This is the point I'd normally start talking about the brakes, steering, and handling, but I can't. Highways and gently curving rural roads dominated this program out of necessity—when you're trying to cover 500 miles in a single day, backcountry twisties with a 35-mph limit are a luxury you can't afford. Because of that, I simply don't feel comfortable commenting on the ZL1's other systems. Look for a more detailed review soon.
Instead, we're going to look at the high-speed ZL1 against a more mainstream vehicle. See, aside from road-tripping with Chevrolet and attending the Daytona 500 festivities, this trip to the Sunshine State gave me a chance to catch up with my grandparents, two former Michiganders who have done like many of their peers and fled to the heat, humidity, and unlimited golf of The Villages, a retirement mecca about an hour north of Orlando.
Planning for the detour earlier in the month, I'd booked myself what Enterprise Rent-A-Car helpfully calls a "Convertible Car" rental after seeing the promise of “FORD MUSTANG OR SIMILAR.” While I expected a boring V-6 model and hoped for an Ecoboost, I was delighted to arrive at the local branch and find a Ruby Red 2016 Mustang GT Convertible with a mere 275 miles on the clock reserved for me. After the shock of scoring a virtually new, $46,000 rental vehicle wore off, I set off on a journey to Florida's retirement capital that not only gave me a new appreciation for Floridian roads and scenery, but reminded me that 435 ponies are closer to the ideal than 650.
Driving the 90 miles from Daytona Beach to The Villages takes about two hours, because there's no direct freeway route between the two cities. Instead, I helmed the Mustang along a rural stretch that included a charming two-lane road through the Ocala National Forest.
Palms, cypress, pines, and countless other varieties of flora lined the gently winding, lightly trafficked road, and with the sun shining and the roof down, I exercised the Mustang with a verve my self-preservation instincts wouldn't allow in the ZL1. The 435-hp 5.0-liter V-8 wasn't as sonorous or exciting to listen to, its acceleration was also more relaxed, and compared to the ZL1's impressive 10-speed automatic, Ford's aging 6-speed auto felt slow and antiquated. But the overarching performance wasn't as intimidating as the 650-hp ZL1. I could get aggressive with the Mustang's gas pedal in a way that the Camaro wouldn't tolerate, and for that reason I wore a far bigger smile after my drive in the Ford than I did after the far lengthier drive in the ZL1.
2017 Chevrolet Camaro 2-door Coupe ZL1 Instrument ClusterEnlarge Photo
2017 Chevrolet Camaro 2-door Coupe ZL1 Front SeatsEnlarge Photo
2017 Chevrolet Camaro 2-door Coupe ZL1 DashboardEnlarge Photo
This is not me saying that the least-enthusiastic Mustang GT is somehow better than the most powerful Chevrolet Camaro to leave the factory, so much as it is an acknowledgment that the ZL1's performance envelope is too high for this particular mortal to freely enjoy. I'd be singing the same tune here whether Enterprise gave me a Camaro SS or everyone's favorite fat kid, a Dodge Challenger. The bottom line is that for the vast majority of drivers, approachable performance is always going to be more enjoyable than stunning statistics, and that's the case here.
The ZL1 is such a serious performer, such an impressive piece of engineering, that it's hard to enjoy or appreciate outside the unrestricted confines of a race track or drag strip. If that's an environment you regularly find yourself in, then pick up a ZL1—it's a hell of a car. But if you're doing virtually anything else, be it commuting, attacking the occasional twisty road, looking for a weekend toy, or simply trying to avoid routine police encounters while enjoying the roar of a V-8, a less powerful Camaro SS will satisfy more often and more immediately than this 650-hp monster. Of course, if you're at the other end of the spectrum and find even the ZL1 to be too soft, Chevy has just added an even more hardcore ZL1 1LE.