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Camaro Z/28 vs BMW M6 vs Nissan GT-R

  1. Zee, not zed. Let’s at least get that straight. And while we’re at it, Cam-aero, not Cam-ahro. Trying to inflict Brit pronunciations on this particular Chevy (emphatically not a Chevrolet) is like hearing Americans trying to wring their mouths around ‘Buh-keeng-haim Pal-laice’. It just doesn’t sit right.

    But on what level does the Zee-slash-28 sit right in the UK anyway? It hardly fits alongside the Aveo or Orlando, does it? And, in fact, Chevrolet is soon ending its tenure here and shutting up shop, so the Z/28 isn’t here as a brand-building exercise and won’t be available except through import channels. No, it’s here because Top Gear made a fuss.

    Photos: Mark Fagelson  

  2. You can see why we did. The Z/28 isn’t the most powerful Camaro (that’s the supercharged 580bhp ZL1), but it is the most track ready. There’s no carpet in the boot (barely a trace of paint, in fact), aircon is an option, the standard stereo comes with just a solitary speaker and the tyres - well, we’ll come on to the tyres.

    It’s 16ft long, 6ft five wide and weighs 3,820lb (you’ll find translations in the spec panel). It has a 428 cubic inch V8 - oh, alright, that’s a 7.0-litre. It has no yellow-bellied turbos and doesn’t drive through one of those liberal-lovin’ double-clutchers to a chicken-ass 4WD system. It is emphatically not a Porsche 911 rival, which is why we haven’t got one here. Instead, we’ve lined up a BMW M6 and the Nissan GT-R. Europe and the Orient exemplified.

  3. The German coupe has twin turbos and a double-clutch gearbox. The Japanese has all that and four-wheel drive, too. The Z/28 sits at Dunsfold and squints at them from under that hooded brow. It is Clint Eastwood. It sees plenty to sneer at. But those turbos mean both have a power and torque advantage over the Chevy, although the technological overload they carry means they’re heavier, too. And more luxurious. Well, they have more toys to play with - describing the Nissan as a luxury car is like mistaking a ninja for a sumo. A mistake you only make once and not at close range. The BMW, on the other hand, is more of a cruising thing. It has plush leather chairs and a cabin which shows plenty of evidence of ‘design’. The other two clearly thought ‘too much effort’ and went back to either studying the properties of zen traction systems or figuring out when to press ‘stop’ on the cylinder-boring machine.

    So, oddly, it’s the most and least technologically advanced cars that have most in common, that have clearly put driving dynamics at the top of their tick sheets instead of everyday desirability. They have the same track focus.

  4. Stop laughing at the back. The Z/28 is a hardcore track car. In fact, it’s not really intended to drive on the ‘street’. We tried and we’re still shuddering. But here’s the thing - there are a lot of international components in this American powerhouse. The brakes are Italian (carbon-ceramics by Brembo), as are the Pirelli tyres. The Recaros are British, the pistons are German, the titanium conrods are Austrian and the dampers are Canadian… It might not sound like much, but these form the basis of the key changes to the Camaro. The overall 25kg weight saving isn’t much to boast about, but look at the attitude this thing has, the angle of attack in that front splitter, the intent contained in that bonnet bulge and, mainly, observe how the tyres are balder than the US’s national bird.

    Chevy proudly claims that the tyres are “the widest on any production car”. Bless them, but I wasn’t aware that fitting 305-width Trofeo R tyres at either end of the front axle, thus creating a comedy barbell, was something to boast about. In fact, if the 500 miles I’ve driven on the road in it are anything to go by, then Chevy actually intended appalling tramlining, brutal ride and puckering aquaplaning. They are admittedly sticky. Once warm. And dry.

  5. So today, luckily, the Zee Twenny Aight is in its element. Trouble is, so is the GT-R. It’s amazing, this car. Launched more than six years ago, it still looks sharp. The crease at the top of the C-pillar is a masterpiece, while everything that goes on underneath is the product of a precision that’s alien to any other nation. We already know it’s capable of astonishing feats. Against it, the M6 is more generic. We tease the Camaro for being so American, but the BMW is equally inward-looking, content to pace out the miles alongside Audi and Merc.

    But forget the bigger-picture stuff, we begin by lining them up for a gung-ho drag race. Right up the Z/28’s quarter-mile. Sat idling on the start line, what’s apparent is that while the M6 and GT-R emit a constant hiss of electrical whirrs and hums, the Chevy just throbs. You can feel it inside, then feel it rock slightly on the tight springs if you blip the throttle. And you will blip the throttle.

    They’re level for the first, ooh, 10 yards, a red arrowhead of noise and force. I find this surprising, before twigging that the M6 false-started. Slick-shod traction and 4WD were a close match, and then the Nissan just… disappears. Well, The Stig is driving that one. At some stage, the M6 gets full traction, and soon after the Camaro requires a first/second shift. But the Nissan is relentless. Maybe the M6 is faster still above 120mph, maybe. But one thing’s certain, even allowing for the manual gearbox: the Chevy is the slowest. Later, a third-gear roll-on test from 30mph proves it. The Z/28 holds station only until the others get their turbos spinning, at which point they batter into the distance.

  6. This suggests that the Camaro has the worst powertrain. No, it has the least advanced powertrain. But it’s very satisfying to use. There’s nothing likea naturally aspirated unit for instant throttle response, and those lightened pistons and conrods help keep this lump feeling perky if not exactly zingy. It’s a ‘flesh-and-blood’ engine which rumbles and bellows wonderfully, is always predictable, builds in a thunderous crescendo and delivers enough performance.

    The Z28 doesn’t bat an eyelid when it loses the drag race, in fact, it looks unfussed, but I reckon it could use more power. 800bhp ought to do it - the car deserves it. It feels appropriate. The manual gearbox is fun, too. A proper meaty, short shift that can’t be flicked around, but feels like itcan cope with whatever the V8 throws at it.

    This isn’t to say that there’s no charm in the hi-tech workings of the other two - it’s a cliché that the Nissan GT-R is a digital experience with no analogue feel. It’s also completely wrong, as anyone who has experienced a full-house launch in it will attest. The diffs clank, the tyres scrabble and the steering twitches… and that’s just in a straight line. The criticism would better be phrased by accusing the Nissan of being one-dimensional. It channels its force more accurately and single-mindedly than perhaps any other car, andlives for one thing - the acquisition and retention of speed.

  7. The GT-R is wheeled addiction: you get a hit and, if you’re sensible, resist going back for another, bigger one. A tough ask. It has remarkable capabilities. No car this big and heavy should be this agile, this sharp, this responsive or this eyeball-rippingly fast. You’re looking at this four-seat, front-engined machine, and I guarantee you’re not thinking it’s mad. But it is. There’s a cornering shot of it somewhere with the rear wheel bent up inside the arch and the opposing front wheel off the ground. The Stig is driving, and it looks like he’s broken it. He hasn’t, it’s begging for more. If it has a weak spot at Dunsfold, it’s the brakes - the only car not equipped with carbon-ceramics. Apart from that, the GT-R is still a total weapon. New dampers have transformed the savage ride.

  8. The BMW is a more languid experience (how could it not be?) - you can dip in and out of it, be as involved as you want. You can surf the mid-range, enjoy the impressive turbo response and bassy, cultured engine note, allow the ‘box to be autonomous and still pile on speed with frightening ease (more frightening than in the GT-R, because it can catch you unawares), or you can really go for it, hear the V8 howl, tense up the suspension and feel the DSG shifts hit home harder than in the Nissan. It’s a tremendously fast car, but I’m not sure what it’s actually trying to achieve. Yes, it’s the only car here that can wear the GT label, but somehow the speed isn’t backed up by the correct driving experience.

  9. It’s a bit lumpen. Not only is it ill at ease on track (that was expected), but you never feel the car is excited about the prospect of going for a drive. It’s too busy trying to be professional and businesslike to have fun. So the steering is ordinary - it feels heavy, almost ponderous, through slow corners and doesn’t have the zest you expect from an M car. It does have one forte, but it’s of no relevance to any owner. It does the most tremendous powerslides. Endless, cloud-creating, joyful skids that make The Stig, well, almost shrug.

  10. You think you know where the Z/28 fits, don’t you? Somewhere in the middle. Wrong. It’s out beyond the Nissan. It’s not faster, of course, but it is loopier. Less willing (and able) to compromise, too. Chevy makes some bold claims for its speed around a track, but Americans love a stat - the press pack is full of them: 1.5g deceleration, 1.08g in corners, more than five seconds faster around some track in America than a Ford Mustang Boss 302. Ignore it all. That all comes as a legacy of those tyres and, to a lesser extent, the brakes. What we care about is how it feels. And the answer to that is very grippy. And then rather snatchy. It has very quick steering and the Trofeo Rs, pressed into the tarmac by the colossal V8, are never going to lose grip before the lighter rear, are they?

  11. The cornering forces are enormous, and when you get to the limit, the tyres break away abruptly. Suddenly you’re fighting it as the chassis bucks, the tyres twitch and the engine pounds and trumpets. This is NASCAR, and I love it. It’s not a clever car - I don’t even think it’s a particularly well-developed one. The traction control has five stages. Even in the grabbiest mode, it appears to have to check with America whether it’s allowed to deploy itself (the use of traction control clearly being an unAmerican activity). The delay can be scary.

  12. The tyres dominate the experience, giving the handling an unsettling edge. And although the chassis is commendably stiff - the brakes are perhaps the best here in terms of power and feel, and the super-tight limited-slip diff delivers exceptional traction - you’re in no doubt that this thing bites. It’s a monster.

    It’s not about speed, surely even Chevy appreciates that. The Porsche GT3 is 12 seconds faster around the Nürburgring, on less aggressive tyres, and the Nissan is undoubtedly the better car. But you’d grow out of the Nissan, in the same way that you’d grow into the BMW. No matter your age, there will always be something captivating about the Z/28.

  13. Partly this has to do with its party tricks - an ability to pull away from a standstill in fourth gear is a good one, and you’ve got to admire a company that’s been so single-minded about turning such a huge car into a track special. The results are both terrible and wonderful. You view the world through a windscreen a foot high and six wide, sat in a dark cabin on a snug seat, gripping an Alcantara wheel and listening to the roaring V8. And it feels good.

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