2015 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 [w/videos]
Moving The C7 From Great To Genius
EngineSC 6.2L V8
Power650 HP / 650 LB-FT
0-60 Time3.2 Seconds
Top Speed195 MPH
Curb Weight3,524 LBS
MPG15 City / 22 HWY (est)
Warranty3 Years / 36,000 Miles
As Tested Price$85,565
The generous, civilized part of me worries for a moment that absconding with the new-best Corvette might have left one of my fellow journalists without a car. But the selfish part of me – the part largely in control of the rocket-launcher of a throttle under my right foot – says "screw it."
I spent two days with the 2015 Chevy Corvette Z06, a monster of a sports car that will soon be dominating track days everywhere, and I never once was inclined to share it. Hurtling through the shattered stillness of the desert and pulling big Gs at Spring Mountain circuit, I never felt overly disposed to give up my seat. This Corvette, more than any I've yet driven, was deep enough to hold my attention; for two days, for two years, probably.
With this Z06, the Corvette steps over the amazing-for-the-price category, and solidly into the best-cars-in-the-world zone. There are peripheral elements that remind me of its blue collar, Bowtie heritage, sure, but there's more that simply begs me to carry on driving... faster.
Most casual car observers will be able to pick the 2015 Z06 out from its less aggressive Stingray brothers. Subtler hints include a new, more open grille, larger extractor on the taller hood and rather discreet badges on the flanks of the car. More outrageous is the finned spoiler on the rear trunk lid, and the widebody look offered from flared fenders – an extra 1.57 inches (40 millimeters) at their beefiest point.
Even driving around performance-car-laden Pahrump, NV – loaded thanks to the very active community at the Spring Mountain racing resort – members of the local populace were turning heads, waving and generally noting the Z06 with approval when I drove through town.
In Torch Red over black painted aluminum wheels, staggered at 19-inches in front and 20 at the back, the amped-up Z06 hits a new level of road presence for the C7.
Sadly, while the $78,000-base Z06 may look and drive the part of a supercar killer on the outside, the revised interior can't quite follow suit.
Listen, I'm not going to be the guy that dogs the Corvette for having a cheap-feeling interior, this generation has put those once-legitimate claims to rest. But the Z06 additions to the cabin – badging on the steering wheel and seats and a slightly gauche "650 Horsepower / 650 LBS FT Torque" plaque on the center console among them – don't merit comparison to the Lamborghini, Ferrari and Porsche models that this car can compete with on the track.
If the Z06 has a flaw in its armor, the specialness of its cabin might be it. So be it.
From a comfort and function standpoint, I'd guess anyone at six-foot, three-inches, or shorter, will find a well-laid-out cabin with excellent controls. Even at a few inches taller than that, I enjoyed excellent forward and lateral visibility on the street (where I didn't have to wear a helmet), firm grip at my haunches from the snug sport seats, and joyful purchase on the thick-rimmed steering wheel. With the exception of a trunk-popping switch that long legged folks with hit with their knees a lot, the Z06 is Pretty Tall Guy approved. (Just not Really Tall Guy approved.)
Everyone with a beating heart should approve of the engine, on the other hand. If you've been following the rollout of this '15 Z06 even a little bit, you're sure to know that the supercharged LT4 V8 has been lovingly tuned to produce a staggering 650 horsepower and 650 pound-feet of torque. Those impressive numbers tell part of the story, but true illumination didn't come for me until I uncorked the sucker on those empty desert roads on the Nevada-California border.
I shot a Short Cut video (below) of the Z06 taking off at the track, which gives you some idea of the sound of the thing, at least. But the feeling in my chest when matting the throttle at 50 miles per hour in third gear is harder to document. You need to be behind the wheel or riding shotgun when the fuse is lit, to 'get' this LT4 with any accuracy.
The Z06's best 0-60 time of 2.95 seconds (for the eight-speed automatic cars, it's 3.2 seconds for the manual) puts it in league with products like the Lamborghini Huracán, McLaren 650S and Ferrari 458 Speciale. Its top speed of 195 mph may leave it just outside of the 200-mph club, but that's a vanity stat that real-world drivers and weekend racers can safely laugh off.
From the perspective of even very fast driving, having a hell of a good time and passing just about everything on the road, the LT4 is effectively infinite in terms of power and thrust.
Corvette powertrain engineers have wrought wonders under the hood of the Z06, then, but the chassis guys have created a technological masterpiece as well. The newest generation of the variable drive mode selection, which accesses systems like magnetic shocks, steering, throttle, transmission, traction and stability control and more, is a wonder of variety.
Selectable modes, listed in order of driving aggressiveness include Eco, Tour, Sport and Track, with a Weather mode for low-traction occasions, too. In and of themselves, the existence of such modes isn't new. What's impressive is the vast difference that each makes in terms of how this Corvette feels and reacts on the road.
Especially in terms of steering weight and feel, switching from, say, Eco to Sport is almost analogous to swapping from a Lexus to a Lotus. In the default Tour mode, the Z06 is one-finger-steerable, with a compliant suspension feel and in-cabin noise levels that could pass for "quiet" on smooth roads (rougher stuff produces a still-loud rumble from the wide, low-sidewall tires). Race, on the other hand, makes the magic-magnet suspenders so stiff as to be uncomfortable for long stretches, and the steering wheel heavy enough that I wanted both hands affixed all of the time.
Sport mode, not surprisingly then, is just the ticket for the type of grand touring driving that I love to do on great roads. The correct balance of a roaring exhaust, sharp throttle and clever handling exist here, and help to make the C7 Z06 exactly the kind of dual-purpose threat that previous generations of the nameplate couldn't quite manage.
The second half of that duality is, of course, any racing track you're lucky enough to drive it to. In my case, that was a tight-but-satisfying, 1.5-mile course laid out at Spring Mountain. If the Z06 came alive for me on the scything roads around Death Valley, it was here that the beast actually extended its claws.
The standard Z06 translates amazingly well to the track environment, as it should. It's a fluid, capable machine with excellent mechanical grip, strong brakes, and a balanced chassis that compliments the driver in just about every circumstance. There's still a fair amount of "Corvette" in this car, of course. Especially with traction control disabled and the variable ride settings clicked to "leave me the hell alone," it's on the pilot not to let the rear end get too loose, or overwhelmed with those rampaging horses.
But it's with the $7,995 Z07 package that the stunning track car turns into an unbelievable one. Ticking the Z07 box doesn't get you any extra power (and believe me, you don't need any), but it does transform the vehicle with carbon-ceramic brakes, super-sticky Michelin Pilot Super Sport Cup tires and a still-more-aggressive aero package.
The small track I drove on, with its relatively short back straight section, didn't allow me to get a great feel for the difference between the stock and the optional aero packages, but the difference in the tires and the braking power was pronounced.
I'm not a club racer, but as the day wore on, my laps in the Z07 cars became decisively quicker than those in the lesser Z06. Braking later (in some cases, much later) into corners, I was still able to toss the agile car precisely over most apexes and lay down power seamlessly on exit.
There are five levels of Corvette's Performance Traction Management settings that work within the drive modes, too: Wet, Dry, Sport 1, Sport 2 and Race. Even feeling pretty confident in my knowledge of the circuit and feel for the car, later in the day, switching over to Race and switching off traction and stability control had me sweaty palmed. I needn't have worried, as the setup left the Z06 slightly less forgiving of small mistakes, but still with enough tire to keep me confidently lapping.
Those that caught my writeup of the Stingray's new eight-speed automatic transmission this summer won't be surprised to read it, but the gem of the track day for me was a Z07-pack car with the autobox. No shit.
Here's the formula: select Track for drive mode, Race for traction management, and then slot the automatic's lever in straight D and ignore the shift paddles on the steering wheel. All of my fastest times turned that day were all with the configuration above. Thusly set, the Z06 does a kind of wonderful Nissan GT-R impression: shifting and gripping and going like a virtual racer straight from Forza, but with far more tactility and progressive handling up to the limit than I've ever felt behind the wheel of Godzilla.
The eight-speed isn't nearly so satisfying when shifting in manual mode, and, honestly, I still preferred the rev-matching seven-speed hand-shaker despite it being slower to use. If it were my Corvette to build, and even if I planned to track it regularly, I'd opt into the sweet manual with its easy clutch and clean, short throws. Still, there's no question that Chevrolet has two excellent transmission options here.
I started off by saying that this Z06 is better than simply being an outstanding performance value, and I really meant it. With quibbles about image and luxurious appointments taken as read, this is a Corvette that can go toe-to-toe with nearly every exotic I've ever driven, and, I suspect, many that I haven't.
Serious cross-shoppers at this price and performance threshold will no doubt see the Dodge SRT Viper TA and Nissan GT-R as prime competitors. I'll agree that they make a good deal of sense on paper, and none fall short of "riveting" on the enthusiast driver scale, but let me be unequivocal in saying that this Z06 is better to drive than either. More complimentary of its driver, more capacious in its ability to astound and more practical for the daily duty of driving around town and making strangers gawp.
If you're a Corvette lover, this is the car you've always wanted. If you've been derisive of the marque, this is the car that will change your mind. If you're a journalist with two days in the desert and someone else buying the gas and tires, this Z06 will leave you in its thrall.
UPDATE: Thanks to some help from our video staff we've now added a lap in the Z06 recorded on the car's Performance Data Recorder.
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