2019 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Review
Toby Hagon’s 2019 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Review With Price, Specs, Performance, Ride And Handling, Ownership, Safety, Verdict And Score.
In a nutshell: The ZL1 is an even more powerful version of the Mustang-rivalling Chevrolet Camaro, stepping up the performance of a classic American muscle car.
2019 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Specifications
Price $159,990+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 Towing NA GVM 2300kg Boot Space 257L Spare None Fuel Tank 72L Thirst 15.3L/100km
Muscle cars are big business in Australia, it’s just that now they’re typically sourced from America rather than home grown. For Holden that means leaning on the Chevrolet brand for the Camaro, one of America’s favourite performance two-doors.
Sold through selected Holden dealerships, the Camaro in some ways steps in for the V8-powered Commodores that once ruled the local muscle car scene. The cars arrive in the country with the steering wheels on the left before having a high-quality factory-approved conversion to right-hand drive as part of a “re-engineering” program.
While the Camaro has been available in Australia since 2018 in its more basic 2SS guise, it’s now had a minor upgrade that brings a new 10-speed automatic and the availability of a higher-performance ZL1 model.
What’s in the range and how much does it cost?
There are two flavours of Camaro: big power V8 and even bigger power V8. The regular model (for Australia, at least), is called the 2SS and is powered by a 6.2-litre V8, now available with a manual for the first time and with a new 10-speed automatic. The manual sells for $86,990 while the auto is $89,190.
That’s a step up from the $85,990 of the 2SS sold in limited numbers in 2018, in part because it now picks up a head-up display as standard. But it further extends the $20K-plus gap over a roughly equivalent Ford Mustang, the extra investment going into the extensive right-hand drive conversion conducted at HSV’s facilities in Melbourne.
There’s a lot more to the conversion process than most may realise, each car stripped to its bare body before being meticulously rebuilt, a process that takes about 100 hours and involves some 400 new parts, including the dashboard, wiring harness and headlights. HSV even reshapes the footwell by cutting and welding replacement pieces in, all with the aim of ensuring sufficient space for feet around the pedals and foot rest.
Unlike many low volume boutique conversion houses, HSV ensures the Camaro receives full volume certification, something that means a vastly more involved engineering effort but does not put a cap on how many cars can be sold. The company even performs local crash testing.
Now, back to the good stuff… The more powerful model is called ZL1 and gets a supercharged 6.2-litre V8 with about 40 percent more power than the 2SS (more on that later). The ZL1 is also a big financial step up, starting at $159,990 for a six-speed manual. The ZL1 is shielded somewhat by the price premium that also brings much more in the way of performance.
It also picks up notable styling additions over its more mainstream brethren; a unique grille and bumper with a lower edge that protrudes further forward, a sizeable rear wing and darkened bonnet bulge that is also vented. Step up to the new 10-speed auto and it’s another $2200 ($162,190), while metallic paint is another $850. The ZL1 also picks up larger front brakes.
Standard equipment runs to a 7.0-inch infotainment screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, parking sensors at either end, blind spot warning system, leather finishes, dual-zone ventilation, heated seats, ventilated seats, wireless phone charging and a nine-speaker Bose sound system. There’s also a head-up display, with engineers devising a way to make it work on the opposite side of the car.
The main things missing are autonomous emergency braking (the car will warn if there’s an obstacle ahead but won’t apply the brakes automatically) and satellite-navigation (you can access mapping apps through the smartphone connectivity.
What’s the interior and practicality like?
The first sensation with the Camaro is that you’re sitting very low in the car, which is partly because of the high windowline and slim windows (helping create that menacing look from outside). There are classic Camaro touches, such as the retro-infused instrument cluster cowling and some of the switchgear.
Bucket seats do a great job of keeping those up front locked in position and there’s ample space, albeit relatively low to the ground. HSV engineers have done a terrific job with relocating the steering wheel and pedals on the right of the car. There’s no clue that a major transformation has taken place, with superb attention to detail. Even the holes were the window switches were on what is now the passenger door have been covered with an elegant Camaro logo.
One exception is the centre console, which positions two cupholders closest to the driver; if they’re being used whatever is in there can fight for space with the driver’s left elbow. The door mirrors, too, have had new reflective inserts to account for the driver sitting on the opposite side. The spacers required to get the angles right mean they protrude awkwardly from their casings.
Sure, there are rear seats, but legroom is very tight back there, meaning they’re best used as occasional seats for smaller people. Similarly, the boot is useful up to a point. It’s quite narrow but fairly deep.
One area the ZL1’s interior struggles is in matching the expectations some may have at this price. Sure, in a circa-$90K Camaro it’s respectable, but at this price there’s all manner of fancy machinery that provide better finishes, textures and plastics. A minor gripe considering the performance, but worth noting.
What are the controls and infotainment like?
While there’s a shift to fully digital instrument clusters – especially on performance cars – Chevrolet is having a bet each way. There is a regular analogue tacho and speedo but it’s split by an 8.0-inch screen that displays various other functions, including access to many of the performance features.
Dive into the menus and you can dial up various launch control settings, for example, even adjusting the engine revs at which the car will take off. There’s also a burnout mode, for those wanting to chew through rear tyres in a controlled environment.
In the centre is the infotainment nerve centre in the form of a 7.0-inch touchscreen. It’s relatively low on the dash, so not particularly close to the driver’s line of sight. The sizeable circular air vents also have some cleverness within. When you spin the outer circle it adjusts the temperature.
The steering wheel also contains plenty of buttons to control everything from the sound system and cruise control to various driver-selectable functions that alter the character of the car. There are also paddle shifters to allow manual gear shifts in the automatic. Interestingly, those paddle shifters remain for the manual, but instead of changing gears (there’s a gearstick for that) they enable or disable the rev matching feature.
What’s the performance like?
A large chunk of the ZL1 story revolves around the engine – and it doesn’t disappoint. Forget high tech, downsized engines, this one is an old school monster, displacing 6.2 litres and with a supercharger thrown on for good measure. It needs 11 radiators to cool the various systems. Outputs peak at 477kW and 881Nm, the sorts of numbers you’d normally associate with a supercar.
Even in the 1.8-tonne body of the Camaro ZL1 is dishes up phenomenal performance, leaping hard of the line to the point where the 305mm-wide rear tyres easily wheelspin, in turn triggering the traction control. Switch it all off and you can leave nice black lines, something we played around with on a race track.
Indeed, utilising all that grunt is often the challenging thing, the ZL1 all too eager to spin wheels in first and second gears. Even with the driver select system set in Track mode the electronic aids (stability and traction control) are conservative in allowing access to the full 881Nm.
Throttle response is terrific, too, and there’s never a lack of pull anywhere in the rev range. And it revs cleanly, too. A new 10-speed automatic ensures the engine remains scorching towards its 6400rpm power peak – almost exactly the point at which its upshifting – which keeps things bubbling along nicely, the speedo quickly spinning towards 200km/h.
A quick steer of a six-speed manual model reinforced the immense pull of the engine lower in the rev range. From 3000rpm there’s loads of force being sent rearward, the crescendo building beyond that.
Clever rev matching ensures downchanges have the engine perfectly prepared. One neat trick is keeping the auto’s shift paddles and instead programming them to turn that rev matching function on or off.
One area the engine takes a backward step compared with the less powerful one in the 2SS is sound. Sure, there’s a fierce bark when you first step on it, something typically accompanied by skips of wheelspin, but start building pace and some of that lovely V8 goodness is drowned out by the whine of the supercharger and the rush of lots of air going in up front and out at the back. It’s still clearly a V8 – and a mean one at that – but some of the anger is tamed by the supercharger whine.
That could also be because Australian cars required additional inserts in the exhaust to lower the overall levels, Australia’s stricter sound laws the instigator there.
As for fuel use, it’s not good – nor is it expected to be. Sure, there’s even active fuel management (AFM) that momentarily stops firing four of the eight cylinders to save fuel, something we didn’t experience much in blasting around a race track. But with claimed consumption of 15.3 litres per 100km (15.6L/100km for the manual) – among the thirstiest cars on the road – it’s largely irrelevant in the scheme of how much premium unleaded you’ll slurp through.
What’s it like on the road?
Our drive experience was limited to a race track, so we’re not in a position to give a full dynamic assessment, especially on the country roads and freeways the ZL1 will naturally spend some time on. Similarly, we didn’t get to accurately assess the adjustable dampers (which, like HSV, Chevrolet refers to as Magnetic Ride Control) on the smooth-ish surface of a track.
That said, the speed-free confines of a track is somewhere the ZL1 should be experienced at least once, such is its share pace. Speaking of speed, one thing a track allows you to quickly ascertain is that the ZL1 is slick and quick through bends. Sure, its party trick is building speed prodigiously on a strait stretch, but there’s enough raw talent to cut some brisk laps.
The Goodyear Eagle F1 rubber fitted at the American factory did not meet Australian design rules, promoting a switch to Continental SportContact 5 tyres said to work better during everyday use but give up some grip, especially on the track.
We drove mainly on the Continentals, which while clearly not track focused did a decent job (they’re wider than the Goodyears). Those wanting the Goodyears will be offered them as a track option, one likely to cost about $1000 for the set.
Overcome the decent grip levels and it’s the front-end that washes away first, the tyres starting to push wide. But it doesn’t take much of a graze of the accelerator pedal to challenge the broad 305mm-wide tyres for traction.
Fortunately the traction control is nicely calibrated, torque faithfully limited until the car’s computer brain deems grip is at an acceptable level. While things are happening quickly, to the driver it’s all fairly relaxed, the only indication there’s plenty happening in the background the orange light flickering in the instrument cluster.
Powerful six-piston Brembo brakes do a good job of slowing things from 180km/h, although repeated big stops has some mild sponginess in the pedal feel. That’s hardly surprisingly given there’s 1.8 tonnes of fast-moving muscle car to take care of.
Does it have a spare?
There’s no spare tyre. While the US-fitment Goodyear tyres have runflat technology – allowing them to be driven on when deflated for short distances – the Continentals instead come with a repair and inflation kit to (hopefully) get you to a tyre repair facility.
Can you tow with it?
While the engine would have no issues hauling one helluva large trailer, the Camaro is not available with a tow kit.
What about ownership?
While Holdens are covered by a five-year warranty, the factory coverage on a Chevrolet is three years and 100,000km. Servicing is due every nine months or 12,000km. There are no capped price servicing plans, so prices will vary from dealer to dealer. But expect to pay something like $2200 for the first five services.
What safety features does it have?
The Camaro ticks all the occupant protection boxes in terms of airbags and a structure that performed well in independent crash tests. But it only ticks some of the active safety boxes to help avoid a crash. Blind spot warning is standard, for example, but there’s no autonomous emergency braking. Instead, the Camaro has only forward collision alert to warn if you’re about to crash.