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Car and Driver: First Ride: We Get a Taste of the 2017 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1! (w/Video)

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Getting a surprise sneak preview of the 640-hp 2017 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1—which we did recently during a General Motors media event at Spring Mountain Motorsports Resort in Pahrump, Nevada—made the hair on the back of our necks tingle. But when 1280 horsepower worth of ZL1 development mules fired up under the same roof we were sitting under, well, hearts began to palpitate. But this wasn’t a delusion from taking in too much desert sun. This was real, and we were going for a hot lap in the most powerful production Camaro ever.

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Along with experiencing the ZL1’s visceral excitement at full chat, we’d also be riding shotgun with Mark Reuss, GM’s executive vice president of global product development, who joined GM president Dan Ammann in chauffeuring scribes around Spring Mountain’s track at warp speed. Highly capable wheelmen themselves, Reuss and Ammann were there to show that GM’s senior executives understand  performance and encourage the technical reaches that were baked into the ZL1’s development. With many a hot lap to their credit, including visits to the Nurburgring Nordschleife, these guys know their way around a racetrack.

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The ZL1’s supercharged, 6.2-liter LT4 V-8 sounds angry—really angry—and produced a relentless fury of noise and acceleration. Almost as impressive was that the car we rode in used the ZL1’s new optional 10-speed automatic transmission. You wouldn’t think a car with 640 lb-ft of torque would need 10 gears, but all of those ratios keep the engine’s power band in its happy place all the time. At full throttle, the crackling shifts were quick and forceful, yet never brutal, and the forward momentum kept coming like a locomotive well into triple digits. More importantly, all of that cog-swapping, combined with the ZL1’s electronic limited-slip differential, never seemed to upset the car’s balance under power.

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The big Camaro’s massive brakes and planted chassis also dizzied our senses with negative and lateral g-forces. Reuss wasn’t holding back much, yet the ZL1 remained planted and well behaved on its Magnetic Ride dampers and sticky Goodyear F1 Supercar rubber. There was no apparent looseness under trailbraking or lurid power slides, just an unflappable sense of composure as the car dove into Spring Mountain’s apexes and powered down its straights.

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But that level of control is what Reuss told us to expect before getting in the car: The Camaro ZL1 is “a track hero every day, and an everyday driver.” We’ll have to wait for our own turn behind the wheel to confirm that. But Reuss’s words from the cockpit were more telling of GM’s confidence in the ZL1’s place among high-performance sport coupes: “we’re going to kill it with it.”

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