of the box ready for use as a daily driver or a fun toy at the track — no modifications or options are required to get it ready for the track.

Even the warranty remains in effect while the 580-horsepower ZL1 is on the track, as long as it’s not entered into a sanctioned race of some sort — then you would be on your own.

This is the best-performing stock Camaro ever, with zero-60 mph times of 4.0 seconds with the standard six-speed Tremec manual gearbox, or just 3.9 seconds with the optional six-speed automatic.

Top speed with the automatic is 184 mpg, and 180 mph with the manual. The car can cover a quarter-mile in 12 seconds with the automatic, or 12.1 with the manual, and achieve 119 mph in that time.

I didn’t get it near the top speed on the track — or on the highway, of course — but the car handled beautifully on the Virginia International Raceway’s 3.27-mile road-course track, even in the challenging S-turns.

Now on sale, the ZL1 coupe lists for $54,995, including $900 freight. A convertible version will follow this summer, as a 2013 model, but its price won’t be revealed until closer to launch. The ragtop model was on display at the Camaro event at the racetrack, though, and it’s even more beautiful than the coupe.

The automatic transmission costs an additional $1,185. Other options are 20-inch bright-aluminum wheels ($470), a power sunroof ($900), an exterior striping package ($470), an exposed-weave carbon-fiber hood insert ($600); and a suede interior trim package ($500), which includes suede microfiber accents on the steering wheel, shift knob and shift boot.

There also is a federal gas-guzzler tax of $1,300 on the car.

Under the hood is the supercharged 6.2-liter LSA V-8 engine rated at 580 horsepower and 556 foot-pounds of torque. The ZL1 has more horsepower than the $196,800 Audi R8 GT (560 horsepower), the $122,800 Maserati GranTurismo (405 hp), and the $185,750 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG (565 hp), which GM suggests are competing vehicles.

The all-aluminum, small-block engine is a variation of the 638-horsepower LS9 V-8 that powers the Corvette ZR1, which has 604 foot-pounds of torque. That car costs $112,578, goes from zero-60 mph in 3.4 seconds, and has a top speed of 205 mph. It doesn’t have a back seat, though, as the Camaro does.

The Camaro ZL1’s interior has leather seats with suede microfiber inserts. The heated front bucket seats are power-adjustable. Other standard features include a nine-speaker Boston Acoustics audio system; USB and Bluetooth connectivity; and rear-park assist with a rearview camera display that shows up in the rearview mirror.

The engine is essentially the same as the one GM uses in the three Cadillac CTS-V models, but changes have been made to give it more horsepower, including revised intakes and better cooling. The CTS-V is rated at 556 horsepower and 556 foot-pounds of torque.

There are standard chassis and traction features designed to make the ZL1 suitable for the track or drag strip, but GM also is touting it as a good daily driver. That is, if you don’t mind the poor fuel economy. EPA ratings are 12 mpg city/18 highway with the six-speed automatic transmission, and 14/19 with the six-speed manual.

It has an engine oil cooler identical to the one on the ZR1; a rear-differential cooler, which pumps transmission fluid to a heat exchanger; and a high-performance fuel system with multiple pickups in the tank to ensure a steady flow of gasoline to the engine even during high-speed cornering.

Special ducts direct airflow to the brakes to help keep them cool during performance driving.

Handling is greatly enhanced by GM’s third-generation Magnetic Ride Control, which can adjust suspension damping 1,000 times a second. Three settings are provided: Tour, Sport, and Track.

Also included is GM’s Performance Traction Management system, which also comes on the ZR1. It’s a computer-controlled integration of the magnetic ride control, launch control (manual transmission only), traction control and electronic stability control systems. Its modes are Wet, Dry, Sport 1, Sport 2 and Race.

GM used computer-aided design and wind-tunnel testing to create the ZL1’s aerodynamic body for high-performance driving.

Differences in the appearance from the regular Camaro coupe include a new front fascia and a unique hood with air extractors, designed to create aerodynamic down force to aid in road handling. In conjunction with the rear spoiler and other elements, there is 65 pounds of downward pressure at speed.

ZL1 badges appear on the grille, hood and the brake calipers help identify the car as the special model. That designation is on the front seatbacks, as well.

There is a new electric power-steering system, which adds two or three horsepower; a dual-mode exhaust system with four outlets, borrowed from the Corvette; and heavy-duty disc brakes (developed with help from Brembo) that have 14.6-inch, two-piece front rotors with six-piston calipers, and 14.4-inch rear rotors with four-piston calipers.

The 20-inch wheels are lighter than the ones on the Camaro SS model, and they come with Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar tires developed just for the ZL1.

Other interior features include a special steering wheel that is flat at the bottom; alloy pedals; a head-up display that projects the speed and other information onto the bottom of the windshield; and a “four-pack” of gauges.

There is seating for up to four people, although legroom in the rear is limited.

All of the regular Camaro exterior colors are available for the ZL1, but the only interior color is black.

The ZL1 name came from an all-aluminum racing engine that was developed in the late 1960s and used on just 69 of the 1969 production Camaro models. That engine was rated at 430 horsepower and 450 foot-pounds of torque.

———

2012 CHEVROLET CAMARO ZL1 COUPE:

—The package: Midsize, two-door, rear-wheel-drive, four-passenger, specialty high-performance sports coupe

—Highlights: The most-powerful production model of the Camaro ever, the ZL1 arrives for 2012 as a coupe model; a convertible follows later in the year. The car boasts a top speed of 184 mph, and a zero-60 mph time of 3.9 seconds with the optional automatic transmission, and comes ready for the road and the track.

—Negatives: Poor fuel economy (but who cares?)

—Engine: 6.2-liter V-8, supercharged.

—Transmission: Six-speed manual; six-speed automatic ($1,185 extra)

—Power/torque: 580 horsepower/556 foot-pounds

—Length: 190.4 inches

—Wheelbase: 112.3 inches

—Curb weight: Not available

—Brakes, front/rear: Disc/disc, antilock

—Electronic stability control: Standard

—Cargo volume: 11.3 cubic feet

—Fuel capacity/type: 19.0 gallons/unleaded premium

—EPA fuel economy: 14 mpg city/19 highway (manual); 12/18 (automatic)

—Base price: $54,095, plus $900 freight

—Price as tested: $59,950 including freight, $1,300 gas-guzzler tax, and all available options

—Rating: 9.5 out of a possible 10

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