What's this? Looks like a Chevy Camaro...
It is. But look a little closer. This is no ordinary Camaro. This is the Z/28 version making an appearance in the fifth generation car's line-up for the first time. The name, a bit like the Z06 code used for hopped up Corvettes, has its roots in internal GM production codes. The Camaro Super Sport (SS) package was known as the Z/27. So, as the new car was even more extreme, it was known as the Z/28. And the name has stuck ever since.
First drive: the Chevy Camaro Z/28
General Motors are on a roll… Pat Devereux drives the latest track-day weapon from across the pond
Where does it fit in the Camaro range?
It's not the most powerful model - the 580bhp supercharged, 300lb heavier ZL1 has that honour. But it's definitely the most track focused. Where the ZL1 is designed to blow away the competition on the street, the Z/28 has been stripped of all equipment not designed to help it post a better lap time. As Chevy puts it: ‘we took out everything that didn't make it go faster, or was required by law'.
So what's left?
The motor is a cold air-breathing LS7 V8 borrowed from the previous C6 generation Corvette, but with some weight-saving mods that make it 28.9kg lighter. These changes include titanium valves and con rods, Mahle pistons and a dry sump system, to keep the oil flowing around the engine even when cornering hard, similar to that used in the Z51 Corvette. Power is a solid 505bhp (376kW) and peak torque is a chunky 481lb-ft (652Nm).
To make sure it maintains that power level, the engine oil is cooled by a liquid-to-liquid heat exchanger, which borrows heavily from the one on the Corvette ZR1. The transmission and diff are cooled by another system that is similar to the unit in the Camaro ZL1. Ensuring as much of the power is transferred to the rear wheel, and the car behaves itself into, through and out of the corner, there is a specially tuned helical limited slip in the mix, too.
Sounding OK so far. Is that it?
Nope - that's just the beginning. There are three other main areas where the Z/28's spec sheet shouts that this is a special car. The first is the suspension. This uses DSSV dampers - as used on the Aston One-77 and Ferrari 458 Challenge cars - which, to save you the long technical description, allow fully independent tuning of compression and rebound damping and are several times more accurate in their actions than traditional dampers.
The second is the carbon ceramic brakes. I know they are nothing new, but these 394mm front and 390mm rear two-piece rotors have a power and endurance unlike anything this side of a racecar. They have the power to bring you to an almost instant stop and the feel to get you all the way to a corner's apex with the front tyres on the very edge of adhesion.
But some of the credit for this last point is the third area of improvement - the 305/30 - ZR19 Pirelli Troefo R tyres all round. Yes, that's right, it's got the same sized tyres on the front as the back. (Pub fact: they are the widest fronts fitted on any production car. The SRT Vipers are 295s.) And they are superb.
Apart from weighing a good 6kg less per corner than standard rubber, they also appear to be made of hard-wearing glue. They stick fantastically yet didn't show undue signs of wear despite 30+ high-speed laps of the track.
OK, that's all the mechanical stuff. Anything else?
The aero has been fiddled with. Thanks to a lantern-jawed front splitter, bonnet and rocker cover vents, a rear spoiler with an extra attachable lip and a few other trinkets, the Z/28 not only gets rid of all lift, it generates 150lb of downforce, too. The front Chevy bowtie logo on the grille has also been hollowed out to optimize airflow.
And the suspension has had a root and branch overhaul, to make the most of all the above changes. Highlights include: front springs that are 85 per cent stiffer than a Camaro SS's, rears are 65 per cent harder. Rear suspension bushings which are 25 per cent stiffer and fronts 50 per cent less flexible to give more steering feel.
Showing the thorough job the team did of ‘lightweighting' the Z/28, the rear seat doesn't have a frame to save weight, the rear glass is 0.3mm thinner than standard stuff, and the 12.9kg air conditioning system is only added as an option.
What's it like to drive?
On the road, it's noisy - all the sound deadening has been removed to save weight - and the huge tyres follow every bump and lump in the road, so you constantly have to correct it. The ride is very firm almost to the point of being occasionally uncomfortable. And there's nothing in the cabin to make it feel like a $75k car.
On the track it's a revelation. You forget all about the noise as you are staring in mild disbelief on what's happening the other side of the windscreen. The tyres, which felt fidgety on the road, come quickly up to temp and sink their treads deep into the track giving almost slick-like levels of grip and feel in the turns. You can keep feeding lock into them while hard on the power and they just do not come unstuck or start pushing until way past any reasonable point.
You can also carry an almost absurd amount of speed into and through corners. The Camaro engineers call the Z/28 a momentum car, a phrase that's usually reserved for cars with more grip than power. But the Z/28 has tons of grip and tons of power, too. Plus suspension that will mop up huge kerbing like it's not there.
It's also got one of the best selectable chassis control systems we've ever used. The five-step Performance Traction Management set-up starts with full safety nets in position 1, then allows you to progressively disable the traction and stability as your courage grows. It's also got a Flying Car Mode, to stop the traction control system engaging while the car is airborne. So it's a monster, but it's a clever and benign one.
And one that doesn't get worn out easily. After 30 high-speed laps of Barber Motorsports Park, the car was totally fine. It needed more fuel but the brakes, tyres, engine were warm but still working perfectly. I can't remember that ever happening before.
So should I buy one?
If you are thinking it would be cool to drive one as a daily driver, don't. The ZL1 is a far, far better road car with more grunt, comfort and general civility. Plus it's cheaper and more powerful. But if you want a car you can drive to track days and blow the doors off almost everything else, yes, the Z/28 is absolutely the car for you.
First the excellent C7 Corvette and now the unexpectedly fine Camaro Z/28 - we don't know what GM is putting in its tea, but let's hope they don't run out anytime soon.
7,008cc, 8cyl, RWD, 505bhp, 652Nm, N/A mpg, N/A g/km, 0-60mph 4.5secs (est), 180mph (est), 1,732kg (with air con delete option)