Z06 is to Corvette as CSL has been to BMW, a three-digit slug loaded with performance promise.
The first Z06 package was developed in the early 1960s at the behest of Corvette Godfather Zora Arkus-Duntov, to give his race drivers – men like Roger Penske – an edge in sports car racing. Effectively an $1818 factory race kit buried in the options list, wedged between the wood-grained plastic steering wheel ($16.15) and the power steering ($75.35), the Z06 code then passed into obscurity for nearly 40 years, with ZR-1 becoming the label of choice for high-performance variants of Bowling Green’s all-American sports car. Z06 returned on the C5 Corvette, and now the latest-generation C7 has been given the Z06 treatment, creating a kind of Corvette GT3 .
Not an options package but a standalone model, the Z06 nevertheless comes in several guises. Choose between coupe and convertible body styles (the coupe’s carbonfibre roof is quick-release, so even the coupe offers open-air fun), manual or auto transmissions and your preferred level of track-readiness, from modest splitters, wings and spats through to the £13,240 Z07 package with its extreme aero, ceramic brakes, semi-slick Michelin rubber and suitably re-calibrated suspension.
What's under the hood?
Thankfully, the Z06’s mighty LT4 V8 is the same whichever options you tick. It blends eight cylinders, 16 pushrod-driven valves (half of them titanium), 6.2 litres of capacity, direct-injection fuelling, a supercharger lodged in the valley between the cylinder heads and a fairly lofty (for a supercharged engine) compression ratio of 10:1 to deliver 650bhp and 650lb ft of torque. Naturally it sits as close to the middle of the car as the Corvette’s front-engine architecture will allow, as you’d expect of a package born out of the last-gen C6 racer and that underpins Corvette’s current C7R. The engine and transmission (seven-speed manual or eight-speed auto) sit low too, slotted into an aluminium chassis that goes into the slicks-and-wings racer unchanged. Suspension is by magnetic dampers and unequal-length double wishbones all round, while the vast wheels (19 by 10in up front, 20 by 12in at the rear) sit further apart (track is half an inch wider at the front, an inch wider at the rear) and mount sap-sticky Michelin Super Sport rubber on non-Z07 cars. The body itself is 80mm wider at the back and 56mm broader at the front. Indeed so stretched is it over the meatier rubber and broader track that the lights had to be shifted further apart to keep the rear of the car from going cross-eyed.
Down to business. Opt for the Z07 package and the quick-shifting auto ’box and Chevrolet reckon you’re good for 0-62mph in 2.9 seconds, (3.2 with the manual), the quarter mile in under 11 seconds and the grip to generate 1.2g in lateral acceleration. Top speed is a modest tailwind short of 200mph. Stir the gears yourself in a non-Z07 car and you can still expect 0-62mph in 3.8.
Too much for the road? Nope. Indeed the striking thing about the Z06 isn’t so much its potential for heavyweight, anti-social acceleration (endless) or its reserves of grip, poise and braking power (ocean-deep) as the rate at which the car puts you at ease with its performance.
So what it's like to drive?
Slide aboard and the cockpit’s snugly comfortable, with fine, low-slung seats (the trackday-keen can spec full buckets) and an interior largely unchanged from the standard Stingray, which is to say nice enough in design and execution. Adjust the wheel, switch the drive mode to laidback Eco (funny) or Tour and off you go, marveling at how a car with such potential can boast such effortless controls. The gearbox shifts cleanly and pretty accurately (only seventh puts up a bit of a fight), the clutch take-up is smooth and consistent and the throttle response beautifully clean and accurate where it could so easily have been blunt and terrifying. So you get rolling, happy that all-round visibility isn’t bad, the ride quality and stereo pretty good and the exhaust noise as muted and bearable at low revs and small throttle openings as it is world-levelling wide-open.
But even Ghandi could only drive a Z06 with such restraint for so long. Everything about the car urges you to go faster, to trade the steady pace of normal traffic for something altogether more involving. All at once you’re taunted by lowly numbers on the g-force and supercharger pressure displays, the coiled-spring of an engine and the snatches of chassis brilliance you glimpse fleetingly on empty slip roads.
And so gradually, via the drive mode selector, you find yourself cranking things up. Track offers the best displays (the vast, impossible-to-miss digital rev counter is particularly handy), both on the TFT instrument screen and the HUD, while also adding some much-needed resistance to the steering – in softer modes its Fiat 500-light, though you can mix and match, pairing Tour’s softly-softly ride with Track’s steering, for example. Track also opens up multi-stage traction control adjustment and strips the ride of 90% of its compliancy, but in return you’re left with a car that feels altogether more serious.
The trouble is finding the space to use it. The sun-kissed, traffic-clogged valleys of Los Angeles don’t have it. Highway 33, running inland through the Los Padres national forest and on to the fruit-picking, freeway-junction nowheresville of Bakersfield, doesn’t either, but it is at least quiet enough to have a go. For 50 miles of deserted mountain road the Z06 simply goes faster and faster, bringing surreal ease to a pace that manages to make breathing a conscious act. The front end seems to know no limits in the dry, with understeer apparently as likely as a blizzard on Venice Beach. Sitting so far behind them takes a little getting used to, a sensation no doubt exacerbated by the car’s long wheelbase (at 2711mm its 26cm longer than a 911’s), but where you expect to feel the car cornering in two phases – the nose first, followed some time later, perhaps after a short commercial break, by you and the rear wheels – that just isn’t the case. Every time it’s the same story: steam up to the blind corner with the nicely feelsome middle pedal doing its thing, jink into the turn with a twitch of the wheel – small, not too fat of rim – and feel the car rail into the turn as one, level, true and oh-so-stable, without asking for any adjustments at the wheel. Then it’s simply a case of hanging on, your hips and knees braced against the transmission tunnel or door and the seats doing their level best to keep the rest of you from your passenger/side window. And always there’s the nagging feeling you could have braked 50 yards later and carried another 25mph.
Still, it’s not like you’re forced to horde corner speed because the engine’s a bit limp. Every time the road straightens out the V8 does its thing, coming in just as you asked before winding towards its redline with a violence that spins the rear wheels with every crest or streak of loose grit. On clean, dry and level tarmac the grip at the back is wondrous given the forces at work. Keep your foot in and beyond 4500rpm the world goes a little wobbly, the supercharger whine building in pitch as the acceleration edges toward the dream-like and hard-to-comprehend. It’s easy to get giddy, so impressive is the performance on tap, but even out on the 33, with nothing but condors and the wind between the rocks for company, to do so for any extended period of time feels like a huge liberty.
It’s a worry, then, the Z06. Far from commanding meek respect, it begs that you try to thrash it like a hot hatch wherever and whenever you can, massaging your self-belief like a shameless, 650bhp sycophant as it does so. What’s more, the cost of entry doesn’t put the thing safely out of reach on a very high shelf. In America it’s £52,000. When it arrives here, as it’s set to imminently, steering wheel on the left, sadly, the coupe will start at £86,980. It’s enough to keep you awake at night.