2013 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Convertible Review: Introduction
There's a group of buyers out there who want to own the King Camaro - the ultimate, accept-no-substitutes, monster machine that puts all past Camaro models to shame and even legitimately challenges more pedigreed sports cars in terms of performance. This Camaro built to reign over us all has a name - the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 - and it's been on sale now for the past two years.
Of course, there are a few ardent Camaro fans who aren't satisfied with owning the King - they need the top to come off, too. Enter the 2013 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 convertible, an open-air version of the exceptionally powerful, supercharged muscle car that would seem to satisfy those who want to experience the bone-crushing acceleration of the ZL1 package while enjoying an tailpipe symphony unfettered by the civilized trappings of a roof.
In many ways, the Chevrolet Camaro ZL2 convertible succeeds in translating the tire-shredding shenanigans of the super coupe to a fun-in-the-sun format. There are a few puzzling concessions that have been made along the way, however, that subtract from the car's capability to put a smile on the face of serious speed freaks.
2013 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Convertible Review: Models and Prices
The 2013 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 convertible is not a cheap date. At a starting MSRP of $61,745, the Camaro ZL1 convertible is already $5,000 more than a Corvette convertible. Yes, it’s substantially more powerful than its in-house rival, but one truly has to be dedicated to the Camaro concept to justify laying out so much cash for the muscle car.
This is underscored by the fact that the Camaro ZL1 convertible doesn't offer the same level of standard equipment as other comparable-priced automobiles. 20-inch rims wrapped in enormous 305 rubber, a power top, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, a heads-up display, heater leather seats up front, Bluetooth integration, a set of auxiliary gauges on the center console under the dash, parking assistance with a rearview camera, power windows and door locks, power adjustable buckets, the Chevrolet MyLink touchscreen interface, and a flat-bottom sport steering wheel are present and accounted for, but almost all of these features hail from the SS trim's list of standard gear, too. Of course, the ZL1 convertible also comes with an impressive array of performance equipment, including massive Brembo brakes, magnetic ride control suspension, and a recalibrated power steering system.
The 2013 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 convertible that I tested included a few optional features, such as micro fiber suede, a six-speed automatic transmission, a carbon fiber hood insert, a navigation system, and a remote starter. This boosted the out-the-door price to $66,270.
2013 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Convertible Review: Design
- The 2013 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 convertible is a completely new model.
The 2013 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 convertible maintains the same hyper-aggressive muscle car styling that can be found on the ZL1 coupe. First and foremost, this means that the ZL1 rag top comes with a functional rear wing, special wind-deflecting body work in front of all four wheels, a road racing-style splitter under its chin, and, on my car, a carbon fiber hood vent that works to expel air from the engine bay and reduce lift. It's more than just looks, as the Camaro actually produces significant downforce when traveling down the highway, as opposed to the lift generated by the stock Camaro SS. One of the side effects of moving all of that air around the car in the most efficient way is that the vehicle also benefits from a reasonably quiet cabin when traveling with the top down.
The 2013 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 convertible's interior - aside from the suede covering on its dashboard, which drew mixed reviews from passengers, and its flat-bottom wheel - really doesn't differentiate itself from the Camaro SS. Yes, you've got ZL1 embroidery on the vehicle's headrests, as well as the appropriate amount of ZL1 badging, but this isn't a luxury 'vert, and that's reflected by the amount of hard plastic that can be found throughout the cabin. I suspect that most buyers will be perfectly happy with this state of affairs, but it might turn off casual fans of the Camaro expecting more premium bounty at the car's lofty price point.
2013 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Convertible Review: Comfort and Cargo
- The 2013 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 loses some trunk space to its coupe counterpart when the top is down.
The 2013 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 convertible is a versatile performance machine when examining it from a daily driver perspective. Although it might not seem like it at first blush, the ZL1 convertible will readily accommodate four average-sized adult passengers on shorter trips, with its rear seats canted to the middle in order to afford an uncluttered outlook through the windshield to those trapped in the windiest part of the car. Up front, the dash curves away from riders to give them a bit more breathing room, although the vehicle's high sides and thick A-pillars contribute to a sensation of being enclosed inside a massive steel beast.
Trunk space isn't really much to write home about with the top open, and one must take care not to present the folding mechanism with any obstacles to crush when opening and closing the roof. That being said, there's still enough room for groceries and small parcels. The top mechanism itself is a bit clunky, as it requires the driver to twist and turn a T-shaped handle to lock and unlock the roof. Unlocking is no problem, but aligning the clamp's teeth with the windshield receptacles can take a few tries. The power roof is also fairly slow to close - something I discovered to my detriment when I attempted to cocoon the car's interior against a sudden dust cloud at the drag strip. Chevrolet claims it takes 20 seconds to open.
2013 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Convertible Review: Features and Controls
- The 2013 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 convertible debuts the MyLink interface.
Given that last year there was no convertible edition of the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1, the fact that 2013's model includes a version of the brand's MyLink vehicle interface is notable addition to the car's features list. MyLink consists of a touchscreen mounted low on the center console, and it houses the vehicle's entertainment, communications, and navigation functions (which are also accessible via voice commands). I've had the chance to experience Chevrolet MyLink in other models as well as while driving the Camaro ZL1, and it works reasonably well, although at times there can be a bit of a lag when pushing on-screen buttons as well as when using its steering wheel controls. One of the more unique features of MyLink is that Chevrolet allows you to customize the menu items that appear on the home screen, and it’s very easy to setup the system to prioritize your most-often-used selections.
Much of the rest of the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 convertible's feature set falls under the standard Camaro banner. This includes all of the switchgear and the car's heads-up display, which doesn't benefit from the same multi-color project used in the Cadillac ATS but rather features the green LED look that matches the Camaro ZL1's center gauge display.
2013 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Convertible Review: Safety and Ratings
- The 2013 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 does not debut any new safety features.
The 2013 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 comes with side curtain airbags front and rear, seat-mounted side impact airbags for the first two occupants, and dual forward airbags. The vehicle additionally features electronic stability control, traction control, and the OnStar system, which can automatically notify emergency personnel in the event of a serious crash.
2013 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Convertible Crash-Test Ratings: The Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Convertible received a five-star rating for crash protection from the NHTSA, which is the highest possible score. It has yet to be rated by the IIHS.
2013 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Convertible Review: Engines and Fuel Economy
- The 2013 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 convertible borrows its drivetrain from the ZL1 coupe.
The 2013 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 convertible's primary draw can be found under its hood: a 6.2-liter supercharged eight-cylinder motor that grinds out an incredible 580 horsepower and 556 lb-ft of torque. Similar to the mill that also inhabits the engine bay of the Cadillac CTS-V sports sedan, the Camaro ZL1 convertible's V-8 can be paired with either a six-speed manual transmission or a six-speed automatic. Rear-wheel drive is of course standard, and fuel mileage for the ZL1 convertible - as if anybody actually cares - checks in at 12-mpg in stop and go driving and 18-mpg on the highway.
2013 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Convertible Review: Driving Impressions
The 2013 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 convertible is all attitude, all of the time. Just in case pedestrians and passersby aren't immediately terrified by the car's demonic appearance, its dual-stage exhaust system emits the kind of cackle that can be heard three states over when its engine is pushed past 3,000 rpm. Take the ZL1 convertible into a tunnel and its tailpipes emit the kind of sound that makes you think you are qualifying at Daytona, with incredibly loud push-rod brilliance reverberating into infinity during full-throttle blasts. The ZL1 convertible's stock exhaust system is the most aurally satisfying of any V-8 car I have ever had the chance to pilot, and a true achievement from the engineers at GM.
Keep a handle on your right foot, however, and despite its track-ready looks the 2013 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 convertible is a surprisingly smooth customer when piloted at reasonable and sane speeds. Thanks to the car's magnetic ride control suspension system, the car's shock absorbers can automatically respond to driving conditions in real-time, which means a soft and comfortable ride even over rough pavement uncompromised by the stiff ratios typically required of performance cars. One could theoretically use the ZL1 convertible as a commuter and not come out any worse the where when arriving at the office in the morning, provided the monthly fuel bill is sent to an undisclosed location and immediately incinerated.
How does this open air muscle machine fare in the types of high speed situations that it was ostensibly designed for? The answer to that question is more of a mixed bag. When comparing the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 convertible to its coupe cousin it quickly becomes clear that the rag top was never intended to be anywhere near as hardcore. First up is the fact that the ZL1 convertible does not come with the trick Performance Traction Management feature that is standard with the fixed-roof model. This is a glaring oversight, given that the vehicle's immense engine output easily overpowers the rear tires when the car's StabiliTrak system is set to 'Competitive Mode,' which, aside from choosing between Sport and Touring for the shocks and steering settings, is the only electronic aide available to help corral all 580 horses.
I took the ZL1 convertible to the drag strip, and my best time for the night was a 13.1 @ 111 miles per hour - a figure that would have been in the high 12 second range had I been able to quell wheel spin off of the line (manual transmission cars come with launch control, but the autobox is left out of that particular party as well). This is a car that was seemingly designed for straight line performance, but the handicap associated with its lack of PTM is a formidable barrier to overcome when shooting for the best possible times.
And then, of course, there's the car's weight. The 2013 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 convertible tips the scales at well over 4,400 lbs, which is over 250 lbs more than the ZL1 coupe. It's also less rigid, and when this is combined with its ponderous mass its makes the car drive much larger than one would expect through the corners. Combine its stupendous power delivery with vestigial stability control available while in 'Performance' mode and you have a recipe for zero confidence at the limit. I'll just come right out and say it: this is a scary car to drive quickly, and it will bite you if you make a mistake. I don't expect a convertible muscle car to handle like a lightweight sports coupe. I must say, however, that I am surprised that GM would cripple the ZL1 by erasing Performance Traction Management when there's so much potential for the car to offer a dual personality as a drag strip terror/comfy boulevard cruiser.
2013 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Convertible Review: Final Thoughts
The 2013 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 convertible is undoubtedly the hairiest open-air version of the muscle car ever built. If you love leaving mile-long twin strips of rubber on the pavement behind you at the drop of the hat, while simultaneously enjoying the best engine sounds to have ever been emitted from an eight-cylinder automobile through a delightfully raucous exhaust system, then you'll be hard pressed to do better than this car. It's also a great option for heading out to a local cruise night with three friends, or even driving into the office on Monday morning - the ZL1 is honestly that comfortable and versatile as a real-world car.
There is a dark side to the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 convertible, however, and while that's part of its appeal it's also a strike against it. If PTM were included with the convertible, then it would be so much more enjoyable to sail down the 1320 or tackle a twisty road. As it stands now, modulating its supercharged engine's formidable power through its automatic transmission comes with a steep learning curve that could very well send less experienced drivers into the ditch, and while its magnetic ride control is a revelation the car's high curb weight and lack of torsional stiffness make S-curves more hair-raising than joyful.
Finally, there's the question of price. To Camaro superfans, it only makes sense that the considerable premium over the SS pays for performance, and not premium gear, but to those shopping other models in the $65,000 range, there are a lot of great choices to be had that combine power, luxury, and handling in the same package. None of them, however, sound anywhere near as good.
2013 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Convertible Review: Pros and Cons
2013 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Convertible Review: Pros and Cons
- Extremely powerful, with excellent acceleration at all engine speeds.
- The best-sounding V-8 exhaust on the market.
- Comfortable for four passengers.
- Aggressive styling attracts tons of attention.
- Very well-mannered in daily driving.
- The ultimate Camaro convertible.
- Expensive for its feature set.
- Lack of PTM is inexcusable for a high end performance car like this one.
- Not easy to launch hard or drive quickly.
- Somewhat slow to close the roof.
GM Canada supplied the vehicle for this review.