The Z06 is a 650 horsepower Corvette. Six hundred. And fifty. A Corvette that gets to 60 in less than three seconds. A Corvette than can stop from 60 in less than 100 feet. A Corvette that can pull 1.2 G in a corner. And a Corvette that costs less than $100,000. It's an all-American middle finger to every other high buck sports car on the road. Here's how it is to drive.
(Full Disclosure: Chevy invited us out to Spring Mountain Motorsports Park to put the Z06 through its paces. Unlike the last time I was told I was flying somewhere to drive a Z06, I actually got to drive it this time. Jeff Gordon was nowhere to be found.)
Chevrolet has always saved the Z06 name for the most track oriented car in the Corvette lineup. In the 1960s, the option package got you beefed up brakes and an endurance fuel tank. For the C5 Corvette, you got the lightest, most rigid body that Chevy could make, paired with the 385 horsepower (or 405 for later cars) LS6 V8. It also only had manual seats and was purely track focused.
The C6 Z06 brought power up to 505 from the amazing 7.0 liter LS7 V8, incorporated carbon fiber in the construction, and had a totally fixed roof. But it also added power seats and navigation as an option. And the take rate on those options made them nearly ubiquitous.
So for the C7 Z06, Chevrolet wanted to make a car that would let the Z06 buyer have his cake and eat it too. You could never take the targa top off a Z06 before. You can now. You could never get the Z06 in a convertible. You can now. The Z06 was never supercharged. It is now. The Z06 never had an automatic transmission as an option. Well... it does now. It also weighs 3,500 pounds, nearly 400 more than the old car.
That makes the Z06 less track day special and more everyday supercar. It's a change in ethos for a name that has always been track specific. But that's not necessarily a bad thing.
My first impression of the Z06 is in a fully equipped car with the full Z07 aero package (huge splitter, side skirts, and wicker bill out back to give it 350 pounds of downforce at 150 MPH), massive Brembo carbon ceramic brakes (nearly the same as on the brilliant Camaro Z/28), and the eight-speed automatic transmission.
The Z07 package is the full kit and kaboodle. The raw dog. The monkey's uncle. The slam a lam a ding dong. The huge aero kit really makes it look badass. A stock Z06 without the aero kit looks kind of plain jane, like a Stingray in drag. Some say the Z07 package is overdone. Not me. I love that wicker out back and the aero work up front. It has a distinct Le Mans feel to it.
What about driving it?
It is face meltingly, unapologetically, unbelievably, fast. This is a car with 650 horsepower and 650 pound feet of torque from the supercharged LT4 V8. It has a torque curve that feels flatter than Larry Bird's ass. If you're in any gear, just step on the gas and prepare to have your world change. Soon, you'll notice that you're going triple the speed limit.
It qualifies for the "too fast for the street" category. If you drive it at or around the speed limit, the Z06 just feels bored. It can take corners at twice the recommended speed without issue. You'd be insane if you drove this flat out anywhere in America, unless you want to be locked up for a while. You don't want that, right?
All that power is routed to the road through Chevy's brand new eight speed automatic transmission, a gearbox that they say is better and faster than Porsche's PDK, my current benchmark for a great gearbox.
Here's the good news: It's by far the best automatic gearbox ever fitted to a Corvette. Here's the bad news: They overpromised.
When you're hard on the throttle and driving aggressively, it's very quick and sharp on upshifts. While downshifts are fast, they don't feel like the gear is immediately locking in. At slower speeds, downshifts can produce a jerky rev match and upshifts are just too lazy. If they didn't say it was as good as PDK, there wouldn't really be any disappointment. It's like saying you're as good as Pete Sampras but you're really as good as Andre Agassi.
Pro tip: Let it stand on its own and leave PDK out of it. The first rule of PDK is you don't talk about PDK.
But driving on the road is only half the experience. The Z06 has to be on a track if you really want to know what its capabilities are. And if you don't know the track, you're going to think that the car isn't working and that the traction control system is far too invasive.
The car has drive modes that are selected through a rotary dial on the center console. Tour and Eco are for road driving, Sport is for sporty road driving, and Track is for track driving or for paying out serious money to your chiropractor if you want to use it on the road. But within Track there are five more modes, designed to make you faster. There's dry and wet, and then Sport 1, Sport 2, and Race. Sport 1 was where we started, but traction control intervenes too early for my liking and stability control is still on. Sport 2 loses stability control, but still has traction control jumping on. Race is where I felt at home. Traction control is still on, but it doesn't intrude too often or too much.
Interestingly, when I talked to the engineers after coming in from a run, I was told the way to get the best out of the system is to ignore instinct. When you would normally roll on the throttle near the apex of a corner, just put your foot to the floor. The systems will give you the power you need. And you know what? They're right.
Slam your foot down and it'll shoot you out of a corner and down the straight (I experienced no power loss). And then you can keep pushing that braking zone, because the Brembos on this car are just as good as the ones on the Z/28. In fact, I thought I was at the limit, but looking back at recordings from the in car camera, I wasn't totally there. I'm amazed that the car has more to give. Even the base steel brakes are great, they just don't have the same amount of confidence that you get from the carbons.
The automatic transmission is also far better on track, especially if you just leave it in D (I know, heresy blah blah blah). It's smart and learns exactly what you need (I'm driving in D in the video below). It also has closer ratios than the seven speed manual, which means you hit higher speeds and are always running about 600 RPM higher. That means more power. More power is more good. The manual is still a great transmission though, shifts are direct and the gates are well defined. Active rev match is still a gimmick, though it has been improved for the Z06. Thankfully, the pedals are well placed for heel toe, so just do that instead.
Where it really impresses is in the corners.
The Pilot Sport Cup 2s on the Z07 package cars are basically slicks. They have an exceeding amount of grip. The base car has Pilot Super Sports, which seem to wash out on corner entry and provide less grip. The Sport Cup 2 won't stop gripping. Turn in is fast and crisp with the nose darting to the apex, under full power the tail stays in line, though that has more to do with the traction control (I didn't turn it all the way off because I'm more drift idiot than drift hero. Also, crashing in front of everyone would be bad).
It's amazing on the track. Like, seriously. It's incredibly good. But part of me can't help but think that it would be even better if it had weight stripped out and a naturally aspirated engine. This Z06 is more a ZR1 and Z06 than a pure Z06. A Z01? ZR6?
But does that matter? I'm not sure it does. We can say that it's "not a true Z06" but we don't define what a Z06 is. Chevrolet does. And now the Z06 has evolved from track car to a super sports car. If you want a pure track car, you want the Z/28, a car that is so raw and uncompromised that you can't help but love it.
The Z06 has become refined, but it's the sort of refinement that'll now cut your head off with a scalpel and not an ax. I love this car. And pricing starts at $79,900, and maxes out around $105,000. For a six hundred fifty horsepower car that can get to 60 in 2.95 seconds and dominate the track. You could get a McLaren 650S or three Corvette Z06s... and a commuter car. I'd put it up against anything that costs two or three times more and wouldn't be surprised if it came out on top.
So stop being pissed that this Z06 has more creature comforts and a removable roof. Instead, be stoked that it exists at all. Because it's outstanding.
Photo Credits: Chevrolet