With the introduction of a high-performance convertible, optional SS performance upgrades and — finally — a navigation option, the 2013 Chevrolet Camaro is poised to battle the updated Ford Mustang.
It's about time Chevy addressed the car's lack of a navigation system (one will become available later this model year) given how commonplace they are in cars of any ilk, even muscle cars.
A bit less common, though, is the 580 horsepower that's available in a new convertible version of the Camaro ZL1, which we recently reviewed as a 2012 coupe. It's meant to go toe-to-toe with Ford's Mustang Shelby GT500 convertible, despite giving up 80 horses to the latest from Ford.
Also for 2013, there's a new 1LE package available for the Camaro SS. For just a few thousand dollars extra, it adds a bit of technology from the ZL1 to make the SS ready for track use on the weekends.
I drove both the 2013 ZL1 convertible and the 1LE for this review, as well as giving the MyLink multimedia system a thorough test. (Not all at the same time.)
What's New for 2013
Other than those changes, the Camaro in V-6 and standard V-8 guises remains basically the same as the 2012, with a few minor changes and one major one. You can find specs and information on the V-6 here and the V-8 here.
There are new 18- and 20-inch wheel designs, a new rearview mirror — it's actually pretty cool — and a new shift knob and hill start assist for manual-transmission models.
It's the MyLink multimedia and navigation system, however, that folks have been waiting for.
MyLink, sans the navigation functions, is standard on all LT, SS and ZL1 models for 2013. Base, LS cars retain the 2012's simple radio.
The system sort of floats in the middle of the dash in a somewhat awkward position. Clearly, the original car's designers never fathomed needing a 7-inch touch-screen for anything.
MyLink's strength is its array of features and an easy-to-read screen. You can play Pandora and Stitcher internet radio through applications in MyLink itself, and I was able to stream iHeartRadio from my iPhone, as well. Shortcut "buttons" along either side of the screen are touch-sensitive panels rather than actual buttons, and it's hard to know when you've managed to activate them. There's no feedback via a click sound, like in Chevy's Volt, or force feedback, like in the new Cadillac Cue system.
When the buttons did register I enjoyed getting exactly what I wanted immediately on the screen. It's an intuitive layout, and the touch-screen "buttons" themselves are large and easy to reach. They also respond to your touch by changing color, limiting how much second-glancing you need to do to complete a task.
The navigation option will be available later in the 2013 model year.
ZL1 Convertible When it comes to horsepower, 580 is a lot. I've tested muscle cars with similar power before, and it usually feels like you're not getting the most out of the engine because you can't get all that power to the pavement — as in the Cadillac CTS-V and Shelby GT500. That or it just doesn't feel noticeably faster than, say, a wimpy 400-hp car.
Likewise, the ZL1 feels powerful but doesn't seem to live up to those lofty numbers. What it does do, in coupe and now in convertible form, is stay planted to the road. I tested a 2012 ZL1 coupe on the track at Road America in Wisconsin in May, and its composure amazed me on a challenging course. Remember, this is a 4,173-pound muscle car I was driving, not a lithe European sports car.
I wasn't able to take the ZL1 convertible on a track, but it, too, exhibited the same sure-footedness around winding roads. That's thanks in part to the advanced Magnetic Ride Control suspension, which reads road surfaces a thousand times a second and adjusts the shock absorbers to suit. It's the next generation of the system found on the CTS-V, and it's why you feel in control of the Camaro while high-powered Mustangs leave you a little more tentative ... or at least they should.
Unlike other convertibles, the Camaro didn't exhibit much body flex from the loss of its roof. The mechanisms to lower the top account for most of the convertible's approximately 200 extra pounds versus the coupe, though Chevy didn't provide an exact curb weight. Driving it at high speeds with the top down was actually quite comfortable, too.
Yes, the Camaro ZL1 can blast away from stop lights in 1st gear. When you ratchet it up to 2nd, the back end squirms just a tad before snapping back straight. By that time, you're going very fast and the wind is whipping above your head; you'll likely forget what a nice convertible the Camaro is in terms of wind intrusion, though, as you'll be keeping an eye out for the local constable. The open-air cockpit also lets you hear the fabulous exhaust rumble much better than you can in the coupe.
Besides piloting the six-speed manual that carries over from the coupe, I also tested the six-speed automatic. Getting an automatic transmission in a high-performance car like the ZL1 is as close to car-guy sacrilege as you get. Buuuuut ... if you're just opting for a convertible, you may be looking for the fastest droptop to take you along coastal highways. Then you might prefer letting the car shift itself.
The automatic transmission changes gears efficiently and smoothly if you're not hammering the gas pedal. When you are, it kicks down to the appropriate gear, generates a loud burble from the exhaust and lurches forward. Cool enough. The manual shift paddles are also quite precise. When you hit one, it doesn't hesitate to shift, as do most paddle setups I come across. Chevy also designed the manual shift feature to be truly manual, meaning if you forget to shift out of 1st, the car will keep revving all the way to the redline until you do. That's bad for forgetful people, but good for folks who want to test the limits of that redline when appropriate.
Getting this much performance from a convertible isn't cheap. The ZL1 runs $60,445, just a hair above the GT500 convertible's $59,995 cost (prices include destination charges).
Camaro SS 1LE Package
The battle between the Chevy Camaro and Ford Mustang rages with every model, whether it's the base V-6 or V-8, or the most powerful trims available. Last year, Ford released a track-inspired model called the Boss 302 that I fell in love with and called the best Mustang I'd ever driven.
For 2013, Chevy is going a similar route, bringing back a track package called the 1LE, which was available on late-1980s Camaros. It can be added to any manual transmission V-8 SS, in the 1SS or 2SS trim level. Meaning you could have a 2SS 1LE Camaro. Sounds about as sexy as a Boss 302, right?
The 1LE doesn't get a manually adjustable suspension or a radically loud exhaust system, as does the Boss 302. It does, however, get some suspension revisions borrowed from the ZL1, though not the ZL1's magnetic suspension.
You will, however, get the ZL1's lightweight wheels and its front tires at all four corners. (The ZL1 has wider rear tires.) I think it's these super-sticky Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar tires, at nearly $400 apiece, that helped me keep the 1LE firmly planted on the twisty track at Gingerman Raceway in Michigan.
Where Road America has you speeding and then braking quickly between tight turns, Gingerman is a series of apexes that keeps you on your toes. It's very easy to lose your line or go too fast when connecting these turns, and that's when a 420-hp, rear-wheel-drive car can get away from you.
But here, too, the 1LE felt secure. On the Road America track, the Boss' back end swung around quite easily, but I still felt in control. The Camaro's back end did a better job of staying put, coming loose only at the very extremes of cornering ... basically, when I made a mistake.
Unfortunately, I wasn't able to drive the 1LE on the streets to see how much the firmer suspension and larger wheels affect everyday drivability. The Boss 302 has a manually adjustable suspension with five settings to allow both for more comfortable daily driving and for extreme track use.
The 1LE comes with a black lip spoiler on the trunk lid, a black front splitter and a black matte wrap over the hood to differentiate it from the regular Camaro SS. Personally, I could do without the matte hood. It didn't look like a natural fit for the car's design. You can add the $3,500 1LE package to any SS exterior color. The 1SS Camaro starts at $37,035. The Boss starts at $42,995.
The 2013 Camaro coupe earned a five-star overall safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The convertible hasn't been crash-tested. The Camaro coupe hasn't been tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
You can view all safety features here.
Camaro in the Market
The fight between the Camaro and the Mustang will undoubtedly rage on with the 2013 models now hitting the streets. As a staff, we often like driving the Mustang more, but the Camaro remains a more modern car, inside and out, with a better command of the road — if you can live with the compromised visibility. If you don't already know what side you're on, it's time for some test drives.
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