Designers might make a sexy looking car, but engineers make cars that you actually want to drive. Engineers made the 2014 Camaro Z/28. And it's transformed the Camaro for the better in every conceivable way. That means this is a modern Camaro that's actually as good as Camaro fanboys pretend it is.
(Full Disclosure: I drove up to Monticello Motor Club to get some track time in the Camaro Z/28, which Chevy kindly provided. I didn't crash. Not even once!)
I've never liked the new Camaro. I think it's a great looking car, but there a number of aspects you can't ignore if you're not a hardcore Camaro fan. First and foremost, you just can't see out of it. It's like driving a tank but with less visibility. It also feels gigantic and heavy like a tank, and that's mainly because it is gigantic and heavy.
In addition, the steering was rubbery and it never felt as fast as it could be. I do love the supercharged insanity of the ZL1, but it was never going to be a lithe corner cutter. Not close.
But that was never the realm of a car wearing the ZL1 badge in the past. That always fell to the car that was racing in Trans Am and on road courses across America. That was the Z/28. And the new Z/28 has only one objective: To be as pants shittingly fast around a race track as humanly possible.
The Z/28 is an amalgamation of parts that makes up an engineer's wet dream. The weight has been shed to bring the portly Camaro down to a more respectable, but still heavy, 3,800 pounds. The engine is the 505 horsepower LS7 straight out of the last Corvette Z06. There is a ton of aero work including a simply ridiculous front splitter and a bowtie that has been cut out to make for more airflow to the engine. A flowtie, if you will. A super trick suspension setup with F1-style monotube shocks replaces magnetic ride. The carbon ceramic brakes are ridiculously unbelievable and probably the best part of the car. The tires are Pirelli's semi-slick and barely street legal Trofeo R.
That all sounds well and good, but how does it feel? Is it still a fat Camaro? Or is it something more that's actually worth $75,000?
It's the latter. When you drive the Z/28, the overwhelming impression is that the engineering team was given the New GM mission to build something great, not just something cheap. They've taken a car that was never meant to be a track car, a car that was inherited from the Australians, and transformed the performance parameters in every conceivable way.
The LS7 has instant power. It's one of the last great naturally aspirated engines out there. A real big bruiser of a motor. Sure, Z/28s traditionally have a 302 under the hood, but this 427 has so much torque and thrust that to complain would be like arguing that the person you're about to sleep with is too gorgeous.
But the real news is just how this car turns and stops. Can we talk about the brakes first? I want to talk about the brakes. We need to discuss these brakes. Chevrolet has fitted next generation carbon ceramics to the Z/28, brakes that are very much like the ones on the upcoming 2015 Corvette Z06. They are spectacularly good.
Bite is hard and immediate and they refuse to fade. And this is a 3,800 pound car, you'd expect it to have massive weight transfer and be sluggish under braking. That's not the case. The trick suspension keeps it totally flat and the brakes are magic. I now totally understand why the tires were rotating on the wheels when they initially tested the Z/28.
The cornering performance is also out of this world, and a lot of that is down to the super sticky tires. While I find the slightly numb steering (especially on center or at lower speeds) to be the weakest part of this stellar car, the actual handling is mind blowing to a level that would make Gandhi eat beef.
Chevrolet put what are probably the most aggressive tires that you can get on a production car on the Z/28. They're worth every penny, as long as they're warm. When they're cold and you push the gas, expect a butt clenching wiggle from the rear end that definitely didn't happen when I was driving. Nope.
But once they're warm, they're magic. At the limit with the performance traction management set in track, you have tons of grip and it doesn't immediately bite you if you surpass the edge of grip. It breaks away progressively enough that a little correction will bring it right back in line.
This is not a car you finesse. You grab it by the scruff and boss it around. Don't ease into the brakes and trail it into a corner. Stab the brakes (and do it late. Like really late.), turn in, and get right back on the gas. If you don't boss the Z/28 around, it won't dance for you. It'll think you're a bitch and won't show you its magic.
The biggest debate is the price. The Z/28 is $75,000. I think it's totally worth it, especially since a lot of cars it competes with are two or three times the price. But you have to remember that it's also a bit of a one-trick pony. It won't be a comfortable road car, especially without AC and a radio. Those Pirelli Trofeo R tires will make it absolutely useless in the rain.
But that one trick, well, it's like this pony can fly.