Car Corner
97 Z28 SS & 98 Z28

December 1, 1997
By Scott Lewis

This month I was all set to write about ABS brakes. I was going to address the issues that have been raised recently about whether or not ABS works. But I came across some amazing luck. I got the opportunity to test drive a 1997 Z28 SS, and a 1998 Z28 just in time for this edition.

Last month I told you about my test drive of the new 1998 Trans Am. Well, as luck would have it, the Chevrolet dealership near my house got in some new 1998 Camaro Z28s. Just for fun, I decided to try and get a test drive. Boy did I get lucky. Not only did I get to test drive the new 1998 Z28, but the salesman also let me test drive a 1997 Z28 SS for a back-to-back comparison with the 98 model. Camaro Heaven!

1997 Camaro Z28 SS

The 1997 Z28 SS is a special edition of the Camaro that includes a Ram Air induction system and some other modifications. This was the top dog of the Camaro line up for 1997. The Ram Air induction system was responsible for a 20 hp increase over the standard Z28. It also gave you that cool hood scoop. At 305 hp, the SS model is one of the fastest Camaros ever available to the general public. Other modifications include an upgraded suspension, larger wheels and tires, and an exhaust system upgrade. Combined these modifications cost approximately $7,000 over more than the regular Z28.

1998 Camaro Z28

z28profilered.gif (19220 bytes)New for 1998, the Camaro has been given a new least on life. With a detuned version of the new LS1 engine form the Corvette rated at 305 hp, the new Z28 should be as fast as last years SS version. Is it? We will get to that in a moment. What else is new for 98. Well the interior got a mild upgrade in 97 with a new dash, so the only thing that has really changed, except for the engine, is the nose. The hood no longer has the fake ducts, the headlights are round and flush, and the grill is... well like it or not, it is up to you.

The Drive

We took the 98 out for a drive first. This seemed better, since it was more likely that I would buy it. The 98 Z drives virtually exactly the same as my 93 model. In fact, I was very comfortable with the car. I like the new dash, it has a more pleasant view than the 93. Also, the air conditioning vents are a huge improvement over the small elliptical ones in the 93 dashboard. Steering had a nice amount of resistance at parking speeds, and felt a little less numb than my 93. Noise levels in the 98 seemed to be a little higher than the earlier editions. I can't verify this, but there was definitely more drive train noise in the 98 than the 97 SS.

The engine is incredible. My earlier drive in the 98 Trans Am did not do it justice. The Pontiac dealer only had one Trans Am with the 6 speed, and was reluctant to even let me drive it. The Chevy dealer, however, had a few 6 speed models, and was extremely gracious in their test drive procedures. After all they let me drive the 97 SS, knowing that it was almost impossible that I would buy it. Back to the engine. It revved happily to about 5600 - 5700 RPMs. I was a little worried about spinning it any higher with the salesman next to me. It pulled strong throughout the rev range, and I have no doubt it would continue pulling right up to its 6000 RPM redline. This engine hauls. It would squeal the tire without a problem, even from 10 mph rolling start. Very impressive.

How does this compare to the 1997 Z28 SS. The exhaust on the 97 had a very deep throaty sound. Much deeper than my 93, or the 98. The suspension on the 97 SS was also a fair amount stiffer than the 98 and my 93. You can definitely feel it. For a sports car, this was an acceptable firmness, but could get a little tiring over the long haul. Where I live in Texas, the roads are good enough to drive the SS everyday. But I would not drive it up north where they put salt on the roads in winter.

But what about the engine. Does 305 hp = 305 hp. Not exactly. The 97 Ram Air had good off idle response and ran strong through the mid range, but if ran completely out of steam at 5000 RPMs. In fact, I thought this was surprisingly poor top end performance. The SS was fast out of the hole, but it felt like you had to shift more often than in the 98. The 98 seamed much better at putting its 305 hp to the ground in any gear. The winner is the 98, across the board.

But the exhaust system in the SS was very intoxicating. It was louder than my 93, and the 98. But it was not so loud as to detract from driving the car. If you like a performance sound, it is almost perfect.

So there you have it. But which one to buy. The SS is more of a limited edition, but was used as a demo, and had over 4000 miles on it. The 98 will blend into the crowd faster than the 93 did, especially since it looks the same as the 93 from the rear, except for the amber turn signals. I would get the 98, and add an aftermarket exhaust for that intoxicating sound. The 98 Z28 is definitely a must buy for the performance enthusiast. But...

How much

What about price. This was surprising. The dealership I visited offers a special deal on most of its cars to employees from my company. They call this a fleet discount, and puts the price at 3% over invoice. Trouble is that the new 98 Z28 does not qualify for the discount. However, the 97 does. OK, so what were the prices. The 98 had a sticker of $25.3K, and the dealer wasn't planning on discounting it much, if any. The 97 had an invoice of a little over $29K. Adding 3%, at $880, that put the total at a little over $30K. They also didn't offer any more of a discount on the 97 to account for the 4000 miles on it.

So the 98 is faster and cheaper than the 97 SS. Go figure. By the way, the dealer even had a very limited edition Z28 SS with the LT4 Corvette Grand Sport engine. This 330 hp supercar was priced at $41K. A little absurd for a Camaro. Why not just get a Vette? Needless to say, they would not let me test drive that one.

What should it cost

In case you didn't know, sales for pony cars (includes Mustangs, Camaros, and Firebird combined) are down over 30% from 1994 when they all had new models. They won't discount the 98 model because "they can sell it to the next guy" without discounting it. Is it any wonder that sales are down with an attitude like that.

Some people say that sales for pony cars are down because they still have a bad boy image left over from the past. I tend to disagree. The cars are very sophisticated muscle cars now, and sales are down because of the attitudes of dealers.

Here is an example, I was able to buy my 1996 Ford Explorer for $1,900 below sticker price. If memory serves, the Explorer has been the best selling Sport Utility for the past 5 years in a row. The one we got had the V-8 engine, the first year they offered it in the Explorer. It seems to me that if the Explorer sells so well that they could get away with saying "we can sell it to the next guy without a discount." But they do not.

Dealers still think that all performance cars are so desirable that they don't need to discount them. I think the people have responded to that attitude, and that is why sales are falling at an alarming rate. Next time you go into a dealer to buy a pony car, remind them that 1997 sales were down 31% from 94, in just three short years. Sales are down 50% from 1985. Remember, this is sales for Mustangs, Camaros and Firebirds combined. Mustangs are out selling the GM cars by a good margin. So the GM cars, which are the better performance cars, should be a bargain.

If I could get a $1900 discount on an Explorer with a $27K sticker price, I should be able to get a $1500 to $2000 discount on a Camaro or Firebird with a $25-27K sticker price. But wait, sales are down, I should be able to get an even bigger discount on a car with poor sales. I don't think you should pay anything more than $1500 below sticker. If everyone expects a $2000 discount, then maybe they will give it to us. I say we all demand it, or walk out of the dealer. United we stand, united we go elsewhere.

If the current attitude of dealers towards pony cars keeps up there won't be any around to buy. GM has not yet committed to building another generation of F-Bodies. With lead times what they are, it looks like the Camaros and Firebirds will disappear at the end of the current generation. I hope that dealers think about this, and remember what happened to the 300 ZX, and the RX7. The Supra is also on shaky ground.

Next month I should have that ABS article. Unless I get behind the wheel of a Cobra Mustang. See you then.