Karl Brauer, Editor in Chief
I'm catapulting the 2006 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 between apexes on a deserted, twisting canyon road in central California, and all I can think is, "Whatever you do, don't contract that annoying 'Jeremy Clarkson' strain of Tourette's syndrome!" The risk of blurting out all manner of multisyllabic drivel is very real, and the last thing I want is an involuntary impression of Britain's Top Gear host marring my otherwise enjoyable ride.
Then it happens, coming out of a smooth left-hand sweeper in 2nd gear I dip into the 7.0-liter V8's enthusiastic 470 lb-ft of torque. The 3-inch aluminum exhaust system's internal baffles swing open, unleashing the engine's full baritone roar as the tach swings past 4,000 rpm.
Ugh! Sounding like that British wag is almost enough to overcome the pure adrenaline flow generated by road testing the all-new Corvette Z06.
Advanced Design Equals Advanced Performance Instead, let's focus on the otherworldly capabilities Chevrolet has imbued in this most evolved version of the C6 platform. The high-tech carbon-fiber fenders, wheelhouses and floor panels may wrap around the same basic chassis, but the aluminum frame and magnesium engine cradle have taken the 2005 Corvette revamp and elevated it to exotic-car levels of advanced vehicle design — all while shaving 50 pounds off the base model's curb weight. Not surprisingly, a 105-horsepower increase — and 50-pound weight loss — from the standard C6 has resulted in the aforementioned "ee-STON-ishing" levels of performance.
There was a great line once written about Kawasaki's ZX-11 Ninja, the first extreme high-performance superbike of the modern era. It went something like, "Before nailing the throttle you better make sure you know where you're going because you'll be there before you realize it." The same advice can be applied to the 427-cubic-inch, 505-horsepower Corvette Z06. The engine is packed with race technology, from its dry-sump oil lubrication system to its titanium connecting rods and intake valves. It revs to 7,000 rpm with the enthusiasm (and near smoothness) of a Honda engine, yet it pulls harder than the Viper coupe's V10.
Describing the driving experience as "catapulting" between apexes isn't meant to be particularly creative, just accurate. In this car you come out of one turn, see down the straight to the next, roll on the throttle and BAM! You're there! Putting this 'Vette through our test regimen confirmed this impression with a 0-to-60 time of 4.5 seconds and a quarter-mile dash of 12.2 seconds at 120.2 mph.
Fortunately, the brakes are as capable as the tricked-out race engine under the hood. Balancing such go-fast goodies as an 11-to-1 compression ratio and cold-air induction are 14-inch cross-drilled front rotors with six-piston calipers for stopping power (the rear brakes use 13.4-inch rotors and four-piston calipers). With progressive brake-pedal action, the Z06 sends a confident "Don't worry, I've got your back" message to its driver, and the short 108 feet the car needed to stop from 60 mph had us believing it.
Exotics Beware These numbers certainly put the 2006 Corvette Z06 in company with some of the fastest cars ever produced. Only the Enzo Ferrari, McLaren F1, Saleen S7 and Porsche Carrera GT are clearly quicker than this Chevrolet, and each of those cars is made in very limited numbers while costing between $400,000 and $1,000,000. Other contenders, like the Ferrari F430, Ford GT and Lamborghini Gallardo, offer about equal straight-line performance — but at two-to-three times the Z06's cost of entry.
Of course Dodge's Viper is in the Z06's same neighborhood, both in terms of price, performance and interior materials quality, but the Corvette offers such amenities as standard stability control, as well as optional DVD navigation and a standard head-up display. It's also far easier to get into and out of, and much more pleasant to drive on a regular basis. To say the $66,000 Z06 is a performance bargain is like saying our dependence on foreign oil is sort of inconvenient. Speaking of which, this supercar avoids the gas-guzzler tax by averaging over 20 mpg in EPA testing (16 city/26 highway).
Shifty Performance From the Shifter With the performance numbers of an exotic car, along with the price, fuel-efficiency and amenities of a European luxury sedan, you might think there's no downside to the Z06. That's what we thought, too, until it came time for our first 2-3 gear change on that same picturesque canyon road. As with every Corvette before it, the new Z06 still feels like a 1980s muscle car when the shifter clunks and bangs between gears. Admittedly, there are some drivers who like this type of shifter action, but most people shopping a $50,000-plus sports car will find it aggravating. We did, especially when compounded by the transmission tunnel's propensity to set itself to "broil" and make the cabin feel like a certain Dodge supercar's. With the Corvette's tranny located behind the passenger compartment, we can only assume the heat is coming from either the engine or exhaust system. The Z06 even gets an upgraded engine, transmission, and differential cooling system, so we were surprised that heat was an issue.
But it was, and the heat coming off the driver side of the center console came right through our pants whenever we braced our right leg against it while navigating tight corners. We normally don't use the center console as a source of stabilization for our bodies, but the seats in the Z06 aren't exactly bursting with lateral support or any kind of support for that matter. Like the shifter, the seats aren't terrible — they're just substandard on a $70,000 sports car, especially one with the performance capabilities of the Z06.
Comfy but a Bit Bumpy The upside is that there was a need for bracing ourselves, as this car is easy to fling along back-road byways. On smooth pavement the Z06 feels as planted as anything we've driven with fenders and a license plate, and at our test facility we averaged 65.5 mph in our 600-foot slalom. The Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar tires can produce over 1.0g of lateral grip, and they're very progressive at the upper limits of adhesion. They are also certified for 200-plus mph (the Z06 is said to top out at 198). We did, however, notice that when the road surface was less than perfect, so was the car's dynamic response. Bump steer, and a tendency to "hop" when traversing pavement disturbances, kept us focused when strafing turns or disposing of large, straight stretches of deserted highway. "Darty" is far too strong a word to describe the Z06's bumpy-road behavior but so is "unflappable." Thankfully, the car's suspension tuning delivers an eminently enjoyable ride quality, one that's perfectly suited for everyday driving.
Still a Corvette at Heart In fact, it's the Z06's relaxed nature (as long as you respect the right pedal) that most endeared us to this Corvette. As we enter the automobile's second century we tend to expect more from our cars. We want cars that offer gut-wrenching acceleration along with eye-bulging brakes. We want high-speed cruising comfort as well as sharp corner dexterity. We want all the hardware of a racecar overlaid with all the amenities of a luxury car. Oh, and we want it all at a bargain-basement price.
Or — to put it another way — what we really want is the 2006 Chevrolet Corvette Z06.
Senior Editor Ed Hellwig says: Chevrolet finally pulled it off. After years of complaints about the Wal-Mart quality of the Corvette's interior, it has built a car so terrifyingly fast that the interior doesn't even matter. It could be upholstered in trash bags and I wouldn't even care. There's nothing that can detract you from the brilliance of what lies under the hood. Its LS7 V8 is more than brilliant, it's one of the best engines ever offered in a production vehicle. It makes putting your foot to the floor a serious commitment. There's no time to gather your thoughts and put both hands on the wheel. You'll be going 50 mph faster in a matter of seconds, you better be ready.
What's even more bizarre about this Corvette is how drivable it is when you're not 500 horsepower deep. It purrs down the highway like it's in some sort of comfort mode but there isn't one. There are no sharp jolts and even its monstrously huge tires are quiet. Then you start looking around the interior and realize that it's not that bad these days. No more Fisher Price buttons for the radio and climate controls. The switchgear actually looks like it belongs in a $70K car now.
There's some room for improvement. The seats are still stuck in the '80s when it comes to support and the shifter is garbage compared to anything in this price range. Then again, when there's a 427 under the hood that's approaching 7 grand on the tach, who's going to care about the seats? Good ploy, Chevrolet.
Senior Content Editor Erin Riches says: It's probably pathetic to talk about going on a date with a car instead of a human being, but the Corvette Z06 is anything but a cold, dead hunk of metal and plastic. In fact, it's more alive than many of the men I see at the gym, straining (oftentimes loudly) to pump some bulges into arms rendered slack by life at the office. Without question, that vitality comes from the size XL V8 under its hood, a V8 so rich in torque that the center console plastic is burning hot within an hour. And of course every upshift tamps you down into the seat, because the Z06 is one of those touchy-feely kinds of dates.
It's also one of those athletic types, the kind that would want to go running with you in the morning. Although compliant in commuter traffic, the suspension holds this wide, curvy car tight through the corners. Provided you can manage the tail, you can hustle this car through the turns as if it were a precision-engineered European something rather than a surprisingly refined muscle car on growth hormones. Unfortunately, bumps and ruts send the front end into spasms to which most Euro-born cars would be immune. The steering isn't perfect, either. The weighting is right, but the feedback isn't there.
Inside, the Z06's old-school styling and squishy seats also rub me the wrong way, just like Wrangler jeans and sleeveless white undershirts. But that's the car's personality. If it were a human male, it would order blood-red steak and garlic mashed potatoes for dinner. You could pick at the Z06 for its shortcomings, beg it to change its ways, put on a nicer shirt and get a side dish of green beans, but if 7.0 liters and a 16/26 EPA rating don't make you happy in the first place, this isn't your car.
"It appears that the new Corvette L7 has the raw performance to match or beat many more expensive cars and exotics. However, I am still skeptical of build quality and can't get past the Chevy level fit and finish." — habitat1, September 12, 2005
"How come the latest Road and Track measured this car at 12.3116.6 with a 0-60 in 4.2 seconds, then in the middle of the magazine you see Chevy's insert 11.7125 with a 0-60 of 3.7 sec? R and T goes on to say that it is slower than a Viper and FEELS slower as well. Hard to believe the figures could be so off. I know Chevy is VERY aggressive with their figures but this gap is unreal!!!" — iturk, September 3, 2005
"I think the new Z06 is the coolest Corvette since 1967." — xkss, August 31, 2005
System Score: 7.0
Components: Our Corvette came with the optional six-disc CD changer but not the navigation system. But with or without the nav system, the upgraded stereo uses seven Bose speakers. The head unit is equipped with RDS, automatic volume control and the ability to read MP3 CDs. We don't like the small buttons on the head unit but found everything to be logically placed and the features easy to use.
Performance: This stereo sounds good but not great. Considering the upgraded system without a nav system costs $1,700, we were expecting more.
The sound quality is much better than that in the Viper and Ford GT but there's a distance to it that we don't like. Whereas the Viper's pumped-up system sounds like it's always yelling at you, the 'Vette's setup seems more like it's trying to talk to you from the next room.
The bass is barely acceptable and has almost no punch at all. Boosting the bass through the rotary knob helps some. The stereo does have a midrange control, something we like but that was lacking in the Viper stereo. The Corvette's system reproduces highs well and they never sound squeaky or tinny but they also don't bring out much detail.
Overall, the sound is somewhat thin and not as big as we'd hoped for considering the "hey, look at me" factor of the Corvette. Surprisingly, music without all the commotion of rock or rap sounds better than average; vocal tracks sound especially good. Pop in a folk, country or bluegrass disc (or just tune in the appropriate XM station) and you'll be able to hear the Bose speakers in all their glory. Hard rock simply sounds overwhelming with the mids becoming a sonic mess.
Best Feature: Vocal reproduction.
Worst Feature: Lacks real bass punch.
Conclusion: This stereo is a mixed bag. It's simply OK most of the time. If you find yourself reaching for a Toby Keith or Alison Krauss CD more often than not, you'll be pleased with your purchase. — Brian Moody
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