After its shock reveal at the New York auto show, the 2014 Chevy Camaro Z/28 stands as one of the most anticipated machines of the year. GM promised new heights of performance, and an unrelenting dedication to make the car worthy of its legendary name, and challenge some of the world's best. We got the chance to take a Z/28 deep dive at GM's Milford Proving Grounds, and ride shotgun in one of its development mules on the venue's test track. Is it everything that was promised?
Let's start with the "shotgun" part: Chevy wouldn't let us drive the machines because the engineers haven't finished all the final calibrations. Our time behind the wheel will occur nearer to the proposed sale date, late in the first quarter of next year. So I'll start by saying that riding in the passenger seat does not give you a clear perspective. You cannot make a definitive judgement, nor should you when the car's still being worked on. But it does gives us a sense of what the car can do, and if that sense is correct, Camaro fans are in for something quite special.
I've spent plenty of time tracking the Camaro ZL1 and 1LE, as well as Ford's muscular competitors like the GT500 and Boss 302 Laguna Seca, including in a back-to-back comparison test. From a handling perspective, the Camaros are far superior, and faster. So it goes without saying that Chevy has a rather incredible platform to create the Z/28. But don't for one moment think that this car has only a few mechanical changes from the plain Camaro
No, the Z/28 is different. It's completely reinvented, featuring Multimatic DSSV shocks (the very same Multimatic that supplies Red Bull's dominating F1 team), monster Brembo carbon-ceramic brakes as standard, Pirelli Trofeo R tires that were originally developed for use in one of Porsche's amateur racing series in Europe, and front-splitter, side sills and rear wing that produce 440 lbs. more downforce than the Camaro SS. The engine, GM's naturally-aspirated LS7 featuring 505 hp and 481 lb.-ft. of torque, comes meshed to a Torsen limited-slip differential. It's lowered 33mm and close to 100 lbs. lighter
It doesn't even come with air conditioning.
The evidence of an all-out performer arrived via the car's 7 minute 37.40 second lap time around the infamous Nurburgring. That's faster than a Porsche 911 Carrera S and Lamborghini Murcielago, but was set in the rain. Chevy estimates that the car could pull a 7 minute 31 second lap. "We want to be in conversation with the Porsche 911 GT3 and Nissan GTR," said Al Oppenheiser, Camaro chief engineer. "We've ran much faster times than what we've posted," he continued, stating that you cannot video normal testing runs due to the privacy of other OEM's vehicles on track, leaving just a brief 15 minute window to record attempts.
At GM's mini-Ring test track in Milford, Mich., the team has run all of Ford's heavy hitters. The Z/28 lapped the track in 1 minute, 53.71 seconds. The Boss 302 Laguna Seca: 1:59.05. And the Boss is faster than the GT500. The Z/28 is even three seconds faster than the Camaro ZL1. Below is a video of that test, released by Chevy.
From within the passenger seat of the camouflaged test car, and despite our lap time being slower than the car's Milford record, the grip feels astonishing. The Z/28 produces race car-like downforce in the high speed turns, and power is perfectly proportionate to the cornering speed. The balance, too, is exceptional. My driver appeared timid in the slow speed turns, leaving some time on the table. But despite the car being capable of more, I was highly impressed.
But let's not forget the tire equation here: Mark Stielow, Camaro performance manager, even said the Pirelli rubber "really helped us get our lap time." While no one would offer me a percentage indicating how much of the newfound speed is from the tires, my guess is a lot — although I won't negate the other aspects from doing their part to contribute. You can see the picture of the tires equipped, and it's clear these are no ordinary street tire. If it rained, expect to crash.
Until we get our chance behind the wheel, it's hard to truly unravel what we're dealing with. And even then, deciphering pure grip from the tires versus performance from the car will be tough. But regardless, Chevy set out to produce the ultimate performing muscle car, and all signs says that's what it achieved. In fact, you can't really call the Z/28 a muscle car. It's a thoroughbred sports car.
When it goes on sale, expect prices to be more than the $55,055 base price for the Camaro ZL1. And don't expect it to be a vehicle for the masses: "It's not for everyone," Oppenheiser said. "It's a lot to handle. We want people to drive these cars to the track, smoke everyone, and drive it home." But Chevy admitted driving home would not be as comfortable as cruising in the ZL1. "Surprisingly, the soft tires do help with ride comfort," I was later told. "It's not as bad as you might think."
I can't wait to find out from the driver's seat, but for now, Chevy continues to take the pony wars by storm — at least until December, when Ford finally lets the new Mustang out of the corral.