Dodge’s Challenger and Charger Hellcat siblings are big, cushy, tire killers, but that’s about it. Going fast in a straight line is fun for a little while, but if you’re into turning corners, you’ll find yourself wishing for more connection to the car—and the road beneath those sticky Pirellis. While Dodge no longer offers a car that provides such a sensation—RIP Viper—its crosstown competitors at General Motors offer the perfect blend of gratuitous horsepower and razor-sharp handling with the 2017 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1.
Even with its 305/30R20 rear tires, which are wider than the 275/40R20s worn by the Hellcats, the Camaro ZL1 feels under-tired, its sticky Goodyears smoking at your right foot’s behest. Turn traction control off at a stoplight and you’ll lay black stripes for as long as you keep your foot planted to the floor, thanks to the 650-horsepower and 650 lb-ft of torque coming from the 6.2-liter supercharged V-8 barely hidden under the Camaro ZL1’s bulging hood, with all of the latter available at 3,600 rpm.
But while the Hellcats feel like traditional muscle cars when they tackle twisty mountain rounds around Los Angeles, the ZL1 feels more like a proper, hunkered-down supercar. No car with a nearly 4,000-pound curb weight should be able to take hairpin corners this well. Turn-in is violent and yanks you sideways with the force of a Mayweather right hook, thanks in part to the 285/30R20 tires up front. Getting out of the corner, however, must be done judiciously, given the Camaro ZL1’s tendency to slaughter the rear tires. Thankfully, with traction control enabled and working in conjunction with the car’s superb electronically controlled rear differential, it rockets out of turns.
Part of the responsibility for that propulsion falls to its new 10-speed automatic transmission, which GM developed with Ford. Unlike many modern sports cars, the Camaro ZL1 makes use of a standard torque-converter automatic instead of a fancy dual-clutch setup. Though the multitude of gears and the lack of a secondary clutch makes for slightly clunky operation and noticeable shifts, especially when it jumps across gears, you won’t find yourself wishing for a dual-clutch box. Thanks to the short ratios allowed by the high cog count and shifts that are as quick and crisp as some dual-clutch rivals’, at least in manual mode with paddles at the ready and a supercharged V-8 willing to rev all the way to 7,000 rpm, you can always be in the powerband, never losing ground for a millisecond.
As for the connectivity test the Hellcats struggle with, its one the Camaro ZL1 aces. Steering feel is sublime and gives you the confidence you need to place the front wheels exactly where you want them. For those who wish to turn the car into a from-the-factory drift car, that confidence lets you comfortably push past the rear tires’ grip and keep a slide going for as long as your foot stays glued to the Camaro ZL1’s floorboards.
The ZL1’s interior is nicely appointed. The steering wheel and seats are draped in faux suede to supply a more race-car feel. The seats are well-bolstered, although anyone with more than a tiny beltline will likely become uncomfortable after longer drives since the bolstering digs into the sides of your thighs and waist. The Bose stereo isn’t the best on the market, but given the 650-hp backing track, perfect audio fidelity isn’t exactly necessary. That said, bumping your favorite driving tunes is still possible—just make sure you have the exhaust in Track mode.
Where there’s a slight issue—and this isn’t unique to the ZL1—is outward visibility. The front, rear, and side window apertures are small, while the seating position in the ZL1 is even lower than that of other Camaros. It can feel a little claustrophobic after a while.
Still, the 2017 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 reminds you of a better Hellcat. It has the power, speed, grip, and the looks that make it an impressive sports cars, and with a starting price of $63,435, it costs one-fifth of what supercars offering comparable levels of performance cost—a stupendous bargain.
Our own Chris Nelson said it best when he drove a Camaro ZL1 last year: “This is one of the most satisfying cars on the market, with plenty of power to get you in serious trouble, an overbuilt chassis that is rarely overwhelmed, and a few helpful electronic nannies that can keep you from killing yourself.”
2017 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Coupe Specifications
|ENGINE||6.2L supercharged OHV 16-valve V-8/650 hp @ 6,400 rpm, 650 lb-ft @ 3,600 rpm|
|LAYOUT||2-door, 4-passenger, front-engine, RWD coupe|
|EPA MILEAGE||12/20 mpg (automatic)|
|L x W x H||188.3 x 74.7 x 52.4 in|
|0-60 MPH||3.5 sec|