EAST LOS ANGELES, California—Why anyone would want to drive a convertible at speeds close to 200 mph is perhaps best kept between them and their maker. However, while such cars are common from Europe’s princelier marques, Detroit has one, too, in the form of the droptop Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. Perfect for cruising wide thoroughfares with names like Queens, Woodward, or Sunset while cranking your favorite tunes, it will still hit 190 mph on the open road.
Under its bulging hood lurks a supercharged 6.2-liter V-8 engine that delivers 650 horsepower and 650 lb-feet of torque. In our review car, the explosive LT4 eight-cylinder works through a 10-speed automatic transmission co-developed with Ford, but a standard six-speed manual is on offer, too. With the automatic, the ZL1 can scoot you and your Frappuccino up to 60 mph in 3.5 seconds. It also has serious handling chops, even with the roof cut off, with an incredibly flat cornering attitude and sticky rubber—Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercars, sized 285/30 up front and 305/30 at the back—that keeps all 4,148 pounds veritably glued to the pavement.
The ZL1’s front end is all intake, with the black flow-tie—that’s a bowtie emblem with its center cut out to allow more air to pass—flanked by LED headlights and serious grillework, while the hood’s two-tone, two-piece carbon-fiber insert looks awesome both from outside and from behind the wheel. Around back are dual-element taillamps meant to evoke quad lights. The two-door perhaps looks best in profile with the top down, an angle from which you can appreciate the muscular beltline, aggressive stance, and purposeful proportions.
The quad exhaust sounds great, especially with the top down—the convertible versions of the Camaro also help the coupe’s dreadful outward visibility—and the color-matched spoiler recalls the fiberglass fins from mid-’70s ’Maros. Our test car was slathered in Garnet Red paint over a Jet Black interior with red accents. It rolled on 20-inch aluminum wheels that covered standard Brembo six-piston monobloc front calipers painted silver; those pinchers grab massive, 15.4-inch rotors and are highly effective at corralling the Camaro’s mass.
Linear, feelsome, and highly accurate electric power-assisted steering allows you to place the ZL1 within a hair’s breadth of any apex, while multi-modal traction and stability control systems allow you to have as much—or as little—sideways action as you dare. Switch off the electronic safety nets, and the ZL1 is more than happy to roast its tires, of course, although that will have a negative impact on its already dismal fuel economy of 12 mpg city, 20 mpg highway. But if you’re looking to park a 650-hp pony car in your garage, we’re thinking you probably don’t care how quickly you drain its 19-gallon gas tank.
The interior wrappings include plenty of attractive and soft-to-the-touch sueded microfiber, including on the flat-bottom steering wheel and shifter, although some cheaper elements are still present, including sun visors that feel like gauze-wrapped cardboard and don’t really befit a car in this price range. There are two Big Gulp–sized cupholders in the center console and a wireless phone charger between the rear seats for all the people that won’t fit back there. The standard Recaro front buckets are spacious and comfortable enough, but most owners are likely to use the rear seats for more stowage than anything, especially since the convertible gives up a couple of cubic feet in its trunk to the coupe.
Luxuries include eight-way power-adjustable and heated front seats and a heated steering wheel. The gauge cluster is easy to read but the forward-leaning 8.0-inch color touchscreen infotainment system is no more ergonomically friendly here than in lesser Camaros. Despite the cant, it’s still difficult to read with the top down, when the sunshine reveals more fingerprints than info. The ZL1 also has GM’s full-width rearview-mirror display that shows a feed from the rear-facing camera when it’s active. It’s definitely helpful, but we found that nearsighted folks wearing glasses had trouble getting used to it; thankfully, it is easy to turn off. The top can be raised and lowered quickly at speeds of up to 30 mph, and you can also lower it via the key fob; it disappears completely beneath a body-color tonneau.
Despite a few foibles, if you’re looking for a way to burn rubber, haul ass, and reach incredible velocities, there are few better ways to do so than the ZL1 convertible. Just don’t forget the suntan lotion.
2019 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Convertible Specifications
|ENGINE||6.2L supercharged DOHC 16-valve V-8; 650 hp @ 6,400 rpm, 650 pound-feet @ 3,600 rpm|
|LAYOUT||2-door, 4-passenger, front-engine, RWD convertible|
|EPA MILEAGE||12/20 mpg city/highway|
|L x W x H||190.2 x 74.7 x 52.4 in|
|0–60 MPH||3.5 sec|
|TOP SPEED||190 mph (est)|