Tue. Jan 19th, 2021
2017 Chevrolet Camaro

2017 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 First Drive

Barnum, Bailey, and all the Ringling Brothers combined aren’t even half as entertaining as GM’s supercharged LT4 small-block V8. This direct-injected, variable-timed, intercooled, all-aluminum, one-cam, 6.2-liter hyper-clown idles with an evil chortle, rips upward singing like Marvin Gaye at his “Let’s Get It On” peak, then finishes way past 6000 rpm with the maniacal cackle of Frank Gorshin as The Riddler. The LT4 is rated at an astonishing 650 horsepower and until right now there’ve only been three ways to get it. First, in Chevrolet’s two-seat Corvette Z06. Second, in Cadillac’s four-door CTS-V. And, third, in a crate from GM Performance Parts. But it’s this fourth way that’s the best way. That’s the LT4 powering the 2017 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1.

2017 Chevrolet Camaro

At a few thousand dollars less than the 707-horsepower Dodge Charger Hellcat, the ZL1 is likely the cheapest new car with a top speed beyond 200 mph. Chevrolet isn’t saying anything about the maximum velocity (at least not yet), but come on. This much power? With a lot less frontal area than the broad-beamed Charger? Two bills at the top end is inevitable.

So the LT4 is a gigaton of giggles. But think of the rest of the ZL1 as the perfect engine amplifier. The chassis is almost neutral at speed, there’s plenty of tire aboard to hang on through the hairiest corners, and the brakes could stop a runaway Federal budget. Plus there’s enough technology aboard that a dog could hustle it through the Nürburgring in under eight minutes. Even faster if he’s a mutant who has grown opposable thumbs.This is not a perfect car, however. The trunk is puny, some of the instrumentation is nonsensical, and the center stack screen is angled downward, making it tough for the driver to see it. The highlight of the interior is the optional Recaro front chairs that are ideally shaped for both comfort and hero work.

Beyond that, the electric power steering feels heavy and occasionally ponderous. And while overall traction is good, the front tires don’t always respond with the immediacy that would result in excellent initial turn-in. And while this ZL1 is lighter than the fifth-generation Camaro, it still comes in only a few bacon strips short of two tons in overall weight. Physics can only do so much with that mass.

Prices for the new ZL1 coupe start at $63,435 including a $1,300 gas-guzzler penalty. That’s not cheap, but this is the most fully realized, better performing muscle car around. A convertible model is available as well, for an extra seven grand.

The 2017 Chevrolet ZL1 is 70 horsepower more powerful than the last ZL1, and all those extra ponies want to entertain you. So be entertained.