The rampaging new HSV Camaro that can shift a house
SMOKE billows from the rear wheels as four fat exhausts cut jet streams through vaporised rubber at Sandown Raceway.
The Melbourne track is a natural habitat for roaring V8s, but today's scene is a little different. The hairy-chested V8 making all the noise is an American Chevrolet Camaro.
In a two-fingered salute to political sensibility - and Ford, which disables the feature in Australian Mustangs - HSV includes an anti-social burnout mode in its US-sourced muscle car.
The new Camaro ZL1 isn't particularly clever but it has far more power than the monsters Peter Brock used to wrestle around the Melbourne circuit.
Meet the spiritual successor to the HSV GTS. Right now, I just want one.
Powered by a supercharged 6.2-litre V8, the Camaro ZL1 sends a gobsmacking 477kW and 881Nm to the rear wheels. Yes, there are a handful of cars with more power but few cost less than $500,000. You could argue the Camaro ZL1 is a $159,990 bargain compared with the 470kW, $428,000 Aston Martin DB11 AMR, or you could quite reasonably suggest that the $70,000 conversion cost added to the Camaro's original $US62,000 asking price is too much to bear. HSV is guaranteed to find enough people who think the former.
Regardless of whether you consider it good value, the ZL1 is stocked with kit.
You get 20-inch wheels wrapped in 285mm-wide front and 305mm-wide rear Continental tyres (track-focused Goodyears in the US don't meet local requirements), enormous six-piston Brembo brake calipers squeezing 390mm front discs, multi-mode magnetically adjustable suspension, bi-modal exhaust and electronic limited-slip differential.
On the inside, heated and ventilated Recaro seats with memory adjustment join a flat-bottom steering wheel trimmed in suede-like microfibre. There are dual-zone climate control and mood lighting in dozens of pretty colours sure to impress mates at the pub.
Not the most polished example (particularly for the price), the Camaro's cabin is comfortable, the seats are supportive and there are plenty of toys.
Safety kit includes eight airbags, forward collision warning and rear cross traffic alert, but not the auto emergency braking, active cruise control or blind spot monitor found in some mainstream hatchbacks. The latter omission is a little troubling, as the Camaro's outward vision is among the most limited you'll find in any new car.
Chevrolet attempted to address that with a camera-based digital display tucked into the rear view mirror but that doesn't change the almost claustrophobic over-the-shoulder vision.
As in HSVs of old, the ZL1's seats comfortably accommodate larger frames. The steering wheel has a good degree of adjustment and the reworked pedal box brings plenty of space for old-school heel'n'toe downshifts in the manual version - or you can let the car's rev-matching feature sort it out for you.
Strong torque helps the 10-speed auto feel more decisive here than it does in the rival Mustang. Quick to respond to paddle-shifter inputs, the transmission impresses without being quite as crisp on track as the best dual-clutch alternatives.
Sophisticated electronics help maintain control of the grunt. Launch control and myriad traction and stability control settings allow the driver to tailor the car to prevailing conditions.
Our track drive took place at a cool and damp circuit with little purchase for the fat rubber. Care is required when accelerating, as it will easily spin the tyres in more aggressive traction control settings.
Full throttle wasn't an option in the first two gears. Even third had the back end shimmying like a kitten ready to pounce.
In short, drivers can't deploy the power with the same impunity they might summon in more sophisticated machines.
There's proper bite from enormous front tyres, which help the coupe sniff out an apex in a way no Commodore could. A reasonable degree of feedback helps drivers place the car with confidence, helped by determined bite from the oversize brakes.
But it all feels like a support system for the colossal surge from that massive V8. It squeezes your chest on the straights, bellowing a purposeful if muted tone while consuming fuel at an alarming rate.
Able to reach 0-100k/h in a touch over 3.5 seconds before hitting a top speed of 325km/h, the Camaro ZL1 has what it takes to match many of the fastest cars on sale.
Shock and awe is the strategy at play in the Camaro. Thrilling to drive, the ZL1 brings all-American supercar-hunting performance for those prepared to look past questions over value and safety.
Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 vitals
Price: $159,900 plus on-roads (expensive)
Warranty/servicing: 3years/100,000km (avg), $2150 for 60,000km (good)
Engine: 6.2-litre V8 supercharged, 477kW/881Nm (monstrous)
Safety: Not rated, 8 airbags, forward collision alert, rear cross traffic alert (average)
Fuel use: 15.3L/100km (unquenchable)
Spare: Inflator kit (average)
Boot: 258L (not good)
Freight train at heart
Originally introduced locally in 2018, the less potent Camaro "2SS" equivalent to Ford's Mustang GT received a midlife update this year. The 339kW/617Nm 6.2-litre V8 carries over but the eight-speed auto makes way for a new 10-speed auto or six-speed manual. The revised cabin gets a head-up display and customisable mood lighting and the frontal design divides opinion (Chevy is phasing it out in the US). Sweeter-sounding and with more approachable limits than the ZL1, the 2SS is all the Camaro anyone really needs … even if it's not the one many rusted-on HSV fans will want.
Dollars to doughnuts
Chevrolet's Camaro ZL1 costs a star-spangled $US62,000 at home (about $89,500). It grows to a steep $159,990 plus on-roads by the time it reaches Australian showrooms.
The less powerful Camaro 2SS costs $US42,995 in the US (about $62,200), lineball with the Ford Mustang GT fitted with the performance pack found on Australian models.
Ford's coupe costs a sensible $63,290 plus on-roads in Australia - the Camaro is much dearer at $86,990 plus on-roads in manual form.
That's because Ford builds the Mustang in right-hand drive and HSV must complete a 100-hour conversion for the Camaro in Melbourne. It requires about 400 new parts along with tricky tasks such as welding in new firewall pieces and reworking the electrics.
HSV crash-tested the car to validate its conversion process but it won't receive an independent ANCAP rating. That's not in the budget.
The brand claims to have invested more than $10 million in the conversion program. Responding to criticism of the car's price on Twitter, HSV director Ryan Walkinshaw confirmed that "there won't be a RHD (right-hand drive Camaro) from GM" any time soon.
HSV won't be drawn on whether the track-oriented Camaro ZL1 1LE on sale in the US will make it here.