Pahrump, Nevada – The new Corvette Z06 makes us think of Clint Eastwood’s nameless cowboy in the Sergio Leone movies, re-armed with the massive Magnum .44 wielded by the hero of Dirty Harry.
This Chevy is the American product that grunts “Go ahead, make my day”, the unforgettable line associated with the fearsome and quick-drawing detective, Harry Callahan.
The new Z06 is the most powerful and fastest production model in all the 62 years of Corvette production, and can go toe-to-toe with rivals costing twice or even three times as much.
The Stingray launched the seventh-generation Corvette to great fanfare last year. It was named North American Car of the Year and Best Sports Car over $50,000 by AJAC, and went on to place ahead of the Porsche 911 Carrera 4S and the Jaguar F-Type R Coupe – both of which cost much more – in the 2015 Car Guide/Guide de l’auto sports car shootout. You might say that a trend has been set.
A matched pair of magic numbers: 650 + 650
Think of the new Z06 as a Stingray on steroids: a pussycat in normal driving, and wonderfully ferocious on the track. This is an exceptional sports car, featuring all the virtues of its sister vehicle, that raises the bar in a very meaningful way in terms of power, performance, grip and braking, without giving up one iota of its peerless balance and refinement.
We found ample proof of this on a track at the Spring Mountain complex and a loop of desert roads through Nevada and Death Valley, California. Child’s play for the Corvette, in both cases. Almost too easy.
We are talking here about a car whose new LT4 engine produces 650 hp at 6,400 rpm and 650 lb-ft of torque at 3,600 rpm, which makes it the most powerful power unit GM has ever produced. It yields a sprint from 0 to 60 mph (0-96 kph) in 2.95 seconds with the new 8-speed transmission, which – its makers claim – makes it the fastest front-engined production car on the planet. They promise 3.2 seconds with the 7-speed manual. Add a few tenths for 0-100 kph.
The 6.2-litre V8 is supercharged: a first for the Z06. The blower is smaller than the one in the ZR1 (1.7 litres rather than 2.3), but it spins 5,000 rpm faster for quicker response. As in the Stingray, the increased power and torque are produced by direct injection and variable valve timing, and cylinder deactivation improves fuel economy.
With the much smaller supercharger, the V8 in the Z06 is only 2.5 cm taller than the LT1 in the Stingray. The lower hood does wonders for aerodynamics, forward vision and even European safety standards.
Better than the sum of its parts
The secret to the Z06 is the painstaking integration of all its components to make them perfectly compatible with power that is up by 42.8% over the Stingray. No magic here: just hard work on refinement and development.
The bodywork is 56 mm wider in front and 80 mm wider at the rear to accommodate 285/30ZR19 front tires and 335/25ZR20 rears, which themselves are 3.8 cm and 5.1 cm wider, respectively, than those fitted to the Stingray. All openings and air intakes are also larger, because the greater power and speed require more cooling airflow. Much more.
This faster Z06 also requires more aerodynamic help. Its spoilers, side skirts and splitter winglets are sized accordingly. Even more so if you specify the Z07 option, which also includes Brembo brakes with carbon ceramic discs that are larger than the grooved alloy discs that are standard on the Z06, and Michelin Sport Cup 2 tires that are even stickier that the Z06’s Super Sports.
The suspension has been revised, of course, and the excellent magnetorheological dampers are standard. The calibration is firmer with the Z07 option, but the highway ride is nevertheless more than acceptable in Touring or Eco mode. A quarter-turn of the console-mounted knob brings you to Sport mode when the road starts to bend. Damping is firmer, and steering and throttle responses are sharper. Even more so in Track mode which, as its name suggests, is really too radical for the highway. Take my word for it.
Mayhem is never far away
With anything approaching firm pressure on the right-hand pedal, the muffler flaps open abruptly and the four stainless-steel exhausts let out a roar that is initially startling. Once experienced, this becomes difficult to resist. Particularly when ahead of you are kilometres of dead straight asphalt through an American desert.
With your right foot buried as the transmission works up through the gears, it takes but seconds to reach speeds that are hazardous to your licence (not to mention your wallet), which can disappear on the spot in California. The acceleration is stunning, and the noise intoxicating. A touch on the other pedal, and the carbon ceramic brakes scrub off speed with matching ferocity.
As you return to cruise mode, you find that the optional Competition seats are very firmly bolstered. Just what you need. The stock GT bucket seats are more indulgent, and offer more adjustment.
On the highway, this new super-Corvette follows pavement irregularities like a sniffer dog. Hardly surprising, given the width and profile of the tires, whose sidewalls are a scant few centimetres tall. The slightest rut generates tyre noise, and the ride becomes more abrupt when the asphalt breaks down.
All of this is nevertheless well controlled by a structure that is 20% more rigid than that of the previous Z06, thanks to an aluminum chassis mated to components made from magnesium, carbon fibre and other exotic materials.
This rock-solid structure made it possible to build a convertible Z06 that needs no additional reinforcement, weighs about the same, and offers virtually identical performance. A beautiful machine that was not available for us to drive at the launch; it still requires no rollover bars, given the rigidity of its windshield frame. The top can be raised or lowered in a few seconds, at speeds up to 50 kph, we are told.
A new track champ
The new automatic transmission gives you a hearty shove in the back if you accelerate using the column-mounted paddle shifters. Otherwise, it is sweetness personified. The manual is faultless, and the twin-disc clutch is surprisingly light and progressive in its engagement, bearing in mind the monstrous torque generated by the engine at any speed. It does take slightly more effort to shift into 7th gear.
On the track, the Z07 version is supremely stable and predictable at the unprecedented limit of adhesion provided by the Sport Cup 2 tires that were specifically designed for the vehicle. It will be no surprise that the new Z06 is easier to drive on the limit than the ZR1, which it surpasses in every respect, lapping the long track at Virginia International Raceway 4.3 seconds quicker, even though it weighs about 100 kilos more, according to the manufacturer. A phenomenal improvement.
The PDR (Performance Data Recorder) system developed by Cosworth from the system used on the C7.R Corvette racecar is fantastic, producing HD videos with ambient sound that let you add lap times and multitudes of other data to produce overlay graphics that can be viewed on the vehicle’s infotainment display. A 32GB SD card can record 800 minutes of driving. The quality is excellent, and much can be learned from the videos: for example, that the Z06 is a bear on the track, even in Touring mode.
The kill shot: price
While the new Corvette Z06 fulfils all its promises on road and track, it simply demolishes the competition on the basis of price. The base 1LZ version of this 650-hp stallion goes for $85,095, the 2LZ for $90,395 and the 3LZ for $96,915.
Even if you add every imaginable option to a 3LZ version already stuffed with every available system and accessory, the total price is $121,170, which is thousands of dollars less than the base price of the old ZR1.
The truth is that this Z06, improved in every way, confirms what a success the Stingray is. The cowboy we referred to at the beginning is now toting a double-barrelled shotgun. The Corvette’s rivals had better behave. No exceptions. There are two new sheriffs in town.