Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 vs BMW 435i M-Sport. $70K decider

If you’re going to spend $70K on a sports coupe, which would go for: European civility with the BMW 435i M-Sport, or American lunacy with the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1?

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At face value, this may seem an unusual twin test. “James, you blithering idiot”, the cry has gone, “why on earth would you compare the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 with the BMW 435i M-Sport rather than the sportier, more powerful BMW M4?” True, in terms of performance figures, Beemer’s newboy and Chevy’s axe-wielding psychopath are – on paper at least – a much closer comparison, the M4’s 4.3 second 0-100kph time just 0.3s down on the ZL1’s 3.9s. That is until you look at it from a real world perspective, and realise that both the Camaro ZL1 and the 435i M-Sport cost around $70,000, plus or minus change. And given the polar differences between the two, this makes for quite an interesting decision: which would we spend our $70K on?

Let’s start with Europe’s offering, the BMW 435i M-Sport. Our top of the range Mineral Grey test model is powered by a TwinPower turbocharged six-cylinder which kicks out 306bhp and 295lb ft of torque, equating to a 0-100kph time of 5.1 seconds. Look past the vulgarity of out and out grunt though and you’ll find leather upholstery, heated/cooled power seating, two seats in the back, a big boot and five-way drive mode (including the über green Eco Pro), plus those all important ‘M’ badges. Whilst the 435i can easily outrun a Porsche Panamera S E Hybrid, it also brings with it civility, comfort and practicality.

BMW 435i M-Sport vs Chevrolet Camaro ZL1-18

Then from the Americas we have the ZL1, a feistier, lairier version of Chevy’s famous Ford Mustang rival, the Camaro. Having steadily worked its way up through the stable from humble pony car to GM’s muscular headliner since the Camaro’s debut in 1966, power and straight-line oomph are the key elements here, courtesy of the enormous supercharged V8 breathing fire and brimstone under the bonnet. Kicking out 580bhp and 556lb ft of torque, the ZL1 is well into Aston Martin V12 Vantage S territory, and with a 0-100kph time of 3.9 seconds, the ZL1 will easily munch the 435i on the straights. For all its Americana shoutiness however, the Camaro loses those two rear seats, leather seating, and Bluetooth connectivity. It even has this bizarre piece of serrated metal that you slide into the steering column and turn to fire the V8 into life. There is a price to pay then for that herculean power.

So, fire-spitting America muscle, or cappuccino sipping European civility? We figured it was time to head into the mountains and find out.

BMW 435i M-Sport vs Chevrolet Camaro ZL1-14

You join us deep in the Hatta mountain range, right in the middle of a sweltering Middle Eastern summer. The time has just ticked past 11.30am and the temperature is well into the high 40s. The troop of camels we’ve stumbled across don’t appear to be overly bothered by the perspiring film and photography crew just a few yards away, nor its $140K convoy. For the crankandpiston.com team though, the heat blur shimmying off the tarmac, plus a heat radiating through the asphalt that is slowly melting our trainers, it’s an entirely different story. Beauty shots and stills are completed pretty sharpishly.

Despite the 274bhp and 261lb ft difference between our two test models, the crew are insistent that the BMW and Camaro go head-to-head in a drag race, purely for their own amusement. Although the Camaro weighs nearly 400kg more than the BMW (1987kg to 1590kg), the unforgiving power of the Chevy will make this a walk over. Not only that, but slotted behind the wheel of the ZL1 is former Nissan GT Academy Middle East finalist Arnold Verghese, who has been taught by dedicated instructors how to make a car go as fast as it can. Couple that with my ape-like ‘press the loud pedal hard’ efforts and the BMW doesn’t stand a chance, as is proven just moments later, despite the quite hilarious amounts of wheel-spin thrown up by the Camaro’s massive 20-inch rear wheels.

On the surface this may seem a pointless test, and the grins of both the digital team and crankandpiston newboy Abdullah behind the camera emphasise this. It’s not all doom and gloom though, since a much cleaner getaway for the 435i negates the torque advantage entirely and we’re level-pegging for the opening stretch before the power of the Camaro begins to wind itself up. Acceleration in the BMW meanwhile may not be at the same level, but it’s hardly slow. A feisty launch coupled with linear and pseudo aggressive acceleration (in full fat Sport driving mode in any case) mean BMW’s new coupe is not your first choice for driving Miss Daisy.

BMW 435i M-Sport vs Chevrolet Camaro ZL1-42

As we wind our way through the mountains to the next shoot, the acceleration through the eight-speed paddle shift gearbox is amazingly alert, with hardly any lag or drop off as the revs approach the redline. Hunkered down as I am in the cabin, thanks to a low seating position, the whole thing feels agile and poised, the balance through the turns quite extraordinary and weighty, chuckable steering allowing me to push the front end without worrying the BMW’s nose will give way at some point. This is my third time in the 435i since the international launch in Portugal, and I’m no less staggered by the ease with which BMW’s new coupe can be hustled through the corners with hardly any sense of understeer or give in momentum, despite the rear-wheel drive kicking the back out every so often to make sure I’m still awake. It may not have the legs on the Chevy on the straights, but through the corners the Beemer ensures that the fight for a customer’s $70K will be no walkover.

A little further through Hatta and with some childish hooning out of our system, Arnold – for some reason – is very keen to stop off at a highway overpass we come across, particularly the expanse of shadows underneath. Quite by accident we’ve stumbled across a spectacular location, and it’s not long before Abdullah is turfing both of us out of the driving seats. No matter, since it gives me an ideal opportunity to check out the looks of our contenders.

Story concludes on page 2

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