PAHRUMP, Nevada – The sharp and lean, seventh-generation Corvette (a.k.a. C7) blasted onto the scene two years ago, grabbing headlines and stealing the limelight at the Detroit Auto Show.
The C7, which also resurrected the Stingray label, was a smashing success, winning the North American Car of the Year, AJAC’s Best New Sports Car and a host of other awards and trophies since then. Mission accomplished.
A new Z06 version of the C7 made its debut at the Detroit Auto Show a year after the Stingray, its makers promising the best of everything in performance, handling, equipment and even comfort. Yes, comfort, in a Corvette.
It all starts with a new aluminium chassis that is shared with the C7.R racer, which was developed in parallel with this new Z06. The chassis, now built in-house at the Bowling Green plant in Kentucky, is 20% stiffer than the previous model’s. It's strong enough now to allow the use of a removable roof panel, long a popular feature on the ‘Vette.
But a Corvette is always about performance. And the new Z06 gets quite a boost in this respect, literally, with its first-ever forced-induction engine.
An all-new, all-aluminium, 6.2 litre overhead-valve, small-block V-8 cranks out 650 hp at 6,400 rpm and a matching 650 lb-ft of torque at 3,600 rpm.
That is more power than the vaunted ZR1 from the same displacement, with a smaller Eaton supercharger (1.7 vs. 2.3 litres) that spins 5,000 rpm faster, for better response. The rest comes from the use of direct injection, variable valve timing and cylinder deactivation that also improves fuel economy.
Amazingly, this new LT4 engine is only 2.5 cm taller than the Stingray’s normally-aspirated V8 but several cm lower than the ZR1’s. The low hood, only 10 mm higher than the Stingray’s, is great for visibility but also for aerodynamic efficiency, a major element in the Z06’s overall design.
Morphing into a different beast
More horsepower and speed required a bigger front grille and larger vents to channel air and evacuate the extra heat generated by the engine and brakes.
For the same reasons, the Z06 gets 285/30ZR19 tires that are 3.8 cm wider than the Stingray’s in front and 335/25ZR20 gumballs at the rear that are 5.1 cm wider. With the flared fenders to properly cover these, the Z06 is wider than its sibling by 5.6 cm in front and 8 cm in the rear.
With all these changes combined, it definitely looks more muscular and more menacing, somewhat.
You can ratchet up the handling, braking and track-readiness of the Z06 with several options but the hottest is the Z07 Performance group, an $8,795 extra that includes Brembo carbon-ceramic brakes with larger rotors, quasi-slick Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires, bigger ‘winglets’ for the front splitter and an adjustable transparent centre section for the rear spoiler. Good thing it is removable since it limits rear vision through the C7’s already shallow rear window.
This will prove less of an issue with the convertible Z06 that comes later this year. When driven in open-sky mode, at least. Its soft-top is said to retract in 17 seconds at speeds up to 50 km/h. With that rigid chassis, the convertible Z06 needed no additional bracing. It weighs virtually the same as the coupe with identical powertrain and suspension settings. Still no roll bar(s) behind the seats, though, which is quite concerning for such a wickedly fast machine.
The Z06 press launch was staged at the Spring Mountain complex in Pahrump, Nevada, home of the Ron Fellows Performance Driving School. There were no convertibles for us to drive there, only Z06 coupes with either the seven-speed manual gearbox or the optional eight-speed automatic that is a first for this series.
We will take Chevy’s word that the Z06 can reach a top speed of 330 km/h. Engineers have most likely validated this while racking up almost 20,000 km on the German autobahn, in addition to 1,527 km of hard driving on the famed Nordschleife loop at the Nürburgring.
Most tellingly, a Z06 with the full Z07 package has lapped the Grand Course at Virginia International Raceway in 2:41.3 minutes, a solid 4.3 seconds quicker than the 638-hp ZR1 that stood as the ultimate Corvette. Until now.
Chevrolet says its new Z06 can get to 60 mph (96.5 km/h) in 2.95 seconds with the automatic and get through the 1/4 mile in 10.95 seconds at 204 km/h, which makes it the quickest front-engine, rear-wheel drive sports car ever.
Add a few tenths for the manual, with or without the Launch Control mode that you can access in the Performance Traction Management (PTM) system, itself part of Track mode. It's one of five modes you can select with the console-mounted knob, the others being Weather, Eco, Sport and Touring, the default setting.
These modes and the further variations within PTM will modify the settings and thresholds of the car's steering, transmission, throttle response, cylinder deactivation, magnetically-variable shock absorbers, electronic limited-slip differential, traction control and stability control. They'll also pick the right data and screen for the Corvette’s excellent head-up display.
The key to this new Z06 is the seamless integration of all its systems and components, however complex and sophisticated. Most impressive is the car’s invariably composed behaviour, regardless of the driving conditions or pace.
On the streets of Pahrump or slicing through part of Death Valley in California, the Z06 glides along lazily, the green V-4 icon often confirming that only half the cylinders are in use and that you are getting about 8.0 L/100 km from your 650-hp sports car, in Eco mode.
Twist the knob to Sport, stab the throttle and a furious growl erupts at about 3,000 rpm, when all flaps open, hot exhaust blasts straight through the four pipes under the rear bumper and you get properly plastered into the seatback as the Z06 vaults forward. This car has 195 horsepower more than a Stingray and does it ever show.
Seconds later, you touch unmentionable speeds on this laser-straight desert road, hit the brakes and the carbon-ceramic discs scrub them with equal ferocity. At any other time, pedal effort, feel and modulation are just about perfect.
Granted, the oh-so wide tires do react loudly and harshly to cracks in the pavement. What else to expect with stiff sidewalls only a few centimetres tall? With their exceptionally wide tread, the Sport Cup 2 tires also make the Z06 follow grooves and ruts like a rabid hound. Just hold the wheel tight.
The Z06 shares the C7’s well-laid out controls, clear displays and superb ergonomics. Its standard GT seats are just fine. The optional Competition buckets look sexy but stocky builds might find their more thinly-padded, non-adjustable seatback a bit tight and confining. You'll want them for the track, nonetheless.
On the twisty, hilly 2.4-km course track at Spring Mountain, the Z06 gobbles up straightaways and corners like a famished lion, with that deep, glorious growl from the LT4 engine. It is remarkably agile, stable and balanced, and surprisingly easier and more forgiving at the limit of grip than the ZR1, earlier Z06 or any version of the C6, for that matter.
And yet, the HD video and data overlays recorded with the excellent PDR (Performance Data Recorder) system will show that you get 1.2 g and more in just about all corners. The Z06 just makes it seem so easy, especially with the added precision, grip and downforce that come with the Z07 package.
Best of all, the new Corvette Z06 has a base price of $85,095 for the coupe and $90,595 for the convertible. Even if you load it with absolutely all available options, the coupe will cost $121,170, several thousand loonies less than the starting price of a ZR1.
This makes the Z06 an astounding bargain when compared with any of the high-end European sports cars it undoubtedly has in its crosshairs. The great Zora Arkus-Duntov, who created the first Z06 in 1963, would be mighty pleased, and proud.
Model: 2015 Chevrolet Corvette Z06
Price Range: Coupe: $85,095/$121,170 – Convertible: $90,595/$126,670
Engine: Supercharged 6.2-litre supercharged OHV V8, 650 horsepower (@ 6,400 rpm), 650 lb-ft of torque (@ 3,600 rpm)
Transmissions: Seven-speed manual; eight-speed automatic
Length: 4,492 mm
Width: 1,929 mm
Wheelbase: 2,710 mm
Mass: 1,598 kg (coupe) 1,625 kg (convertible)
Competitors: Audi R8, Dodge Viper, Ferrari 458, Jaguar F-Type Coupé R, Mercedes-AMG GT, Nissan GT-R, Porsche 911 Turbo