Pedaling to Work - 2002 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 Long-Term Road Test

2002 Chevrolet Corvette Long Term Road Test

2002 Chevrolet Corvette Z06: Pedaling to Work

September 17, 2010


It shouldn't be possible to drive the 2002 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 up the San Diego freeway to Santa Monica during morning rush hour, but I keep doing it. It's a little like using a 200-mph rocket to go to the grocery store.

And yet for all the fretting that people do about creeping through stop-and-go traffic in a piece of high-performance machinery with a manual transmission, it's actually pretty easy make such a thing happen in the Z06. That's because this car has great pedals.

First of all, what you need is a set of pedals lined up ahead of you rather than offset to one side like in some bad front-wheel-drive car (or a Dodge Viper). The pedals also have to be far away enough so you can operate them with just some ankle action instead of clumsy leg movements, which is the key to a precise touch on the pedals with your feet (as I was reminded the other day while reading a driving instruction book by Vic Elford, the former Porsche racer of the 1960s and 1970s).

But you also need a car with great pedal action, and here the '02 Corvette really delivers.

First, the action of the throttle pedal is long and the response from the engine is linear, so there are no surprises from the engine room at low speed. Yes, the effort is a little heavy, but it works in your favor.

Second, it's easy to modulate your brake inputs at commute speed because the brake pedal responds mostly to pressure rather than long travel action. (Actually racers prefer the same sort of thing at high speed, too.) You also have brake pads that bite smoothly and don't increase their friction properties too quickly. (German cars are noted for a swift rise in brake friction, something meant to compensate for the brake fade you might get during a stop from autobahn-type speed.)

Finally, you have a clutch that can transfer power with such refinement that you can creep at 2 mph without worrying about burning up the friction material over the course of a 90-minute commute. (A nice big V8 engine with strong flywheel effect helps, of course.) At this the Corvette is brilliant, more evidence of the way it's been developed to span the gap between practicality and performance.

It's easy to take this sort of refinement for granted, but the challenge of city driving in a high-performance car is exactly what held back Ferrari sales in America until the development of the single-clutch automated manual transmission for the Ferrari 360 Modena. Indeed Chic Vandergrif at Hollywood Sport Cars even once threatened to undertake his own program of adopting a torque-convertor automatic transmission to the front-engine 1976 Ferrari 400 in order to force Enzo Ferrari into starting his own program. Now, of course, the availability of a Getrag dual-clutch automated manual has driven the take rate for manual transmissions on Ferraris to less than 10 percent.

As it turns out, the 2011 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 is actually much easier to drive in traffic than the '02 model thanks to the light-effort shift action of its updated Tremec six-speed manual (although the 2011 car's light-effort, non-linear throttle action is worse). It's a bigger challenge to drive the Mazdaspeed 3 in traffic because the pedals are too close, the clutch snaps into full engagement too abruptly, and the light, non-linear action of the throttle pedal works in concert with the surges from the engine's big turbo to make the whole process a nightmare.

You wouldn't think that you'd learn anything from driving a car this fast so slowly, but it's a reminder that stab-it-and-steer-it is just no way to drive a car, whether you're going fast or slow.

Michael Jordan, Executive Editor,

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