As muscle cars move away from their unrefined past in search of broader appeal and better handling, the number of choices facing prospective buyers continues to grow. People keen on the Chevrolet Camaro already have to decide between four-, six- and eight-cylinder options, but the decision just became more difficult with the addition of the 640-hp, supercharged ZL1, a car designed to be the perfect all-rounder for fans of powerful pony cars.
Central to the appeal of the new ZL1 is its supercharged V8 motor. Punching out 640 hp (477 kW), the 6.2-liter motor is a massive 138 kW (185 hp) more powerful than the naturally aspirated mill in the regular Camaro SS, putting it in the same league as tuner specials like the Callaway SC610.
To make the most of all that grunt, the ZL1's exterior has been toughened up to reflect the extra horsepower lurking under the hood. The traditional Chevrolet bowtie badge has been replaced by a hollow "flow-tie" so every last bit of air rushing into the grille makes it through to the motor. The lower grille has also been redesigned to provide more cooling than the Camaro SS' lower bumper can manage.
In an attempt to cut down on weight, the bonnet has a carbon fiber section to accompany the new vents and heat extractor cooling the engine from above.
Aside from keeping the motor cool, the new Camaro's bodykit has been designed to create more downforce. Chevy is coy about just how much downforce the big front splitter, unique rockers, wide front end and big wing create, although it claims to have spent over 100 hours in the wind tunnel and on the track honing the car's shape.
Unsurprisingly, Chevrolet's handling upgrades extend beyond a new aero package. The standard Camaro's Magnetic Ride Control system has been updated, and traction control, the car's electronic limited slip differential and launch control have all been tweaked in the transition from SS to ZL1.
Away from the software side of things, the car sits on 20-inch forged aluminum wheels wrapped in sticky Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar tires. With a 285 section front and massive 305 section at the rear, those tires are almost as wide as the Michelins fitted to the Porsche 911 GT3 RS. Lurking behind the car's forged aluminum wheels are 390 mm (15.35 inch) front rotors, grabbed by Brembo six-piston monobloc calipers.
So far, the ZL1 sounds like a focused, cohesive package for daily drivers keen to do some track work, but there's one element of the new package that seems uncharacteristically pedestrian. Alongside the standard six-speed manual gearbox is Chevrolet's new 10-speed auto. Given the car's 868 Nm (640 lb-ft) of torque, flexibility and in-gear acceleration aren't likely to be an issue, so we have to ask, why so many gears?
Our tip would be to spec the manual for now, and leave the auto to Silverado and Malibu buyers when it reaches them. After all, the auto's shift lever wouldn't match the new suede steering wheel and Recaro buckets.
The ZL1 will go on sale later this year, and will be displayed at the New York Auto Show.