2014 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28 First Test
Light track rocket strips for success
In my early years, I threw together several SCCA race cars, and fearlessly drove them to the races. (A 1978 VW Rabbit gets far better mileage than a Chevy van pulling a trailer, saving money for a poor kid desperate to race.) The 2014 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28 (once again with the proper slash mark), arrives with the same mission, but in the P-51 fighter category, unlike my Sopwith Camels. This low-production special is aimed squarely at the track, and I cannot help but be seduced by something that zeroes in on my life’s passion. Only 1500 are planned per year for two years, and they're pricey at just over $75,000. If demand is there, Chevy will build more, and the world needs more factory hi-performance specials.
Led by chief engineer Al Oppenheiser, the Chevrolet Performance team created the Z/28 and developed it on my all-time favorite circuit, the Nurburgring Nordschleife. Several of the test engineers were at Barber Motorsports Park for the press introduction, and we all spoke the language of racers.
The Camaro is a big car, so it needs a lot of engine. Thus, the Bow Tie dropped in the 505-hp LS7 V-8 from the C6 Z06, in effect a hand-built race engine that uses such techniques as CNC porting of the heads, deck plate honing of the cylinders, ultra-light Pankl titanium rods and valves, and a dry sump. No boost, all motor. Nothing snaps the revs like compression and cubes. Impressive. The 427-cubic-inch monster is paired to an old-school get-real sweet-shifting six-speed manual that routs power through a Z/28-specific Torsen helical differential. Each component is oil-cooled for lap-after-lap endurance.
Walking towards the Camaro, I see negative camber up front. Track alignment, stock. Steamroller front tires, 305 section width, widest of any factory steer tire. And they are Pirelli Trofeo Rs, in their only production application. It’s interesting that Chevy chose the 19-inch size, down an inch from the SS 1LE model, in the best-looking black design I’ve seen. Why? To lower the car more than an inch, without losing suspension travel or disturbing the geometry. The shocks are Multimatic, using unique DSSV spool valves straight from F1. They allow precise control over low- and high-shaft-speed damping. Non-adjustable, so we won’t screw up the meticulous tuning from the ‘Ring. Also fascinating to me is the choice to go with spring rates that are 85 percent stiffer in the nose, 65 percent in the tail, paired with smaller anti-roll bars on both ends.
Less is more on the track, and that guided Z/28 development. Anything that did not make the car faster was deleted. A witty engineer friend calls that “adding lightness.” It’s another reason for losing an inch in wheels and trimming the anti-roll bars. A bonus of the LS7: It’s 64 pounds lighter than the LS3. The diet got crazier: a lighter rear seat (Remove it? Nah, might step on Stingray flippers), excluded sound insulation (can’t hear much with your helmet on anyway), a pound thinner rear glass, and another pound trimmed from the wiring harness. Reminds me of stripping my IT track rat. The seduction continues.
The most beneficial place to add lightness? Rotating mass. Hence, Brembo carbon-ceramic Matrix brakes. The monster brakes are over 15-inches all around, 15.5-inch front, 15.3-inch rear. State-of-the-art stopping power. Costly, but very durable. The rotors should wear down a couple dozen sets of pads. The savings is more than 20 pounds of unsprung, spinning mass. Epic.
But wait, I found some poundage added. Aero tricks. A low, aggressive splitter protrudes up front, and a big rear spoiler and wickerbill extension limits the rear view (“What’s behind you is not important.”). Rockers and wheel-arch extensions with tire deflectors contribute to 150 pounds of downforce at high ‘Ring speeds. The arch pieces keep the look low and make that 19-inch wheel blend nicely.
At the helm on a damp and near-freezing, 35-degree Fahrenheit morning, the muscular pony car was frightening. I was grateful for the five-mode Performance Traction Management (PTM) system. It was the tires. Like a race slick, they really need heat. Cold or wet? Leave the PTM on. Chevy said level 5 is better than a human, but the hero in me liked it best in all-natural, no controls. I am the PTM – once I got tire temp, that is. The Z/28 was so dicey on cold tires, it took me a long time to gain the trust to really lean on those Pirellis.
But when I did, it was golden.
Gushing torque accompanied a glorious, bellowing note from an adjustable exhaust as we blasted from 0-60 in 4.0 flat and through the quarter in 12.3 seconds at 117.2 mph, out-muscling the 1LE M/T tested (4.3 and 12.7 at 111.8, respectively). The rewarding chassis inspired some real North Georgia haul-ass. Huge grip: 1.06 g lateral! The Torsen diff is mostly open at corner entry, helping those 305s aim the big Z for the apex, but hooks up on power. Watch out: The 481 lb-ft of peak torque is realized at 4800, so the rears can break loose way out toward the exit. The six-stick is hefty, slick, and willing, and as I enjoyed it, I couldn’t help thinking cars like this won’t be around much longer. The brakes bite right now, evidenced by a 60-0 stopping distance of only 97 feet. And thank you, lord, the ABS programming is also track-ready, and far superior to the iffy Mustang’s. The Multimatics hit the bulls-eye sweet spot between mush and punish, and it’s fine on the street, too -- for a racer, at least. A back-to-back with the 1LE model revealed eye-opening power and braking advantages to the Z/28. But I love that bargain-brute, too -- so friendly at the limit. Part of that is in the tires. The 1LE’s Goodyear F1s were so predictable; the extreme-grip Trofeo Rs a bit sudden when they slid.
The new Z/28 is an exclusive, no-compromise ponycar for the track. A hands-on driver. Organic, not electronic. Buy it with that in mind, and you’ll be delighted. You won’t mind the way it follows every trough in the pavement, or that air-conditioning is optional; buy that for the pre-grid only. The best Corvettes are still lighter and faster, so you have to want a Camaro, a great one that almost no one else has, with its own unique thrills. At the end of the day, I jumped from an all-wheel-drive Nissan GT-R and Porsche 911 Turbo S to the rear-drive all-American Z/28, and in a slight power-slide as I left the lot, the grin on my face reminded me which one was my favorite.
View OEM photos of the 2014 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28 on the second page of this review.
|2014 Chevrolet Camaro Z/28|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$77,145|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, RWD, 4-pass, 2-door coupe|
|ENGINE||7.0L/505-hp/481-lb-ft OHV 16-valve V-8|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||3858 lb (53/47%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||192.3 x 76.9 x 52.4 in|
|0-60 MPH||4.0 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||12.3 sec @ 117.2 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||97 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||1.06 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||23.6 sec @ 0.84 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||13/19/15 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY||259/177 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS||1.28 lb/mile|