2002 Chevrolet Corvette Z06: Fast Or Rewarding, Pick One
September 13, 2010
I had our longterm 2002 Corvette Z06 over the weekend and the experience cemented a few observations I developed at the dawn of its detonation saga. Back then my impression of its chassis was none too favorable. I mean, what else could I really scrutinize? I couldn't hammer the throttle since I feared for the engine's survival.
But I knew I wanted to give it a fair shake once it was in good health. Jump with me.
Nowadays I really dig the power delivery. In particular the throttle response -- there's not a car in our fleet that can touch the Z06's linear and immediate response from the pedal. It's damned near as good as a cable throttle in this regard, which is even higher praise when you consider that this drive-by-wire throttle system is from the early, bad old days of such devices. I've mentioned it before -- this eight-year old car's drive-by-wire driveability shames that of the 2010 Camaro.
I love hooning this thing around town. On-ramp powerslides. Breaking traction at every opportunity. It feels tractable and powerful and linear and makes the right kind of crossplane V8 sounds when you give it the stick. Oh, and it moves out.
Really, more power is the last thing this car needs. GM got that bit figured out. What it needs is chassis manners. I can deal with its balky shifter and cabin constructed of cheap squeaks. For twenty-some grand, those things pass.
It turns out I still don't have a lot of love for this chassis. Yes, the car has grip and can turn a mean slalom speed, but those metrics represent but a sliver of a car's dynamic envelope.
Mainly, the suspension tuning feels unfinished and the steering appears to have been lifted from a forklift. It feels underdamped. Not an age thing, apparently, as the guys in the office that drove C5 Z06s when new say that this one is no different than those cars. It is bump-sensitive, the rear skipping sideways a few feet when it's loaded up in a corner and encounters a pavement seam. The ass end does that peculiar, unnerving rotation that's present in every C5/C6 Corvette I've driven -- although it's less noticeable in C6s and banished in those equipped with the fancy magnetic dampers -- that saps confidence in spirited backroad work. And by rotation I'm not referrring to oversteer, which is something I'm all for.
These characteristics are a less noticeable on a smooth track despite the higher level of commitment involved. The steering remains tractor-like in its vagueness, though. Still, twenty-some grand. Choices, choices.
What the world needs now is something like this car's power-weight ratio with the dynamics of a Miata or Cayman.
Jason Kavanagh, Engineering Editor