2012 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Coupe review: Monsters under the bed

2012 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Coupe

2012 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Coupe

When we were young, we played with children’s toys and monsters lived under our beds. Now that we’re grown, we play with big kid toys and monsters live under the hood of the 2012 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1.

And in the case of the Camaro ZL1 we just test drove for a week-long test, the hood has a carbon fiber insert to go with its functional hood hot air exhaust vents. Below the grille is a prominent splitter, sticking out to keep air from building up under the car at high speed and lifting it off the pavement.

Under the front fenders are  wide 285/35ZR20 asymmetrical summer tires and under the rear, wider 305/35ZR20 tires, ditto ditto, along with Magnetic Ride Control shock absorbers that can be switched at the press of a button between a smooth ride and performance handling, which really isn’t all that harsh in every day driving.

Standard on the Camaro ZL1 is Performance Traction Management, a system that allows the driver, with the car stopped, to mash the pedal to the carpet with the clutch depressed, and then let up the clutch with the accelerator still to the floor. The computer takes over and manages the right amount of tire slip for maximum acceleration. PTM is only for the manual transmission, however, and our test ZL1 had the optional six-speed automatic.

2012 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Coupe hood vent

The 2012 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Coupe has functional hood vents to allow the escape of hot air from under the hood. This is what it looks like from the underside. (click to enlarge)

Also under the 2012 Camaro ZL1 are a rear-differential cooler, an integrated engine- and transmission-oil cooler, and brake-cooling ducts as standard equipment, helping to make it truly track ready, more than just a motor.

But didn’t we say monster under the bed? Here’s a monster, a supercharged 6.2L engine is rated at 580 horsepower and 556 lb.-ft. of torque, the most-powerful Camaro ever this side of a speed shop or race car builder.

The 6.2-liter push-rod two-valves-per-cylinder V-8 engine, dubbed LSA in GM-speak, gets boost from a Roots-style blower with four-lobe rotors and compact intercooler between the blower and intake manifold.

This isn’t a quiet monster. The ZL1 has a standard dual-mode exhaust system.  Vacuum-actuated valves in the exhaust pipes keep the exhaust note—to use Chevrolet’s term—“refined” at low speeds. Stomp on the gas pedal, however, and the exhaust system becomes “free-flowing system for peak performance.” Read: loud. Soft pedal it out of the neighborhood. Everyone—and we mean everyone—will know when you misbehave.

Remote start is standard on the 2012 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. We have a good use for it. Stand behind the Camaro, hit the door lock button twice and then hold down the button with the arrow going in a circle. And stand back. “Free-flowing” is startup mode for the exhaust and, well, why should everyone else get the full effect of the LSA’s full-throated idle and not you?

Speaking of sounds, it’s windows down when weather permits, best to enjoy the crackling and popping of the exhaust on the overrun.

That is, of course, the sound of a monster under the hood.

The rage of the machine is something else. Despite more art gum eraser wrapped around the 20-inch wheels than in an art supply warehouse, the traction control system gets a workout. Slow down for cloverleaf ramps? Why? Only if someone is in the way.

But the 2012 Chevrolet Camaro is still a Camaro, which brings along the good and the bad. It’s wide, or at least feels that way, the gun slit windshield and tall hood limiting forward vision. Right rear quarter vision isn’t so much limited but obliterated by the passenger seat backrest and the wide C-pillar. The trunk is big, but the access to it is small.

The gauges are candy colored and a standard-equipment auxiliary gauge pack has four small, no make that tiny faces down at shin level. Perhaps the copilot can bend over to read them.

However, the suede-like material that’s on the steering wheel, shift lever and even on the dash feels and looks good, and the front sport seats are heavily bolstered and microfiber sueded to do a good job of holding driver and front passengers in place. The back seat? It’s hard for a normal adult to get in, sit in and get out.  But who cares and it’s best remember that this is a coupe.