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One of the more compelling automotive industry competitions occurred more than 50 years ago with the debut of the Ford Mustang. It was followed quickly by the Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird. The trio were affordable sporty coupe sensations.

The Firebird ceased production in 2002, but the Mustang and Camaro remain rivals. The Dodge Challenger is a newcomer foe, now in its third iteration.

The trio comprises a polarizing segment. Loud, powerful, masculine gas-guzzlers have loyal followers and equally passionate detractors. Sales figures give the latter group some boasting clout.

Ford sold 75,842 Mustangs in 2018, the Challenger (66,716) and the Camaro (50,963). The Challenger’s sales were up three percent; Ford and Chevrolet’s options respectively had losses of 7.4 and 25 percent.

Chevrolet’s effort to rekindle interest in the Camaro intensified in 2017 with the ZL1, the high-performance replacement of the Camaro SS. For 2019, updated ZL1 is all muscle and beauty. It features improved cooling, a lower-positioned grille, a new front splitter, carbon hood and an improved suspension. Wider fenders surround wider tires; the result is better handling.

Sharp, exquisite, lines attract plenty of attention. But there’s nothing subtle about the Zl1, nor is it ostentatious. It defines a modern-day muscle car, handsome and confident

Power reigns. The ZL1 features a 6.2-liter supercharged V8 with 650 horsepower and an optional 10-speed automatic transmission. It has a top speed of 195 miles per hour and an extraordinarily loud engine growl more annoying than pleasing.

When the Camaro’s top is up, rear vision is awful. But flick a switch underneath the rear mirror and the glass mode becomes camera mode. Also unique, the Camaro’s two large dashboard air vents also control the air conditioning levels

New also for 2019 are improved cooling and suspension, a lower-positioned grille, a new front splitter and a carbon hood. Wider fenders surround wider tires; the result is better handling. The review vehicle’s garnet red exterior matched with black interior with red accents.

The new ZL1 is rip-roaring fun. But bravado comes at a cost. A muscle car buyer is not likely looking for economy. But the ZL1’s 13 miles per gallon in city driving is among the lowest of any mainstream vehicle in the U.S.

The Camaro has an extensive list of standard and optional features. Nifty items like a wireless charger, a suede microfiber shifter and steering wheel are conveniences. Safety items like lane change and rear cross-traffic alerts are real-world driving pluses. 

But will the new Camaro help a muscle car resurgence? The ZL1 is much improved, but its price will likely hurt rather than help sales.

James Raia, a syndicated automotive columnist in Sacramento, California, publishes the website, www.theweeklydriver.com and its corresponding podcast. Contact him via email: james@jamesraia.com

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