American muscle cars have always been loud, flashy, and in-your-face. This idea was put on hold when I drove the 2013 Camaro ZL1 late last week. Where other muscle cars are painted in strikingly bright colors, fitted with chrome exhaust tips, and practically have a can of Bud Light included in their list of options from the dealer, the ZL1 seemed refined, remastered, and revolutionary.
The ZL1 has a 6.2L supercharged v8 under the hood, and a six speed manual transmission at the driver’s finger tips. From the factory, the car makes 580hp at the crank, but the one I drove had some goodies added to bring it up to 600hp at the wheels. That’s a lot of power, but it doesn’t make the ZL1 some uncontrollable beast. The clutch is heavier than a Ford Fiesta’s, but far from the heaviest I’ve dealt with. Under hard acceleration the ZL1 is responsive and mature, like a problem child that apologizes to their mother after 18 years of selective hearing. I loved the power delivery of the ZL1, and if you watch the video you’ll fall in love with the sound as well.
The only problem with the ZL1 is the number of shared parts with other GM products. If I were to pay a bunch of money for a top-of-the-line Camaro, I wouldn’t want to notice that the trunk release switch, window switches, and tons of other parts are shared with my base model 2007 Pontiac G6. The center display screen is also from a Chevy Malibu, and the door ajar chime is the same as every other GM product from 2004 to 2016. This doesn’t take away from the Camaro’s experience, it was just a slight let down to see some reused cheap plastic parts in the interior.
Last but not least, I have to compare the ZL1 to the SRT Hellcat. Both cars have 6.2L supercharged v8s stuffed into a modern muscle car’s body. I’ve driven both cars now, and have drawn a not-so-surprising conclusion. The Hellcat is flamboyant, it’s very in-your-face 24/7. The one I drove, a 2016, was painted in “Plum Crazy Purple” which captures attention everywhere you go. The Camaro was painted in a dark blue, blending in with the crowed more easily. The Hellcat’s supercharger whine is loud, almost as if it’s a battle cry to all other cars. The ZL1 whines, but not nearly as loud and proud as the Hellcat. Choosing between the ZL1 and the Hellcat is hard, but I think I found my inner voice of reason. If I wanted a car to take to shows, I’d take the hellcat. It’s flashy, it’s out there, and attracts attention. If I wanted a car I had to drive a lot, a daily driver, or just a cruising car, I’d take the ZL1. It feels like a more well-rounded car. I could see myself commuting in it to school and work, and to me that’s the benchmark for a great car.