You have decided to buy a Camaro because you like the look, but you’re torn between the ZL1 or SS. What are the differences between the ZL1 and the SS?
For years, enthusiasts have pushed the value of the Camaro as the master of the streets. And now, you have the opportunity to shell out some hard-earned cash to put one in your drive to carry on the tradition. You are about to spend significant money on a high-quality ride, and before you do, you want to be sure you are buying the right car? Which car is faster, the ZL1 or the SS? Which one rides better? Which Camaro holds the road and has the better resale value? Which is easier to maintain? Which one has a better interior room and the creature comforts for your needs? There are so many questions that need answers.
The Camaro Zl1 differs from the SS in power and performance with a supercharged 6.2 V8 engine that produces 650 horsepower. The SS has the same 6.2 V8, but it is not supercharged and generates 455 horsepower. The SS is cheaper, with a $38,695 base price instead of $64,195 for the ZL1.
As the most potent Camaro ever built, the ZL1 may be the ultimate Camaro and the stuff of every wishful boy's dreams, but the 2SS offers a lot. Most consumers are very pleased with the SS models unless you plan to power down the straights and test your quarter-mile times. And given the fact that the ZL1 is an additional 20 grand, you want to know that laying down the money for the higher-priced model is worth surrendering part of the kid’s college education.
Essentially, it comes down to what you look for in a sports car. Speed or comfort? Is the car going to be a daily driver or parked in the garage for just weekends? We’ve talked to automotive experts and navigated the internet to hear from Camaro owners to help do the homework for you.
What are the Differences Between the base ZL1 and the SS?
There are some significant differences between both of these beasts of the road. Let’s break them down.
When you look at either a Camaro ZL1 or SS, you realize that you are not looking at anything like your father's Camaro. The semi-retro look is nice, but the design seems to have grown up. It is broader and more aggressive than the competition, with 20-inch alloy wheels that grip the asphalt and leave black marks on the pavement. Both cars have the 6.2.L V8, which provides plenty of torque for track racing. The ZL1 is very stylish, with its raised hood extractor on the Performance Package and the refashioned front grill.
As you might expect, the drive is magnificent, and the car has no trouble going fast when you want to. The suspension system installed on the Camaro is adequate, although a bit stiff. The car handles well and grips the curve as it should, but the minimal visibility is the biggest problem. The pillars block drivers' ability to safely change lanes or get a good read on traffic from the rearview mirror.
The trouble with the car is that most owners don’t get the chance to take the Camaro to the track. This stud is an excellent car for performance if you just want power but leaves a lot to be desired as a vehicle you will use for trips to work or the store.
Engine and Performance
The primary difference between the two models comes from the supercharged 6.2 V8 allowing the ZL1 to produce a heart-pounding 650 horsepower, compared to the 455 horsepower output that the same engine generates for the SS. The ZL1 is beast-like when it first accelerates, clocking a 0-60 rate in 3.5 seconds and making the quarter-mile mark in 11.4. While that speed is quick enough to take your breath away, the SS model can set a 0-60 mph pace of around 4.0 seconds. It loses the quarter-mile competition, almost a second slower at 12.3. Just to give you a reference, the Mustang GT has 4.2 seconds for 0-60 mph and 12.2 for the quarter-mile. The verdict is that the SS creates enough pep and pop to satisfy.
Both cars have very similar dimensions. But in truth, both are heavier than they need to be (previous models had less weight). Of course, the heavier the car, the more power it requires to accelerate, and weight affects the vehicle's ride and stability. (The Hellcat weighs 4,568 while the Mustang GT is around 3,868). The car's width will make the driver feel squatted down on the pavement, but it also provides a sense of strength that the car will be able to deliver performance when it needs to. They both feel like they are a better design for the straightaway than the winding roads, but don’t let that fool you. The handling is agile and quick. The Camaros can stay centered in a curve just fine.
Both cars keep the confidence of the Camaro mystique. Still, the ZL1 looks more sinister with its slightly wider stance (the spec sheet says they are almost identical, but the ZL1 looks broader and lower). The unique hood has a black raised heat extractor to accommodate the space needed for the larger turbocharger this 6.2L V8 motor requires. Additional scoops and a front facia also help with airflow (even the iconic logo gets into the act by forcing air through the middle of the front grill). A lower lip splitter juts out from below the front grill, and the 20-inch chrome alloy wheels give an in-your-face aggressive stance. Both vehicles benefit from the quad exhaust and a rear wing spoiler. The rear backup camera is a real plus and has a nice large display on the infotainment system. Rear sensors are nicely integrated into the rear bumper, and the tailpipes add to the simple yet firm design. When parked side by side, the ZL1 makes a statement while the SS looks average and straightforward. My impression is that it was pining to be more like its powerful big brother.
When you sit inside either the SS or the ZL1, you notice how terrible the visibility is out of any window. The cramped back seat, which is relatively useless, won’t sit two adults, but it also limits the view of the rear window. There is plenty of room in the front for driver and passenger, and the front seats will provide adequate support when driving around a curve or needing firmness during acceleration. The steering wheel is easy to grip, doesn’t get in the way, and seems a natural fit for the driver. Because both cars sit lower, headroom can be an issue, particularly for taller drivers. Most operators wish that Chevrolet had sacrificed an inch of legroom to keep their heads from scraping the ceiling lining.
While the SS comes standard with cloth seats, we expected more. Leather, heated and ventilated seats, the Recaro performance seats, and a power passenger seat mean you have to pay extra. The ZL1 is better, offering faux leather and more upgrade choices. I expected the SS to be simpler in the interior but still felt cheated by not having leather (or at least faux leather). The infotainment system is easy to reach and offers the excellent sound quality, especially listening to the Bose sound system in the ZL1. The ZL1 offers a 12-month subscription to XM, and the base SS does not. The radio in the SS is satellite compatible, but you just have to pay for some luxuries, I guess. The price of the upgrade to a 2SS ($1595) is more than worth the money to prevent future disappointments and provide some creature comforts.
Cargo space is a huge problem for Camaros and always has been. It is virtually ill-equipped for storing anything with a measly 7.3 cu.ft. of space. Don’t bother trying to set suitcases of any size in the trunk because they will not fit. The interior storage space is not much better. For daily drivers, this is a disappointing feature that Chevrolet never seems to be able to fix.
You shouldn’t expect to reduce your carbon footprint by driving a Camaro because the 6.2 V8 guzzles the gasoline. With 14 city/20 highway, a quick jaunt down the street in the ZL1 will cost you. The SS fairs slightly better coming in at 16 city/26 hwy, but there is virtually no difference between the two models in fuel economy. While the Ford Mustang GT gets 15 city/24 highway and the Hellcat gets even worse mpg at 12 city/21 hwy.
Safety and Driver Assistance
As technology develops and the pressure continues by consumers for safer vehicles, the industry has responded fairly well. The NHTSA rating for the Camaro is five stars which is the highest rating it assigns. Both Camaros have rear cross-traffic alarms, blind-spot monitoring, and rear parking sensors. However, the Camaro lacks some driver assistance gadgets that customers are becoming used to, such as lane departure, forward collision braking, and dynamic brake support. While these muscle cars have front, side, and even knee airbags, they do not have active head restraints, which are standard on many other vehicles.
The cars come with On-Star Connected Services, but the free subscription lasts only one month, and after that, the owner has to pay for it. (The Chevy folks will tell you that purchasing a new vehicle comes with five years free, but they fail to mention that it does not include any emergency services, only remote start or door unlock). With other manufacturers offering more services for longer periods (Dodge offers a 6-month complimentary U-Connect service for six months and Hyundai/Genesis for three years), it feels as if the engineers have some work to do in this area. Paying $349 a year for the full slate of services seems like a money grab.
Driver assistance features include
- Rear Cross Traffic Alert
- Blind Spot Monitoring
- Rear parking sensors
- Forward Collision Alert (available)
About THE AUTHOR
I've spent many years selling cars, working with auto detailers, mechanics, dealership service teams, quoting and researching car insurance, modding my own cars, and much more.Read More About Charles Redding