What's New for 2011
For 2011 the Chevrolet Corvette Z06 is now available with a new Ultimate Performance option package ("Z07"), which incorporates the Corvette ZR1's adaptive suspension and wheel-and-tire fitment. A Carbon Fiber package is also new for the Z06 that adds the lightweight bodywork pieces of the ZR1. Other notable changes this year include upgraded tires for the Z06; option package for the Corvette Grand Sport that combines Z06 tires with ZR1's Magnetic Ride Control suspension; and the addition of a USB port and auxiliary audio jack for the navigation system. Finally, the Corvette Engine Build Experience option allows a Z06 or ZR1 buyer to help assemble the car's engine at the GM facility in Wixom, Michigan.
The 2011 Chevrolet Corvette is pretty much the automotive equivalent of a summer action movie. Lots of noise, lots of action, lots of sexy bodywork, but not all that sophisticated in terms of plot. For some, this could be enough to head over to the local art cinema for something German with English subtitles. But for us, the Corvette still represents great automotive fun, even with the big explosions and silly dialogue.
Naturally, the Corvette's special effects are directly related to what's under the hood. Even the base coupe and convertible come with a thumping 6.2-liter V8 good for 430 horsepower. From here you can move up to the Z06, which is the racetrack-oriented model that gains a 7.0-liter V8 cranking out 505 hp. Then there's the ZR1, which sees your Rambo and raises him by a Terminator, because it has a supercharged V8 that flexes its biceps to the tune of 638 hp.
The current-generation Corvette (it debuted in 2005) is getting a bit familiar, but Chevy has been doing its best to keep this sports car fresh. Last year it introduced the Grand Sport, which created an intermediate step between the base Corvette and the Z06. This time around, Chevy has come up with a new package to fill the gap between the Z06 and ZR1. Basically, selecting the Ultimate Performance package (commonly referred to as the Z07 package) for your Z06 gets you the ZR1's trick adaptive suspension and grippier Michelin tires. It's a move of which we wholly approve, since the result represents the Corvette at its best when it comes to handling, yet the package is also priced with some sense of affordability.
Unfortunately the Corvette's underlying weaknesses still remain, the most notable one being its ho-hum interior, which gets more disappointing the higher up the 'Vette food chain you go. And if you do indeed prefer your cars with more sophistication, this leaves the door open for other choices like the BMW M3, Nissan GT-R and the Porsche Boxster/Cayman and 911. On the cheaper end, Ford's 2011 Shelby GT500 is a very worthy competitor to a base Corvette. At the end of the day, though, America loves its summer action movies, and that puts the Corvette in a very good place indeed.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2011 Chevrolet Corvette is available as a coupe with a removable roof panel, a fixed-roof coupe or a convertible. Trim levels include the base Corvette, Grand Sport (GS), Z06 and ZR1. The fixed-roof body style is exclusive to the Z06 and ZR1.
Standard on the base (1LT) coupe and convertible are 18-inch front cast-aluminum wheels and 19-inch rears, xenon headlamps, cruise control, keyless ignition/entry, full power accessories, OnStar, leather seating, a six-way power driver seat, a manual tilt steering wheel and dual-zone automatic climate control. The standard seven-speaker audio system includes a CD/MP3 player, satellite radio, steering-wheel-mounted controls and an auxiliary audio jack.
The 2LT Package adds Bluetooth and power, leather-upholstered sport seats with power-adjustable lumbar support and supportive side bolsters. The convertible gets a power-operated top with the 2LT package. More equipment can be found on the 3LT, including a head-up display, a power telescoping steering column with manual tilting, heated seats, driver memory settings and a Bose audio system. The top-level Corvette 4LT is similar to the 3LT but adds an exclusive two-tone leather interior (with leather covering the dash top, the console storage cover and the more thickly padded armrests).
The GS is available as a coupe or convertible with the same four equipment packages and then adds a sport-tuned suspension, vents in the front fenders, appearance stripes on the front fenders, wider front and rear fenders, a front splitter and rear wing, unique alloy wheels, upgraded brakes and tires, specific manual-transmission gear ratios and a specific rear axle ratio on automatic-equipped models.
The coupe-only Z06 largely mirrors the base and GS models in terms of feature availability, but gains a race-inspired 7.0-liter V8, the more muscular rear fenders and other bodywork, a lighter frame and body panels, a stiffer suspension, big brakes and special seats.
The top-of-the line ZR1 boasts a supercharged V8, even larger wheels (19-inch front, 20-inch rear), special tires, carbon-ceramic brakes, adaptive dampers and additional lightweight body panels that include a carbon-fiber roof panel and a carbon-fiber hood with a clear polycarbonate window that reveals the engine's intercooler.
New this year is the Ultimate Performance package for the Z06 that adds the ZR1's adaptive dampers, carbon-ceramic brakes, wheels and tires. Further ZR1 imitation comes from the Z06's Carbon Fiber package, which adds most of the ZR1's lightweight panels.
Major stand-alone options include (depending on the model) a navigation system, transparent roof panel for the coupe, two-tone interior, six-disc CD changer (not available with navigation), dual-mode exhaust system and different wheels. For base and GS Corvettes, there is also an optional Magnetic Ride Control suspension that automatically adjusts the firmness of the damping according to the way the car is being driven.
Powertrains and Performance
Both the base and GS feature a 6.2-liter V8 that cranks out 430 hp and 424 pound-feet of torque. The optional dual-mode exhaust adds another 6 hp and 4 lb-ft. The Z06 boasts an exotic-class 505 hp and 470 lb-ft from its 7.0-liter V8, while the ZR1 has an otherworldly 638 hp and 604 lb-ft of torque pumping from its supercharged 6.2-liter V8. All 2011 Chevrolet Corvettes have a six-speed manual gearbox with launch control as standard, while a six-speed automatic with paddle shifters is a no-cost option for the base and GS models.
Regardless of which Corvette you choose, you'll get stunning performance. In our testing, a base coupe went from a standstill to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds. The Z06 will knock that down to 3.9 seconds. The ZR1 isn't much quicker to 60 mph with a run of 3.8 seconds due to traction limitations, but it's capable of a much quicker time in the quarter-mile.
EPA fuel economy estimates stand at a laudable 16 mpg city/26 mpg highway and 19 mpg combined for a manual-transmission Corvette. Opting for the automatic drops these numbers by 1 mpg. The Z06 checks in at 15/24/18 mpg, and the ZR1 garners a still-respectable 14/20/16 rating.
Antilock disc brakes and side airbags are standard. Side curtain airbags are not available.
The Corvette's special "Active Handling" stability control system has been tuned to engage in a soft, noninvasive way that doesn't panic you. The Corvette's stability control also includes a Competition mode that gives the expert driver more leeway for aggressive dynamics while still maintaining an effective safety net. The ZR1 gets the even more sophisticated Performance Traction Management system.
Interior Design and Special Features
The Corvette's interior is certainly functional, and Chevrolet has been offering upgraded interior appointments for a few years now, yet the overall interior quality still leaves something to be desired. Step out of a BMW M3 or a Nissan GT-R and into a 'Vette and you'll likely find the Chevy's trim pieces, controls and steering wheel to be disappointing.
The front seats are comfortable but we still find them flimsy, while the bolsters prove far from supportive during fast driving. While the affordable price of a base Corvette seems to excuse such things, the Z06 and ZR1 play in a more demanding market. On the bright side, the Vette's large gauges and remarkable cargo capacity (22 cubic feet in coupes and 11 cubes in the convertible) make it a sports car that's easy to live with on a day-to-day basis.
No question here: The 2011 Chevrolet Corvette can bring the heat. The base car is extremely fast: the Z06, terrifyingly so. As for the ZR1, any car whose speed at the end of the quarter-mile approaches 130 mph is just in a different league -- the ballyhooed Nissan GT-R trails the ZR1 by a full 10 mph here. Top to bottom, the Corvette stable has enough broad-shouldered eight-cylinder force to satisfy even the most depraved speed fiend. Nor does this hamper drivability, as all Corvette models are pretty easy and comfortable to drive around town.
Compared to a car like the M3, the Corvette's steering can indeed seem a bit deficient in terms of communication. Thanks to their upgraded suspensions and tires, though, the ZR1 and Z06 (with the Ultimate Performance package) are noticeably better in this regard. The Vette's brakes are strong and fade-free, especially the available carbon-ceramic binders, and grip from the enormous tires is, well, enormous. However, the Chevy Corvette still feels less nimble than it should when driven on tight, curvy roads.