2018 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1: Hotter, faster and more powerful than ever

By Mike Blake Carlisle Events
Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Camaro has been an American muscle car legend since it hit the streets for the 1967 model year. Designed to compete in the “Pony Car” wars, it went on sale on September 29, 1966, and was manufactured in four generations until production ended in 2002. The nameplate was revived on a concept car that evolved into the Fifth-Gen Camaro in 2009.

After a 2017 re-design, Camaro, now in its sixth generation, remains essentially the same for 2018, but the ZL1 trim gains a $7500 1LE package with better aerodynamics, wider tires that are track-worthy, extra powertrain cooling, and some other street-legal racing tweaks.

Available in six versions in coupe or convertible configurations, I tested the ZL1 Camaro Coupe this year, after going with the 2SS trim last year. Now, the 2SS is outfitted with a 6.2-liter 455-hp engine, but in this era of “more power”, my ZL1 lived up to Camaro’s legacy of muscle and performance with power coming from a 650-hp supercharged 6.2-liter V-8. This stampede of horses makes it the hottest and fastest Camaro ever, and a full-second faster in the sprint than my 2SS ride last year.

Traditional Camaro styling lives on with muscular and sporty architecture, sculpted creases, a proud undergrille and a low and wide stance that hugs the road and turns heads. My ZL1’s exterior was enhanced by a front fascia with larger cooling ducts, wide front fenders, specific rocker moldings and rear diffuser; a distinct hood with carbon-fiber air extractor; a Stanchion rear spoiler; a Chevrolet flowtie front emblem and a Black Chevrolet bowtie in rear.

The ZL1 Camaro is powerful and confident, measuring 188.3 inches in length, 74.7 inches in width and 52.4 inches in height, on a 110.7-inch wheelbase. My test Coupe weighed in at 3820 lbs. in curb weight.

The most powerful Camaro ever, ZL1’s standard 6.2-liter LT4 direct-injected V-8 engine is responsive and super-powered. While my 2SS and its 455 horses finished off a zero-to-60mph sprint last year in 4.5 seconds during a 12.8-second quarter-mile, my 2018 Camaro ZL1 and it 650 horses/650 lb-ft of torque blazed the dash in 3.4 seconds (hand-timed), and finished off a quarter-mile in 11.4 seconds. .

Camaro’s structure and balance was race-car precise, firm and attentive. Its ZF rack-mounted electric, power-assisted and variable ratio rack-and-pinion steering was auto-cross responsive, and the MacPherson-type front and rear struts with dual lower ball joints, twin-tube struts and direct-acting stabilizer bar provided a driver’s feel while smoothing out road irregularities for passengers.

EPA rated at 14 mpg in the city and 20 mpg on the highway, I got as much rubber as I could and mashed the pedal often during my weeklong test, to average 18.0 mpg.

Inside, my ZL1 Coupe was packed with infotainment, keyless access with push-button start, cruise control, power trunk release, manual rake and telescopic steering wheel, dual-zone automatic climate control, Bose premium audio system, heated/ventilated front seats and heated steering wheel, Black interior with Red accent stitching and suede inserts, suede-wrapped flat-bottom steering wheel and shift knob, Red seat belts, and tech, tech and more tech.

Interior space was leg-roomy and head-tight, with 38.5 inches of front headroom and legroom of 43.9 inches. Rear accommodations are a tight 33.5 inches of headroom with only 29.9 inches of child-worthy legroom. Shoulder room is accommodating at 55 inches.

Standard safety items include a rear vision camera, dual-stage frontal, thorax side-impact and knee airbags, driver and front passenger, and a head curtain side-impact set up as well as GM’s Passenger Sensing System.

Available in six trims in both Coupe and Convertible configuration, the 2018 Camaro base prices in Coupe form are: LS/LT -- $26,700; 1LT -- $27,695; 2LT -- $31,495; 1SS -- $37,995; 2SS -- $42,995 and ZL1 -- $62,495.

My ZL1 Coupe in Red Hot (I have loved Red Camaros since I owned a Red 1967 Camaro back in the day) with a Jet Black interior and Red accents, tweaked up with an overly expensive, but very cool $7500 ZL1® 1LE Track Performance Package upgrade that included: Black hood wrap; unique front splitter; front dive planes; exposed carbon fiber weave hood insert; exposed weave carbon fiber rear spoiler; low-gloss black outside rearview mirrors; dark tail lamps; 19-inch low-gloss Black-painted forged aluminum wheels with Goodyear® Eagle®F1 SuperCar 3R 305/30R19 front and 325/30R19 rear, summer-only tires; Red calipers with 1LE logo; performance suspension with DSSV™ dampers, adjustable camber plates, rear stabilizer bars (3 positions) and front spring seats. This option came with my test set-up, but if I were ordering, I’d save the $7500. Transmission-wise, I prefer the 6-speed manual transmission that was in my test ride, but you could go for the 10-speed paddle-shift automatic for $1595. Chevrolet MyLink® with an 8-inch diagonal Color Touch Screen and Navigation added $495; Premium carpeted floor mats with ZL1-specific logo added $160; a really sweet carbon-fiber instrument panel added $500 and a cargo net for the trunk added $65. With Destination and Freight charges of $995, and a Gas Guzzler Tax of $1300, my 2018 Camaro ZL1 Coupe/1LE was priced-as-tested at $72,515.

FYI, Camaro fans can see 51 years of Camaro at the Carlisle Chevrolet Nationals at Carlisle (PA) Fairgrounds, June 22-24. Home to a diverse group of General Motors vehicles, from vintage muscle to the modern 6th Generation Camaro, this event was formerly known as the GM Nationals. While focusing on 107 years of the Chevy brand (and 100 years of Chevrolet trucks), the weekend isn’t limited to “Bow-Tie” branded cars and trucks. The Chevrolet Nationals also includes any and all makes and models produced by General Motors. But for Camaro enthusiasts, be sure to check out the 2018 Camaro ZL1.

Visit www.CarlisleEvents.com for more on the automotive hobby.

Mike Blake, former editor of KIT CAR magazine, joined Carlisle Events as senior automotive journalist in 2004. He's been a "car guy" since the 1960s and has been writing professionally for about 30 years.

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