Chevy Camaro ZL1 Road Trip to Daytona: 6 First Impressions

The ultimate, 650-horsepower Camaro is the perfect delinquent for Daytona hijinks.

2017 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1
Jessica Lynn Walker—Jessica Lynn Walker

The Drive just burned rubber over 500 miles from Charlotte to Daytona in the 2017 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. (Fine, it only felt like we burned rubber the whole way.) Coincidentally, that’s the distance a few other Chevys will travel at Sunday’s Daytona 500, NASCAR stockers barely stronger than the ZL1’s 650 horsepower. Jeff Gordon told us that his star turn as the 500’s pace-car driver—including his live broadcast narration for FOX—will be his first-ever seat time in the new ZL1. Nyah, nyah, Jeff, we drove it first. But you’ll surely drive it better, even if you'll only be doing the pit-road speed of 55 mph.

Here are my six first impressions of the Camaro ZL1 coupe and convertible, or what Chevy rightly describes as the fastest, most capable showroom Camaro in history.

1. It looks badass in your rear-view mirror. With widened front fenders, gun-slot headlamps and black-barred air inlets the size of an industrial fridge, the ZL1 approaches like a devouring beast, especially when it’s approaching hapless prey ahead.

2. The word “muscle” utterly fails as a descriptor. We already knew the ZL1 was dragstrip-fast, vaulting to 60 mph in 3.5 seconds, slaying the quarter-mile in 11.4 seconds at 127 mph, peaking at 198 mph—and over 200 mph with tire tweaks. But the Camaro also steered, handled and stopped like a track star, and didn’t beat our bodies or eardrums over 10 hours of driving.

3. The 10-speed automatic is good. Really good. We worried that the ZL1’s optional 10-speed HydraMatic would get in its own way, and the driver’s, like Fiat Chrysler’s busybody nine-speed. Nope. Upshifts especially, which Chevy claims are quicker than Porsche’s lauded dual-clutch PDK, keep the power flowing with an almost imperceptible delay between speeds. There’s no engine lugging or busy hunting of gears. Just like that, we declare the mediocre, dithery eight-speed automatic in Corvettes and Cadillacs as obsolete.

4. The Line Lock function produces smoke like a redneck BBQ. It’s not easy to toggle up and summon the Line Lock function at first, but maybe that’s a good thing for your tire budget. The Camaro will automatically hold its front brakes for 15 seconds, allowing sadistic and show-off drivers to roast the rear Goodyear Eagle F1 tires like black marshmallows. Hit a pair of steering wheel buttons simultaneously, and the Camaro then segues into a perfect rolling burnout.

5. You still can’t see out of the coupe. From the SS and 1LE to this ZL1, the sixth-generation Camaro is setting a new performance standard for American pony cars. But the coupe’s stuck-in-a-barrel sightlines are still ridiculous. Let’s hope a seventh-generation version can add more glass area, tone down the retro-cartoonish design cues and create a more contemporary and ergonomically sound Camaro.

6. You can see out of the convertible. Go ahead, roll your eyes at the droptop version. But at least those eyes can operate when the cloth top is down, which allows you to sharply raise the seat and lift your chin out of the hot-tub cockpit. The ZL1 also lets you operate the top at speeds up to 30 mph, which came in handy during a brief shower as we approached Jacksonville.