The 2012 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 will be more powerful than the Cadillac CTS-V with an output of 580 hp at 6000 rpm and 556 lb-ft of torque at 4200 rpm from the supercharged 6.2-liter V-8. Every one of those ponies will need to be working hard, though, to hurry the ZL1’s considerable 4200-pound heft around a racetrack.
The 580-hp rating is quite a bit higher than initial predictions. At the Chicago auto show in February, Chevrolet promised the ZL1 would deliver “more than 550 hp,” leading most of the media to speculate that the Camaro would match the Cadillac CTS-V’s 556-hp rating. The ZL1 uses the same LSA engine as the CTS-V, but Chevrolet engineers have made minor changes to deliver an additional 24 hp over the Caddy’s output. The Camaro uses a new induction with reduced airflow restriction, a more efficient intercooler, and new stainless steel exhaust manifolds.
If the power output comes as a bit of a surprise, the news on the ZL1’s mass shouldn’t. The 350-pound weight gain from Camaro SS to ZL1 is right in line with the fattening that a CTS coupe experiences on its way to becoming a CTS-V. Chevy representatives were reluctant to talk about any numbers other than power or torque—top speed, 0-to-60 time, and price were all off the table—at a media event on Wednesday, but they did subtly reveal the ZL1’s mass when they splashed the car’s weight-to-power ratio on the screen. At 7.24 pounds per hp, the ZL1 would weigh 4,199 pounds.
While Chevrolet engineers boasted that the ZL1’s weight-to-power ratio betters that of a BMW M3 coupe, Nissan GT-R, and Porsche 911, it won’t beat that of its chief rival, the Ford Shelby GT500. The Shelby makes 550 hp and 510 lb-ft from a supercharged 5.4-liter with a claimed weight of 3820 pounds. That works out to a weight-to-power ratio of 6.95 pounds per hp.
That didn’t stop the ZL1 team from taking a direct shot at the GT500, though. The ZL1, they say, is ready for track abuse straight from the dealership floor with its standard transmission and rear-differential cooler and cooling ducts for the front brakes. Ford’s owner’s manual for the GT500 advises drivers to modify their cars with those add-ons prior to extensive track use.
It’s unlikely that the Chevy’s hottest muscle car will undercut Ford’s on pricing, as chief engineer Al Oppenheiser told us the ZL1 will be priced relative to the GT500 just as the six- and eight-cylinder Camaros are priced against comparable Mustangs. The Chevys typically land about $1500 to $2000 more than the Fords, so we’d expect a price near $52,000 for the ZL1 based on the GT500’s $49,605 starting sticker.
Chevrolet can justify that premium with the additional content it offers. The ZL1 will come equipped with an active exhaust, a head-up display, Brembo brakes, and magnetorheological adaptive dampers. The ZL1 also comes standard with Performance Traction Management, a sophisticated electronics program borrowed from the Corvette ZR1 that manages magnetic ride control, launch control, traction control, and stability control to improve performance on a racetrack. The system offers five modes (wet, dry, sport one, sport two, and race) in addition to an off setting, but it’s a testament to the program’s capability that Chevrolet’s best development drivers set their fastest laps with PTM activated.
The ZL1 development team has also made efforts to correct some of the Camaro SS’s sloppy manners. Moving the rear antiroll bar’s pickup points further outboard increases its effectiveness. An electric power steering system in place of the hydraulic setup used in the Camaro SS offers a chance for sharper responses. Where the hydraulic system used a variable steering ratio with a fixed assist level, the electrically-assisted rack offers both a variable ratio and variable assist. The six-speed manual introduces a new short shifter while the optional automatic transmission introduces new algorithms to detect aggressive driving and hold lower gears.
The official announcement of the ZL1’s power output clears up one big question about the super Camaro, but there are plenty of questions to be answered before sales start in the first quarter of 2012. We’re still to know the price, the performance numbers, and, most importantly, how it drives. Stay tuned to automobilemag.com for more developments on the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1.