2012 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 - FROM $54,095
For tire-burning power and Hollywood flash, it doesn't get much better than the 2012 Chevrolet Camaro.
What's New for 2012
For 2012, the Chevrolet Camaro sees a number of improvements. The V6 versions get more power, the SS coupe gets a revised sport suspension, a rearview camera becomes available and all Camaros benefit from an interior with much-needed upgrades. The new Camaro ZL1 also debuts this year, resurrecting a legendary name and providing pavement-ripping performance by way of a supercharged V8.
The big news for the 2012 Chevrolet Camaro will be burnouts -- lots and lots of burnouts. Oh, right, the new-generation Camaro is already known for that. But this year that pastime of high school kids and muscle car buffs rips to an all-new level with the introduction of the ZL1 trim level. The new Camaro ZL1 is a fitting homage to the legendary ZL1 high-performance engine option for the 1969 Camaro that was favored among acceleration addicts and bench-racing braggarts.
The new 2012 Camaro ZL1 comes with a variant of the supercharged 6.2-liter V8 found in the Cadillac CTS-V and Corvette ZR1. Here it cranks out 580 horsepower, making the 2012 ZL1 the quickest, fastest and most capable Camaro ever. The ZL1 also boasts other unique upgrades, including adaptive suspension dampers, Brembo brakes, a dual-mode exhaust, massive performance tires and a sportier steering wheel.
Although not as glamorous as the mighty ZL1, other Camaro trims get notable updates for 2012. Among them are a more powerful V6 model, a somewhat nicer cabin (including a revised instrument panel and a new steering wheel) and an available rearview camera. Other changes include a revised suspension for the SS coupe that promises more athletic handling, while all Camaros get last year's "RS" style taillights (darker lenses with chrome trim) and a rear spoiler as standard. Since the Camaro debuted back in 1967, there's a special 45th Anniversary package to commemorate the milestone.
That said, there are still a few issues that impact the Camaro's daily usability. For one, the Camaro is just hard to see out of. This year's rearview camera helps for parking, but the Camaro's thick pillars and low-profile windows still make it difficult to park and even tough to place while cornering at speed. And while backseat comfort is never a prime concern for a coupe, the Camaro's the worst among muscle cars. In contrast, the Ford Mustang is the most complete and well-rounded muscle car to drive, while the larger Dodge Challenger remains the most accommodating and easy to live with.
Still, there's no denying the visceral appeal of the Camaro. If you like its looks and love tire-spinning performance, the 2012 Chevrolet Camaro will more than deliver the goods.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2012 Chevy Camaro is a four-seat coupe or convertible available in V6-powered 1LS and 2LS (coupe only), 1LT and 2LT trim levels, and V8-powered 1SS and 2SS trim levels. This year marks the debut of the ultra-performance ZL1, which comes packing a supercharged V8.
Standard equipment on the 1LS includes black 18-inch steel wheels, automatic headlights, cruise control, keyless entry, air-conditioning, four-way manual front seats with power recline, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, Bluetooth, OnStar and a six-speaker sound system with a CD player, auxiliary audio jack and satellite radio. The 2LS is essentially just the 1LS with an automatic (versus manual) transmission.
The 1LT adds 18-inch alloy wheels, foglamps and eight-way power seats. The Convenience and Connectivity package adds to the 1LT remote ignition (automatic only), an iPod interface and a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls. The 2LT includes those items plus 19-inch alloy wheels, heated mirrors, auto-dimming rearview and driver-side mirrors, extra gauges, a head-up display, rear park assist, a rearview camera (with a rearview mirror display), heated front seats, leather upholstery and a nine-speaker Boston Acoustics sound system (available separately on 1LT).
The 1SS is equipped similarly to the 1LT but adds a V8, 20-inch wheels, a sport-tuned suspension and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. The 2SS essentially features the 1SS's performance bits with the 2LT's convenience and luxury features.
The ZL1 is equipped similarly to the 2SS but adds ultra-performance upgrades in the form of a supercharged V8, massive Brembo brakes, four-mode stability/traction control, active "Magnetic Ride Control" suspension dampers, unique 20-inch wheels (with Goodyear Eagle F1 tires) and retuned power steering. Exterior styling features a functional carbon-fiber air extractor for the hood as well as unique front and rear fascias. Inside are microfiber suedelike upholstery, red accent stitching and a smaller, flat-bottomed steering wheel.
The RS package (available on all trims but the LS and ZL1) adds 20-inch wheels and xenon headlights. A sunroof is optional on all coupes but the LS, while a variety of exterior stripes and trim items are available across the board.
There is also the 45th Anniversary package available on 2LT and 2SS trims that includes Carbon Flash paint with red/charcoal stripes, unique 20-inch wheels, black leather upholstery with accent stitching and of course the requisite badges and embroidered logos.
In addition to a soft top that powers down in about 20 seconds, all convertible versions also come standard with rear park assist (includes rearview camera).
Powertrains and Performance
The 2012 Chevrolet Camaro LS and LT come with an updated 3.6-liter V6 this year that's good for 323 hp and 278 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed manual transmission is standard and a six-speed automatic is optional. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 19 mpg city/30 mpg highway and 22 mpg combined with the automatic, with the manual good for 2 fewer mpg across the board.
The Camaro SS gets a 6.2-liter V8 that produces 426 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque with the standard six-speed manual and 400 hp and 410 lb-ft with the six-speed automatic. With the manual, the SS hits 60 mph in 5 seconds. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 16 mpg city/24 mpg highway and 19 mpg with the manual. The automatic is only slightly less fuel-efficient at 15/24/18, thanks to less engine power as well as cylinder-deactivation technology.
The Camaro ZL1 boasts a supercharged 6.2-liter V8 with 580 hp and 556 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed manual transmission is standard, with a six-speed automatic optional. Though we have yet to track test the ZL1, performance estimates put the 0-60-mph dash and the quarter-mile times in the low 4-second and low-12 second ranges, respectively. Fuel mileage estimates stand at 14 mpg city/19 mpg highway.
Every 2012 Chevy Camaro comes standard with antilock disc brakes, stability control, front-seat side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags and OnStar.
In government crash tests, the Camaro earned a top five-star rating overall, with five stars for overall front-crash protection and five stars for overall side-impact protection. In Edmunds brake testing, both Camaro V6 and V8 coupes with 20-inch wheels came to a stop from 60 mph in an excellent 111 feet.
Interior Design and Special Features
Muscle cars have traditionally had bland interiors, but the Camaro laudably mixes retro touches like square gauge hoods and the available four-pack of auxiliary gauges with a modern dash design. The execution is marred somewhat by the presence of too much hard, cheap plastic. But this year there are soft-touch inserts for the dash and, more importantly, the 2012 Camaro has a new steering wheel that's much more ergonomic and comfortable to grip than last year's.
Visibility has always been a significant issue in the new Camaro as well, as the low-profile windows and thick roof pillars make this car difficult to park, much less corner at high speed. Meanwhile, the Camaro's backseat is the smallest in its class and doesn't fold down to expand trunk space (though there is a pass-through). The trunk's 11.3-cubic-foot (10.2 cubes in the convertible) capacity is respectable, but its opening is so comically small that loading longer items is an exercise in futility -- golfers be warned.
Whether you choose the vigorous V6 or one of the tire-shredding V8s, no one will ever accuse your 2012 Chevrolet Camaro of being slow. The Camaro also displays impressive amounts of cornering grip, communicative steering and a refined suspension that makes this generation of GM's classic sport coupe (and convertible) exponentially more talented around corners than any Camaro that has come before.
The storming ZL1, however, is simply astounding -- not only in its ability to catapult itself from a stop or rocket up an on-ramp with supercar-level thrust, but also in its refined handling and ride characteristics. The adjustable suspension and stability control systems allow a wide range of settings, and along with the other ZL1 chassis upgrades, allow anything from a comfortable ride over broken pavement during the daily commute to a nailed-down-to-the-asphalt attitude with eager, crisp turn-in and powerful yet smooth corner exits during a track-day event. Make no mistake, the ZL1 is not simply an SS with more motor, but rather a Camaro stocked with GM's latest and greatest powertrain and suspension technology to provide world-class overall performance capabilities.
That all said, due to its subpar outward visibility that sometimes makes it hard to judge when pushing hard on a twisty road, the Camaro drives like a big car, not a small one. The car's substantial weight doesn't help matters either. And this has as much impact on daily driving as it does on the drives you take for fun. Nevertheless, the Camaro is actually quite civilized around town, with a comfortable ride and minimal wind and road noise.