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Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 2019 review

EXPERT RATING
7.4
Ford won't sell you its hottest Mustang in Australia, but HSV's delivered the supercharged Camaro on a platter.

The combination of a cold, wet race track with arguably the worst surface and drainage in Australia and a rear-drive, manual, American muscle car with more grunt than a McLaren F1 should sound like outright lunacy to most of us.

But in an era where enthusiasts are lamenting the loss of analogue performance and the increasing role of fancy transmissions, all-wheel drive systems and driver aids adding speed but eroding driver engagement, the Camaro ZL1 could be the ultimate antidote. Kind of like using EpiPens for acupuncture.

It also promises to complete an incredible return to form for HSV, barely two years after we celebrated the brand's apparent swansong with the Aussie Commodore-farewelling GTSR W1. And get this, the ZL1 even manages to pip its stratospheric outputs by 3kW and 66Nm.

Yes, the ZL1's performance is all Chevrolet's doing, but it took HSV to bring it to our shores, with comprehensive re-engineering to put the steering wheel on the correct side with full manufacturer backing.

Just eight months after the MY18 Camaro 2SS first broke the surface tension, the ZL1 is plunging into HSV showrooms alongside the updated MY19 2SS.

Despite the apparent horror scenario of its Australian media launch last week, I survived to tell this tale. Here's how:

Chevrolet Camaro 2019: ZL1
Safety rating
Engine Type6.2L
Fuel TypePremium Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency15.6L/100km
Seating4 seats
Price from$159,900

Is there anything interesting about its design?  8/10

The ZL1's monstrous engine may be its centrepiece, but the days of yank muscle cars lacking overall design synergy are long gone.

In other words, the ZL1 package is comprised of a comprehensive visual and engineering upgrade to help make the most of its outputs.

The body changes were subjected to more than 100 hours of wind-tunnel testing to improve aerodynamics and cooling for track use.

The ZL1 benefits from wind-tunnel testing to refine its body for track use. The ZL1 benefits from wind-tunnel testing to refine its body for track use.

This includes the jutting front splitter, pumped front guards, huge bumper openings, unique carbon fibre-scooped bonnet, sharp sideskirts, and gloss black lower bumper that wraps around four trumpet-like exhaust outlets.

Poking out from each corner are unique forged 20-inch 10-split spoke wheels, and the US-spec Goodyear Eagle F1 semi-slicks have been swapped to Contental Sport Contact 5s to suit a broader range of road conditions.

If you're thinking those Chevrolet bow tie badges are looking a little funny, it's because they're the new black-centred ‘flow tie' look that all Camaros from 1SS up score for 2019.

The ZL1 gets its own set of 20-inch alloy wheels. The ZL1 gets its own set of 20-inch alloy wheels.

The interior is distinguished by Alcantara and leather trimmed Recaro front seats and specific Alcantara trimmed flat-bottom steering wheel and shifter.

HSV's re-engineering process to convert driver controls to the right-hand side has been well documented, but the addition of a manual option has shifted (pun unintended) things up a notch for 2019.

A unique casting had to be created for the clutch pedal plus an insert for the left hand side of the footwell was needed to leave enough room for an inactive clutch foot and ensure there's no ergonomic compromise for the three pedal setup.

Other changes include the fitment of European-spec head and tail-lights with amber indicators. Other changes include the fitment of European-spec head and tail-lights with amber indicators.

A new front swaybar also needed to be manufactured to clear the right-hand drive electric power steering system.

The ZL1's bi-modal exhaust was also too loud for ADRs, so has been quietened to meet 74dB (auto) and 75dB (manual) requirements with the addition of two 12-inch rear intermediate mufflers to the auto, plus an extra two 8-inch front intermediate mufflers for the manual. HSV claims the exhaust changes do not affect power outputs.

Other detail changes needed for ADR compliance include a self-levelling system for the headlights, the deletion of the bumper bar DRLs and rear wheel spats added to meet body-wheel clearance requirements.

One feature that wasn't quite ready for the MY18 version but now fitted for 2019 was the driver head-up display, but the complex task of converting the system's innards for right-hand use without needing a specific windscreen was apparently the result of one tireless engineer's tenacity.

Rather than simply taking the Argentinian-spec model and converting it as per 2018 model Camaros, the 2019 version starts life as a US-spec and the result is more bespoke for Australia.

This Camaro starts life as a US-spec car and is converted by HSV for the Australian market. This Camaro starts life as a US-spec car and is converted by HSV for the Australian market.

Other changes include the fitment of European-spec head and tail-lights with amber indicators and seatbelts, but the larger wing mirrors continue to be Argentinian-spec.

Because of its unique frontal structure and mechanicals, the ZL1 also needed to be crash tested for ADR certification.

How practical is the space inside?  7/10

Not very is the simple answer, and it's hard to imagine many Camaro buyers noticing. This is a two-door coupe after all, but the fundamentals have been accounted for at least.

Up front there's two cupholders, but your bottles would want to be shaped like small umbrellas to fit into the door pockets.

The Camaro is hardly a car people buy because it's practical. The Camaro is hardly a car people buy because it's practical.

In the back there's about the same space for passengers as a Mustang or Toyota 86, which isn't much at all, but there are two ISOFIX and top tether child seat points which you may find more useful than you expect.

The boot measures a meagre 257 litres, despite forgoing any spare wheel for a compact inflation kit.

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?  7/10

On a kilowatt per dollar basis, the ZL1 is only pipped by the 522kW, $134,900 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk in Australia, if not the globe.

Starting with a list price of $159,990 for the manual version, the ZL1 dances in a similar circle to the Mercedes-AMG C 63 S, BMW M3/4 and Audi RS4/5 but will never be confused with them.

The automatic version will set you back a further $2200, and metallic paint will cost a further $850.

Standard features include Alcantara and leather trim, heated and ventilated front seats, dual-zone climate control, an 8-inch multimedia screen with the third-generation Chevrolet Infotainment system, plus Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, Bose 9-speaker audio, 24-colour ambient lighting, wireless phone charging and a rear camera mirror in addition to the reversing camera.

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity comes on every ZL1. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity comes on every ZL1.

HSV is also working on an option package for owners to use the US-spec Eagle F1 tyres as a second set of wheels for track use, which is expected to cost around $1000 for the tyres alone, down from $2500 off the shelf.

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?  9/10

At the heart of the ZL1 transformation lies the LT4 engine upgrade. With the same 6.2 litres, direct injection and variable valve timing as the still-OHV LT1-spec Gen V small block in the Camaro 2SS.

The huge GM V8 produces 477kW/881Nm. The huge GM V8 produces 477kW/881Nm.

Not to be confused with the generation-older LS9 engine used in the W1, the LT4 produces 3kW and 66Nm more to total 477kW and 881Nm, and LT4 also sees duty in the current Corvette Z06 and Cadillac CTS-V.

GM's new 10-speed torque converter auto is expected to make up more than 60 per cent of Australian ZL1 sales. Backing up its performance potential is the fact that it's been calibrated to allow left-foot braking and incorporates launch control and a line lock function for easy burnouts.

We would have forgiven HSV if it had chosen to focus on the automatic version for Australia, but manual lovers, and ultimate thrill seekers will be stoked to see the six-speed conventional manual on the list.

How much fuel does it consume?  6/10

You might want to steer the other bill-payer of the house away from this section, as it was never going to be impressive.

The automatic ZL1 carries an official combined figure of 15.3L/100km, which is another 2.3L above the auto 2SS, but the manual ZL1 extends to 15.6L/100km.

If it helps your cause, the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk pips it with a 16.8L/100km figure, and the Camaro's 72-litre tank should manage at least 461km between fills.

What's it like to drive?  9/10

There's all sorts of underground pastimes for those who enjoy pain and the sensation of being close to death. Japanese game shows, erotic asphyxiation and the Porsche 911 GT2 have all become stereotypes, but the ZL1 manual at a cold and wet Sandown circuit represents a relatable situation.

Thankfully HSV also had the automatic version on hand, which along with our minders' insistence we leave a degree of stability control on meant that we could focus on throttle, steering, and stopping with some electronic safety net, without the extra dimension of gear selection and clutch control.

We'd also warmed up with the updated 2SS, and even though it falls 138kW and 264Nm short of the ZL1, there's still 339kW and 617Nm trying to do their thing through two rear tyres. This may sound sooky and a bit hyperanalyst, but not so on this day, trust me.

On to the headline act, and the ZL1 gives some real substance to the Camaro's high beltline, letterbox side window seating position, as though you're peering from within the trench as you prepare to launch some serious weaponry.

What the ZL1 forgoes in outright grip it makes up for with sheer thrills. What the ZL1 forgoes in outright grip it makes up for with sheer thrills.

Gently feeding in the throttle out of the pits, there's still plenty going on beneath us and we still need plenty of brake to get around Turn 1.

Giving it a decent stomp out of Turn 4 onto the back straight highlights exactly what the ZL1 is all about. The responsiveness of the supercharged big-capacity V8 is second only to an electric motor, and the greasy surface puts you right in touch with the limits of adhesion, even though they're defined by massive 305mm wide rear tyres and a fancy electric LSD.

This is a great lesson why the similarly powered M5 and E63 have gone all-wheel drive, but what the ZL1 forgoes in outright grip it makes up for with sheer thrills. If HSV had stuck with the semi-slicks of the US version, this thrill would be more like outright masochism.

The responsiveness of the supercharged big-capacity V8 is second only to an electric motor, and the greasy surface puts you right in touch with the limits of adhesion The responsiveness of the supercharged big-capacity V8 is second only to an electric motor, and the greasy surface puts you right in touch with the limits of adhesion

Regardless of the surface compromise, it launches with extreme shove up the straight and forces you to decide how to manoeuvre the kink real quick. I opted for a gentle lift in lieu of guaranteed infamy, but I was still more nervous than ever approaching the crest that blocks your view of Turn 6.

Adding to these nerves was the rising pitch of the supercharger whine in unison with the roar from those huge exhausts, combined the rate at which the speedo was still climbing as I hit the crest, making the claimed 325km/h top speed seem entirely achievable on the right road.

If you're considering the auto, the 10-speed doesn't seem particularly intelligent on deceleration, but it's surprisingly quick on full throttle upshifts. If you're considering the auto, the 10-speed doesn't seem particularly intelligent on deceleration, but it's surprisingly quick on full throttle upshifts.

The ZL1's six-piston Brembos thankfully feel like a big upgrade over the 2SS's four-spot jobbies as you approach the complicated Turn 6,7,8, and 9 sequence.

By this stage it's pretty clear that the Z71 isn't trying to mimic the finesse of a Porsche, or any other German of similar size and performance.

For a manual designed to handle this much torque, the selector's throw is surprisingly short and light, but there's an air of heavy duty among all other controls.

By this stage it's pretty clear that the Z71 isn't trying to mimic the finesse of a Porsche. By this stage it's pretty clear that the Z71 isn't trying to mimic the finesse of a Porsche.

Also helping to mitigate risk of exiting the track backwards is the manual's rev-matching system, which almost seamlessly aligns revs with your chosen ratio on downshifts. Thankfully, this can be simply toggled on and off with the steering wheel paddles.

If you're considering the auto, the 10-speed doesn't seem particularly intelligent on deceleration, but it's surprisingly quick on full throttle upshifts.

For a manual designed to handle this much torque, the selector's throw is surprisingly short and light, but there's an air of heavy duty among all other controls. For a manual designed to handle this much torque, the selector's throw is surprisingly short and light, but there's an air of heavy duty among all other controls.

As sexy as the Alcantara on the steering wheel and gear shifter is, my preference would still be for grippier leather, with bare hands at least.

At 1795kg the car itself feels big, and the pumped tracks make it feel almost as wide as it is long, but it all gives the ZL1 a unique, brutish character.

Warranty & Safety Rating

Basic Warranty

3 years / 100,000 km warranty

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?  7/10

Standard safety gear includes dual-stage front, thorax side, knee, and curtain airbags which also cover the back seat.

There's unfortunately no AEB on the spec sheet, but it does come with forward collision alert, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and parking sensors, and a tyre-pressure monitoring system.

The Chevrolet Camaro is yet to be rated by ANCAP or EuroNCAP, but the NHTSA in the US has given the 2019 SS a maximum five star overall rating. The ZL1 hasn't been given an overall rating, but has been granted the same four star frontal crash and five star rollover rating as the SS.

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?  6/10

The big payoff for HSV's engineering effort with the Camaro right-hand drive job is the peace of mind it should offer in the long term.

On top of this is a three-year, 100,000km warranty, which is beneath the five year status quo these days, but also brings the convenience of HSV's nationwide dealer network.

Service intervals are also relatively short at 9 months/12,000km, but understandable given the ZL1's highly-strung nature. HSV does not offer capped price servicing.

Pricing Guides

$124,090
Based on Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP)
Lowest Price
$85,990
Highest Price
$162,190

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
2SS 6.2L, PULP, 8 SP AUTO $89,190 2019 Chevrolet Camaro 2019 2SS Pricing and Specs
2SS 6.2L, PULP, 8 SP AUTO $85,990 2019 Chevrolet Camaro 2019 2SS Pricing and Specs
2SS 6.2L, PULP, 6 SP MAN $86,990 2019 Chevrolet Camaro 2019 2SS Pricing and Specs
ZL1 6.2L, PULP $162,190 2019 Chevrolet Camaro 2019 ZL1 Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
7.4
Design8
Practicality7
Engine & trans9
Fuel consumption6
Price and features7
Ownership6
Safety7
Driving9

“In a world without Monaros or rear-drive Commodores, the new Camaro is a serendipitous substitute. In ZL1 guise, it delivers thrills, brutal performance or menacing road presence more than any Aussie lion ever did. And that's just the auto, with the manual making the driver more of an accomplice in the experience and the fact that it exists among 2019-level civilisation is approaching miraculous. Acupuncture with EpiPens indeed.”

Is the ZL1 your ultimate muslce-car bruiser? Tell us what you think in the comments below.