2019 Chevy Camaro ZL1 Convertible review: A topless thrill ride

Starting at $68,000
  • Engine 8 Cylinder Engine, Supercharged
  • Drivetrain Rear Wheel Drive
  • MPG 16 MPG
  • Passenger Capacity 4
  • Body Type Convertibles

Roadshow Editors' Rating

8.3 Overall
  • Performance 9
  • Features 7.5
  • Design 7.5
  • Media 9

The Good The 2019 Chevy Camaro ZL1 Convertible has a 650-horsepower supercharged V8 and a sophisticated Magnetic Ride Control suspension.

The Bad Visibility is a challenge, and the cramped cabin is full of subpar materials.

The Bottom Line Not many cars offer the performance of the Chevy Camaro ZL1, and in convertible guise, it offers a thrilling wind-in-your-hair experience.

With a supercharged V8 making 650 horsepower, the 2019 ZL1 is definitely Chevrolet's bitchin' Camaro. Packed with the best of everything Chevy throws at its Camaro line, the ZL1 is a take-no-prisoners performance coupe with one badass attitude.

Whether you choose coupe or convertible, the ZL1 doesn't get the homely new front fascia seen on other 2019 Camaro models, mostly because it needs that wide grille for maximum cooling. The carbon fiber composite hood extractor helps air move through the engine compartment, and helps decrease front lift. A front splitter also helps with aerodynamics, as does a substantial rear wing.

The heart of the ZL1 is its supercharged, 6.2-liter V8, with 650 horsepower and 650 pound-feet of torque. Rear-wheel drive makes this thing a burnout machine, and drivers have their choice between a six-speed manual or 10-speed automatic transmission.

This Camaro is just winging it.

Emme Hall/Roadshow

You'll never come close to finding the ZL1's limits on public roads. Switch the drive mode selector from Touring to Sport, and the exhaust note increases with a sweet V8 burble. Mash the throttle and the ZL1 rockets off the line, the 10-speed automatic ripping off shifts quicker than a bat out of hell. Chevy's official acceleration time for the ZL1 Convertible is 3.5 seconds to 60 miles per hour, and it feels every bit as quick from behind the wheel. This thing will run the quarter mile in just 11.4 seconds at 127 mph, and will top out at 195 mph if you desire.

Fast as the ZL1 is, it'll scrub off all that speed just as suddenly. The ZL1 gets standard six-piston Brembo front calipers that clamp down on 15.4-inch vented rotors, and around back, you'll find four-piston calipers and 14.4-inch discs. Together they do a fine job of bringing the ZL1 to a hard stop without panic, with a pedal that's easy to modulate.

In addition to the louder exhaust, Sport mode alters the Camaro's steering and suspension tune. A further Track mode takes things up another notch, and I can customize all the driveline parameters to my own preferences, as well. For my favorite twisty back roads, the engine and steering are set to Track for maximum performance, but I leave the Magnetic Ride Control suspension in Sport, for a better balanced ride.

Those magnetic-ride dampers are great. The suspension is constantly making minor adjustments based on the road surface, and keeps body roll in check. I hardly ever have to wait for the car to settle before stomping on the gas coming out of a turn. Huge, 305/30-section Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar tires keep the rear end glued to the pavement, and there's enough communication through the steering wheel to let me know exactly where my front tires are placed through each corner.

Compared with the Dodge Challenger Hellcat Redeye I drove a few months ago, the Camaro ZL1 feels so much nimbler. At a still-heavy 4,100 pounds, the Camaro ZL1 Convertible is lighter than the Redeye, and its chassis is far better balanced, too.

I love the convertible because I'm all about having the wind in my hair, but it's worth noting you lose some performance capability should you choose the drop-top. For starters, you can't get Chevy's Performance Data Recorder, which is helpful if you routinely track your car. You can't get the coupe's electronic limited-slip differential, either, which helps keep manage power at the rear axle. Finally, the Performance Traction Management feature, which allows you to dial in your preferred leves of stability and traction control, isn't available on the convertible. In other words, if you're buying a ZL1 for maximum track assault, the coupe is the one you want.

Still, the ZL1 is a car you could totally drive every day -- as long as you're willing to make a few compromises. I have no idea how a car that's so big outside can feel so tiny inside. The overall interior packaging is absolutely horrible. With the top up, it's incredibly difficult to see out of the Camaro, so thankfully there's a standard rear camera mirror and blind-spot monitoring. There's nowhere to put anything inside the cabin, and with 7.3 cubic feet of cargo space, the trunk is laughably small. Don't even think of trying to put typical-size adults in the back seats, either.

The ZL1 doesn't get the updated front fascia found on other trims.

Emme Hall/Roadshow

The whole interior is pure Chevrolet -- in other words, not great. I do like the microfiber suede inserts on the doors and dashboard, and the red contrast stitching on the seats is a nice touch. The Recaro front seats are comfortable and supportive, and both heated and cooled, thank goodness. There are a few small surprises, too, like ambient lighting that's tied to the drive modes, and giant, American-size cup holders. But on the whole, most of the Camaro's interior materials look and feel cheap. It's not a great place in which to spend time.

If it's driver's aids you're after, the ZL1 doesn't have many. Adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist aren't available, though that's pretty par for this class. Blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and rear parking sensors are all you get on the ZL1 Convertible; forward collision warning is available for the coupe. But hey, at least that stuff is all standard.

As for multimedia tech, the ZL1 gets an 8-inch infotainment screen that's angled down to avoid glare (which looks dumb and makes it harder to use). Regardless, the unimaginatively named Chevrolet Infotainment 3 system is one of my favorites, thanks to its easy-to-use interface and standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The system comes with several built-in apps, such as news feeds, weather and a Marketplace app so you can order food on the go. The ZL1 also comes standard with a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot, as well as a head-up display (HUD) and wireless charging pad.

Because the ZL1 has so much kit, there aren't too many options you can spec. The big upgrade option is the 1LE performance package, which adds wider, stickier tires, a Multimatic spool-valve suspension and some really crazy aerodynamic add-ons. It's a $7,500 upgrade that's great if you live at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, but not so much if you're using your Camaro for commuting.

The Camaro's interior is more about function than form.

Emme Hall/Roadshow

Let's also not forget that the Camaro isn't the only pony-car game in town. The 2019 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350 is one heck of a performer, and the most potent version of the 'Stang until the GT500 hits the scene. Roadshow's resident hot-shoe found the GT350 to be incredibly nimble, with a well-balanced chassis and rip-snorting, flat-plane-crank V8 engine. If it's overall agility you're after, the Mustang might be the better bet.

But for straight-line speed, the ZL1 Convertible is one hell of a car. It's not cheap, at $68,000, but it'll embarrass supercars costing twice as much in the quarter-mile drag strip, and will do bigger burnouts and louder donuts, too.

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