If you think the ZL1's visage seems familiar, it's because director Michael Bay chose it for Bumblebee's look in the new "Transformers" movies before GM even went bankrupt. Those financial problems delayed the ZL1's arrival until this week, when the first production models began rolling from the plant in Oshawa, Ontario.
The autoblogs have already erupted with games of "let's you and him fight" between Ford and Camaro managers over supposed pony-car dominance, what with the 650-hp Shelby Mustang not far off. But I think Chevy's aiming higher; it tweaked Ford by noting that unlike the Mustangs, the ZL1 can be run on the track without endangering the warranty, but it's pricing billboards compare the Camaro to such names as the Mercedes SLS and the Audi R8 -- cars that easily double the Camaro's $54,095 base price.
And for all the bacon-wrapped American tradition the Camaro embodies, the real improvement in performance comes from the kind of technology Camaro owners once spurned. The zippy times around the Nürburgring were set with the ZL1's new Performance Control Management system on -- albeit in its "track" setting. Chevy estimates the automatic-transmission ZL1 should beat a manual to 60 mph, even though only the manual offers a launch control system. Both pieces of software don't just react, but attempt to predict what's coming next, and in most cases, guess right faster than drivers ever could.
The ZL1 still weighs too much, and there's no improving on the Camaro's unfavorable visibility comparison with Civil War submarines. But the most powerful Camaro ever shows that bidding for sports car dominance requires not just looks or muscle or history, but intelligence.
See what I mean in the exclusive video below:
Full Disclosure: For this review, Chevy provided transportation and hotel accommodations, close to south Phoenix's finest casinos and rush-hour traffic.