2012 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 vs 2013 Ford Shelby GT500 - On Track

A. J. Mueller
2012-chevy-camaro-zl1-vs-2013-ford-shelby-gt500

Editor’s note: This is the first installment of a three-part comparison test between the 2012 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 and the 2013 Ford Shelby GT500. Tomorrow, we’ll run the two cars at the drag strip to record quarter-mile times and consistency. The third installment will explore on-road behavior and render our final verdict.

The fight for pony-car supremacy has been raging for decades. Chevrolet Camaro versus Ford Mustang is a duel without a definitive ending. Battles are fought and won with every new variant and each model year change, yet there's never enough momentum in any one direction to decide the war.

While this feud won't end anytime soon, the stakes are higher than ever in the latest Mustang-Camaro skirmish. The 2013 Ford Shelby GT500 and the 2012 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 are the heavy guns in the pony-car arms race, representing the pinnacle of performance and technology. A win here is as close as it gets to declaring victory.

On paper, this round should be a no-brainer. The GT500 has been granted 112 additional ponies for 2013, now totaling a barbarian-like 662 hp and 631 lb-ft of torque delivered from its bored-out, supercharged V-8 motor. By comparison, the most powerful Camaro yet brings a mere 580 hp and 556 lb-ft of torque with its 6.2-liter supercharged V-8. The GT500 has a 0-60 time of 3.8 seconds besting the ZL1's 4.3. The top speed of the Camaro is impressive at 180 mph, but it is consummately thrashed by the Shelby, which will do a staggering 200 mph.

If this was a battle of numbers, clearly we had a winner. If this was a matter of subjective opinion -- well, the diehard fans have already picked sides. So this part of the test isn't about who has the burliest bicep or whose chiseled abs can undress a Victoria's Secret supermodel. To settle this bout, we brought in a neutral third party: a racetrack. This test is about which car can turn a lap fastest. To find out who would be victorious, we visited Gingerman Raceway in Michigan, a 2.14-mile venue capable of unearthing any unsavory habits hiding behind those impressive horsepower figures.

As I wheeled the Shelby GT500 around Gingerman, the first thing to strike me was how long the gear ratios are. A full lap needs only second and third gear, a preposterous fact when you realize I was maxing out at about 130 mph on the back straight. Having just two usable gears really limited my choices and I often felt either over- or undergeared for each bend. Additionally, the Tremec six-speed transmission's shifter isn't the crispest; its throws are long, causing slow but at least consistent shifting.

Entering the turns, the Shelby displays a boatload of body roll. That's not completely surprising given the GT500's humble origins, but I expected more from the Bilstein two-mode adjustable shocks, which are part of the $3495 Performance Package. The car wallows like a stuck pig and I desperately attempted to load up the outside wheels on corner entry. Despite my best efforts, I couldn't calm the Shelby to precisely attack a corner. To make matters worse, the understeer in the fast turns was significant, meaning I was unable to carry the speed through the important fast sections of the lap. Power down, however, was solid and when the rear did break loose, the car was easily manageable.

Even with the long gear ratios, power is always underfoot in the Shelby. The GT500 charged down the straights with unrelenting acceleration and unquestionable authority. Shortcomings in the handling seemed of little concern to a car that could make such quick work of the space between corners. The Ford logged a best lap time of a 1:45.21.

Clearly, for the Camaro to come out on top, it had a small mountain to climb. There is no hiding the 80-hp deficit in the ZL1 and despite the Shelby's hoggish handling, I initially thought its power advantage was too great. The Camaro is further hobbled by a curb weight of 4120 pounds compared to the relatively svelte Shelby at 3850 pounds. The differences were clear on the track. At the end of the back straight, the ZL1 was down more than 6 mph to the brutish GT500.

It looked like the chubbier ZL1 was fighting a losing battle, but as I entered the first few turns, I noticed something significant. I felt like I was driving a sports car. The steering was sharp and responsive and the car reacted instantaneously to my actions. The body roll is a fraction of the GT500's, which is simply titanic. I began smiling. The ZL1 was magnificent to drive and already I was blown away. The car rotates effortlessly mid-corner and power down is predictable and with poise. It oozed with confidence, daring me to push even harder. Chevrolet's Performance Traction Management has five distinct settings and frankly it's overkill. I switched it off entirely.

The Camaro's secret weapon is the Magnetic Ride Control that comes standard on the ZL1. This clever system varies damper firmness to match road and driving conditions. It has three settings: tour, sport, and track, the latter of which can only be selected when Performance Traction Managment is set to its highest mode. Within each setting, the magnetorheological dampers allow for a greater range of control than conventional dampers, leading to a tailor-made ride for every eventuality, including our Gingerman Raceway.

This battle was shaping up to be closer than expected. Could the ZL1 undermine the GT500's monstrous power by beating it through the corners?

There was one more weakness working against the Chevy. While the shifter's throws are shorter and sharper in the ZL1, the gate is clumsy and difficult to engage from second to third gear. At least once a lap I miss a shift, flailing to get the car into third. I found myself cursing at its inability to shift smoothly -- a nasty trait that could cost the ZL1 victory. More frustrating is the fact that both cars use essentially the same six-speed manual transmission, albeit with different ratios.

I pulled into the pit, unable to pull off a lap of seamless shifts. My gut told me that without the ZL1's annoying shifting issues I would have been close to overcoming the mighty Shelby. With the botched shifts, I likely fell short.

I wanted the ZL1 to win, because from an on-track handling perspective the car is simply leagues ahead of the clumsy GT500. Going into this, I never expected the difference to be so dramatic and yet I had no problem picking a favorite having driven both. I could barely stand still, hopping from leg to leg like a man in desperate need of relieving himself, waiting to receive the results.

The time was in: 1:44.53. A significant seven-tenths of a second faster than the GT500. And I estimate the missed shifts cost upwards of half a second per lap. With an 80-hp deficit, the underdog came through by a monumental amount. That's a staggering achievement against a car that, by all measures, is fantastic in its own right. What Chevy has done is combine a fully-fledged sports car into a muscle car's body. Although I wish the shifter was smoother, the Camaro ZL1 is a fantastic piece of engineering.

From an on-track perspective there is no contest. For this year, at least, the victory well and truly belongs to the ZL1. Its handling capabilities far exceed the straight-line advantage owned by the Shelby. But remember, this victory may only be short-lived. After all, we are less than two years away from the birth of the redesigned Mustang, which will likely ditch the ancient live rear axle in favor of the superior independent rear suspension. And this could mean we rewrite the rulebook yet again. Then again, as we found out today, the rulebook doesn't mean much anyway.

Alex Lloyd is a race car driver hailing from Manchester, England. He moved to America in 2006, winning the Indy Lights championship the following year. Alex has raced in two Daytona 24-hour races, earning a best finish of fifth overall, and has competed in four Indianapolis 500s. In 2010, he placed fourth in that race and won the IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year Championship. Follow him on Twitter @Alex_Lloyd.

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rob21af
@slwonghttp://www.motortrend.com/roadtests/coupes/1203_2012_chevrolet_camaro_zl1_vs_2012_ford_mustang_boss_302_laguna_seca/Here ya go man.
M3hunter
Now we know, why FORD did not posted their lap times on the Nurburgring track, the GT500 was not going to look good against the ZL1. The Shelby GT500 es only good for the 1/4 mile races. Too bad.
M3hunter
I'm an owner of a '11 Mustang GT 5.0 Brembo package, that has shown on different magazines that is a much better car than the Camaro SS, Challenger, Charger and strong competition to the BMW M3. The Mustang BOSS Laguna very easy will beat the BMW M3, Porsche Cayman R and the 8 cyl Audi R8 (not the 10 cyl) on the track. But at this time, we need to give credit to the Camaro ZL1, that is similar in performance at the track to his brother the Corvette Grand Sport, and yes it has a more rounded performance package than the 2013 Shelby GT500, that is only good for straight racing, and I believe no one will have a chance to explore the GT500 200 MPH top speed, only the magazines, so it's just for bragging rights. Neither of this cars will have a chance to compete with the Nissan GTR, but this one belongs to another league (Corvette Z06 carbon competition). Great work GM!!, let's wait for the next Mustang IRS.
slwong
Perhaps a better head-to-head showdown would have involved the Boss 302 Laguna, not the Shelby.
hotrod4087
Make mine the "ZL1" the Ford Blues Bloods can have their "Selby" & spout off @ the mouth about figures & facts, but "Eye Appeal & Pure Excitement" are what I'm going for & the "ZL1" just "LOOKS" Fast sittin' there, "nuff said, Wake me up when the "FORD" people leave & I'll get yer' blood a-pumpn'.. :)))
redvette77
@svttimSorry, but the drag comparison proves no bias either. The GT500 won by a wide margin and they praised it for that. What they did like about the ZL1 is that it kept it composure better than the GT500. They are not the only ones who have said the same.
chrisjdw
SVTTIM, For the drag race they said that the GT500 wins the race, they just said the Camaro was more composed and less scary in the drag race. They didn't say Camaro number 1, GT500 number 2.Every article I've read in various magazines has said that the GT500 doesn't handle as well as they would like. Road and Track says that the Boss 302 is a way better handling car. They say if you like drag racing pick the GT500, if you like corners pick the Boss 302.Motor Trend said they LOVED the Boss 302 during last year's Best Drivers Car. But this year before the GT500 came out they put the ZL1 against the Boss 302 and said driving them back to back it was no comparison. The MRC shocks are just to good. Places that would have the Boss 302 bouncing around the ZL1 tracked over like there was no bumps.I always find it so funny when readers think they no so much more than the magazine testers and if their car loses claim it was fixed! Yes every magazine is dirty, but only when your car loses...
svttim
@redvette, Yes, I like the GT500. No, I did not expect it to prevail at Gingerman. Ill certainly take that bet, as I said, Ill even give the Camaro to the pro (they wont do it)Your comments about the track performance of the GT500 is correct for 2007-2010, fact is, the ZL1 targeted the 2012 svt version which, handles very well. I may have bought into your "fair " comment until I read the drag review. Its very obvious Automobile favors the ZL1. Ill say it again, the ZL1 is a great car. If you read this review, you easily see where Automobile does not feel the same about the GT500.
redvette77
@ svttimIt sounds to me that you like thee GT500, were expecting it to win, and are upset that it didn't. Even on a larger track with more straights, I still think the ZL1 could come out on top. That magnetic ride suspension basically works magic, and the GT500 has never been known to handle well around any track. Every magazine may have their biases. But, Automobile is one of the least, if not the least biased of all car publications.
svttim
That would be a bit more that 3400 in performance options. Coolers are great and in the long run, would help performance, not in a lap or two. Your still missing the point, Road courses are not like drag tracks, they all are different and can favor one platform over the other. Gingerman is a very tight course and, I can see that the ZL1 would have an advantage. That would not be the case at a larger track that favors more power.
adoyle88
@svttimBeing 7/10 slower in a car that has ~$7500 worth of optional track packages added on is a big deal. I bet the disparity in times would be larger if you tested a base model ZL1 vs base GT500. I've noticed that for the reviews of the GT500, Ford has provided the media with a Mustang with all the track packages included. GM's options are purely appearance upgrades because it comes stock with the track equipment.I would like to see some tests with both cars at their base prices.
svttim
Sorry Chris, I am a road racer. I have not driven the 13 model. I have driven the 12 svt car on track. No issues with understeer. The 13 is better in all respects compared with the 12. Also, as i said, 7 10s is not huge given one lap. And, thats one track. Take the cars to Road America or VIR and Ill bet you a paycheck theresults are different. After reading both articals, the ZL1 kills the GT500 on any road course but when handed its head at the dragstrip, they dont care about timeslips.The ZL1 is a fantastic car but, we will have to wait for a serious automotive publication to see how they compare
chrisjdw
SVTTIM, if everyone with a bias wasn't a journalist we'd have no journalists. Everyone has a bias, it's human nature... But being ethical involves working past your bias. This isn't just true of journalism, it's true of any profession. In my job I could let my biases make my decisions but I choose to do what is best for the project/client. It's called professionalism.I don't think any racer would consider .7 second a lap to be small. That's huge! And if the GT500 understeers as bad as this article, Car & Driver, MotorTrend, Road & Track and InsideLine says then it's going to eat up those tires in no time. I bet after 10 laps it will be larger than .7 a lap.Every article I've read has said it's a monster on the straight but doesn't handle with the same precision as the GT or Boss 302.I live in the prairies, most of my fun comes from the straights not the curves so I'd be tempted by the GT500 but I also do fly through some corners and for that it sounds like the ZL1 is the one to have.
StevenAtl
I don't buy it either. I took two Insideline photos of both cars at the same point around their figure 8 track and measured the roll angle of each vehicle. http://www.insideline.com/chevrolet/camaro/2012/2012-chevrolet-camaro-zl1-vs-2013-ford-mustang-shelby-gt500-comparison-test.html The results I found were clear and easily repeatable. I used Adobe CS5. The Gt500 they tested had a 3.3 degree angle of roll. while the Camaro at the very same point around the track rolled at a slightly higher angle of 3.5 degrees. So this talk about a "boatload" of body roll is a boatload of bull shit Automobile rag. For comparison sake I also measured the angles in the same way on Insidelines' testing of the 2013 V6 Mustang against the 2013 Hyundai Genesis Coupe. http://www.insideline.com/hyundai/genesis-coupe/2013/2013-ford-mustang-v6-vs-2013-hyundai-genesis-coupe-comparison-test.html The Mustang 3.5 and the Genesis 3.3.
svttim
Chris, you are correct, I am biased. Thats why I dont write articles on cars and call myself a journalist. I have no doubt the ZL1 is a fantastic car. But to compare the two cars on one, very short track and declare victory is disengenous and misleading. And 7 10ths is not much of an advantage. Yes, if you can maintain that every lap, but not a one time deal. Now, if the ZL1 wins the drag strip, we know there is an agenda here
EMMDEE
A few points: When you employ mass quantities of technology in your suspension you will get results. A GTR will take out both these bad boys easily because of the technology it employs. I am awaiting delivery of my GT500 and have been reading all the articles.If I ever met a Camaro, it is not going to be at a race track. I have only seen them on the highway or traffic lights or drag strip. In most of North America the roads are linear. Very few corners. An average driver would not have the courage to push the car to what these guys are. I guess, my point is, in any everyday driving scenario a GT500 would take out a ZL1. On a race track, a GTR would take out both. My friends keep on bragging about the 'RING, my point to them is when are they going to ship their cars to Germany and drive it there? Some scenarios are nice but in real life, pointless.
angryBits
Yeah I don't buy it. I'm unbiased -- I think both cars are great, but I highly doubt the GT500 is so bad. I've driven a Mustang GT and it's pretty decent stock. I can't imagine this 2013 GT500 being worse. Again, unbiased -- if I had to choose, I'd go with the Shelby. Suspension mods are easier to deal with than 4150lbs and a bad shifter and poor visibility. I also think the Shelby looks better. Having said that I'd love to have either of these cars.
chrisjdw
Svttim, I think you read his comment wrong... He didn't say he wanted the "ZL1 to win" before he drove them. If so maybe you could question the integrity. Even if he did want the ZL1 to win before driving them wouldn't mean that he doesn't have integrity. You're obviously a Ford fan (SVT in your user id) are you saying if you did this test you couldn't have integrity?What he's saying is after he drove them both he was hoping the ZL1 won the race (posted the faster time) because he liked how it drove better.From what I've read in a couple reviews now the ZL1 is the better handling car. You're right on a power track maybe the GT500 would win. But on this track it had it's butt handed to it by a car that's considerably heavier and less powerful. Says something about how much better handling the ZL1 is. The GT500 is the better muscle car, the ZL1 is the better corner carver.And the review isn't over, they're also doing a drag strip, which will favor the GT500 then a road trip.
svttim
"I wanted the ZL1 to win,"And so it did. You'll understand if we question your integrety "Its handling capabilities far exceed the straight-line advantage owned by the Shelby"At Gingerman, Really? If you were a bit more objective, you would have admitted that one track does not make for a victory. Maybe in indy lights. Tell ya what, bring both cars to Road America and Ill let you drive the Camaro, since you are the professional. Id be happy to send you back with your tail between your legs.

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