2012 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 review: 2012 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1

There are not many options for the Camaro ZL1, but a tempting one is the subwoofer package, which adds not one, but two 10-inch subs. I would also recommend a more powerful amp, as the 245-watt Boston Acoustics system lacks some oomph. The nine speakers from this system created good definition in the music I fed it, but the sound was not very rich. A few more watts could elevate the mids.

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This head unit is standard in the Camaro ZL1, and there is no optional upgrade for it. Josh Miller/CNET

Some of the Camaro ZL1's cabin tech comes through OnStar, which is an excellent telematics service. It offers remote door unlocking, crash alerts, and stolen car recovery, along with other services. And while it does have turn-by-turn navigation, the system requires the car to be within range of a cell tower. In areas with a connection, but no data, the OnStar operator will literally read out a set of turns to a destination, and the voice record gets saved to the car for review. How quaint is that?

One very nice feature that comes standard on the Camaro ZL1 is a head-up display, a projection on the windshield showing speed and a variety of other driver-selectable information, such as lateral g-forces. Another very useful piece of equipment is the rearview camera, with its LCD mounted in the rearview mirror.

However, I found both displays easily washed out in bright sunshine. Racing the Camaro ZL1 around a track on a bright day, the HUD was invisible, so I could not see the obviously record speeds I was making around the corners.

Electrically assisted cornering
Opening it up under these conditions, I found the numb nature of the electrically boosted power steering made itself known. The wheel has good weight, and it accurately and quickly pointed the front wheels where I wanted to go. It even worked well under those circumstances where I had to shuffle the wheel a bit when the Camaro ZL1 was at the edge of grip. But the wheel offered no feedback from the road, a fault of this new, efficient type of power-steering system. The Camaro ZL1 is not alone in this regard. Porsche gave its new 911 a similarly boosted steering system, and just about every other automaker is falling in line.

Despite the numb steering, cornering the Camaro ZL1 was quite fun. The back end came out easily, even with the grippy Goodyear F1 tires and traction control on. But it was very easy to rein it back in, either scrubbing off some speed or through some steering-wheel work. Standard Brembo brakes provided good, easily modulated stopping power. At the end of a straight, I could give the brakes quarter, half, or more force, shedding just the right amount of speed.

Heading into the turns, the Camaro ZL1 does not feel like a precision instrument. In this regard, it stays true to its muscle car heritage. Even with good control over the steering, it felt a little rubbery, a little vague on initial turn-in. The Magnetic Ride Control suspension did an excellent job of keeping the car flat, but keeping the car on a line was more like riding a bucking bronco than laser pattern cutting, the latter being more the experience of cornering a BMW M3.

One problem with the Camaro ZL1, which not even the electric power steering saves it from: it earns a gas guzzler tax. The EPA rates it at 12 mpg city and 18 mpg highway, and there is no real chance, and not much point, in driving it so as to top that range. My observed mileage of 15.5 mpg only included city, freeway, and mountain highway driving, excluding track time.

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Gauges at the bottom of the center dashboard show oil temperature and supercharger pressure. Josh Miller/CNET

The 2012 Camaro ZL1 is an impressive car, and will get plenty of attention from people on the street, if from nothing else but the exhaust note. Even though the Camaro has been out for a few years, the car still has head-turning looks, accentuated by the strip down the roof and trunk lid. Its mileage and interior space limit its practicality as an everyday driver.

Cabin tech comes up subtly in this car. The radio-based head unit may not look like much, but it can handle Bluetooth phones and music players, and connect to iPods and USB drives with its USB port. Although I prefer an onboard navigation system, OnStar can come in handy. This cabin tech should improve dramatically with the 2013 model year.

When it comes to performance, the Camaro ZL1 holds its own. The massive power makes for exciting, sometimes barely controlled, takeoffs. Cornering requires skill, as it does not take much for the car to break loose. However, I could always feels when it was at the edge of grip, and it gave enough leeway to get it back under control.

Tech specs
Model 2012 Chevrolet Camaro
Trim Zl1
Powertrain Supercharged 6.2-liter V-8, 6-speed automatic transmission
EPA fuel economy 12 mpg city/18 mpg higway
Observed fuel economy 15.5 mpg
Navigation Standard telematics-based
Bluetooth phone support Standard
Digital audio sources Bluetooth streaming, iPod, USB drive, satellite radio
Audio system Boston Acoustics 245-watt, 9-speaker system
Driver aids Head-up display, rearview camera
Base price $54,095
Price as tested $59,250

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