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2018 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE

Car and Driver logo Car and Driver 9/4/2017 K.C. COLWELL

2018 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE
From the September 2017 issue

General Motors must have authorized overtime for its performance and badge-making departments over the past few years. Witness the sustained, affordable excellence of all those SS, 1LE, Z51, Z06, Z07, ZR1, ZL1, and Cadillac V-series models the corporation keeps cranking out. Now comes a car that combines two of those GM-speak codes, ZL1 and 1LE, but the sticker price doesn’t seem to cover the sum of the parts.

The ZL1 1LE enhancements stretch the Camaro’s performance envelope like a balloon ready to pop. Never mind the Corvette Z06–derived LT4 supercharged 6.2-liter V-8 that is good for 650 horsepower and 650 pound-feet of torque. Or the functional carbon-fiber wing (a first for GM production cars) designed in a Formula 1 wind tunnel. The wing has the same effect as 300 pounds of lead ballast at 150 mph. Or the gaping front end that swallows 106 cubic feet more air per minute than a regular ZL1 at 87 mph. Or the chin splitter and dive planes on the cheeks. Instead, for just a moment, fixate on our measurement of the Camaro’s maximum lateral acceleration: 1.18 g’s. That kind of steady-state grip puts the 1LE in an elite group. Indeed, there’s only one car we’ve measured with more stick and that’s the Corvette Z06 equipped with the Z07 package (1.19 g’s). Everything else lets go sooner, period.

This super Camaro will also bring its 3842 pounds to a halt from 70 mph in 141 feet, besting the 3710-pound Ford Mustang Shelby GT350R by five feet. To make the 1LE’s chassis this capable, GM had partners. Goodyear supplies the Eagle F1 Supercar 3R rubber, and this is the first car to wear these DOT-legal track meats, here in size 305/30ZR-19 (front) and 325/30ZR-19 (rear). They wrap around forged-aluminum wheels that are one inch smaller in diameter and thus, along with the tires, save a total of 13 pounds in precious rotating inertia and unsprung mass compared with the ZL1.

2018 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE© K.C. COLWELL 2018 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE

The other half of the chassis performance comes from Canadian supplier Multimatic in the form of aluminum-bodied spool-valve dampers. Not only do they provide an elegant way to vary damping force, but the inverted struts with a ball-jointed top mount provide a means to get race-car-like negative camber out of the front end. Together, the four dampers are about 23 pounds lighter than the ZL1’s steel-bodied magnetorheological dampers. The rear subframe and its multilink suspension are isolated—if you want to call it that—from the body by rigid aluminum pucks instead of rubber bushings, and the rear anti-roll bar is adjustable to three positions. Locking down the rear end and firming up the front means you can feel every crack in the road, and even the slightest variation in lateral thrust, with clarity and precision.

All these settings allow owners to fine-tune their cars to their home tracks. At Area 27, a 3.0-mile circuit in British Columbia designed by Jacques Villeneuve, we ran 40-plus laps in the 1LE. It was the iron-rotor brakes, which carry over from the regular ZL1, and not the tires that kept us from turning more than five hot laps at a time; the pedal gets a little long on the fifth lap. Even so, few cars feel as stable while braking in corners as the 1LE. Throw a downshift in there, and the car never gets unsettled. In corners, the tires claw for grip like a cat scurrying up a tree. Where you expect understeer, you get a neutral car, and too much throttle on exit causes the rear end to step out, either gently if you finesse it or aggressively if you’re being deliberately foolish.

2018 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE© James Lipman 2018 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE

This Camaro will do a zero-to-60-mph run in 3.5 seconds (all in first gear, mind you) with the eight-piece band blaring a Motown anthem. An 11.7-second quarter-mile at 124 mph is in the jukebox, too. That’s just a couple tenths of a second off the ZL1 automatic’s time. Some of the swiftness is a dividend of the 62 pounds saved (manual-to-manual) by the 1LE conversion, though it isn’t quite enough to make up for the better and quicker shifting of the roughly 100-pound-heavier automatic.

2018 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE© James Lipman 2018 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE

While the chassis mods make for a fantastic track car, the 1LE’s ride is a little jarring for daily use as its springs are three times stiffer than those of the ZL1. Matt Scrase, Camaro’s performance variant manager, admits that he wanted to make the car a bit more extreme by ditching the trunk lining, for example. But he was thwarted by GM product planners mindful of history, who desired a 1LE that was true to its gen-three Camaro roots as an add-on to the existing equipment, not a give-and-take option. Unlike the gen-five Z/28, this 1LE has all the features of the ZL1, including heated and ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, and an 8.0-inch infotainment display.

2018 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE© James Lipman 2018 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE

One thing you won’t see in a ZL1 1LE is an automatic transmission. The manual ’box is identical to the ZL1’s six-speed except for a shorter sixth gear (0.68:1 versus 0.54:1). There are only a few tracks this side of Bonneville that even need sixth, and one of those is the Nürburgring Nordschleife, where a ZL1 1LE turned a lap in just over seven minutes and 16 seconds—more than 20 seconds quicker than the Z/28 and 13 quicker than the gen-six automatic-equipped ZL1.

That ’Ring time puts the ZL1 1LE in the company of virtual vaporware like the Gumpert, the Radical, and the Donkervoort (yes, that’s a car company). The best part of this package is its asking price: $71,295. Nearly everything else at this performance tier is two to three times pricier. The next closest performer is, surprise, a Z06 with the Z07 package, but it’s still $20K more expensive. Chevy hasn’t just made performance strides, it’s made performance-per-dollar strides, too. Just don’t tell the accounting department it can charge a lot more for this track animal.

2018 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE© James Lipman 2018 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE

Specifications

VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, 4-passenger, 2-door coupe

PRICE AS TESTED: $72,595 (base price: $71,295)

ENGINE TYPE: supercharged and intercooled pushrod 16-valve V-8, aluminum block and heads, direct fuel injection

Displacement: 376 cu in, 6162 cc

Power: 650 hp @ 6400 rpm

Torque: 650 lb-ft @ 3600 rpm

TRANSMISSION: 6-speed manual

DIMENSIONS:

Wheelbase: 110.7 in

Length: 188.3 in

Width: 74.7 in Height: 52.0 in

Passenger volume: 85 cu ft

Trunk volume: 9 cu ft

Curb weight: 3842 lb

C/D TEST RESULTS:

Zero to 60 mph: 3.5 sec

Zero to 100 mph: 7.9 sec

Zero to 150 mph: 18.7 sec

Rolling start, 5–60 mph: 3.9 sec

Standing ¼-mile: 11.7 sec @ 124 mph

Top speed (drag limited, mfr's claim): 190 mph

Braking, 70–0 mph: 141 ft

Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 1.18 g

EPA FUEL ECONOMY:

Combined/city/highway: 16/14/20 mpg

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