I recently had the chance to drive a 2017 Chevy Camaro ZL1, which looks like a normal Camaro to people like my mother, but actually has the same performance as a supercar. I’m not exaggerating here. It’ll do zero-to-60 in 3.4 seconds, it’ll do nearly 200 miles per hour and it went around the Nurburgring faster than the last-generation Porsche 911 GT2 RS. Oh, yeah — and it’s 65 grand.
Sixty-five grand. Seriously. What you see above you is a Chevy Camaro that costs $65,000, which is really not all that much in the grand scheme of things. I was at my local Land Rover dealer today, and they have a Range Rover in the showroom with a sticker price of $219,000. Cars are really expensive these days. And yet, here’s Chevy, and for less than a third of that they’ll sell you a brand new Camaro with the same horsepower as a Ferrari Enzo, and the same top speed as a Lamborghini Huracan. This is mind-boggling.
And it’s not like they’re selling this car solely as an engine strapped to a body with no equipment. On the contrary, the ZL1 has a lot of cool equipment, which I’ve shown you in the video above. I don’t want to be repetitive here, but I’ll tell you about my favorite feature: valet mode. A lot of cars have a valet mode, where it limits the stereo volume and the engine speed, and maybe locks out the trunk. Well, the ZL1 has a valet mode that records the valet’s entire behavior using a built-in dash cam. I’m serious: The car has a built-in dash cam, primarily used to record your lap times. But it also automatically starts recording when you put it into valet mode, and that’s just one of the most hilarious things I’ve seen in any new car.
But beyond the equipment, you get behind the wheel in the ZL1, and it’s just a wildly exciting vehicle. Performance is extraordinary, especially in a straight line: It feels monstrously fast with endless torque, and it’s tremendously quick whether from a stop or when you’re already moving. The engine sound is wonderful, too, giving you the feeling that you’re driving an old-school muscle car — which, basically, you are.
Or, at least, you are until you start to go through the turns, because the ZL1 handles them tremendously well. Body roll is minimal, the steering feel is excellent and it’s easy to see how this car puts down such an incredible time on the Nurburgring — between the amazing steering and handling and the incredible power you’re able to put down when you’re coming out of a corner, the former old-school, cheaply-built, ancient-design muscle car champion is now world class. Really, it’s a magnificent car, and it’s probably the best American sports car on the market today … except for the Mustang.
Ahh, yes, the Mustang: The Camaro’s age-old foil, the famous other half of America’s longest-lived muscle car rivalry. I haven’t spent a lot of time in lower-level versions of the latest Mustang and Camaro, but I’ve now driven both the ZL1 and its closest track-focused Mustang rival, the Shelby GT350R — and as much as I like the ZL1, I have to say that I think the GT350R is better.
No, the Mustang isn’t as powerful (it has 526 horses to the ZL1’s 650). It’s also not as quick — and I hear it’s not as fast around a track, either. But the GT350R has a few distinct advantages — namely the fact that it’s nimbler. Here’s the best way to put it: During the few minutes I drove the ZL1, it felt like a really, really good Camaro. I spent more time in the GT350R — and it felt like a really, really good anything. It felt like it could’ve gone toe-to-toe with the best from Europe in terms of steering precision and nimble driving feel, while the Camaro is more of a brute-force assault on the road. Oh, and the GT350R sounds better.
Then again, comparing these two cars is almost hilarious, because they’re both so amazingly good. Years ago, if you were buying a Mustang or a Camaro, you were on a budget, or perhaps you were doing it because you specifically wanted something that was flag-wavingly American. Now, you can buy one of these cars and truly have among the best in the world — and regardless of whether you pick the ZL1, which is amazing, or the GT350R, which (in my mind) is slightly amazing-er, there’s little doubt you’ll be satisfied with your choice.