I knew it. I just knew someone, somewhere, would complain about the cabin plastics in a review of the 2013 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. [The guilty party shall remain nameless, for now.] Let me put this to rest: if you’re worried about the grain of the plastic on the door panels, the center console — or anywhere else for that matter — then you’ve completely missed the point of this car. With its 580-horsepower supercharged 6.2-liter V-8, this is officially the most powerful production Camaro to ever hit the streets. Coupled to that snarling and snorting engine is a six-speed manual transmission, or optional ($1,135) 6-speed automatic.
There is nothing subtle about the Camaro, much less the ZL1. Even the base models have that sinister front end, kicked up rear fenders, and lowered greenhouse that makes almost every other car look painfully lame by comparison. The shallow glass also makes parallel parking an absolute nightmare but, hey, if you can afford the ZL1’s base price of $55,250 (including destination), you can afford to park in a lot. Other than the mega engine, the ZL1 package adds a raised aluminum hood, a unique front fascia with curb-scraping front splitter, magnetic ride control suspension, high performance Brembo brakes, 20-inch alloy wheels (20×10 front/20×11 rear), a heads-up instrument display, and a rear-view camera.
The ZL1 is basically loaded with everything you can throw onto a muscle car. Added to my test car was an eye-watering Rally Yellow paintjob with black racing stripes, carbon-fiber hood inserts, and micro-fiber suede on the dashboard. Maybe it’s the latter option that allowed me to overlook the G.I. Joe quality of some plastics in the Camaro’s cabin. My guess, however, is that all it took was the first jab of the gas pedal and the instant roar of the V-8 as the car lunged forward, pushing me hard into the driver’s eat. This car makes you want to drive fast. All. The. Time.
What’s even better is that the ZL1 isn’t a one-trick pony, only capable of going fast in a straight line. Unlike its closest competitor, the even-more-powerful Ford Shelby Mustang GT500, the Camaro has an independent rear suspension. The Ford might dust the ZL1 in a drag race but, if corners are involved, I’d take the Camaro every time. On bumpy New York City streets or on the Turnpike headed to the Jersey shore, the ZL1’s suspension impressed me for being firm and sporty, but not overly punishing. The handling is heavy, as are the throws of the six-speed manual and the calf-strengthening clutch pedal.
But the hairy-knuckled driving manners are consistent and, once you’re used to them, it’s hard to imagine driving a car that doesn’t seem to be itching for a brawl. So long as no one in your posse plays center for the Knicks, there’s room in the back for two adults — though visibility back there is on par with peeking out of a tank turret. The trunk is shallow but still capable of holding 11.3 cubic feet of cargo, which helps to make the ZL1 more than just a weekend plaything. Fuel mileage is pretty god-awful, as you’d expect. The ZL1’s 19-gallon fuel tank runs dry fast when you’re dealing with an EPA certified 14/19 mpg in city and highway driving. Did I forget to mention a $1,300 gas-guzzler tax also comes standard?
But like those cabin plastics, complaining about mpgs isn’t the point of the Camaro ZL1 – or any muscle car, for that matter. You’re paying for the performance, the engine and transmission, look-at-me styling, and the history attached to the nameplate. The ZL1 is addictive and outrageously fun. Case closed.