As you would expect, the questions surrounding a Z/28 model have been flooding in since we first heard the Camaro nameplate would be making a comeback. But Oppenheiser was saving the best for last, saying this actually is the car "no one expects." Through all these years, he had been telling owners, fan-boys and the media that the Z/28 name – "a haloed moniker" – would be reserved for the most hardcore Camaro available.
So, to show us exactly how serious this new Z/28 package is, Chevy invited us out to GM's Milford Proving Grounds for a proper deep dive. And instead of just telling us what the new top-dog Camaro can do, we buckled into the passenger seat of the very car that recently set a 7:37.47 Nürburgring lap time – with the very driver that set the time as our pilot – and stormed the 2.9-mile Milford Road Course.
We've waited a long time to finally greet the Z/28. And boy, has the wait been worth it.
The key thing to keep in mind about the 2014 Camaro Z/28 is that it isn't just another crosstown rival for the Ford Mustang. Sure, the 1LE and Boss 302 are perfectly matched for a fight, and heavyweights ZL1 and Shelby GT500 equally so, but really, there isn't a clear competitor from Ford or even Chrysler for this even more extreme Z/28. (At least, not yet.) Chevy is dead set on venturing off into the land of the Nissan GT-R and Porsche 911 GT3 with its track-focused Z/28, and firmly states that this car is not to be treated as a daily driver. To that end, Chevy is extending the factory warranty on the Z/28 to include track use – the company stands behind the full performance capabilities of this car.
This isn't just another crosstown rival for the Ford Mustang.
Z/28 models are based off of the refreshed 2014 Camaro, using the slightly redesigned front and rear fascias. But even though this is a higher-end model, the base headlamps and taillamps have been fitted to save weight and reduce cost. In fact, massive weight savings have been applied to the Z/28. Chevy has taken out everything that wasn't a legal necessity or didn't improve performance. Of course, the larger V8 engine adds some heft, as do added bits of aero and the higher caliber chassis, suspension, braking and wheel/tire components. The end result, however, is a Camaro that weighs 3,837 pounds – some 300 pounds less than a ZL1 coupe – and has enough added aero to produce 440 pounds of downforce at 150 miles per hour. The functional aerodynamic enhancements include a front splitter, large rear spoiler, hood vent, reshaped rockers and Gurney lip fender flares.
Compared again to the ZL1, the Z/28 is less powerful, but as we've learned before, engine output isn't everything. Surely, no one will complain about the Z/28's naturally aspirated 7.0-liter V8, officially rated at 505 horsepower at 6,100 rpm and 481 pound-feet of torque at 4,800 rpm. Yes, you could argue that that using GM's supercharged 6.2-liter LSA V8 from the ZL1 and Cadillac's V models would have been a good choice, but simply put, the Bowling Green-assembled LS7, which was also used by the last-generation Corvette Z06, weighs less and still absolutely rocks.
A few tweaks were made to the LS7 during Z/28 development. Pankl titanium connecting rods were added, as well as Mahle pistons, and a revised air intake with K&N cold-air induction and exhaust headers. The 505-hp rating may be the same as the LS7-powered Corvette Z06, but the extra massaging here in the Camaro is what yielded the 481 lb-ft number – 11 more torques than in the 'Vette. The only transmission available is a Tremec TR6060 six-speed manual, with close-ratio gearing and a 3.91 final drive ratio – up from 3.45 in the Camaro SS.
The Z/28's 7.0-liter V8 is officially rated at 505 horsepower and 481 pound-feet of torque.
More than 190 of the Z/28's parts are unique, with each one focused on solely making this thing the most capable track car in the Camaro lineup. In addition to the LS7 tweaks, the Z/28 marks the first application of a dry sump lubrication system in a Camaro, designed to better handle frequent high revving and the higher g-forces of the Z/28's improved cornering ability. Of course, things get super hot under extreme driving conditions, so to keep it all in check, there's a liquid-to-liquid cooling system for the engine oil (identical to the system used in the Corvette ZR1), and the transmission and differential are kept cool with a high-capacity liquid-to-air system that's similar to what Chevy uses in the Camaro ZL1.
To keep everything steady, Chevy has fitted a beefier Torsen helical limited-slip differential, which we're told cuts lap times on the Milford Road Course by 0.7 seconds. This improved setup is specifically designed to optimize track performance, with built-in programming for corner entry, mid-point and exit. Naturally, higher-quality stoppers were fitted: lightweight, carbon ceramic brakes at all four corners. Up front, the big rotors measure 15.5 inches with fixed, six-piston calipers (in an asymmetric layout for improved clamp-force distribution), and at the back, large 15.4-inch rotors are used with four-piston fixed calipers.
Those brakes are nestled behind lightweight 19-inch alloy wheels all around, wrapped in ultra-sticky (and ultra-meaty) 305/30ZR19 Pirelli Trofeo R tires. Yes, larger 20-inch wheels are available throughout the Camaro line, but not here on the Z/28 – the 19s save 50 pounds of weight and lower the car's center of gravity by 33 millimeters, which improves overall handling.
The Camaro Z/28 marks the first mainstream application of the DSSV dampers.
Perhaps most importantly, the suspension has been heavily reworked, with springs that are 85-percent stiffer up front and 65-percent stiffer in the rear, optimized for the new Multimatic DSSV (Dynamic Suspensions Spool Valve) dampers. These state-of-the-art dampers were first pioneered in the Champ Car series in 2002, and to this day are used in Formula One by Red Bull Racing. DSSV dampers are also found in DTM, Formula 3 and the Ferrari 458 Challenge, and were installed as factory equipment on the Aston Martin One-77. The Camaro Z/28 marks the first mainstream application of the DSSV dampers.
Beyond that, a whole host of suspension components have been stiffened, including the lower trailing-link bushings at the rear, the lower-arm link bushings up front (to improve steering feel), and rear upper control arm bushings that are a full 400-percent stiffer. Chevy says this last part is so the car can cope with maximum lateral cornering forces of 1.08 Gs.
Simply put, the Z/28 is the most muscular modern Camaro yet, and the Milford Road Course was designed to flex every last component that makes up this crazy coupe. Around the MRC, Chevy's engineers have recorded a time of 1:53.71 in the new Z/28, compared to 1:56.58 in the more powerful ZL1. That seriously quick lap time even bests both the Camaro 1LE and Mustang Boss 302 by more than five seconds, and beats the Shelby GT500 by over six seconds.
Around the MRC, Chevy's engineers have recorded a time of 1:53.71 in the Z/28.
Our experience in the passenger seat of the silver Z/28 was brief – just two quick laps around the MRC – but we can already tell that this car is capable of some absolutely wonderful things. First of all, it makes a fantastic noise – a deep, throaty burble that you can hear long after the car is out of sight. But even with our own tame racing driver manhandling the Z/28 at ten-tenths around the road course, the Camaro never seemed to be a handful. It remained flat during corners, absolutely hugged the tarmac, and pulled off mind-rattling cornering forces. Have a look at our hot lap in the video below.
The key takeaway from the Milford drive was seeing just how late the driver could brake before entering each corner, and the speed at which we would enter the turns. On full attack, we were doing over 130 miles per hour entering the high-speed esses and were just a kiss away from 150 mph coming into the very tricky Turn 1 with its decreasing-radius, downhill slope.
We don't have performance data like a 0-60 time or top speed just yet, only because Chevy is still in the development process of the car. Tweaks are still being made, and final numbers are forthcoming. Who knows, maybe a quicker 'Ring time will yet be achieved.
On full attack, we were doing just over 130 mph entering the high-speed esses and were just a kiss away from 150 mph coming into Turn 1.
As we mentioned, the Camaro's interior was largely left alone for the Z/28. Standard Recaro chairs are found up front and nicely hug the driver and passenger to keep them stable during hard turning. Of course, this is still a Camaro, so our normal complaints about poor visibility and not-so-great quality remain intact. Chevy will no doubt have a tough time competing with Porsche in this regard, and the Z/28's cabin isn't exactly worlds better than what Nissan offers in the GT-R, either.
Inside, a lot of components have been removed, including the air conditioning, all of the audio system speakers (except for one), and the gauges affixed to the center console normally found in front of the gearbox – again, to save weight. That said, engineers did confirm that buyers will have the option to leave the A/C and full set of speakers intact. Furthermore, some of the material has been removed from the rear seats, even though Chevy still kept the four-passenger seating configuration intact. (Nissan, for example, removes the GT-R's rear seats on the Track Edition model.)
Production of the Z/28 starts in the first quarter of 2014, with sales anticipated to start sometime before Q2. Pricing has not been announced, and executives wouldn't even hint at possible starting MSRPs. That said, Chevy is fully expecting the Z/28 to be a low-volume car, only selling at about half the rate of the ZL1. The company would like to sell maybe 3,000 to 4,000 Z/28 models over the next two years.
So, who's the target customer? It can't really be driven every day (again, Chevy flat out told us that it shouldn't be), and a more powerful ZL1 offers better refinement and more creature comforts. Ideally, private track users will be the folks stepping up to the Z/28 plate, and we'll be curious to see if would-be 911 or GT-R owners give the American bad boy a try. No doubt, Camaro enthusiasts will surely pick up a few on their own, and we'll be watching the sales numbers closely.
Chevy is fully expecting the Z/28 to be a low-volume car, only selling at about half the rate of the ZL1.
Regardless, we're just thrilled to finally see the Z/28 back on the street. It's been a long-time coming, and it looks to be a truly remarkable feat of engineering for the Chevy performance team. This is a bona fide track weapon, and we can't wait to get our first drive of this vicious Camaro. We'll be waiting...