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Vital Stats

Engine:
Supercharged 6.2L V8
Power:
638 HP / 604 LB-FT
Transmission:
6-Speed Manual
0-60 Time:
3.5 Seconds
Top Speed:
205 MPH
Drivetrain:
Rear-Wheel Drive
Curb Weight:
3,333 LBS
Seating:
2
MPG:
14 City / 21 HWY
Successful In Its Mission, But Not As The World's Greatest Sports Car



Adhered to the Hamilton Hall dorm wall at Wright State University is a glossy poster of a jet-black sports car. It hangs low over an unmade bed, its corner blemished with a slight tear from an errantly placed thumbtack during orientation week.

A young engineering undergraduate, sitting at a desk just a few feet away, is staring directly at the poster. Instead of reviewing for an upcoming exam, his eyes remain fixated on the vehicle's sleek bodywork, ominous quad exhaust pipes and Brembo carbon-ceramic brakes. Locked in a trance, the student daydreams about what it would be like to drive the sinister-looking monster.

Unbeknown to that 19-year-old scholar, and thousands of miles from Wright State University, Autoblog holds the key to the vehicle pictured on that very poster. It is the Chevrolet Corvette ZR1. With a 638-horsepower supercharged V8 mated to a six-speed manual transmission and a top speed of 205 miles per hour, it is the most powerful production car in General Motors' history.

The ZR1 has been upgraded and enhanced for 2012, so what is it like to drive America's premier sports car on public roads? Can the beast be reasonably tamed? Be pleased to learn that this evil brute is nearly everything expected, a little less and then a whole lot more.
2012 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 side view2012 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 front view2012 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 rear view

Autoblog is no stranger to the ZR1. We drove it to Hell and back in May of 2009, and at Spring Mountain Raceway last May. As the ZR1 enters its fourth year of production, Chevrolet has treated its flagship to a host of small enhancements inside and out, all of which are designed to improve the coupe's comfort, performance and value.

Last year, the Corvette ZR1 was delivered with Michelin Pilot Sport PS2 tires. With a "maximum performance summer" classification (treadwear rating of 220), the well-respected rubber delivered impressive handling. For 2012, Chevrolet is cranking things up several notches by offering the optional High-Performance package (PDE ZR1) featuring new Michelin Pilot Sport Cup Zero Pressure tires. The "track and competition" classified compound (with a treadwear rating of just 80!) is optimized for warm, dry conditions to increase cornering and handling capability. They are "... essentially street-legal versions of a racing tire," says the automaker. The insanely wide tires (285/30R19 and 335/25R20) come wrapped around all-new staggered-size alloy wheels that are each about five pounds lighter than last year's 20-spoke wheel.

2012 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 wheel detail2012 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 brakes2012 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 tire2012 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 tire

Inside the lightly revised two-person cabin, the steering wheel has been enhanced with model-specific badges, the center console and armrests further padded and there is now contrasting stitching (red, blue or yellow) offered with the custom leather-wrapped interior. Chevrolet has also directed some much-needed attention to the seats, which have been upgraded with larger bolsters on the back and side cushion areas. To help keep occupants in place, there are also new faux microfiber suede seat inserts. Lastly, the Bose audio system has been reconfigured with nine speakers (it had seven last year) and the sound has been re-tuned to better match the cabin's acoustics.

The engine remains untouched, but the ZR1's standard close-ratio manual gearbox has been tweaked for improved fuel economy. In a nutshell, fifth and six gears are now taller. According to Chevrolet, it should now deliver an additional two mpg on the highway cycle to earn an EPA estimated 14 mpg city / 21 mpg highway – an obvious exercise to pacify the Feds...

2012 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 interior2012 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1  seats2012 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 gauges2012 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 drive mode control knob

When it first came on the scene, the ZR1 didn't carry a six-digit price tag. These days, a standard 2012 Chevrolet ZR1 starts with a base price of $111,600. However, the black car in our driveway was fitted with $17,435 worth of options. These included the 3ZR trim, which raises the base price to $122,600, the PDE ZR1 High-Performance package ($1,495) and the Chevrolet Centennial Special Edition package ($4,950). The latter includes the Carbon Flash Metallic exterior paint over full Ebony leather upholstery, Satin Black Cup-style wheels with red calipers, red accent stitching on the seats and steering wheel, a leather-wrapped instrument panel and doors with red accent stitching, special interior and exterior badging and Satin Black exterior graphics. Our final price was $130,010, including destination and freight. Steep, but not outrageous given the performance.

Even while stationary, the black ZR1 is striking in the flesh. While those who don't know Vettes sadly won't be able to tell the difference between it and its lesser brethren costing half as much, the ominous looking coupe has substantial stage presence. In this particular Darth Vader color scheme, it looks downright wicked.

2012 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 hood vent2012 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 badge2012 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 graphics2012 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 logo

We had the opportunity to take the ZR1 around the corner for a quick errand within minutes of its arrival. Without so much as a quick walk-around, we swung open the door and dropped into place. The green start/stop rocker switch is an oddity in a world of red push-to-start buttons, but it fired up the V8 without hesitation. As we carefully backed out of the driveway, the protruding front carbon-fiber splitter unexpectedly dragged over the sidewalk. Ouch. It would be the first of many countless encounters the splitter would have with the pavement despite our unwavering caution.

There wasn't much of an opportunity during those first few minutes to open it up, but we did spin the analog tachometer well around its dial on the surface streets (first gear is good for more than 65 mph, so shifting is theoretically optional). After less than 10 minutes behind the wheel, our initial impression was that the ZR1 was crazy fast, but it was also a very quiet supercar – much too quiet, which was both frustrating and baffling.

2012 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 engine2012 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 engine detail2012 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 engine detail2012 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 engine detail

Minutes later, we were online for some assistance. It came quickly. Ben Wojdyla (Associate Auto Editor at Popular Mechanics) suggested pulling the Exhaust Flap fuse. What is that you ask? It seems that Chevrolet, in a move to appease the EPA's sound limits on motor vehicles, electronically plugs part of the rear silencer on the ZR1 (and the Z06) to keep noise levels to a minimum most of the time. The result is that the ZR1 sounds like a Silverado pickup unless driven at wide-open throttle. Since it is our firm belief that sports cars should always sound at least as aggressive as they appear, Ben's advice was heeded and the offending 10 amp fuse was gently removed from its location in the passenger footwell. The process was accomplished cleanly and entirely by hand in about 45 seconds.

Seconds later, the supercharged LS9 6.2-liter V8 barked to life with a newfound throaty voice. Acorns fell from trees and nesting birds a quarter-mile away took flight. Hear the effect for yourself in the Short Cut video below.


Its lungs free to wail, we proceeded to drive the Corvette everywhere. We ran errands, drove kids to school and showed off to friends. Of course, the exhaust was arrogantly loud and pretentious, but the ZR1 was welcomed as America's hero at every stop. People took pictures with it, asked questions and generally just smiled. Fellow Vette owners waved eagerly, even from across divided highways (and we thought Mini owners were a passionate group). The car seemed to have no enemies.

The exhaust was arrogantly loud and pretentious, but the ZR1 was welcomed as America's hero at every stop.

Early in the week, a long trip down to Orange County gave us the opportunity to experience four hours of highway travel in the flagship Corvette. While exotics such as the Lexus LFA and Porsche GT3 do their best to shake your sunglasses glasses off your face, the ZR1 is fitted with GM's Magnetic Selective Ride Control as standard equipment. The electro-hydraulic system works miracles as it eliminates the busy and annoying jouncing common to track-tuned suspensions. Of course, the ride was firm, but it was never punishing or abusive, and most agree that the ZR1 rides better than the competition-ready Z06.

The blown V8 is not challenged by 65 mph travel on U.S. highways either, so our average fuel economy cruising in sixth gear was an indicated 20.8 mpg. Aside from a driving position that is lower than the surrounding traffic, which hampers visibility, our biggest irritant was that the ZR1 was a handful to keep within its lane. The huge contact patch from the steamroller tires had the coupe constantly chasing the cut grooves in the pavement. The Corvette was unnecessarily nervous and skittish as a cross-country cruiser, and it required full attention at all times to keep it straight.

2012 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 driving2012 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 driving

But then, effortless highway travel isn't the ZR1's forte – slaying its European competitors is.
While all enthusiasts are familiar with the supercharged 6.2-liter V8 under the Lexan-windowed carbon fiber hood, few realize just how insane 638 horsepower and 604 pound-feet of torque feels from the driver's seat. The ZR1 is fitted full of electronic nannies, all working their magic from different angles, but they are truly helpless against the beast lashed to the chassis up front.

Without launch control, both tires spun wildly and our forward movement was ridiculously slow.

We mashed the accelerator pedal. Instantaneously, all hell broke loose just behind our ears as the foot-wide alloy wheels attempted to centrifugally shed the expensive Michelin rubber wrapped around them. The tires, as tenacious and sticky as warm Silly Putty, ripped at the asphalt before kicking up a rooster tail of debris that was thrown yards rearward. Without launch control, both tires spun wildly and our forward movement was ridiculously slow. Attempted again, this time with launch control, and the ZR1 blasted to 60 mph in a traction-limited time of just over three seconds – with the noise and g-loading, we swear it feels even quicker than that.

Don't lift and acceleration through the gears is simply mind-boggling. Benchmarks such as 60 mph, 100 mph and the quarter mile fall effortlessly. And the accompanying V8 soundtrack is both spine-chilling and euphoric. Mechanically speaking, everything from the flick of the gearbox to the impressive powertrain to the snarling and cackling exhaust is nearly infallible. The components worked so well together that driving the ZR1 is an absolute joy.

2012 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 driving2012 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 driving

It quickly became obvious that the ZR1's limits were nearly untappable on public roads. Outlandish power aside, near-perfect suspension tuning raised cornering grip to ridiculous levels and the nauseating clamping force of carbon-ceramic brakes dropped stopping distances to a pittance. Despite the pounding, America's best sports car didn't even break a sweat (all fluid temperatures, easily observed from the cockpit gauges, hardly twitched). Is tackling a public canyon road in a ZR1 overkill? Embarrassingly so. It felt like we were using a M198 howitzer to shoot an empty beer can. But for our enthusiast-tuned blood, the experience was a blissful adrenaline rush.

Of course, hooning does have its consequences. Using the accelerator pedal as a block to press your socks through the sole of your shoe will yield less than nine mpg. And the gooey tires, at a dear $2,000 per set, will only last a few thousand miles before needing replacement. Such is the cost of this legalized drug.

2012 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 front 3/4 view

Look past GM's brilliance in the ZR1 machinery and you will find that the vehicle's human interface is still significantly troublesome. Not only is much of the switchgear cheap, but the cupholders are shallow and the interior lighting is dismal. Even the upgraded front seats remain a huge embarrassment. Their puffy thigh and side bolsters are marshmallow squishy, failing to hold passengers firmly in place during even lightly spirited maneuvers. The ZR1 corners in excess of 1 G, but the seats are so unsupportive that you will only feel it while pinned against the side of the door panel. We know GM can make good seats (hello, CTS-V), so why not fit them to the Corvette flagship? Apparently they don't fit, so this will need to be something GM tackles with the next-gen C7.

Adding to our frustration, the left shoulder bolster squeaked against the B-pillar incessantly and there was an utter lack of basic storage. We were also miffed to find that the center console, where the USB cable audio interface is located, cooks its contents more effectively than an Easy-Bake oven (our iPhone overheated and shut down during both long drives). The overall cockpit appointments were ho-hum at best.

2012 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 rear 3/4 view

GM says the key competitors to the ZR1 are the Lamborghini Gallardo, Audi R8, Porsche 911 GT2 and Ferrari 599. Without question, and mechanically speaking, the Corvette is easily able to run with the best in the world. However, the Europeans take things a bit further as they consider cabin appointments equally as crucial as performance. They wisely craft cockpits that are opulent, beautifully detailed and visually striking. In this tactile (and emotional) category, the Corvette trails by a wide margin.

The ZR1 is not engineered (or priced) for those seeking the prestige of a badge or the whiff of hand-tanned leather.

Yet while it isn't spelled out in the owner's manual, it is obvious that the ZR1 is not engineered (or priced) for those seeking the prestige of a badge or the whiff of hand-tanned leather. Despite incessant complaints about the interior, the automaker keeps its flagship focused on its primary mission: deranged levels of performance.

While the Z06 is arguably the better track car, the ZR1 is the emotional hook. It is built solely for dreamers. The list encompasses the student at Wright State who is spellbound by the poster on his wall, the diligent salesperson forever hitting the pavement and the entrepreneur hard at work making his hundredth product pitch. The ZR1 is crafted to allure those who have the drive and passion to aspire for better things. It captivates those who yearn. And without wavering, GM will always keep it within grasp of those looking up.

The Corvette ZR1 is a rolling testament to the honorable tenacity of the American dream.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 161 Comments
      tvelt92
      • 2 Years Ago
      This car has aged incredibly well. Still looks good after 7 years of production.
      • 2 Years Ago
      [blocked]
      Nick
      • 2 Years Ago
      I have to say that pictures do these cars little justice.. as with most other sports cars as well as most supercars (I don't personally consider a corvette a supercar). I saw one on I-95 south the other day and wow... it was only a Grand Sport model... but It just looked mean, had a nasty stance, especially in comparison to base corvettes... My favorite corvette by far are the Z06 and Z06 Carbon... most Vette for the money.... plenty of power for any reasonable person who likes to be able to control their car and actually use what they pay for.... etc... I also think $100,000+ for any corvette (read: ZR1) is just excessive, even with all that power, especially considering you can hardly put it to use, even at extra-legal speeds, on any highway.. It just too much power (torque) for a RWD street car... IMHO ............ Z06 FTW ! queue I'm hardly a corvette fan, or GM but i must give credit where it is deserved.. their efforts have been much more commendable in recent years than the 90's and early 2000's /end rant
        jawnath1n
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Nick
        Definition of super car can mean different things to different people. Tiff Needle called the Z06 a budget supercar on Fifth Gear. Motor Trend had a 'Budget Supercar' article (sub-100k) that included the Z06 & GTR. If exclusivity, price, and brand are important to defining a 'Super Car', then I agree, the Corvette is not one. This would also take away pretty much any 911 (with the exception of the RS models), the GTR, any Mercedes (except maybe the SLS), and a few other great cars. If strictly looking at performance, both the Z06 and ZR1 would easily qualify. They are both world class performers. The Z06s were hunting down F430s, Gallardos, and other exotics when it was released 6 years ago. Its a bit older now and every manufacturer has upped their game, but both the Z06 and ZR1 still humbles exotics and continues to regularly win lap time 'shootouts'.
          jawnath1n
          • 2 Years Ago
          @jawnath1n
          kcroc10077, the Corvette is definitely not an exotic. The definition of exotic is pretty clear.
        Nick
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Nick
        **queue the down-rating bc i state my opinion... haha
      Thipps
      • 2 Years Ago
      Great photography Autoblog :)
      Scarboy6693
      • 2 Years Ago
      I hate it when people bag on the Corvette. Idk y. I know it has a subpar interior and its not made by a very prestigious brand, but I love it. Its one of the few real driver's car left. Don't get me wrong, The 458's DCT is an excellent transmission, but I think there's just something about a 6-speed manual in a powerful rear wheel drive car that really gets you going in a way that no DCT or Auto tranny can. I've always been a Corvette fan and will be
        mazeroni
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Scarboy6693
        There are other things that need to be addressed in the car that would absolutely take it over the top. Ditching the rear leaf springs in favor of a fully independent multilink rear would go a long way to benefiting the handling especially with the use of magnetic ride control. The plastic body work is not acceptable in any car costing over 15k. The biggest ding in my opinion is that Chevy has let the Camaro steal this cars thunder and if they fail to address in the C7 then the car is destined to lose to the ATS based next gen camaro.
          Dave
          • 2 Years Ago
          @mazeroni
          The rear leaf spring... Not plural is actually very effective, and is not a live rear axle design like a mustang (which is actually a damn good example of an old school design, but back to the main.subject) it is an independent rear suspension design that kicks ass on the track as well as on the street, and will beat or be within a few tenths of any...yes any production sports car out there. Id be quite amazed if this design is not on the c7 where it will continue to kick ass. Nothing wrong with the plastic body work either.
          Dreez28
          • 2 Years Ago
          @mazeroni
          The greatest two benefits of the leaf spring is the extremely low center of gravity, and extreme low weight. Those two benefits, and yet there is no downside with comparable or even better performance characteristics. For example, the suspension that is in the Lamborghini Aventador is hailed as high tech and ground-breaking for production vehicles, but if you look at how high all the components of that suspension sit within the chassis, you realize that you're trading off just as much performance capability as you are gaining. Point being, there is a reason the Corvette is such a dominant track performer, and if the technology was inferior to others, wouldn't you think the performance would be representative of that. Don't judge the book by its cover, read into it a bit before you spew vomit on everything.
          karknut
          • 2 Years Ago
          @mazeroni
          What part of the rear suspension is not independent? You say leaf springs like you know what you are talking about, it's a transverse leaf spring and the rear suspension is independent. You must be getting all of your vast knowledge of vehicle suspensions from Jeremy Clarkson. The ZR1 has carbon fibre hood, front fenders, roof panels, floor and aero add ons. Also fibreglass is not plastic...idiot. The only plastic pieces are the same ones everyone uses - bumper covers. Every version of the Corvette has been a serious upgrade from the previous version and I doubt very much that this will not be the case with the C7, it will likely be a good competitor for your Corolla.
          Mr Clickerson
          • 2 Years Ago
          @mazeroni
          Multilink? What the crap are you talking about? The corvette has, and always has run an independent rear suspension. There is no use for "links" on a car like this, and the single leaf spring in the rear saves a lot of weight and works extremely well. As for plastic body work, the Corvette isn't the only car with fiberglass panels... You really need to brush up on your automotive knowledge.
      SteveM
      • 2 Years Ago
      Really... the interior isn't up to world standards. Hmmm, never heard that one before. Sarcasm for those not reading between the lines. OK, I am a Corvette owner and a Vette enthusiast. I know Chevy will rectify the interior on the new car. At least I'd be shocked if they didn't. These are fun and attractive cars, I can only imagine what the ZR1 drives like. I think this is a fair and honest review of a model on it's way out. At the end of it's model run the Vette is still a viable platform. They are fun, dependable, and frankly the interior isn't a penalty box. I've not once thought, "Gee, I'd be enjoying this drive so much more if I only had some Alcantara in here".
        jtav2002
        • 2 Years Ago
        @SteveM
        Hopefully the C7 does have a great interior. Sure it's a tired complaint about the interior, but it's valid nonetheless. You can overlook it in a 50K basic C6. But in the case of the tested car here, 130k for an interior that IMO is worse than a Chevy Cruze, that's a huge problem. Sure it's an incredible performer no one can take that away from it.
        kcroc10077
        • 2 Years Ago
        @SteveM
        The interior complaints about the Corvette are valid. Especially those about the seats. Hopefully GM will correct this in the C7. Thing is, the interior doesn't need to be Bentley plush or ultra sophisticated. Put in good seats, use better materials ,and it's a done deal. And Corvette isn't the only domestic performance car struggling with this. Look at the interior of both the Camaro and the Mustang--plastic fantastic.
          SteveM
          • 2 Years Ago
          @kcroc10077
          I completely get, and agree with what you're saying. It's been said too many times though. We all get it. And I'll only repeat my feelings - it's a nice car to spend time in - it's a grin machine - it's nice on a long drive - and I never have once felt that I was being abused by a poor quality interior. With that said, we can all agree that Chevy needs to do better with the C7's interior. And in regards to the base model, let's all be cognizant of what the price point is, and what it's competing against. Not too many of the competitors in that price range will wow you with accoutrement.
      Timothy Tibbetts
      • 2 Years Ago
      When you get over 3k RPM's or so, the exhaust opens up and gets sick loud. Having owned one for a year it was great to enjoy the ride and just shock people when you got on it. I frequently had people jump when I got on it. That said, I added a "mild to wold" switch which should be factory. For 100 bucks and a 5 monute fuse jump, you simply hit the key fob and all 4 exhausts open up. Awesome. "After less than 10 minutes behind the wheel, our initial impression was that the ZR1 was crazy fast, but it was also a very quiet supercar – much too quiet, which was both frustrating and baffling."
        SloopJohnB
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Timothy Tibbetts
        $100???? Less than $5 for a radio shack switch, a fuse holder and a couple feet of wire...all you have to do is open that one fuse circuit.
      Doran
      • 2 Years Ago
      Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant. Thank you for writing such a compelling and enjoyable piece. This is why I love Autoblog!
      Mihir StarBurnout
      • 2 Years Ago
      +1 for THE BEST short cut on autoblog
      Lemon
      • 2 Years Ago
      Yes. Love that sound. Pretty awesome you can just take the fuse out- Chevy engineers were obviously thinking about the enthusiast when they decided to have the bi-modal exhaust fail open!
      ramairjer
      • 2 Years Ago
      Great piece that was fair in it's praises and criticisms.
      Alejandro Pinedo
      • 2 Years Ago
      Great article Harley! I own a 2008 Corvette myself and I am about to undertake a trip from Miami to Orange County and then joining the Hot Rod Power Tour in Detroit. I am curious though, where exactly is that road you took the ZR1 pictures at? I would like to drive my vette through those hills. Thank!
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