Although they went through a bit of a rough patch, today’s muscle cars far out-strip their illustrious forebears. For one, the Dodge Challenger Hellcat Redeye delivers 797 hp. And the Ford Mustang GT500 is a rival for the C8 Corvette and even some supercars. But, although it doesn’t sell as well, the Chevrolet Camaro is still a worthy rival to them both. And we’re not just referring to the all-electric 700-hp COPO version. The best muscle car on sale today is, in fact, the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE.
2020 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE specs and features
The Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE didn’t get the updated looks the rest of the 2020 Camaro lineup received. However, that’s because, unlike the other models, the ZL1 1LE’s design leans heavily on functionality. The ‘1LE’ part of the Camaro ZL1 1LE’s name refers to the automaker’s track-focused package. It’s available on other Camaros, including the turbocharged four-cylinder model. But on the ZL1, it’s a bit more extreme.
When it debuted in 2018, the Camaro ZL1 1LE received GM’s first carbon-fiber wing, Car and Driver reports. The muscle car also has functional front dive planes—the whisker-like streaks up front—and air splitter. Plus, the 1LE package adds wider tires, electronic limited-slip differential, stiffer suspension, and Multimatic spool-valve dampers, Car and Driver reports.
These shocks are typically found only on supercars like the Ford GT, or Formula 1 cars, Motor Trend reports. They’re also lighter than the standard magnetorheological dampers. In addition, to achieve additional stiffness, and improve steering feel, there are no rubber bushings in the suspension.
Under the hood, the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE uses the same engine found in the ‘normal’ ZL1. It’s a 6.2-liter supercharged V8 that develops 650 hp and 650 lb-ft, linked to either a 6-speed manual or 10-speed automatic. Although the 1LE doesn’t get more power, it’s 75 pounds lighter than the base ZL1. With the 10-speed, Car and Driver found the Camaro ZL1 1LE goes 0-60 in 3.7 seconds.
What makes the Camaro ZL1 1LE the best muscle car?
As a daily-driver, the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE leaves something to be desired. The interior is fairly cheap-feeling, Road & Track reports, though there are some premium touches. And the Camaro’s design makes it hard to see out the back. Also, the lack of rubber bushings and stiffer suspension mean it rides poorly on the street. MT describes the ride as “brutal.”
But, as with the Porsche Cayman GT4, what the Camaro ZL1 1LE gives up in daily-drivability, it more than makes up for in fun and speed. It was faster in Car and Driver’s Lightning Lap than a Porsche 911 Turbo and Ferrari 488 GTB. R&T calls it “the greatest track car GM has ever made.”
Car and Driver claims the Camaro ZL1 1LE “has the finest-handling, best-steering chassis ever shoved under a pony car.” The steering is extremely accurate and communicative. And the tires never seem to fade, even after repeated laps. That’s why, in a recent Car and Driver comparison, the ZL1 1LE beat out the GT500 and Challenger Redeye. It’s not just fast in a straight line: it’s fast everywhere.
True, in the ¼-mile, the GT500 is slightly faster and has a higher trap speed. However, although it’s about $2000 more expensive, the Camaro ZL1 1LE actually has more standard equipment. It comes with heated and cooled front Recaro sport seats, which are actually more comfortable than the Mustang’s Recaros. It also has navigation, a heated steering wheel, and power seats. Plus, if you option the GT500 Mustang for maximum track performance, you lose its back seat.
Alternative muscle car choices
If you prefer a bit more daily comfort, MT reports the regular Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 is still one of the best muscle cars on the market. It’s also about $7500 cheaper, and even comes in convertible form. And it’s still a Car and Driver Editors’ Choice for the best muscle car.
But not every good muscle car comes from the US. For about $3500 more than the Camaro ZL1 1LE, MT also recommends looking at the Mercedes-AMG C63 S. Its twin-turbocharged 4.0-liter V8 makes 503 hp and 516 lb-ft and can go 0-60 in 3.7 seconds.
The C63 is also a Car and Driver’s Editors’ Choice. To aid handling, it comes with adaptive suspension and electronic limited-slip differential. But, in a step up from the ZL1 1LE, it has a usable back seat, along with leather upholstery and a larger trunk. So, if you want muscle-car grunt in an upscale wrapper, this is the car to get.
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