I have always been a big fan of American cars, terrible handling and all. None of my friends who owned Audis, AMGs, Bimmers understood this affection. I didn’t care. It was a cheap way for me to enjoy gobs of torque, and the occasional fishtailing. (Plus, while I spent $30 for an oil change on my Ford they were spending half their salary replacing the alternator in their precious E63 AMG.)
All that’s changing, though. In recent years American cars haven’t just become faster and better, they’ve become much more sophisticated—and also much more expensive.
The Cadillac ATS-V and Chevrolet Camaro Z/28 are two fine examples of how far American cars have come. They’re no longer the old school, can’t-turn worth a damn muscle cars. These cars are now as good as if not better than some of the finest cutting-edge technological marvels the carmakers of Europe can put on the road today.
I met Chris a while back. He owns a beautiful 2016 Cadillac ATS-V. He and a friend of his—who is also named Chris, must be a GM thing—owns a 2015 Chevy Camaro Z/28. Both brought their new-school American cars to the very last Austin Cars and Coffee of the year.
Now, Cars and Coffee is typically not an event where you show up to drive other people’s cars. It’s a car show where you go to admire other cars, maybe have a conversation or two and then go back to your own car which you immediately start resenting. You might spend the rest of the day sulking around the house hating your GT-R, unable to get the magical Cars and Coffee 911 GT3 RS out of your head. But every so often an opportunity to drive other people’s prized possessions arises, and when that happens, everything is beautiful.
Lucky for me, the Chris-es allowed me to drive their cars back-to-back. Why can’t all Cars and Coffee experiences be like this?
Driving almost 1,000 horsepower worth of all-American modern machinery is what dreams are made of—at least my dreams, anyway. As much as I enjoyed driving the ATS-V I liked the Z/28 even more. It’s just such a strange and fascinating car, I couldn’t help but be in awe of it.
It’s easy to dismiss the Z/28 when you first get inside the car. The interior is bare-bones, not far off from a rental-grade V6 Camaro. But GM purposely kept it this way. GM wanted to build something that would be as good at the track as it could make it. Anywhere the company could cut weight it did, wiring harnesses and everything. Even the stereo and air-conditioning are optional.
Oddly enough GM kept the backseat in the car. Maybe the chief Z/28 engineer needed to have their kid in the back?
The Z/28 is powered by a 7.0-liter V8 pushing out 505 HP and 481 lb-ft of torque. If you’re thinking how could a Camaro with that much power be so good at the track, it’s because of all the fancy pieces of high technology GM incorporated that you can’t see.
The Z/28 features spool-valve dampers and was the second production car ever to have this kind of suspension with the first one being a two million dollar Aston Martin One-77. Spool-valve dampers, designed for racing, allow different tuning at low and high speeds whereas more earthly technology is far more limited in its tuning capabilities.
GM wasn’t messing around when they set out to build a car that would truly make a statement. This special Camaro is faster on the Nurburgring than a Lamborghini Murcielago LP460 and a Lexus LFA. A Camaro.
The Z/28 may handle a track with an enormous amount of precision, but you don’t feel that on the street when you start driving the car. You encounter the same things that make any Camaro annoying to drive: a big hunkering hood, extremely limited visibility and a sensitive clutch. It takes a while to get used to it all. Even then, you have to keep telling yourself that this is no ordinary Camaro.
The Z/28 has incredibly wide 12-inch tires both in the front and the back. The grip is mind-boggling. Braking is equally as staggering and instant with gigantic Brembo carbon ceramic brakes. The combination of the wheel, tire and suspension setup makes this car a corner carver like no other.
Obviously, the Z/28 is purpose-built for the track, but Chris daily drives his Z/28 (he went with the A/C and stereo option) and I would too. It’s completely livable. It has a stiff ride, but not to where it will make your life miserable. Don’t bother going on roller-coasters, sky-diving or bungee-jumping because with a Z/28 you’ll get an adrenaline rush every day.
Getting into the ATS-V right after the Z/28 makes it difficult to believe that the same corporation built both cars. The Cadillac is luxurious and it has all the features you could think of, from seats that vibrate to flashing red lights in the heads-up-display if someone in front of you slams on their brakes. I thought that the car was about to die with me behind the wheel.
If you haven’t read Jalopnik editor-in-chief Patrick’s in depth review of the ATS-V, you should. Tons of power, grip, turning ability, even on wet roads. It was mostly able to keep up with the Z/28. Everything is easy and effortless in the ATS-V. Almost too easy.
The ATS-V feels like Cadillac’s version of the M3, which is what it was supposed to be; refined and capable. The Z/28 doesn’t feel like any other cars. It just goes faster than they do.
I loved the weird Z/28. No other car has such a strange smorgasbord of wildly different attributes. It’s a lowly Camaro shell with a Corvette engine, F1 suspension and carbon ceramic brakes. It’s like taking a disposable camera and stuffing it with the most expensive lens Nikon can make. Not much about this car makes sense, but when you drive it, you’ll know why it makes such a good driver’s car.
The Z/28 is not the easiest car to drive. While the ATS-V doesn’t need much in the way of a skilled driver, the Z/28 is dependent on the driver to cut a fast line down the road. It’s loud, it’s rough, it wants to play hard but will provide you with an immensely rewarding driving experience in return.
But like I said up top, these things don’t come cheap. We don’t know how much the new Z/28 will cost, but the old one ran around $70,000; an ATS-V is in the low $60,000 range. Still insane performance bargains, but not inexpensive.
However, I became momentarily excited when I saw that there are a bunch of used Z/28s for sale in the low $40,000 range. I quickly found out why. Guess how much it costs to replace all four Brembo carbon ceramics? $15,000! Hm. Maybe I’ll ask Chris if I can keep borrowing his car.