Camaro ZL1 ragtop a rocket with good manners –


You can imagine the discussion at Chevy.

“Hey, how about a Camaro convertible with, oh, a gazillion horsepower?”

“Um, well, that’s a lot in a car that lacks the gazillion-hp coupe’s steel top to keep it from pretzeling when all the ponies are raging.”

“We’ll just put in a lot of bracing and it’s good to go.”

“Yeah, but we already have the Camaro SS convertible, and it’s no dog. Do we really need a higher-performance ragtop?”

“Sure. Cars with tops that go down are inherently more fun. And horsepower’s like money — no such thing as too much.”

Test Drive by James R. Healey

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Thus, the 2013 Camaro ZL1 convertible: 580 horsepower, 556 pounds-feet of torque, supercharged 6.2-liter V-8, 184 mph top speed, late September showroom launch, $60,445 and up. It joins the 2012 ZL1 coupe that’s been on sale since spring.

And man-oh-man, what a treat.

Except for some really cheap-looking plastic interior trim. Chevy’s gotta do something about that; it ruins the whole impression.

You could rant about the stiff price and the tight back seat, too, but ZL1 buyers probably have different priorities and higher incomes and care more about what’s under the hood.

The ZL1 does suffer in comparison with Ford’s Shelby GT 500 Mustang. The Pony car is slightly lower-priced, has more power (662 hp), goes faster (200-plus mph) and uses less fuel (the Ford’s rated 25 mpg at highway speed; the Chevy’s best is 19).

Chevy vs. Ford schoolyard taunts aside: a 580-hp sporty car, just as the feds finalize the fuel-economy clamp-down for 54.5 mpg by 2025?

But not everything can, or should, be a fuel sipper, if the price of that parsimony is tedium. Camaro ZL1 ragtop drinks deeply, but on a relative scale — satisfaction per gallon — it doesn’t use that much fuel.

Automatic transmission models such as the test car are rated just 12 mpg in town, 18 on the open road; manuals are 14/19. Our test miles on 55-mph rural roads around here showed 20 mpg holding at or near the speed limit (the biggest challenge of the test), and 14 mpg when being, uh, playful.

Too, the ZL1, and a racetrack-oriented 1LE model, also coming this fall, together won’t be more than 10% of Camaro sales, Chevy says, or about 9,000 cars a year.

Because the monstrously powerful ZL1 convertible is a Camaro, after all, it has the dramatic exterior styling that has helped make Camaro an even-up sales rival to Ford’s Mustang.

Unfortunately, that means it also shares Camaro’s demeaning, tacky, plastic interior trim.

The front seats are comfy, even if the convertible’s back seat is cramped. Controls are handy, if not always pleasing to operate.

Instruments in the dashboard are easy to read; those…

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