2009 Chevrolet Corvette Expert Review
Torque is good. More torque is better. And when you have more than 600 lb-ft of the stuff at your disposal with just a tip of your right toe, life is fantastic. Now, if it would just stop raining, things would be perfect. Such is life with the 2009 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1.
As the old saying goes, "Timing is everything", and as General Motors approached its 100th birthday last September, it introduced the two most powerful production cars it had ever created, the Cadillac CTS-V and the ZR1. Unfortunately, just as GM reached the pinnacle of high performance cars, the world economy imploded. The global financial bubble got pierced from multiple sides and sales of cars at every price and performance level vaporized. Fortunately for us, GM is still hanging in there and Chevrolet let us have a few days of quality time with a ZR1 while the opportunity still exists. We went to Hell and back in the ZR1 and lived to tell the tale after the jump.
Photos copyright ©2009 Drew Phillips / Weblogs, Inc
For the hard working people at GM's facilities around the world, it may feel like being in hell with no way out. But there is an escape route for the fortunate few. It's the ZR1. If every GM employee could just go and spend a day in the most powerful of all Corvettes, all their worries might just melt away – if only for a moment. In January of last year, we told you all about the goodies that make a ZR1 special, especially its heart, the LS9. The car once known as the "Blue Devil" begins with the aluminum and magnesium chassis that underpins the Z06 and then follows the Colin Chapman philosophy of "adding lightness" to compensate for the increased mass of the supercharged 6.2-liter V8.
While GM allowed us the use of a Crystal Red Metallic ZR1 for our California photoshoot, we actually spent the week in a striking Atomic Orange Metallic model with an interior finished in the black and grey leather of Chevy's premium equipment package (don't forget to check out the bonus gallery of our Michigan test model). In spite of the outlandish paint color, the ZR1 drew remarkably little attention from on-lookers. Compared to some of the other cars we've driven around town, almost no one gave the ZR1 a second glance. The one exception was the poor valet at a nearby parking garage who recognized what it was as we pulled into our parking space. He seemed heartbroken at not being given the opportunity to drive it.
The problem – if you want to call it that – is that Corvettes in general are pretty common place after more than half-century of production, and unless you look closely, most non-gear-heads wouldn't realize the ZR1 is anything special. At a distance, the carbon fiber roof just looks black and there have been enough variants of the side vents over time that this incarnation isn't entirely noticeable. It's hard to think of any Corvette as a Q-ship, but among the masses, this one almost qualifies. That's not such bad thing, as it lets the driver enjoy the beast in relative privacy.
In an interesting little quirk of timing, fellow Autoblogger, Chris Paukert who lives nearby, procured an Audi R8 last minute and hatched the plan that took us to Hell. For those who don't live around these parts and know of Hell only from some 2,000-year-old book, there is actually a little hamlet northwest of Ann Arbor that goes by that very name. What better place for an orange Vette and a black R8 to come face to face? We'll come back to that meeting in a bit, but first, let's look at life with a ZR1.
Have we mentioned that torque is good? Among more pedestrian Corvettes, the majority are sold with automatic transmissions. Given the aversion most Americans have to manipulating a third pedal, there are surely those who lament the absence of the two pedal option in the ZR1. While we don't have much sympathy around these parts, fortunately, slush-box lovers need not fret. If you've ever had the opportunity to drive an electric car with a single-speed gearbox, you'd be familiar with the phenomenon of a flat torque curve that go from zero rpm and continues to pull and pull into the stratosphere. The LS9 is as close to that sensation as you can get with an internal combustion engine and the ZR1's torque output is so prodigious it can be launched from a dead stop in fourth gear without straining or stalling.
From there, the ZR1 accelerates smoothly well into triple digit speeds without ever touching the gear lever. You still need to use the clutch to get moving, but from there you can just accelerate without really thinking about it. During our time with the car, the Society of Automotive Engineers held their annual gathering in Detroit and we drove to the event a couple of times. The ZR1 is an insanely fast supercar as we experienced during our first drive last summer. However, as we discovered, it's also utterly usable as a daily driver. We encountered plenty of rush hour stop-and-go traffic on those trips into Detroit. Once upon a time, driving a car with performance anywhere close to the ZR1 would have left the driver with a sore leg from pumping that clutch pedal. The LS9 is backed up by a dual plate clutch that provides enough frictional force to withstand the punishment while requiring a much lower effort to disengage. In fact, the ZR1's clutch is markedly lighter and easier to modulate than the unit in the less powerful Z06.
While the ZR1 loves the open road, the beauty is it can be operated anywhere without punishing the driver. The powertrain isn't the only element of the ZR1 that makes it easy to drive. The most significant change to the suspension from lesser models is the adoption of Delphi's magnetic ride damping system. The MR dampers are filled with a hydraulic fluid containing tiny iron particles. By controlling an electric current passing through the fluid, the viscosity – and thus the damping rate – can be continuously varied. The ZR1 is more softly sprung than the Z06, but the MR dampers allow it to corner almost roll-free with a surprisingly comfortable ride. Even going into pot hole-riddled Detroit, the ZR1 didn't bounce around like a C4 Vette would – or a Z06, for that matter.
As wonderful as the mechanical bits of the ZR1 are, if there is one thing people have been less than enthralled with, it is the interior. The C6 Corvette isn't terrible, but compared to Paukert's R8 or virtually any other $100k car, it does feel cheap, even with the premium leather interior. The layout is fine, but much of the switch-gear and controls are carried straight over from lesser Chevrolets, some from a eons ago. Anyone who drove a cruise control-equipped GM car in the 1980s will feel right at home with the turn-signal/cruise stalk in the 2009 'Vette. Similarly, one glance at the steering wheel screams Malibu. These, however, are passable sins. There is one major functional problem with the ZR1 interior that screams out for correction.
Any car that go 200+ mph and pull 1g on the skid-pad should really have an outstanding pair of seats. The CTS-V is available with an optional set of Recaros that steadfastly hold the driver in front of the steering wheel. Even the crude and rude Dodge Viper has a fabulous set of thrones. So why does the ZR1 have to make do with seats that don't even belong in a base Corvette? Please, GM, at least offer the Recaros as an option. There are, however, aspects of being in the ZR1 that far surpass competitors, visibility being chief among those. Aside from the low roof necessitating a forward lean to see some traffic lights, visibility in all other directions is excellent, especially over the shoulders. The R8 definitely loses here.
Aside from the somewhat flimsy seats, manipulating a ZR1 down the freeway, in traffic, on a twisty road or on the track is pure pleasure. The steering feel is excellent, with perfect weighting and feedback that clearly communicates what's happening at the tire/road interface. If a car is going to have over 600 hp, it definitely needs some serious braking power. Again, the ZR1 comes through. Thanks to 15.5-inch diameter Brembo carbon ceramic brakes with six-piston mono-block calipers, the ZR1 dissipates kinetic energy as quickly and consistently as anything on the road today. The remarkably stiff brakes mean there is no slop or sponginess in the pedal and the reaction is beautifully linear.
Before putting the Brembos to work, you need to get the car moving. Sitting still, the LS9 engine emits just enough lumpiness to feel like a heartbeat, letting you know that the ZR1 is alive and well. The tach needle, however, sits completely steady at about 600 rpm, never wavering or surging like a carbureted '60s big block would. Let the clutch pedal out with a light touch on the throttle and the car pulls away as smoothly as a Malibu. Put your right foot down, though, and all hell breaks loose. At lower speeds and light throttle, the exhaust has a pleasant rumble that lets you know this is a classic American V8, but it's not so loud as to alert the authorities or make the commute to work in the morning too annoying.
As the speedometer passes about 40 mph with the gas pedal more than halfway through its travel, the ZR1 suddenly transforms into a reasonable facsimile of a C6R GT1 race car. The thundering bass tones emanating from the exhaust are pure supercar symphony. Rowing through the six-speed gearbox is a pleasure with its reasonably precise gates and short throws. The optional heads-up display allows you to keep your eyes on the road, especially important given the rate at which this machine can consume it. The rush of acceleration available at any speed in almost any gear is absolutely mind-boggling and the supercharged engine never complains or balks at a command. It pushes on through whatever imaginary barrier stops lesser vehicles.
Even when the weather gets less-than-perfect, the ZR1 looks out for the driver. Unlike Dodge's minimalist Viper, which only grudgingly includes ABS, the 'Vette includes full electronic stability control. As a proper car of this caliber should, the system can be reduced in intrusiveness or disabled altogether for those who prefer to have full control. The reality is that even in its default mode, this system has been calibrated as it should for a performance car. The Stabilitrak never feels like an overprotective nanny and a stab of the throttle can easily get the rear end sliding out. When intervention does occur, it nudges the axle back in line rather than jerking it around.
The new ZR1 is truly a daily driver supercar, at least for most days. Even with proper snow tires, it would be extremely unwise to attempt driving a ZR1 in the winter. The ride is comfortable enough, however, that even driving it in Michigan is tolerable, while the grip is sufficient to drive through corners at speeds that would easily get you thrown behind bars. Even the interior – while not up to the standards of Audi or Ferrari – is livable enough as long as the seats get replaced by something better. As for fuel consumption, let's just say that the ZR1 consumes premium refined petroleum – a lot of it. But with an engine like the LS9, does it really matter how much gas gets burned? At a starting price of $102,450 and out-the-door tariff of $115,300, this car truly is a bargain amongst its performance peers, which is an exceedingly small group. Cars like the ZR1, CTS-V and Volt are perfect examples of why we should hope GM emerges from its current financial malaise. GM will need to get more than its product sorted for the company to be pointed on the road out of Armageddon, but when they finally do, it's clear that the automaker already has the perfect chariot for the ride out of hell.
Photos copyright ©2009 Drew Phillips / Weblogs, Inc
Photos copyright ©2009 Sam Abuelsamid / Max Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc
Click above for a high-res gallery of the 2009 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1
Last week, General Motors' Bowling Green, KY assembly plant began manufacturing the fastest, most powerful production Corvette in its 55-year history. We got our first official look at the 2009 Corvette ZR1 at the Detroit Auto Show in January and, at that time, Chevrolet officials hadn't finalized the numbers. Over the intervening months, GM continued to tease us with bits of information, including the ZR1's 205 mph top speed, 638 horsepower, 605 lb.-ft. of torque, and 7:26.4 lap time at the Nurburgring. Throughout all of this, we've been waiting patiently for one of the most anticipated invitations of 2008: the ZR1 First Drive.
That wait finally ended a few weeks ago when we got the call to arrive at GM's Milford Proving Grounds. All we needed was cooperative weather. As the sun crested the horizon on the appointed day, the darkened skies threatened to put the kibosh on our time with the King. But a few hours later, the clouds dissipated and the fun was officially underway.
UPDATE: Video of Corvette ZR1 on the Lutz Ring added after the jump.
Photos Copyright ©2008 Chris Shunk / Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.
Boy, what a difference a year makes. Twelve months ago I was working full time as an engineer for an automotive supplier, and in the course of that work spent a significant amount of time working with prototype vehicles at the Milford Proving Grounds. At the time, we had all seen spy photos of the new 'Vette and most people were still referring to it as the SS or Blue Devil. Of course, anything I personally saw in the course of my job was off-limits for discussion or publication. I didn't actually know any details about the new super-Vette, but could hear the monster and glorious sound it made while running around Milford.
There were two main places I saw the ZR1 working out: the East-West straightaway where the development cars were doing acceleration and braking tests and the "Lutz-Ring". In the process of testing some low speed braking behavior, I used a storage parking lot that sits within the road course that Bob built because it's one of the few places on the grounds with smooth pavement. While analyzing data on more than one occasion, I saw the ZR1 heading out on the road course to get its daily exercise.
Since safety is a paramount concern at test tracks, facilities like the Milford Road Course are typically off-limits without special permission from the safety department. Unfortunately, I never had the opportunity to actually drive the road course as part of my old job. When the call came to drive the ZR1 on the road course, I had to jump at it. The track is nick-named the Lutz-Ring because GM's Vice Chairman was largely responsible for its existence. Within the outer oval is an array of corners and terrain that replicates portions of famous race tracks, including the steeply banked "Toilet Bowl" from Watkins Glen. For our drive, the traffic safety crew coned off certain sections and added a chicane in the back straight in order to keep speeds under control. Nonetheless, we were able to get a pretty good feel for the immense performance of which the new ZR1 is capable.
Most of what was said in the pre-drive briefing repeated what we heard back in December and January, and we've written at length about both the car and its new supercharged LS9 V8. We did get a few new tidbits of new information, including that all 2009 Corvettes are getting an updated Bosch stability control system, as well as a new variable ratio steering system. Both the Z06 and ZR1 get a larger 10.5-quart dry sump oil system this year, as well. A less expensive 1LT trim level has been added for the Corvette Convertible, so the open top 'Vette is now available for only $5,000 more than the base coupe, while the '09 Z06 gets a new wheel design.
But you don't really care about those lesser 'Vettes, do you? You want to know how the ZR1 drives. Well it's not bad, not bad at all. In fact, it's amazing. There was a time not so long ago that getting 638 hp out of an engine meant using enormous carburetors and camshafts with insane lift and timing. However, those engines didn't like to idle below 1,500 rpm, weren't very tractable and exhibited undesirable characteristics like vapor lock in hot weather. The miracle of modern electronic engine management means all those problems are history. It's now possible to have a car that can top 200 mph and get to 60 mph in the low 3-second range while being utterly tractable and easy drive on a daily basis.
We split in two groups when the time came to drive, with our group heading out on an open road loop with a pair of ZR1s, a Z06 and a few base Vettes in coupe and convertible form. We grabbed one of the ZR1s for the first leg, and the first thing we noticed was the absence of any drama with the brakes. The ZR1 is equipped with massive 15.5-inch carbon-ceramic rotors in front with six-piston mono-block calipers. The rear axle has mere 15-inch rotors with four-pot calipers. Carbon-ceramic brakes used on race cars have incredible fade resistance, but very little friction before they heat up. This clearly isn't appropriate for a road car, so Italian brake supplier Brembo has formulated these new carbon-ceramic brakes to provide immense stopping power even when cold. They succeeded.
You might think that a car with 30-series tires on the front and 25-series rubber in the back might have issues with ride comfort, but that wasn't the case either. The new, second generation magneto-rheological (MR) dampers have allowed engineers to achieve much of what they were trying to get from full active suspension systems in the late '80s and early '90s at a much lower cost and power consumption. The ZR1 is as comfortable over Michigan roads as the base Corvette, but the MR system allows it be instantly transformed on the track. While this is no Lexus, compared to a C4 Corvette like the original ZR-1, this new coupe is positively luxurious.
For anyone who's heard the thunderous roar of one of the C6R Corvettes that run in the 24 Hours of Le Mans or American Le Mans Series, the ZR1's bark at wide open throttle will be immediately familiar. The first time I heard a ZR1 doing acceleration runs last summer, I couldn't believe this was a production car. When driving at highway speeds, you normally don't hear the exhaust note of other cars. But when we were following a ZR1 up US-23 and the driver floored it, the dual mode exhaust opened up and you could almost feel the sound waves as it pulled away.
During the initial backgrounder last December, Chief Engineer Tadge Juechter explained that the team wanted to create a Corvette with supercar performance that was livable for everyday use. Many reviewers have complained that the Z06 is just too twitchy and hard to live with. We didn't spend a lot of time in the ZR1 on the road, but first impressions proved that the uber-'Vette is actually more comfortable for daily use than its little brother.
When we returned to Milford, it was time to hit the Lutz-Ring. After a couple of orientation laps of the track in Tahoe hybrids, we grabbed some helmets and hopped into the cars. Three ZR1s were available in black, yellow and red. Just to make sure we stayed safe and didn't get too overconfident on the track, the safety crew made us come back into the pits at the end of every lap. After a moderate reconnaissance lap, it was time to gradually turn up the wick. One thing became immediately clear both on the road and the track. Unlike most engines, the ZR1 doesn't really have a torque curve. It's more like an electric motor -- massive torque is everywhere. In fact, it has so much twist you almost don't need shift. Put the gear lever in third and roll on the throttle until you've accumulated enough speed as your license can tolerate and then lay on the brakes as hard as you please.
The supercharged LS9 is unbelievably tractable with never a hiccup or shudder. At idle, it ticks over gently with just enough vibration to let you know it's alive and a muted rumble from the exhaust. Squeeze the throttle gently, let out the clutch and it pulls away smoothly without any chattering or lurching. For a car with this much torque, the clutch effort is remarkably light thanks to the dual plate set up. As we became familiar with the track, we started pushing the ZR1 a little harder each lap. We made sure not to light up the rears in front of the safety chief while accelerating down the entrance ramp from the pits, but were still hitting nearly 90 before braking for the first turn.
We gradually took the corners faster until we could feel the car starting to slide, but the ZR1 never felt like it was going to snap on us. It was just totally progressive breakaway. The Michelin Pilot Sport 2 tires didn't make much noticeable noise, at least compared to the LS9 engine, but we could feel them gradually releasing their grip as they went above and beyond their slip curve. Just like the flat, continuous torque of the engine, the grip of the tires hangs on and never seems to completely go away. Some of this was clearly due to the stability control, which kept things under control without ever really seeming to be active. With the stability control switched to Competition mode, the back end slid out further, but again, it was progressive without doing anything sudden.
On the track, we weren't allowed to stretch the ZR1's legs beyond fourth gear. On the back side of the track, there were a set of esses that emptied out into a sweeping right hander that climbs uphill back to the pits. We grabbed third gear coming out the last of the esses and accelerated hard up toward the pits getting to fourth before braking hard to exit the track. The brakes are phenomenal at speed -- always predictable and confidence inspiring, and they never exhibited even the slightest hint of fade.
The ZR1 may well be the best supercar bargain in the world, while at the same time being as mechanically sophisticated as any of the best supercars from Europe or Asia. People have complained that an engine based on the half-century old small block V8 is a travesty in the 21st century. Those people don't have a leg to stand on. The LS9 may share basic dimensions and architecture with a 1955 Chevy V8, but it has no common parts and has nothing to be ashamed of. GM's engineers have done a brilliant job of packaging the LS9 and unlike the early '90s C4-based ZR-1, this one has a solid structure that doesn't shake and rattle.
With the premium equipment package covering the interior in cut-and-sew leather, the ZR1 is actually a pretty decent place to spend some time. We have only one complaint about the ZR1 interior and that's its seats. While the thrones are comfortable, they need more lateral support for a car with this kind of performance. That's a relatively small complaint all things considered, and with a base price of $105,000 including delivery and gas-guzzler taxes, plus another $10,000 for the premium package, the ZR1 blows away nearly everything else in the bang for your buck category. Now we just need one in the Autoblog Garage.
- Detroit 2008: The King is back atop the hill - 2009 Corvette ZR1
- Detroit 2008: The Heart of the King, the LS9 is born
Photos Copyright ©2008 Chris Shunk / Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.
New Car Test Drive
America's sports car.
The Chevrolet Corvette is the great American sports car. It's thrilling to drive, with breathtaking acceleration performance and exceptionally tenacious grip for hard braking and high-speed cornering.
Value isn't the first thing that comes to mind when talk turns to the Corvette but, when it comes to high performance, it might be the best bang-for-the-buck deal on the planet. For the price of a midsize luxury sedan, the Corvette delivers supercar performance. It's easy to drive on a daily basis and maintenance costs are not exotic.
We love the standard Coupe, with either the manual or Paddle Shift automatic. It quickly infuses a driver with confidence. Its brakes are fantastic. And, it's blazingly fast. The six-speed automatic transmission works great and lives up to the advanced technology in the rest of the car; it can be shifted manually with levers on the steering column.
The Convertible on the other hand is plain wonderful. Drop the top on a nice day, pop in your favorite CD, and you might have what psychologists call a peak experience, a moment where you revel in being alive. It's a fantastic feeling, and at those moments the Corvette more than justifies its price. The aural sounds of the burbling V8, the body-colored trim that surrounds the cabin, the feel of power beneath, it is automotive heaven.
The Corvette can be a reasonably comfortable daily driver in most locales, for at least three of the four seasons. The latest-generation Corvette is a sophisticated car, and its performance does not exact a painful toll on driver or passenger. And, with all that performance, it still gets an EPA-rated 26 mpg on the Highway, better than most SUVs.
The Z06 is a true supercar for a price that's merely expensive, as opposed to insanely expensive. The Z06 is powered by the 7.0-liter 505-horsepower LS7 V8, has a lightweight chassis and is fitted with upgraded brakes. If any $70,000 car can be called a bargain, this is the one, at least in terms of raw performance. The Corvette Z06 accelerates faster, grips better and stops shorter than European sports cars that cost twice as much. And we find it easier to drive than a Viper. Indeed, it takes an expensive machine, well driven, to compete with a Z06.
Moving even further upward is the ZR1, a limited-production extremely high performance iteration that boasts a 6.2-liter V8 that's supercharged and cranks out 638 horsepower and 604 pound-feet of torque. It is the most powerful, quickest, fastest, most capable and highest-performing production car ever built by General Motors, which also makes it the highest-performing Corvette ever built, and carries a hefty price tag of $103,970. According to Chevrolet, it has a top speed of 205 mph.
For 2009, changes to the Corvette line are minimal. There is a lower-priced Convertible, the 1LT, which makes it possible to have a Corvette Convertible for less money. The power convertible top is standard on the 2LT trim level and all versions above that. The Coupes have a standard power hatch pull-down. And there are some new colors inside and out and minor enhancements to trim and features. The Z06 has new 10-spoke alloy wheels and its engine has a bigger dry-sump lubrication system, with 10.5 quarts capacity instead of the former 8.0 quarts.
The Chevrolet Corvette is available in two body styles, Coupe or Convertible, with either a manual or automatic transmission. The Z06 and ZR1 models are available only as fixed-roof Coupes.
The Corvette Coupe ($48,565) and Convertible ($53,220 are powered by a 6.2-liter V8 with 430 horsepower. A six-speed manual transmission is standard; a six-speed Paddle Shift automatic ($1,250) is optional. An optional dual-mode exhaust system ($1,195) raises horsepower to 436. There are four trim levels; 1LT, 2LT, 3LT and 4LT, with increasing levels of features.
The Coupe features a one-piece removable roof panel in body color or transparent plastic ($750). The dual-roof option ($1,400) includes both. The Convertible comes standard with a manually operated soft top; a power soft top, with a heated glass rear window, is standard on 2LT trim levels and above.
Standard features for the Corvette include leather seating surfaces, dual-zone automatic climate control with a pollen filter, power everything including seats, cruise control, tilt leather-wrapped steering wheel, remote keyless entry and starting, AM/FM/CD stereo with auxiliary input jack, XM Satellite Radio, auto-dimming rearview mirror, automatic headlights, alarm, fog lights, xenon headlights, OnStar telematics, and P245/40ZR18 front and P285/35ZR19 rear run-flat tires on alloy wheels. The Convertible adds sport seats with adjustable lumbar support and side bolsters. The sport seats are included with Preferred Equipment Group 2LT ($1,545) for the Coupe, which also adds power passenger's seat, side airbags, a rear cargo net and a luggage shade.
Two suspension options are offered for both Coupe and Convertible. The Z51 Performance Handling Package ($1,695) is designed for track events, while Magnetic Selective Ride Control ($1,995) automatically switches from extra-firm to more comfortable touring settings with electronically controlled variable damping.
Preferred Equipment Group 3LT ($4,555) includes a head-up display, heated seats with position memory, a premium Bose stereo with six-disc CD changer, redundant steering-wheel controls, a power telescoping steering column, universal garage door opener and rearview mirror with compass. Preferred Equipment Group 4LT includes 3LT and adds custom leather upholstery on the top of the instrument panel, upper door panels, and console cover, as well as extra armrest padding, crossed flags seat embroidery and a special console trim plate.
Options include DVD navigation ($1,750), which includes the Bose audio and voice recognition; chromed aluminum wheels ($1,850); polished aluminum wheels ($1,295); and dark gray painted wheels ($395). Customers can also opt to take delivery of their cars at the Corvette Museum ($490). The event is broadcast on the internet and customers receive a plaque, special door badges, and a one-year membership to the museum.
The Corvette Z06 Coupe ($73,925) comes with a 7.0-liter V8 producing 505 horsepower, with dry-sump lubrication and coolers for the power steering pump, gearbox and rear differential. Beyond the engine, the Z06 package includes a host of high-performance components. The Z06 hardtop is fixed in place. Its brakes are upgraded, its tires are huge (P275/35ZR18 fronts and P325/30ZR19 rears), and it's offered only with the six-speed manual transmission. The head-up display comes standard.
Two option packages are available for Z06: The 2LZ Preferred Equipment Group ($3,045) has side airbags; power telescoping steering column; steering wheel audio controls; heated seats; memory for the seats, mirrors and steering wheel; the Bose audio system; universal garage door opener; cargo net; and cargo cover. The 3LZ Preferred Equipment Group ($6,545) has the 2LZ equipment plus the 4LT package items. There is a variety of wheel choices, from painted aluminum to polished or chrome finishes.
The ZR1 has a supercharged 6.2-liter version of the Z06 V8, utilizing an Eaton four-lobe supercharger. To deal with the additional stresses and loads, every appropriate piece of the engine has been upgraded. As with the Z06, it is available only as a coupe, and only with a heavy-duty six-speed manual transmission. The ZR1 gets huge Brembo brakes, 15.5 inches in front and 15.0 inches in the rear, and made of special heat-resistant carbon-ceramic material. The tires are Michelin Pilot Sport 2 ZP run-flats, sized 285/30ZR19 in front and 335/25ZR20 in the rear; the rims are 10 inches wide in front and 12 inches in the rear. The ZR1 also has the lighter-weight aluminum chassis components of the Z06, and carbon fiber for the roof, hood and front fenders. In addition, the ZR1 hood has a transparent panel, just so folks can look in on the engine.
Safety features that come standard on all models include dual-stage front airbags, ABS, tire-pressure monitor, traction control and electronic stability control. Side airbags are standard on the Convertible, but optional on the Coupe. We recommend them.
The sixth-generation Corvette, called C6, is now in its fourth year of production.
The Corvette is low and sleek. From some angles it's almost pretty, and it shows a bit of Italian flair. Throughout the car, functional elements dictate design and the result is a forward motion that implies performance. The lines of the bulging hood, the shape of the fenders, and the cat's-eye headlights all point forward to a subtle beaklike shape. A pair of fog lights flanks a wide air intake below.
Vents behind the front tires let hot air out of the engine compartment. The sculpted fenders, with sharp creases that sweep dramatically up to the planed rear deck, call to mind race cars as well as jet fighters. At the back, four round taillights recall Corvette's past and make the car look like an F-18 taking off in full afterburner mode. On the functional side, the optics of the reverse lights magnify the light they throw out to help when backing up in this beast. To move weight from the front of the Corvette, the transmission is mounted behind the seats and connected to the differential, rather than being attached directly behind the engine.
In the Z06, this quest for front-rear balance extends to the weight of the battery, which is relocated in the rear cargo area.
The Z06 is distinguished from other Corvettes by lots of subtle appearance tweaks, starting with the roof. It's fixed rather than removable, adding an extra element of structural stiffness for track driving. You'll never see a transparent roof panel on a Z06: it would add weight and increase the height of the center of gravity.
In front, the Z06 has a wider, lower grille and a separate, unique air scoop above the bumper to shove more intake air under the hood. Its fenders are wider front and rear to cover massively wide tires and rims (the front wheels are 9.5 inches wide and the rears are fully 12 inches wide, or two inches wider than those on the standard Vette). In back, brake scoops are located in front of the rear wheels, the Z06 spoiler is slightly more prominent, and its exhaust outlets are wider, too (four inches in diameter at the tips).
Several Z06 body and chassis changes are not visible. The frame is made entirely of hydro-formed aluminum (the standard Vettes have steel rails), with a magnesium engine cradle, and its fenders are formed from ultra-light carbon fiber. As a result, and despite a much heavier engine and drivetrain, the Z06 weighs 50 pounds less than a standard Corvette Coupe.
Take the Z06 and move the theme further along and you arrive at, generally, the ZR1, which has some of its own distinctive features. Chief among them is probably the transparent section in the hood, which allows the proud owner to show off the engine without having to actually do anything except point, as if even that will be required, once one of these things gets parked in a crowd of Corvette enthusiasts.
The Corvette cabin features premium soft surfaces, nice grain in the materials and elegant tailoring. The dashboard is finished in a soft material that feels rich to the touch. Real metal accents are used, but they don't generate glare. The electronics displays serve the driver without getting in the way.
The steering wheel is relatively small. It feels good in the hands and affords a good view of the instruments.
The seats are comfortable and fairly easy to adjust, though moving the manually operated backrest forward is a problem because your weight is invariably resting on it when you want to adjust it. Sitting in the Corvette evokes that feeling of sitting deep down in a massive machine. There's plenty of headroom and the windshield doesn't seem too close to the driver's face. Hefty side bolstering on the optional sport seats, even more so with those in the Z06, makes it more difficult to slide in, but the bolsters squeeze around the thighs and torso and hold the driver like Velcro.
The Corvette is available with a special two-tone leather package that adds leather upholstery to the top of the instrument panel, upper door panels, and console cover. The effect is a more elegant, higher end look than the Corvette has had in the past.
The instruments are big analog gauges, easy to read at a glance. The Z06 gets a unique cluster with more gauges, and the ZR1 has a supercharger boost gauge. The Corvette is, thankfully, devoid of a lot of digital readouts. One exception is the head-up display, which projects speed, rpm and even g-forces onto the windshield, a handy and entertaining feature. The upgrade Bose stereo system includes redundant controls on the steering wheel hub for most functions.
Cubby storage is decent. The glovebox is roomy and, in the Coupe, there is 22.0 cubic feet of storage space under the glass behind the rear seats. That's more than the trunk space in a sedan, with plenty of room for golf bags. You need to be careful when loading to avoid scratching the bodywork, however, and the liftover height is high; this is not a sedan or everyday hatchback.
There's no need to take the key out of your pocket to unlock the Corvette or start its engine. Simply walk up and pull the door handle. With the keyless start feature, sensors detect your key and unlock the door. Climb in, buckle up, and press the starter button. We're not sold on the benefits of keyless starting, however.
The Convertible's five-layer fabric top is available in four colors, and it offers power operation. The power top operates with a single-button control and completes its cycle in 18 seconds. An easy-to-operate manual top is standard. The Convertible looks good with the top up, and it looks terrific with the top down, with body-color trim that gives it a racy appearance.
The Convertible gives up some cargo capacity. It offers 11 cubic feet of storage with the top up, which isn't bad for a roadster, and 7.5 cubic feet with the top down.
The Chevrolet Corvette is a lot of fun to drive in any iteration. The LS3 V8 engine sounds great, and its low, throaty roar is accompanied by thrilling acceleration. Stand on the gas and even the automatic will chirp the rear tires when it shifts into second.
To put the Corvette's performance in perspective, understand that the least-powerful engine available makes 430 horsepower. The Corvette can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 4.2 seconds and cover the standing quarter-mile in 12.5 seconds. That's quicker than a Porsche 911 Carrera or Jaguar XK8 and comparable to a Ferrari F430. There's lots of torque at all engine speeds, and throttle response is very willing. This thing goes, and it boasts a top speed of 190 mph. We haven't experienced 190 mph, but on a tight racing circuit we found this latest-generation Corvette much easier to drive than older models. Today's Corvette is easier to drive hard into the turns, braking hard, then powering out under hard acceleration.
The Corvette is happy cruising around, as well. With all the impressive performance it gets an EPA-rated 16/26 mpg City/Highway with the manual, 15/25 mpg with the automatic.
The six-speed automatic and six-speed manual are each appealing in their own right, so choosing between them comes down to priorities and personal preference. We're here to tell you the manual is a viable option as a daily driver. It shifts easily and the clutch is easy to operate smoothly. For fuel economy purposes, Chevrolet includes a mechanism that forces you to shift from first to fourth gear when accelerating slowly. We find this annoying, but adjusted to it. This fuel-economy strategy can be avoided by revving higher and waiting longer to shift. Fifth and sixth gears are both overdrives, again to improve fuel efficiency. Shifting through the gears is a lot of fun and it's easy to brake and downshift using the racer-style heel-and-toe method when approaching a corner (actually by braking with the ball of the foot and blipping the throttle with the right side of the foot). In short, it's a modern, easy-to-operate manual; we'd own one.
The automatic is best for commuting in stop-and-go traffic, however, and it gives up little to the manual in performance. The Paddle Shift automatic offers manual shifting via steering-wheel levers and an electronic controller with more computing power than the typical PC had 10 years ago. The relatively close ratios offer good performance and smoothness by allowing the engine to run at optimal rpm more often. First gear delivers impressive acceleration off the line. Yet both fifth and sixth are overdrive gears, allowing quiet cruising and good highway mileage. If ever a sporting car were suited for an automatic transmission, it's the Corvette, with its big, torquey V8. The automatic does not sap all the fun out of driving the way automatics do in small sports cars with small engines. It's responsive to the driver's intent, shifting hard and fast when you're accelerating quickly, but shifting smooth and soft when cruising.
In the handling department, the Corvette is agile and easy to toss around, benefits of its light weight, trim proportions and refined suspension. The Coupe weighs a trim 3,217 pounds. Three suspensions are available.
We liked the standard suspension and would not hesitate to order a Corvette so equipped. Ride quality is firm but quite pleasant, not harsh. It offers great handling, even on a racing circuit. There's almost no body lean when cornering hard. In short, the cheapest, most basic Corvette is a great car. No need to step up any further.
The Z51 package makes the Corvette even more fun on a race track. Z51 is a substantial upgrade that includes special brakes, shocks, springs, anti-roll bars, gear ratios and tires. The Z51 setup offers excellent grip in fast sweepers, with just the right amount of body lean. We found it easy to roll on the power coming out of the turns. It can generate 0.98g on the skid pad, quite a bit more than the standard suspension's 0.92g. With the Z51, you feel and hear bumps more and there's more road vibration in the cockpit, but it's quite livable. Around town, we found it handled bumpy neighborhood streets well and didn't feel harsh. For competition or hard driving on back roads, a serious enthusiast would prefer the Z51, but most drivers will be perfectly happy with the standard suspension and will never feel like they're missing out.
The F55 Magnetic Selective Ride Control covers both ends of the spectrum, offering the best of both worlds; a very similar setup is used on Ferrari's most expensive models. The driver can switch between Touring and Sport modes, each of which adjusts shock damping automatically according to driving conditions. In the Touring mode, the suspension varies damping from very soft when poking along to something close to Z51 stiffness when driven hard; these adjustments in damping happen very rapidly. Touring mode felt a little softer to us than the standard suspension on a country road. It filters vibration well, but it verged on feeling a tad floaty in some situations. Switching to Sport mode raises the floor (but not the ceiling) in terms of firmness, so you feel road vibration more. Still, it's not harsh. All in all, Magnetic Selective Ride Control is a great setup. It comes with fade- and moisture-resistant cross-drilled brake rotors. Choosing between the standard and electronic suspensions is problematic only because it gives us a choice. If they gave us one or the other, we'd be perfectly happy, but true performance junkies will probably prefer the Z51 setup.
The brakes are smooth, progressive and easy to modulate. The Corvette is very stable under hard braking and it doesn't get unsettled when braking and turning at the same time. Be advised, however, that the engine has so much power that the rear end can break loose if the gas is applied too hard in a turn.
The Z06 has 505 horsepower from its LS7 V8, which displaces 7.0 liters, or 427 cubic inches, just like the famous 427 Vettes of the late '60s. Yet the original 427s were big-block engines. While the LS7 generates big-block torque (470 pound-feet), it's actually a small block V8, so it's lighter and much more compact than the original 427s. Yes, it's still an overhead-valve engine (as are all Corvette powerplants), and in certain respects it has more in common with a heavy-duty Silverado pickup than a Ferrari. Yet the LS7 is impressively tuned and highly refined. The Z06 features a host of racing technologies that enhance durability, including dry-sump engine lubrication and separate cooling systems for the oil, power steering, rear axle and six-speed manual transmission.
The springs and shocks in the Z06 suspension are about 15 percent stiffer than those with the optional Z51 performance suspension for the standard Corvette. The cross-drilled brake rotors are larger, with high-performance six-piston calipers in front and four-piston calipers in the rear.
The Z06 is a great supercar value in high-performance automotive history: Zero to 60 mph in 3.7 seconds, 11.7-second quarter mile, 200-mph top speed, and 1.04 g constant lateral grip, according to Chevrolet. These numbers surpass those generated by European sports cars that cost twice as much as the Z06 during clearance sales, and all but a handful of low-volume, $500,000-plus specials built in small workshops around the world. And here's the real stunner: The Z06 does all that with nothing more than a slightly stiff ride on really bad roads when driven around town. There's nothing finicky in this monster. Yet, with impressive EPA mileage numbers of 15 mpg City and 24 Highway, the Z06 doesn't even get a Gas Guzzler Tax.
On the other hand, driving the ZR1 hard has been likened to an exercise in trying to stay about two corners ahead of the thing. Chevrolet says it will accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 3.4 seconds, from 0 to 100 mph in 7 seconds, with a quarter-mile acceleration time of 11.3 seconds at a speed of just over 130 mph, and continue on from there to a top speed of 205 mph. Perhaps most impressive is a claimed time for the somewhat-well-known exercise of 0-100-0: from a standing start, to 100 mph, and back to a dead stop. Chevrolet claims it will make that little endeavor in 12 seconds flat, which is far, far better than any ride you're going to find at an amusement park.
The ZR1 is extraordinarily quick from point-to-point on a race track, or getting down a curvy road. In all probability, the number of drivers in the world who could use up all that a car like this has to offer is not a very big number, and would not include anyone what has either not had some serious racing experience, or some serious car-testing experience. The problem is that if you use a car like either the Z06 or the ZR1 (or even the regular Corvette, for that matter) to anywhere near the edges of its capabilities, you are going very, very fast. The corners come up very quickly, the requirement for saving the situation becomes a very difficult thing to do and the consequences of a mistake are enormous. The ZR1 is not a car for the faint of heart or for those without the highest of skill levels.
Still, it is possible for it to be driven in a more sensible manner and, in this way, it behaves quite civilized. It's comfortable, fairly quiet, and, believe it or not, EPA-rated at 20 mpg Highway.
Still, the standard Corvette is far easier to live with every day than either the Z06 or ZR1, with a smoother ride on rough roads and a lighter clutch pedal. And it has 430 horsepower.
The Chevrolet Corvette is easy to live with and easy to drive. The ultra-high-performance Z06 and ZR1 models push the envelope for off-the-shelf production cars to incredible limits. For everyday driving, our choice is for one of the standard models.
NewCarTestDrive.com editor Mitch McCullough reported from Los Angeles; with Jeff Vettraino in Detroit, Kirk Bell in Chicago, and Don Fuller in Southern California.
Chevrolet Corvette Coupe ($48,565); Convertible ($53,220); Z06 Coupe ($73,925); ZR1 Coupe ($103,970).
Bowling Green, Kentucky.
Options As Tested
Z51 Performance Package ($1,695) includes larger cross-drilled brake rotors, performance-tuned suspension with Goodyear F1 SC run-flat tires and performance gear ratios; Preferred Equipment Group 3LT ($4,555) includes dual side-impact airbags, rear area cargo convenience net, luggage shade, heated sport bucket seats with perforated leather, adjustable lumbar and side bolsters and position memory, power telescopic steering column, head-up display, Homelink universal garage door opener, compass, driver-side auto-dimming exterior rearview mirror, premium Bose audio with six-CD in-dash changer; polished aluminum wheels ($1,295); special paint ($750).
Chevrolet Corvette coupe ($48,565).
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