2012 Camaro ZL1
Base price: $54,995
As tested: $57,265
MPG: 14 city/19 highway
- Brutally fast
- The best-looking Camaro ever
- Advanced technology makes it surprisingly easy to drive
- An impractical vehicle, to say the least
- Real fuel economy was below 10 mpg
- Interior still looks cheesy
By Jim Prueter
For this review, I’ll start with the conclusion first and save you some time: Nobody needs a car with 580-supercharged pavement-ripping horsepower, not to mention its excessive carbon footprint. That said, it’s an absolute thrill to drive.
To understand why Chevrolet would put that amount of power into a new Camaro is to understand the nearly five decades of fierce competitiveness between the Camaro and the Ford Mustang.
A bit of history: 1969 was the heyday of the American muscle car. Most Camaro fans know about the Z28 and the SS, but the ZL1 is the rarest of them all. It was only offered in 1969, when 69 were built and all had a massive 427 cubic-inch V-8 with 430 horsepower. It cost nearly $4,000, twice the normal price, but it was the meanest and fastest and ruled the drag strips.
Fast-forward to 2012: Chevy brought back the ZL1 nameplate in response to Ford’s “Godzilla” of a muscle car — the eye-popping 662-horsepower Mustang Shelby GT500. Both cars scream from 0 to 60 mph easily in less than four seconds, and are equipped with modern engines, silky-smooth transmissions, and electronics meant to civilize all that horsepower.
Regarding the Camaro’s styling, the designers absolutely nailed it by capturing the near perfect cues of the best-loved ever 1969 Camaro SS; boldly futuristic yet with a gnarly superhero physique. Mean, yet loveable.
But as gorgeous as the exterior is, the interior is gallingly overloaded with acres of cheap plastic trim on the door and instrument panels. The weak attempt at capturing the retro-themed gauges on the center console is a hurtful disappointment.
If all you’re looking for is all-out, straight-line, white-knuckled brute speed, the Shelby may be the car for you. In the quarter mile, it’s a few ticks quicker than the ZL1. But when considering handling, braking, driving excitement, and killer good looks, the nod goes to the Camaro.
So there you have it. It’s a Coke or Pepsi, Frazier or Ali, Hot dog or hamburger, and Leno or Letterman question — Camaro or Mustang? If you have the money (about $55,000) and you always wanted bragging rights, then take your pick — you win either way.
Oh, and my choice? Both.