Monster versus moderate? Maniacal versus measured? I’m going to die versus, interesting? Well, that’s a preview of what driving the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 and the Mazda 3 Sport, back-to-back presented.
I’ve always wanted a pony car since I was a kid. I came of age drooling over the Want Ads of old Camaro ’68s and ’69s, and Mustangs of the same years. I had this fantasy (in retrospect) that I would buy the mechanics special for the $500 to $1500 list price and then make it the hot rod of my dreams.
Unfortunately, by the time I got enough money, the price had inched up to $2000 to $3500. I never did catch up. In 2016, I thought I would realize a life long dream after the gorgeous 2015 Ford Mustang debuted.
For the first time in my life, I put in an order for a brand new car. Unfortunately, despite having agreed to a purchase price when I placed my order, the salesman decided on a bait-and-switch the day I was scheduled to pay and take delivery. The price was suddenly almost $2,000 higher than previously agreed upon. After a poor attempt by the salesman to start from the beginning of price negotiations, I walked out, and never looked back. Homey don’t play that.
While I have had many opportunities to drive the current generation of Mustang, I still had a soft spot for the Camaro. I’d already driven the V6, rental variety in automatic transmission, but when I was given the opportunity to pilot the fabled ZL1, I was gobsmacked.
I’ll start with the ZL1 as I am very familiar with the 3 Sport, it being my daily driver. I got a better understanding and appreciation of the Mazda after my time piloting the super Camaro.
Once I entered the cockpit of the ZL1, it felt just like that, a cockpit. It’s a very tight, all business space with just enough room for the driver to focus on, driving. Like all Camaros of the last five years, it has low visibility out of the front of the car, but especially poor in the rear. That’s the first reason I love the rear view camera in Camaros. It saved me from reversing poorly out of a tight spot the first time I drove one.
Despite the tightness, I loved the finishing of the Camaro’s interior; all the way down to the cleverness of the vent design and Apple CarPlay. I was also impressed I could fit two of the kids in the passenger front, and passenger-side rear seats. No way anyone would fit behind me as driver. A tight cabin combined with this driver’s long legs made it a no-go.
The first thing I noticed was that the ZL1 was as no-nonsense driving as it was in appearance. The automatic transmission was okay, but I later came to love it when I realized I needed all my concentration and discipline to keep the ZL1 safely below ludicrous speed.
The heaviness of the steering (compared to the Mazda) in hindsight made a bit of sense, for what I think is more a drag strip car, than a canyon carver. As long as I was zooming in a straight line, I enjoyed the ride. The confidence (for me) just wasn’t there on the curves.
In fairness, the ZL1 is a very different car dynamically, power none-withstanding, from the 3 Sport. Still, a good looking pony car.
I had a greater appreciation for the 3 Sport once I returned to it. The driver’s seat was much more forgiving. There was better visibility, all around. Most importantly, the steering felt light to the touch, making it easy to make precise steering inputs with confidence.
In a word, the 3 Sport is simply more forgiving as a daily driver in the way the ZL1 is not, and wasn’t designed to be. However, driving the ZL1 encouraged me to push the 3 Sport more than I typically do. To put it differently, it’s easy to drive the Mazda slow, and it requires some effort to drive briskly. Whereas it’s easy to drive the Chevy at murderous speeds, and requires significant effort to drive in a pedestrian manner.
So Who Won?
Well, I can see why the ZL1’s owner has another car for a daily driver. It just isn’t practical to drive the ZL1 day in day out. Could you? Of course. However, you’d get more for your trouble if you had the 3 Sport as a daily driver to take the kids to school, and then the ZL1 as a weekend shredder. So, we all win.