The 2019 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 Convertible Is A 650 Horsepower Tanning Bed

Hugely powerful and tons of fun, but is it strictly necessary?

2019 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 convertible
[Photos: Derek Mau]

Pop quiz: Which convertibles on sale today have over 600 horsepower and a price tag under $70,000? Interestingly, there is only one: the Chevy Camaro ZL1 convertible.

Starting at just under $70,000 for the six-speed manual version, there’s definitely no faster tanning bed on wheels. It’s actually quite remarkable that you can buy a car with that much power for so little money these days, much less one with a folding top. As soon as I noticed that a ZL1 Convertible was available for testing, I jumped at the chance to work on my tan.

Did someone plant a Howitzer under my right foot?

Like the coupe, the Camaro ZL1 convertible is what happens when you drop in the motor from a C7 Corvette Z06. The supercharged 6.2-liter LT4 engine makes a conservatively-rated 650 horsepower and 650 lb-ft torque. Even in the heavier Camaro, this is enough power to create explosive, almost violent levels of acceleration. My test car featured GM’s new 10-speed automatic transmission, which means all I had to do is hammer the throttle to create the kind of glorious noise that only a large V8 engine can provide.

It’s not just humans that approve of the Camaro with the top-down either. For the record, no dogs were harmed in the making of this review.

Despite huge 305-millimeter near-slick Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar 3 rear tires, the car struggles to find grip when launching hard. With all-wheel drive, this would easily be a sub-3 second 0-60 car. But even just driving the rear wheels (as it should), the ZL1 can still run with almost anything, especially once it’s up to speed. Triple-digit speeds are so easy to achieve, I quickly started to get concerned about the health and well-being of my driver’s license.

The best part about the ZL1 is that unlike some other high-horsepower muscle cars (*cough* Hellcat), the party doesn’t stop when you encounter a curvy road. Even without a fixed roof, the Camaro has an unflappable chassis that is more than eager devour corners. The Magnetic Ride Control suspension keeps the car nicely planted, especially in the more firm Sport and Track settings, without becoming overly harsh. The only issue is that the handling limits are so high they’re tough to safely explore on public roads.

No luxury car, but still comfortable

Luckily the ZL1 is pretty easy to drive at a more leisurely pace, especially with the automatic transmission taking care of the shifting. Although maybe not the best Sunday cruiser, when driven slowly it’s easy to forget that there’s a monster lurking under the hood.

The Camaro still suffers from a claustrophobic interior, but with the top down its not nearly as bad. A luxury car the Camaro will never be, but the overall interior quality is decent. The Recaro front seats provide the right amount of bolstering without sacrificing comfort. I took it out for an afternoon of driving on some favorite backroads and didn’t feel at all fatigued, which is not something that can be said for all sports cars.

Verdict: It’s a lot of fun, but…

There is a legitimate question of whether anyone needs a car that has both a folding roof and more horsepower than all but a handful of exotics. Unlike the coupe, the 2019 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 convertible is unlikely to be anyone’s preferred track toy. For street driving, the much cheaper Camaro SS is all the speed you need. For cruising around with the top down, the V6 model is powerful enough for most.

Still, I must concede that the ZL1 is a ton of fun. Opening up the throttle is genuinely grin-inducing, even if it is hard to do in everyday driving without running into things. For the money, I can’t think of another car that is as capable on the road, while also being fun when not driven hard. Until Ford makes a convertible Shelby, the Camaro ZL1 convertible is in a class of one.

If the ZL1 is way too much car as a daily driver, watch what Nathan has to say about its cousin at the other end of the spectrum. The new Chevy Camaro Turbo 1LE provides much of the handling prowess, without blowing out the budget.

2019 Chevy Camaro ZL1 Convertible Specs

Price as tested$72,585
Engine6.2L supercharged V8
Power (hp)650 @ 6,400 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)650 @ 3,600 rpm
Transmission10-speed automatic
0 – 60 mph3.5 seconds
1/4 mile11.4 seconds at 127 mph
Drivetrain layoutFront engine, rear-wheel drive
Curb weight4,148 lbs
EPA-estimated fuel economy13 / 21 / 16 mpg (city/hwy/combined)
Wheelbase110.7 inches
Length x width x height190.2 x 74.7 x 52.4 in.
Passenger capacity93 cu. ft.
Cargo capacity7.3 cu. ft.