If cars were judge solely on the sounds coming from the tailpipe, the Camaro ZL1 convertible would be among finest automobiles Chevy has made in years.
This is the grand pooh-bah of today's retro Camaro lineup, and it resurrects the most sought-after Camaro ever made: the 1969 ZL1, of which GM produced just 69 copies.
The original featured an all-aluminum V-8, then considered an exotic material. Though it was officially rated at 425 horsepower, dyno testing often revealed the ZL1s to be putting out much more.
Among the fastest street-legal cars of the muscle-car era, the '69 Camaro ZL1 can today fetch several hundreds of thousands of dollars. At Barrett-Jackson's 2012 Scottsdale auction, a restored ZL1 sold for $451,000.
The new version doesn't exactly come cheap. The ZL1 starts at $63,045, including destination and a $2,600 gas guzzler tax. Our tester added to that the automatic transmission, suede trim on the interior, 20-inch aluminum wheels, and clear-coated paint on the carbon-fiber hood insert for a total of $65,800. That's nearly triple the price of a base Camaro and well into Corvette territory.
Like its namesake, the 2013 ZL1 also has an all-aluminum V-8, a 6.2-liter supercharged version making 580 horsepower and 556 pound-feet of torque. Fans of this small-block V-8 will know it also sees duty in the Cadillac CTS-V sedan, coupe and wagon, though the ZL1 motor has a bit more power. This helps the Camaro blast from zero to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds, according to Car and Driver.
A six-speed manual transmission comes standard; our tester had the $1,185 six-speed automatic gearbox with steering wheel mounted paddle shifters.
We'd advise going with the manual. The automatic bogged down in slow shifts, regardless of whether you let the car choose the shift points or initiated them through the paddles.
Standard on all ZL1s are GM's excellent Magnetic Ride Control dampers. This system lets drivers choose between Tour and Sport modes of firmness, and can adjust immediately to changing road conditions. It sounds far-fetched until you travel a familiar road and feel many of its imperfections ironed out.
Other standard features include Brembo brakes, a limited slip differential, backup camera, Chevy's excellent MyLink infotainment system, heated leather seats, a rear spoiler and a heads-up display.
Exterior modifications are subtle for a high-end hotrod. The aluminum hood with a carbon fiber insert is a nice touch, and the front bumper gets mildly more aggressive.
On the road, and the first thing you notice is its mass - all 4,380 pounds of it. Consider that the Corvette 427 convertible we tested recently weighed about a thousand pounds less. Despite the imposing girth, it takes turns with precision and remains composed in daily driving.
The steering feels heavy but inspires confidence. Despite having 580 horsepower, the ZL1's power is easily modulated and delivered in smooth, linear fashion on its way to the 6,200 RPM redline. The magnetic ride control, limited slip differential, and the independent rear suspension help the car feel planted and stable.
Then there's all that gorgeous noise. The ZL1 fires up with a throaty roar that any fan of internal combustion can appreciate. The engine emits a slight whine from the supercharger. At speed, the exhaust opens up at about 3,000 RPMs to let out a delicious growl. Letting your foot off the gas produces a wonderfully unrefined series of crackles and pops.
The convertible top does a good job of keeping wind noise at bay, though you'll want to pack a lunch for the time it takes the roof to go up or down.
Given how good this car sounds, you might as well just leave the roof down.
Times’ take: A true muscle car with surprisingly refined ride and handling
Highs: Exquisite exhaust note and performance to match
Lows: heavy; vague transmission; Corvette price
Vehicle type: two-door convertible
Base price: $63,045
Price as tested: $65,800
Powertrain: 6.2-liter supercharged V-8
Transmissions: Six-speed manual; six-speed automatic
Torque (pound-feet): 556
0-60 mph/quarter mile: 4.4 seconds/12.7 seconds, according to Car and Driver
Fuel economy (mpg): 12 city, 18 highway
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