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Published: 11/28/2000 - by Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor
I recently traveled to a strange world, a twilight zone of sorts. Logic and practicality had little relevance, replaced by the holy worship of numbers and statistics. All of those who opposed my views thought that I should be smitten. The narrator's voice of this world was not Rod Sterling but someone who sounded a lot like the puberty-stricken 16-year-old teen working at the local car wash. For a week, I was on the bizzaro planet of Bench Racing, transportation provided by a 2001 Chevrolet Corvette Z06.
During my time at Bench Racing, I saw very few females and no car with less than 250 horsepower. Conversations were centered on my Corvette. Comparisons were drawn. Questions were asked. How fast will it go? Can we go for a ride? Is it faster than a Ferrari? How much horsepower? What's it like? Can we go for a ride and do a big, smoky burnout? I did my best to answer these questions and speak the gospel of the Corvette, though responding got a bit tiresome after a while. (The food wasn't even that good on PBR, though I will note that it is better than what I've experienced at Planet Hollywood.)
During my stay at PBR, I picked up on some party tricks. Comparing power-to-weight ratios was always a crowd pleaser. Check out the following list:
|2000 AM General Hummer||6,564||195||430||33.66|
|2001 Acura NSX||3,164||290||224||10.91|
|2000 Ford Mustang Cobra R||3,590||385||385||9.32|
|2000 Lotus Esprit V8||3,170||350||295||9.06|
|2001 BMW Z8||3,494||394||368||8.87|
|1995 Chevy Corvette ZR1||3,535||405||385||8.73|
|2001 Ferrari 360 Modena||3,241||395||275||8.21|
|2001 Porsche 911 Turbo||3,395||415||415||8.18|
|2001 Chevy Corvette Z06||3,133||385||385||8.13|
|2001 Dodge Viper ACR||3,447||460||500||7.49|
The Z06 arrives for the fifth year of production of the fifth-generation Corvette ("C5"). This isn't the first time a Z06 moniker has appeared on a Corvette, however. In 1962, GM was observing the Automobile Manufacturers Association's ban on all forms of competitive factory activity, a ban that had been in effect since 1957. Corvette granddaddy Zora Arkus-Duntov wasn't happy with the ban and came up with the Z06 factory option for the '63 Sting Ray.
Designed specifically for competition-minded Corvette owners, the Z06 package included upgraded brakes (finned drum brakes with sintered-metallic linings), thicker antiroll bars, stiffer springs, stronger shocks, a 36.5-gallon fiberglass fuel tank fitted to the luggage area and special cast-aluminum wheels. The 360-horsepower L84 V8 engine was the only engine offered. A total of 199 Z06 Vettes were ordered, but they didn't come cheap. The package added $1,818 to the Sting Ray's $4,257 base price, as well as requiring $661 of forced content in the form of fuel injection, a four-speed manual transmission and a Positraction rear axle. All together, the Z06 package resulted in an increase of about 58 percent of a Corvette's base price.
The resurrected '01 Z06 isn't so sharply focused on track duty as the '63, nor is it a replacement for the limited-production ZR1 model of '90 to '95. The Z06 takes over as the top performance Corvette model, a position previously held by the short-lived '99-'00 hardtop model. Equipped with the Z51 suspension and mandatory six-speed manual transmission, the hardtop was otherwise just like every other Corvette and did little to justify its position as the best Corvette model. The Z06 makes an airtight case by starting with the hardtop's stiffer body and then one-upping it with a more-powerful engine, tuned suspension components and 37 less pounds of curb weight.
About a dozen changes can be found on the Z06's engine when compared to the regular Corvette's powerplant. Called the "LS6" (regular Corvette engines are labeled "LS1"), it looks very similar to the regular Vette V8 except for the red engine covers. Looks are deceiving though; this engine delivers almost 12 percent more power than the 2000 Corvette, totaling 385 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 385 foot-pounds of torque at 4,800 rpm. Both the horsepower and torque peaks are 400 rpm higher than the LS1's, but as the preceding chart shows, there is enough firepower here to take on any high-performance car and leave nearly all of them choking on the Vette's exhaust fumes.
Internally, the LS6 features a modified engine block, high-strength pistons, a revised camshaft, stronger valve springs, larger fuel injectors and new cylinder heads. The cylinder heads have altered intake and exhaust ports to improve flow, as well as smaller pent-roof combustion chambers that increase the compression ratio from 10.1:1 to 10.5:1. A new composite intake manifold is used to deliver larger amounts of air to the combustion chambers with less turbulence. The previous stainless steel exhaust manifolds have been replaced with new thin-wall cast-iron exhaust manifolds to improve durability in sustained high-speed situations. Those manifolds then dump gasses to a new exhaust system constructed out of titanium that weighs 50 percent less than a regular Corvette exhaust.
Hooked up to the LS6 engine is a unique manual transmission. It's still a rear-mounted six-speed Borg Warner transaxle with a 3.42:1 final drive, but the Z06's transmission has shorter gearing, allowing for more rapid acceleration and more usable torque at higher speeds. A temperature sensor has also been fitted and will warn the driver if thermal loads on the transmission become excessive.
Right. Hopefully, we won't be activating that warning sensor on our watch. So, like, can we go for a ride and do a big, smoky burnout? Sure. Entry into the low-slung Z06 requires a familiar and ungraceful butt-first plop into the driver's seat. Once there, the view out the windshield shows off the pumped-up fenders and raised center cowling. It's certainly a pleasant landscape, and it encourages you to twist the ignition key. Doing so gives life to the V8. At first, it sounds just like the LS1, but listen more intently and you'll detect that the titanium exhaust adds a raspy edge to the exhaust note. As you let the engine warm up a bit and blip the throttle, you can feel the Vette shake subtly as the body structure is not substantial enough to control the motions of the idling engine. You understand that there is a big hairy monster under that shapely hood, and if you're not careful, it will eat you. And we wouldn't want it any other way.
Look around, and you'll see the Z06's interior follows typical Corvette design architecture, which means well thought-out ergonomics and build quality a cut above other GM products. It is not a model of refinement, however, as panel tolerances would be almost laughable if they were located in a Honda or Toyota. It could also use more storage space, as there's only a glove box, an anorexic center storage bin and a cupholder designed exclusively for small Dixie cups. The Z06's hardtop format also drops cargo capacity from a generous 24.8 cubic feet found in the coupe to 13.3 cubic feet. Some optional equipment items aren't available on the Z06, such as the head-up display, the power tilt/telescope steering wheel, the power-adjustable passenger seat and the 12-disc CD changer.
To the car's credit, a fair amount of equipment is standard, such as keyless remote, dual-zone climate control with air conditioning, dual front airbags with a passenger-side shutoff switch, and a decent-sounding audio system with a CD player. It also offers a few unique interior changes, including thicker side bolstering on the seats, drilled aluminum pedals, a stylized gauge cluster and a no-charge option package that adds red accents on the seats, the lower part of the instrument panel and the doors.
The Z06's mechanical modifications are instantly apparent as the car moves off into traffic. The shorter gearing offsets the LS6's higher power peaks and makes the transmission much more of a true six-speed rather than the coupe's tranny which often feels like a four-speed with two ridiculously tall overdrive gears. Some of our staff hoped the Z06 would go without the first-to-fourth gearshift fuel-saving feature, but alas, it's still quite alive. Chevrolet did remove the rubber bushings out of the Z06's shifter, improving shifter feel and accuracy. There doesn't seem to be any extra vibration coming through the stick, though the shifting effort is noticeably higher.
Around town, it's fun to drive the Z06 just like you would your average Chevy Cavalier, giving the car about two-fifths throttle as you pull away from a stoplight and then short shifting at around 4,000 in each gear. In the Cavalier, the result would be, well, normal acceleration. In the Z06, acceleration is thoroughly abnormal and you're not even trying. Your fellow commuters back at the stoplight are now tiny dots in the Vette's rearview mirror, and the speedo shows that you are easily capable of getting a speeding ticket. Like a 12-year-old boy holding an M-80 firecracker, you can feel the power in your hands; you just need to find a devious way of exploiting it.
You quickly learn that stoplights and urban driving aren't the answer. As much fun as seeking out puny Mustang GTs might seem, the city is too confining of an environment, and the Z06's "FE4" suspension consisting of thicker antiroll bars, a stiffer rear transverse leaf spring, and stiffer dampers compared to all other Corvette suspensions isn't really happy to be here, either. You feel every bump, crack and paint strip. Road construction baddies like sharp pavement elevation changes and large metal plates are to be avoided at all costs. There is compliance here, so we wouldn't go as far as saying the suspension is made out of concrete or anything. But it is obvious that the Z06 is meant for jobs outside the city
Freeway entrance ramps seem to be the first thing more to the Z06's liking. Stomp on the throttle and you are the kid with the M-80. Blam! The Corvette snaps ferocious, hits warp nine, and slingshots up the ramp. The acceleration gives you tunnel vision, and it is all you can do to just point the wheels straight, let 'er rip and hope you don't run up into the back of a transit bus. Doing this for your first couple times numbs your brain like Novocain, and the only words that manage to tumble out of your mouth are monosyllable expressions like, "wow" or "woah."
Once on the freeway and in top gear, the Z06 relaxes. The ride quality is more agreeable here, and visibility is decent thanks to minimally sized B-pillars, wide side mirrors and the low hood. This could be a great cross-country sports car like the coupe or convertible, but the increased road rumble, exhaust boom and smaller trunk conspire against it. The Z06 is fitted with 18x10.5-inch wheels with Goodyear Eagle F1 SC 295/35ZR-18 tires in back and 17x9.5-inch wheels with 265/40ZR-17 tires in front. This new combination is wider, grippier and gives better feedback, but it lacks the run-flat capabilities of the EMT tires. Since C5 Corvettes weren't designed to carry spare tires, the Z06 is fitted with a tire inflator kit.
The best place for the Z06, and the way that Zora Arkus-Duntov would have wanted it, is the race track, or at least sinuous and unpopulated roads. It is here that the car's modifications shine. If you can find the limits, that is. There is stupendous grip available, more than your average American consumer should have access to. Aim the car at a corner and it tracks through with zero drama. Hmm. Try harder on the next corner. Same thing. Am I getting old and driving like a grandma, or is the Vette just that good?
Mid- to high-speed corners are the Vette's favorite. Use the fade-free binders to haul the Z06 down from high speeds, let the car rail around the corner, and then nail the throttle to get a straight away shot towards the next bend. All the while, the LS6 V8 grunts and roars, feeding an endless supply of Herculean power to the rear wheels. Care must be taken with that power, however, as the stiffer rear leaf spring and shocks make the rear end feel greasy when mid-corner bumps are encountered.
Tighter roads are also problematic. The Corvette's wide girth, which provided stability at high speeds, suddenly becomes a liability. The car is simply too big and cumbersome for this kind of work, and the steering does little to help matters. While the variable-rate steering rack is accurate enough, it feels heavy when quick transitions are asked for. The fun factor goes way down, and the Vette seems to know this. It grows bored, disenchanted, and seems to ask you, "Can't we go find some Porsche 911s to pick on?"
Once you are back at high speed and have enough confidence to get yourself in trouble, rest assured that all '01 Corvettes are equipped with a second-generation Active Handling system to help you out. Changes include a new pressure modulator and improved software. Chevy says the software allows Active Handling to take more precise control of rear braking. It has also gained sideslip angle rate control, a software algorithm that senses whether the driver has been too slow (or too fast) reacting to changing vehicle dynamics during evasive handling maneuvers. Unlike other stability control programs such as those found on high-end sedans, the Corvette's allows some mischievousness in the form of wheel spin or small degrees of oversteer. When the system does step in, it does so in a relatively unobtrusive manner. All of our editors thought highly of the new Active Handling system and left the system activated during hard driving.
Back from Corvette recess and parked in our garage, we pondered the level of success achieved by the Z06. Though we were unable to take our test car to a road course, we have no doubt the Z06 will make an excellent car for both autocrossing and road racing. As a daily driver, though, a coupe or convertible would make more sense because of their softer suspensions. Would the Z06 be a viable option to other cars like the Viper, M3 or 911? From a horsepower-per-dollar standpoint, sure. But there's more to vehicle ownership than just numbers, despite what the people from planet Bench Racing think. The other cars still retain their own inherent advantages that make them equally appealing, from the Viper's unapologetic brashness to the M3's Teutonic smoothness and precision. To us, the Z06 is the Corvette for Corvette enthusiasts, the ones who are truly into performance and everything that the Corvette stands for. Love it or leave it, the Z06 is the true American sports car.
Features editor Miles Cook says:
"After driving my share of cars like other C5s, various supercharged Mustangs and the heroic BMW M5, I was curious to see how the Z06 would stack up. Man, does it stack up. Big time. First let's examine the price. For less than 50 grand, you get a machine that'll run door-to-door with exotics costing three times as much. I'll admit my near quarter-century bias to Chevy's plastic two-seater, but still, where was the Dodge Viper in 1953? Furthermore, where was it in 1963, the year of the first split-window Z06?
"Most of what the Z06 goes up against today didn't even exist when the "Z06" RPO (regular production option) number was applied to a car 37 years ago. That's the second point of the Z06 heritage. This machine has legend stacked up behind it like cordwood. It also has enough beans that it won't let anyone down when it comes to keeping that legend high and mighty. Look at it this way: If money wasn't a factor at all and no dollar value was assigned to the Z06, Viper or Cobra R, which one would you take? For me the choice is easy: Corvette hands down. And what if you had to drive one of these cars every day? Well, at that point, the discussion comes to an unwavering conclusion that can't be argued by anyone with reasonable sanity."
Executive editor Karl Brauer says:
"Here's my problem with the Z06: A standard Corvette is a very user-friendly, pleasant, and even luxurious conveyance that happens to kick some serious butt when driven hard. That's its appeal. The Z06 completely upsets that formula by being a hardcore, single-minded performance machine that only the most dedicated enthusiast would want to deal with on a regular basis. It's loud, harsh, and generally a pain to drive under normal conditions. The manual shifter is a perfect microcosm of the entire vehicle's philosophy. Chevrolet removed certain bushings that make the standard C5 shifter easy to move between gears. With the Z06, you have to really muscle it into each gear, which, when you are driving hard is no problem, but when you're cruising around town, it is rather tiresome.
"So do I buy a Z06? No. For that money I buy a Porsche Boxster S that I can drive long distance with my wife and have her in a good mood the entire way. Or maybe even a convertible C5. If I really want to scare myself (and others in the vicinity) and drive a stellar performance machine with personality, I wouldn't screw around. I would buy a Viper GTS ACR. To me the Z06 is just as harsh and unrefined (especially now that the Viper has ABS) but isn't as fast or exotic."
Editor-in-chief Christian Wardlaw says:
"Of all the press cars I've driven through the car wash near my home, none was as big a showstopper like the Z06. My neighbor pulled me aside to talk about the car. He works for a hot-rod shop that tunes C5s, Firebird WS6s and Camaro SSs for various and sundry muscle car owners. When I mentioned the numbers we achieved at the test track, the neighbor was duly impressed. Maybe he was thinking about another line of work.
"That said, the C5 is now entering its fifth model year, and it's getting a little gray around the temples. For example, I didn't find the steering satisfactory. The ratio is quick, and effort levels seem to be dialed in decently, but road feel is lacking, and there's a certain unnatural feel to the heft of the wheel when spinning it through S-curves. Similarly, the suspension doesn't seem to keep the car glued to the road as well as some other, more modern machines, perhaps due to the C5's use of a transverse leaf-spring suspension.
"I'd say the Corvette is still high on the list of the best performance cars on the planet, but without some attention to detail, it soon could become a middling mid-pack effort. It's going to take more than a 385-horsepower motor to keep Chevy in the hunt, especially with the imminent introduction of the BMW M3."
" [T]he Corvette (like the M3) does not in fact require any particular compromises of its driver, other than he can only have one guest. It is efficient, comfortable, docile when needed, and durable." gearhead7, "2001 Corvette vs. 2001 M3", #644 of 649, Nov. 5, 2000
" [A]s a C5 owner, I can tell you that the Corvette is a great hauler of stuff. I have filled the car with enough luggage to get my wife and I through a week at the beach, including several black tie functions. The car is wonderful on extended trips of two people. Also, my C5 returns exactly 29.2 miles per gallon on the highway. Try that in another car with 345 horses!" gearhead7, "2001 Corvette vs. 2001 M3", #558 of 606, Oct. 27, 2000
"I have a '99 Torch Red coupe that now has just under 6,000 miles. In the second month the ABS and Traction Control module went out. Dealer replaced, no problem since. The C5 is much, much better than the C4. It is easy to get in and out of. Its ride is extremely comfortable with the standard suspension, but it is not Lexus-like. The ergonomics are first rate, and the seats, I have sport seats, are very adjustable and comfortable. The engine and tranny make this car very fast. I had a 1995 Z28 with an LT1 and a six speed, and this car is much faster and better riding. It handles as a sports car should. I will warn you that 345 hp in this car would wax any early big block Trans Am. Don't go to hard on the tires. They cost a lot more than conventional tires. Dislikes center around the noise level. It is quiet compared to every sports car I have driven, but it is not, again, Lexus-like. The benefit of the large hatch area is a plethora of space for golf clubs, luggage or both. I love this car! By the way, my dealer in San Antonio has been fabulous. I had problems with the Camaro, and they always were helpful and fixed it right." jhorton3, "Let's Talk About the C-5 Corvette," #791 of 1042, May 9, 2000
" Bought a red 1999 six-speed Corvette convertible in August of 1998. This is the first Corvette I've ever owned, and I've not had a high opinion of them until the C5 came out. The car has about 17,000 miles on it and has been a daily driver since the day I bought it. It was delivered with a bad battery, and a second one went bad, I was told, after a truly weird problem, which killed the battery over a holiday weekend. Intermittent sensor in the ignition switch caused the drivers' power seat to move back and forth (easy entry option) until the battery ran down. This is the ONLY problem I have had with the car, and in this case and every other contact I've had with the three GM dealerships I've dealt with has been professional, helpful, and courteous. The Corvette is the first American car I've owned since 1979 - Porsches and BMWs have been the choice in the meantime with one Saab Turbo in the mix. I like this car enough to buy it when the lease is up in August. It is pretty, quick in the good old American way - torque out the kazoo, and surprisingly practical. I took a trip to Palm Beach in it and averaged 27 mpg for the trip, including kicking around down there, and typically get about 18 mpg in everyday driving. My experience has certainly been very different from some of the messages I've read here, so I thought I'd present a different perspective." jsalzer, "Let's Talk About the C-5 Corvette," #780 of 1042, April 30, 2000
" I've been able to assemble an action plan for successful C5 ownership. 1. Interview the service manager at the dealership where you buy your car. They might not be authorized to service Corvettes, and they won't tell you unless you ask. (If you don't live near a "superdealer" with lots of Corvette volume, the Corvette is probably not the car for you.) 2. Buy an extended warranty. You are likely to have long-term reliability problems. 3. Use the Chevrolet service shop only for warranty work. For non-warranty work, use an independent mechanic. You are more likely to get competent work that way. 4. When you do use the dealer's service shop, be very specific about how you want them to perform the work. They won't be able to figure out the right procedures on their own, but they will certainly follow your instructions to the letter. 5. Upon delivery, have someone check all the suspension components. Don't just assume the factory torqued things like tie rod retaining nuts to spec. 6. Upon delivery, or shortly thereafter, install aftermarket brake rotors. The factory ones have a fair chance of warping. 7. Use pretty much any towing service you want. The three I used all said they had plenty of experience towing Corvettes. Sure, it's a lot of work for a buyer to undertake on a $50,000 car. But the thrills are worth it." mpyles1, "Let's Talk About the C-5 Corvette," #712 of 1042, April 7, 2000
"I have had a few problems with my C5, yet all have been fixed under warranty: brake rotor warping, seat bolster wear. Regardless, my '98 C5 ranks as the most user-friendly supercar one will ever own. I have driven a great many of the cars that compete with the C5 (Porsche, NSX, Viper, Ferrari). I liked them all, but they all seemed to be far less practical as I needed a car that was both a weekend cruiser and a daily driver, and the C5 is impossible to beat in that regard. It may not be perfect, and you may get crappy service if you take it to a Chevy dealer that is not used to dealing with Corvette owners (small dealerships with small allocations), but one drive will convince you that this car is too good to be true. My advice: find a non-GM car guy to fix non-warranty stuff, and bring the car to a big Corvette dealer for warranty work." rjmmdphd, "Let's Talk About the C-5 Corvette," #705 of 1042, April 5, 2000
"I picked up my Corvette at the Corvette museum on January 7 of this year. It is almost 3 months old and has 4,000 miles on it so far. Some has been in the snow here in Northern Virginia back in January. The Corvette will drive okay in several inches of snow, especially with Active Handling engaged. I would not want to make a habit of it, though. My concern is the other drivers who may not be able to control their cars. One thing I did notice is that you do not want to get into second gear (on the six-speed) too soon. It is too hard to prevent wheel spin at idle speed. In the time I have had the car, there have been no mechanical problems (I am a little nervous saying that). It is a wonderful car in all driving situations, especially touring. It is very comfortable with the sport seats and gets very good gas mileage (about 30) if you can keep it around 70 mph. That works out to 1500 rpm. I would say that someone should not be worried about mechanical reliability with the Corvette. You can get a lemon with any car but I don't see how you can get any more fun for the buck than with a Corvette." bedmunds, "Let's Talk About the C-5 Corvette," #703 of 1042, April 3, 2000
--Edited by Erin Riches
System Score: 6.5
Components. This system boasts a head unit with 12 FM and six AM presets on a faceplate with a usable and interesting topography. There is no cassette in this system, but it does offer a single-play CD player in-dash. The radio presets are rounded and elevated, and although there is little space between them, they are large enough to use easily. In addition to the large presets, the radio gives the user an oversized round volume knob, large selector switches, a bright LED readout, and pop-out switches for bass, treble, fade and balance. It's a nicely appointed and highly functional setup.
The speakers include an array of woofers, tweeters and mids in each door which point up to driver and passenger, making for great listening. The whole thing is powered by a crusher power amp that delivers a lot of bang for the buck. Unfortunately, the engine and exhaust system in this car drown out some of the better qualities of the audio components.
Performance. We had several editors comment upon the raucous rumble of the powertrain in this car, which echoed in the rear cavity behind the seats and did the nasty to the audio system. So maybe the best way to listen to this stereo if you want to hear it is with the engine off. It's a bruiser, folks, and needs all that muscle to be heard above the roar of the Saturn 5 under the hood. Call it muscle stereo for a muscle car. Bass performance is full and impressive, including good attack on kick drum and deep bass notes. I found that the tweeters get a little "hot" at higher sound pressure levels, meaning they started to break up and get "hissy" when put to the task. Much like the car, the audio system is more concerned with brute force than refinement, and it will singe your ears without breathing hard.
Best Feature: User-friendly controls.
Worst Feature: Loud and lacking refinement.
Conclusion. Don't attempt to listen to the stereo with your foot to the floor. Park somewhere and shut off the ignition. Scott Memmer
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