It would be fair to say there’s an engrained opinion within motoring journalist circles, at least, those outside of the USA, that American cars simply don’t go terribly well around the sort of corners which make up motoring journalist circles. In fact the word ‘sportscar’ rarely appear in reviews of American vehicles, they are routinely substituted for the expression ‘muscle car’ in a knowing manner, understood by the reader to mean; “Yes folks, we know it’s American, has two seats, lots of power and looks as sharp as the TransAmerica building in San Francisco, but if we call it a sportscar you’ll laugh at us, so let’s all just agree it’s a big ol’ muscle car and is only good for drag racing”.
Sadly American interstate highway and grid system driving didn’t call for high speed handling as a feature of US muscle, so their designers continued to bolt in bigger and bigger V8s, while the rest of the world went out and bought European and Japanese sportscars instead because, after all, our twisty roads meant we understood corners, right? I too am guilty as charged. Yes I held the same opinion, and yes I carried it around with me as a prejudice, having never really experienced what I would truly call sportscar tendencies embodied in a US built vehicle… until now.
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I suspect the good men and women of Chevrolet have frankly grown rather tired of hearing the same old ‘no good in corners’ adage and some time ago, decided to pull the rug from under the feet of us clichéd journalists. That’s both feet simultaneously, to ensure we fall flat on our faces, thanks to both the Camaro ZL1 and Corvette ZR1 which arrived kicking, screaming and tyres smoking from left field — but always under full control.
The beauty for me of driving these cars at the Dubai Autodrome was not just my familiarity with the circuit but also of having a back catalogue of former test drives against which I could make comparisons. So it was that as I set off in the Camaro ZL1, with its ‘mere’ 6.2-litre supercharged V8 LT4 engine churning 650 horsepower and neatly matching 650 foot lbs (881Nm) of torque, I was thinking to myself “OK I’ve seen all the hype, but am I in for a disappointment?”. I was not.
With an experienced racer in the lead car we were told to ‘keep up’ and in order to do so, I was flinging that Camaro through corners with abandon within seconds. Not once did the car feel as though it was going to throw me off the track, and as my confidence increased, so did the speeds. The car’s brakes match its brawn so I was able to drive the Camaro the way any sportscar should be driven on a circuit, i.e. fast and hard, but the few brief laps were over all too quickly. Happily though, as I stepped out of the Camaro, it passed the final test which is that I wanted to climb straight back in and go round again.
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Fortunately I had the 755 horsepower Corvette ZR1 on hand to distract my attention; the fastest Corvette ever built and one which has regularly been breaking track records around the US during testing. My laps in the Camaro had raised my expectations of what the Corvette might bring to the party, but still I was shocked at just how capable it proved. If I was flinging the former through corners, I guess I was catapulting the Corvette; that’s ‘aircraft carrier catapult’, not the child’s toy variety. I’ll say it here and now; tear up the history books, the Corvette ZR1 is one phenomenal car on a race track. Again the brakes are spectacular — that’s what happens when you buy them from Brembo — which is always good to know, but what really impresses is the car’s astonishing cornering ability. The suspension is set up beautifully, it’s not particularly jarring yet is firm enough to ensure negligible body roll and the steering is perfectly weighted; absolutely nothing was distracting me from concentrating on driving the racing line as fast as I could possibly handle.
All this hardware is matched to a superbly programmed traction control system which, even when it’s working hard, is so unobtrusive it will safely lull the driver into believing he’s a lot better than he really is. I was surprised when reviewing the on board camera telemetry, just how frequently the traction control had been working, not because I’m under any illusions about my driving skills, but because I’d barely noticed it doing so, out on the track. When the software’s that well attuned to the car’s performance, great things happen out on a circuit.
All of which means that both the Camaro ZL1 and Corvette ZR1 can undoubtedly be referred to as sportscars; no need to whisper it, to obscure the comment with a nervous laugh, or to mention it quietly behind closed doors. Nope, Chevrolet may have just helped automotive journalism turn a corner. And at very high speed.