With a breathing 650-hp supercharged V-8 and ferocious track capabilities, the 2021 Chevy Camaro ZL1 is the king of monster muscle cars. Sure, the Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat and Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 have horsepower ratings that start with seven, but the bow-tie beast delivers similar thrills for fewer green bills. In fact, if the mid-engine Corvette didn’t exist, the ZL1 could perhaps be called the world’s greatest performance value, which is why it’s an Editors’ Choice. Regardless, the Camaro perfects the front-engine, rear-drive formula inherent to muscle cars. While both the coupe and convertible have a remarkable chassis that’s more clairvoyant than Miss Cleo, unleashing the ultimate Camaro requires the transformative 1LE track package, but beware that it makes the suspension very stiff. If you can overlook Chevy’s flawed interior, the 2021 Camaro ZL1 can be more exciting than a roller coaster, and it’ll regularly reward thrill-seekers and track rats alike.
Engine, Transmission, and Performance
The Camaro’s supercharged 6.2-liter V-8 is a well-behaved and tractable beast that makes power all over the rev range and leaves black streaks all over the road. As you’d expect, when stirred up, it leaves the sound of thunder echoing in its wake. Whether paired with the standard six-speed manual transmission or the available 10-speed automatic, the supercharged small-block V-8 lays down stupidly incredible performance figures. The fast-shifting automatic results in quicker acceleration times than the stick, but either way, this Chevy is a demon at the drag strip. Already a satisfying handler with quick and communicative steering, a balanced rear-drive chassis, and a surprisingly supple ride, the Camaro is elevated to new heights by the ZL1 gear. Its adaptive dampers change their stiffness based on the selected drive mode, but even the hardcore modes don’t ruin the car’s decent, if firm, ride. Want more? Grab the 1LE track package, which vaults the ZL1 into a near supercar. Its wider and stickier tires, manually adjustable front suspension, and exclusive spool-valve dampers help chew up racetracks and spit out happy drivers. The ZL1 stops from 70 mph in 143 feet, and the ZL1’s brake pedal operates with a firmness befitting a performance car.
Fuel Economy and Real-World MPG
The words “Camaro ZL1” and “fuel-efficient” shouldn’t be used together in a sentence unless the phrase “is not” separates them. The EPA estimates models with the automatic transmission will earn 13 mpg in the city and 21 mpg on the highway. With the manual, those numbers change to 14 and 20, respectively. Surprisingly, the Camaro beats the Shelby GT500 in fuel efficiency, as the latter manages 12 mpg city and 18 mpg highway. The manual-equipped ZL1 1LE we ran on our 75-mph highway fuel-economy route, which is part of our extensive testing regimen, returned a measly 17 mpg.
Interior, Comfort, and Cargo
Turns out 650 horsepower and a ZL1 badge do nothing to erase the current-generation Camaro’s woeful outward visibility. It suffers the same thick roof pillars and high windowsills as other Camaros. Still, every ZL1 is well equipped out of the box and offers few options. Standard equipment includes power-adjustable front seats with heating and ventilation, a heated steering wheel, and dual-zone automatic climate control. When it comes to the ZL1, performance and style take precedence over less sexy matters such as cupholder counts and cargo space. There is very little interior stash space for small items, and almost tacit admission on Chevrolet’s part that the Camaro comfortably seats only two human beings. Behind the useless rear seats is a nearly as useless shallow trunk with an oddly shaped opening.