In the right circumstance, a convertible is the perfect car to experience the world of driving. It’s intimate since you can hear the car closely and feel the speed in your hair. But in Chevrolet’s Camaro ZL1 Convertible, a drop-top proves to be so much more.
|1. ZL1 uses a 6.2L supercharged V8 rated at 580 horsepower and 556 lb-ft of torque.
2. New tech features for the ZL1 include standard color touch radio with seven-inch screen and Chevrolet MyLink with a frameless inside rearview mirror
3. Track-ready with engine and transmission cooling, high performance tires, Magnetic Ride Control and three-mode traction control.
4. ZL1 Convertible costs $60,445, carrying $5,295 premium over the Coupe.
The Camaro ZL1 is Chevrolet’s most fully loaded muscle car, and omits no small feature or amenity. For 2013, all ZL1s get a new Chevrolet MyLink touch-screen radio and a new frameless mirror with OnStar functions. Sadly, there are no upgrades to the ZL1’s interior, and it’s still the same plastic mess inside. A few touches, like the Alacantara steering wheel and shifter knob help, but the whole interior is a bit compromised in terms of materials.
In contrast, the exterior is exactly as expected. It looks absolutely wild in red or yellow, but even the muted shades of grey and black look sharp. Camaro ZL1’s are also instantly recognizable thanks to the vented hood with black details. Finally, it’s hard not to get excited about the Camaro’s headlights, which have a distinct halo-glow to them. The whole car oozes style, and with the top-down, now the car-parrazzi can clearly snap the driver along with the car.
However, the ZL1 is more than just looks, and if you want to escape the gaze of spectators it certainly can do so. However, don’t expect the Camaro to blast off subtly. The convertible growls “I’m getting out of here” thanks to its massive 6.2L supercharged V8 and the dual-mode exhaust.
That engine has the potential to move the hefty Camaro quickly, but with plenty of dramatics. Hammer the throttle too hard, and of course, the rear tires light up. In the convertible though, you have nowhere to hide your smile (a telltale sign of hoonery to the cops you blow by.) In comparison to the ZL1 Coupe, the Convertible makes no changes to the powertrain, and as expected the car makes enough noise to fit the exterior styling.
While the ZL1 features more horsepower than all but the biggest and baddest Corvette, it also features an extra set of back seats and a softer ride that make the car a friendlier vehicle overall.
The ZL1 Convertible is an interesting specimen. The coupe has proven itself to be a quite capable performer, especially on the track. However, in the transition to losing the roof, the Convertible makes quite a few compromises that hinder its sportiness.
For one, the Convertible is some 200 lbs heavier than the (already hefty) Coupe, and weighs in somewhere short of a Cadillac Escalade at 4,320 lbs.
In order to offset the loss of a solid roof and maintain chassis rigidity, the Convertible is outfitted with several braces, though the added pounds are certain to make it less capable when pushed to its limits.
On the road it doesn’t feel particularly sporty, and more suits the characteristic of a grand-tourer, rather than a hopped up muscle car. That’s not a serious criticism either, as prospective buyers are likely looking for exactly that.
There are two key elements that make the ZL1 feel like a smooth cruiser, rather than the 580-horsepower, track honed, muscle car that it is. First, thanks to an impressive piece of tech in the suspension set up, the car feels exactly how you want it to. The technology, called Magnetic Ride Control is similar to what Ferrari uses in some of its exotic supercars and adjusts the suspension settings 1,000 times a second. What this means is on the road, the car feels soft and comfy, and when it comes to cornering, the car firms up. It’s a superb piece of technology that isn’t wasted on the high-powered Camaro.
Another important part of the ZL1 is its transmission. Both transmission options are particularly smooth, with the six-speed manual having a nicely weighted clutch and slick, short throws. The automatic is a nice surprise too and offers three drive modes. In normal drive, the car shifts quickly and early in the rev range in order to save fuel - allegedly. In Sport mode, the shifts are still quick and the car holds gears a bit longer. Finally, for those wanting the most control (in an automatic) there’s a manual mode that uses steering wheel mounted paddle shifters that also shift nice and quick, and don’t automatically upshift for you when you reach the limiter.
Determining the best transmission should have happened on the track, but the sad the truth is that Chevrolet didn’t let us test the Convertible on a course. While disappointing, it is appropriate.
Certain to be less impressive than the hard top, the ZL1 Convertible still has all the great features that make it track ready. Ventilated brakes are fitted all around, including six-piston Brembos in the front. The wheels are lightweight and fitted with super-sticky Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar G:2 tires that were made specifically for the car. That high-tech Magnetic Ride Control which makes the ZL1 such a blast on the roads would also make for a superb ally on the track as well.
The ZL1 also comes with a three-mode traction control system that will ensure the car stays on the track when you’re pushing it. In the ZL1 Coupe you get a more robust traction control, but apparently that's too much for the Convertible. For those who opt for the manual transmission, the traction control also works as a launch control, which means you should be able to net 0-60 mph times in under 5 seconds and 12 second quarter mile times all day long if you choose so choose.
Additionally, when taking the car to its limit, there’s no need to look down at the gauge cluster, since the ZL1 has a fancy heads-up display which shows your speed, rpm and G-forces.
And to keep it performing optimally, just like the coupe, the drop-top also features a differential cooler and oil coolers for the engine and transmission. So you might not ever drive it on a track, but you could, if you wanted to.
Almost every aspect of the Camaro ZL1 Convertible will appeal to your senses. It’s loud, gorgeous, gets the wind blowing in your face and is simply fun to drive. There’s an excessive amount of raw power and yet it’s far more comfortable on the road than you’d ever expect.
Still, the ZL1 convertible brings up more questions than it answers. For the true enthusiast, the ZL1 Coupe is the obvious choice, thanks to a better chassis and weight. And for those looking for a cruising convertible with a snarling V8, surely the Camaro SS is more than enough.
Still, the world of muscle cars is all about ego and one-upping the competition, and that’s exactly what the ZL1 Convertible does. It’s better than any Camaro Convertible, and until the Shelby GT500 Convertible arrives later this summer, it’s the most powerful drop-top muscle car out there.