We can blame the shuttering of local manufacturing for HSV’s lack of enhancing models but we can’t blame HSV for not giving enthusiasts V8 muscle cars they still want. The difference in approach is obvious - the steering wheel that sits on the left when the Camaro rolls off the ship from the US must be moved to the right. They also do that with cars like the new Chevrolet Silverado 1500. The job is done at Walkinshaw/HSV’s large new facility in Clayton, Victoria, ensuring there’s still local automotive jobs on the boil.
This supercharged American coupe sits at the top of the tree in terms of what you can buy on HSV’s showroom floor, and while a conversion rather than performance modified muscle car like the HSV GTSR W1, it also the most powerful car the brand has sold, eclipsing that local car’s power and torque figures.
This particular car we’re driving actually looks like the ZL1 1LE (track pack) available in the US but not here. That's because HSV fitted it with a rear 1LE GT-style wing and custom black wrap over the bonnet and roof. Otherwise, it’s the same ZL1 you can buy (and then option) from HSV, sitting on the sixth-generation Camaro platform called GM Alpha and packed with enough firepower to tow a tank.
What does the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 cost and what do you get?
For $162,190 plus on-road costs, you get a supercharged Camaro packing bigger Brembo brakes and a new engine upfront over the $90k Camaro 2SS. There are also some visual enhancements to make it stand out.
On the options list is a 10-speed automatic transmission for $2200 – we’re driving the stick-shift manual – and the 1LE rear spoiler is a $7000-odd extra. There’s otherwise plenty of standard equipment included such as a bi-modal exhaust, electronic limited-slip differential, Recaro bucket seats with eight-way electric adjustment and heating and ventilation, leather-appointed upholstery, wireless phone charging, 8.0-inch infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, nine-speaker Bose sound system, dual-zone climate control, automatic wipers and headlights and it rides on 20-inch alloy wheels.
The factory-converted Camaro is also covered by HSV’s three-year/100,000km warranty.
What’s the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 interior like?
Jumping recently from the Mustang and then into the Camaro, the newer generation GM styling looks a little more contemporary and is inviting – at least for those sitting upfront. The Recaro seats have plenty of adjustment and the driver’s seat sits nice and low. The steering wheel has tilt and reach adjustment and this six-foot frame was well catered for.
Soft leather wraps around the front pew’s bolstering and suede makes up the insert. It’s a comfortable space to be, with the suede steering wheel giving a nice sporty feel in the hands. There are paddle shifters in automatic-equipped models for manual shifting, and they turn into buttons for selecting rev-matching in the six-speed model. In the footwell underneath are three solid aluminium pedals spaced nicely.
A digital screen sits in the dash with traditional style dials, whereas the infotainment is a full, bright and crisp display with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity. The USB port for connecting is inside the centre console, and there’s not much space for lose items. The sound system is great, with the Bose nine-speaker system finding a balanced, powerful tone without needing to play with the equaliser. And the colour head up display is big and bright on the windscreen - and is some smart engineering from HSV to move across.
But is this cabin justice to the $160k pricetag? Plenty of that money goes into the efforts to move the cabin around to suit right-hook steering, and it doesn't match the panache of a three-pointed star coupe, or something from BMW or Audi at a similar price. But it's nicer than the six-figure Ford Mustang R-Spec cabin.
How much space is there in the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1?
As we touched on, space is limited in the cabin and to make the front feel roomy enough the back is diminutive in comparison. The two rear seats are only good in a pinch and not something you’d subject passengers to for long periods of time. You’ll also need to slide the front seats forward to make some legroom.
And then storage itself isn’t plentiful, with the centre console small and the wireless charging pad sitting on the back of that because there’s no space upfront. About the best place to plonk anything is in small 257-litre boot, which is fine for carting some sports bags.
What engine is in the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1?
Now we’re getting to the meat of this muscle car. The engine upfront is a GM’s LT4 V8, which is from the General’s fifth-generation of small black motors. Displacement is 6.2-litres which is force-fed by a 1.7L Eaton R1740 TVS supercharger spinning at up to 20,000rpm. The wet sump engine uses variable valve timing, active fuel management, electronic throttle control and spins at a maximum 6600rpm, just 200rpm beyond peak power production. It’s the same engine used in cars like the Corvette C7, and is an oldie but a goodie.
HSV claims that in the Camaro LT1 it produces 477kW at 6400rpm and 881Nm at 3600rpm, and it absolutely behaves like it. The grunt it develops when you’re giving it some stick is thunderous and in Sport or Track mode there’s little chance for the wheels to get traction on full throttle. The 0-100km/h is quick too, with 4.5 seconds the regular claim. It feels every bit that capable.
Fuel consumption takes a hit, of course, with the claimed combined cycle rating of 15.3L/100km optimistic at best, though somewhere in the 16-17L/100km is achievable when dawdling.
Is the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 good to drive?
Getting all of that power to the ground can be a problem, and on the wet days we were able to test the ZL1, it was never happy shooting for personal best times at the traffic lights. But that didn’t stop a lineup of Japanese, American and British marques all trying their best, with the big wing and black and white scheme of this car inspiring red mist from some other car nuts on the road. Best not even bother.
But on a lonely winding road and despite the damp road surface we mostly experienced you can push the ZL1 quickly, with a speedy front-end feel and flat composure that works well in the softer Tour mode setting. We also liked Sport, with sharper throttle and steering, but the looser traction control settings that would be fine in the dry would occasionally give up trying when halfway around some corners, relying on a driver with wits about them to steer with the rear. Fun no less, though it also catches you unaware at times. Track mode was a step too far to even bother.
But then later in the day not long before we had to turn the beast back over to HSV, the road dried and we were able to give it some stick. The engine unleashed with ample throttle and the rapidly revving bent eight’s pounding engine note reverberating off the mountainside, the American coupe feels right at home whether it's on a straight or corner, and those upgraded Brembos have more than enough cojones to wipe off excess speed as the 1807kg mass of metal sets up for corners. Flat and unforgiving on bumps, the rear will become a little unsettled on poor surfaces which takes some care to keep in line, but its otherwise a rapid performance car that would be brilliant to track.
When motoring back into town though, there are some blights to its practical side but that are also unlikely to bother owners – the rearview camera doesn’t work well because the optional 1LE wing is in the way (the camera sits in the roof fin), and those huge 285/30 front and 305/30 tyres which do well for grip are noisy when idly cruising.
How safe is the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1?
The Camaro isn’t ANCAP tested. It is equipped with eight airbags, forward collision warning, lane departure, rear cross-traffic alert and a reversing camera, though there’s no AEB.
2020 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 pricing and specifications
Price From $113,990 plus ORCs Warranty 3 years, 100,000km Service Intervals 9 months, 12,000km Safety Not rated Engine 6.2-litre supercharged V8 Power 477kW at 6400rpm Torque 881Nm at 3600rpm Transmission 10-speed automatic Drive Rear-wheel drive Dimensions 4831mm (L), 2300mm (W), 1344mm (H), 2811mm (WB Kerb Weight 1807kg Boot Space 257L Spare None Fuel Tank 72L Thirst 15.3L/100km
The bottom line:
Living up to the stereotypical American muscle car image you'd expect, the Camaro ZL1 goes one more and delivers more than just straight-line speed. It's quick in a line, fast around corners, packs the technology you want, and is well put together.