Brute Force Goes Sophisticated
Here's the thing about a car that produces 638 horsepower and 604 pound-feet of torque. These staggering numbers are superb ammunition for bench-racing, but reality tells us that of the few who can afford a $109,130 2010 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1, far fewer can actually drive this car anywhere near its potential.
Chevrolet knows this.
Even as forgiving as the Corvette ZR1 is when it comes to handling, it makes enough power to demand specialized, exacting attention to the use of its throttle. And that kind of attention is something that's often beyond the capability of the very people who find themselves piloting one of these latent liability cases.
It is this knowledge that has motivated Chevrolet to integrate many of the subsystems already in use within the 2010 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 to create its new-for-2010 Performance Traction Management (PTM) system — an advanced, adjustable combination of chassis control systems designed to enhance the ZR1's performance in the hands of any driver.
What Is PTM?
As an evolution of Chevrolet's "Competitive Driving Mode," PTM distinguishes itself from the stability control software of every other model of the Corvette with its ability to deliver five different settings of electronic management. They range from PTM1 — which is tuned for a wet track and employs heavy use of the car's active handling system (stability control) — to PTM5 — which disables the Active Handling system and allows use of all available torque (though it requires the car's Michelin Pilot Sport 2 tires to be up to temperature before it works properly). In between PTM1 and PTM5 are varying levels of power and stability management for varying levels of driving skill and experience.
Here's how it works. Once you push the stability control button twice, the PTM display comes up in the Driver Information Center (DIC). The Selective Ride knob then allows you to select one of the five PTM settings. Control of the Selective Ride system is then left to PTM, so there's no need to further choose between Tour or Sport modes. When activated, PTM manages the traction control, active handling (stability control) and launch control systems.
And it's stunningly good.
Nowhere is the system's effectiveness more amply demonstrated than while driving the car through the same set of turns, much as you would at a track day. We experimented with various settings and finally settled on PTM5, which was the quickest in terms of elapsed time and provided the most confidence to the driver. After a period of building trust in the system, we found ourselves using wide-open throttle early and often while relying on PTM to keep the car on the road. Learning this technique is part trial and trust and part blind faith, but once you're accustomed to PTM's capabilities, the results are truly remarkable.
Having reached the point in the corner where we would under normal circumstances begin to carefully squeeze the throttle, we simply mashed our foot to the carpet and let PTM do its business. The result was the telltale blat of an aggressive cut of the ignition that limited the massive output of the 2010 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1's supercharged engine, nevertheless accompanied by useful forward thrust. PTM won't drive for you, but it removes the risk in throttle control, which is the most demanding skill required to effectively drive a car this powerful. If the ZR1 was well mannered before, now it's downright domesticated.
With all PTM management turned off, the ZR1 is a wholly different beast, one capable of incredible speed accompanied by the persistent suspicion that things might end in a ball of fire. And it's not that this car is unmanageable. It's quite good, actually, when one considers the available power. But it's better with PTM.
PTM also proved itself in our slalom testing, where speed and driver confidence both took a substantial leap forward. We went a full 1.0 mph faster (72.8 mph vs. 71.8 mph) than with all electronic aids disabled. The rapid directional transitions required in the slalom are where PTM seems to do its best work. We say this because we were still able to beat the system on the skid pad, as lateral acceleration was better with PTM disabled, improving from 1.0g to 1.02g.
Straight-line testing using the ZR1's new launch control system also is impressive. In fact, PTM-based launch control is more advanced and effective than any of Chevrolet's previous launch control systems (think Camaro SS and Cobalt SS). Chevy's chassis engineers aren't quick to reveal details about the software's inner workings, but did admit that the system is using closed-loop feedback (probably by looking at the speed of front wheels vs. rear wheels and other data), which helps deliver the ability to dial in the power that goes to the ground in real time as it's happening.
Using PTM, the 2010 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 hits 60 mph in 4.0 seconds (3.7 seconds using 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip) and slams through the quarter-mile in 11.7 seconds at 127.0 mph. Once we switched off the PTM, our raw times were only 0.03 second quicker to 60 mph. When we corrected this data according to the weather and rounded to the nearest tenth of a second (as is our standard procedure), the time to 60 mph proved to be 3.9 seconds. With the corrections, the quarter-mile is essentially the same: 11.7 seconds at 126.7 mph.
This means that PTM is essentially as good as a driver who performs this test weekly on every car sold in the U.S. and has been doing so for 10 years. And in our book, that's pretty darned good.
Braking from 60 mph required 101 feet and came with the confidence one would expect of a brake system this advanced. In other words, it feels like it could operate at this load indefinitely.
(The above test data is marginally off the standard set by the 2009 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 we last tested. That test, however, was performed on a different surface with better grip.)
Same Old Good
Aside from the PTM, the 2010 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 is essentially the same ZR1 that's been around since its introduction in late 2008. Same supercharged LS9 power plant, same six-speed manual transmission, same carbon-ceramic brakes.
And these features bring the same value and speed to the table now that they did then, only their abilities are now enhanced by PTM. Even the massive 285/30ZR19 front and 335/25ZR20 rear Michelin Pilot Sport tires feel stickier when using PTM.
Thanks to the magnetorheological dampers of the ZR1's Magnetic Selective Ride Control, a supple ride is probably the ZR1's most attractive feature in everyday use. This smart, self-adjusting damping control allows the car to be driven daily as easily as it sets lap records. We never found a need to switch the system out of its "Tour" setting, which provides ample compliance and enough performance latitude to accommodate the occasional on-ramp blast.
Same Old Bad
Competition Gray wheels are available for the 2010 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1, but so far we've only had a chance to spend time with cars that have the chrome wheels. Trust us, you want the gray wheels. Our test car's Torch Red bodywork is another new addition this year, one that we love.
Inside the cabin, the ZR1's disappointments are the same as the usual Corvette disappointments. While we have griped about the car's interior deficiencies with tiresome repetitiveness, no discussion of this otherwise world-class car would be complete without addressing them.
The seats are truly, remarkably and embarrassingly bad. And by bad we mean too soft, too unsupportive and too ugly. And the fact that we have now used the expression "noodly-ass seatback adjustment lever" three times in as many years of reviewing the Corvette says something of the General's lack of commitment to improving the Corvette in this respect. Even the optional leather package does little to move the quality needle toward acceptable. And the navigation system would be more at home in a museum. Plus, the interior stinks like petrochemicals whenever the car sits in the sun.
Thank goodness this thing is fast.
Summing It Up
Our test car came fully optioned including the 3ZR Premium Equipment Group ($10,000), which is equipped with leather interior, a Bose sound system, heated seats and other amenities as well as the above-mentioned chrome wheels ($2,000). Including the $295 dealer-installed pedal covers, the unavoidable $1,300 gas-guzzler tax and $950 destination fee, this 2010 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1's as-tested price totals $121,425.
That's still about $120,000 less than a Ferrari 458 Italia, but it's close to the surprisingly affordable (yeah, we know) base price of a Porsche 911 Turbo, which starts at $132,800.
Still, we'd guess a buyer of the 2010 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 would care as much about this cost/benefit analysis as he would about the ability of PTM to make it possible to drive the ZR1 to its limit. Because this car isn't made for comparisons to Italian or German exotics. Instead, it's about the chest-pounding bravado of a supercharged American V8 cranking out more power and noise than damned near anything else on the road.
The fact that it can best the European cars on a racetrack with an electronically aided amateur at the wheel is just an added bonus.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
Vehicle Testing Assistant Mike Magrath says:
"When the rumors first started swirling out of Detroit's RenCen that Chevy was working on a 600-plus-horsepower "Blue Devil" Corvette, I was thinking it would be some sort of Viper fighter. Surely this car would be a monster that would decrease Corvette club memberships and increase spending on Vette-themed caskets.
So when I hopped into the ZR1 at the test track, I intended to act like a hooligan, especially since there's nothing there but pavement as far as the eye can see. With the steering wheel cocked at about 180 degrees, I slipped the clutch and punched the gas to the floor — quickly. There was a whir from the supercharger and suddenly I was turning right far too quickly. I didn't want that; I wanted to be spinning and smoking like an out-of-control rocket. Instead, the stability control figured things out without cutting a lot of throttle and simply had me making a turn while going very, very fast.
And the magic PTM electronics think fast for straight-line launches. They also think fast enough if you hit a puddle in the middle of a fast corner. It works all the time and takes the fear out of driving supercars.
Actually the saving grace of the Dodge Viper has been the way it inspires fear, which heightens your instincts for self-preservation. The Viper can bite you and you know it. The ZR1 doesn't instill that fear in you. The engine's sublime, the brakes are unflappable, the suspension is compliant and well sorted, and the traction control is expertly programmed. There's nothing in this car's wiring that says, "You probably shouldn't be going as fast as you are."
So maybe the ZR1 isn't the bare-bones Viper-fighting stunt machine I'd imagined, but I think the end result is going to be the same.