2019 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 First Drive

War Machine

You can't ignore the engine. The 2019 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 has many highlights, but you always come back to that 6.2-liter V8. In part because of its power but also because you see it through the windshield. This prominence is unfair to the parts surrounding it, but it's understandable. After all, an electronically controlled differential doesn't make a baritone war cry. Carbon-fiber wings don't render tires into plumes of white smoke. And a sophisticated stability control system doesn't shoot flames.

But what you learn about the most powerful and fastest Corvette ever, after repeatedly circling the 2.5 miles that constitute the Road Atlanta racetrack, is that the ZR1's marriage of a gonzo V8 to a suite of comprehensively integrated electronic controls makes for supercar performance that's remarkably approachable.

Tower of Power
Accommodating the needs of 755 horsepower and 715 pound-feet of torque required a redesigned front end. The result is a shrine to power, the base festooned with extra cooling equipment (the car has 12 heat exchangers) and the openings enlarged to allow more air to pass through. The carbon-fiber center of the hood isn't for show; that's the top of the engine. It actually comes through the hood. And from the right angle — high up, like from a camera mounted to the roof — you can see it rock back and forth on full-throttle upshifts.

This bulging display is a necessity of the Roots-type supercharger that crowns the V8. It stands nearly 3 inches taller than the one on the Corvette Z06, and its larger displacement allows it to generate more boost without working as hard. To match the additional airflow, Chevy has added port injectors to supplement the existing direct-injection system, which couldn't supply enough gas alone.

Chevy's power claims are with 93 octane fuel. The engineers tell us the engine's knock sensor lets the V8 run safely on 91 octane, but they won't say how much doing so reduces output. Unlike the rest of the Corvette lineup, the ZR1 doesn't have cylinder deactivation. You can expect worse fuel economy — if you care. 

2019 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1

Trial Run
Chevy says the ZR1 will do 0-60 mph in 2.9 seconds and the quarter-mile in 10.6 seconds at 134 mph, figures that land it among the world's most exclusive supercars. This kind of potency makes corners in the distance instantly materialize ahead. It likewise magnifies errors in judgment, so instincts say approach the ZR1 with caution.

Our first experience is with the optional eight-speed automatic. It switches to its Track mode after a few corners, which always lands the right gear for the upcoming corner. Downshifts during braking are smooth, and upshifts on the back straight arrive with a terrific crack from the exhaust. The automatic changes gears more quickly than the manual and is capable of shifting in places where it'd be too difficult to take a hand off the wheel.

If all you care about is lap times, get the automatic. While the standard seven-speed manual requires more concentration, its added involvement makes the experience more satisfying. Automatic rev-matching works quickly and accurately, and the engine's broad power delivery means you don't have to shift often.

2019 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1

Cornering the Market
The ZR1 wears its performance on its sleeves, which are dotted proudly with carbon-fiber trimmings. Underneath the enlarged fenders are half-inch-wider front wheels. Behind the wheels are large carbon-ceramic brake rotors with lightweight construction that translates into better on-track durability and zero brake dust.

Along with racetrack-oriented tires and a suspension tuned for maximum grip, the Track Performance package ($2,995) adds a tall, adjustable rear wing and removable front-end caps that give an imposing look. The additional downforce from this package is enough to reduce the ZR1's top speed from 212 mph to 202 mph. The optional bucket-style seats have ample side bolstering but seem overwhelmed by the high cornering speeds. You can expect a bruised left knee from keeping it braced against the driver door. Consider installing a harness for track use.

2019 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1

Chain of Command
The supercar-like acceleration means the ZR1 shortens straightaways and turns gentle bends into hairpins. You have to look farther and farther ahead just to keep pace. Despite how rapidly you dispense with turns, after a few laps it's apparent that the ZR1 isn't some hard-edged track machine. It's like a normal Corvette with all the dials cranked.

The ZR1 uses the electronically controlled limited slip differential, adaptive dampers, and Performance Traction Management (PTM) stability control that you'll find on all Corvettes. These support systems are responsible for tying everything together, from tire temperature to the level of power going to each wheel, and adjusting accordingly.

Take the PTM system, for example. With five levels of intervention, ranging from wet weather to an aggressive Race setting, it communicates with the rest of the car to evaluate the available traction of a given tire. If you apply more gas than that tire can take while exiting a corner, the PTM changes the engine timing to limit power. The smoothness of the effect helps you build trust in the car while improving your skill. When you're ready to show off, an optional forward-facing camera and data-logging system called the Performance Data Recorder outputs a YouTube-ready clip of your driving heroics to an SD card.

2019 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1

Public Enemy
It's easy to mistake the ZR1 for a gutted track tool, but on public roads this 212-mph, 755-hp Corvette is largely unburdened by its abilities. It still has a removable roof. Support for Android Auto and Apple CarPlay comes standard. The higher of the two trim levels has heated and ventilated seats. It's even available as a convertible (top speed: 208 mph).

Under the right conditions, the variable exhaust shoots flames in Track mode, which makes its silence in the Stealth setting all the more perverse. The ride isn't too firm. The front tires don't follow grooves in the road. And aside from the occasional clunky shift and the slight delay from the paddle shifters, the automatic transmission's smoothness turns this massively powerful machine into a gentle street car.

To be sure, the road and interior noise is loud, and the mounting location and height of the optional rear wing make accessing the trunk exceptionally difficult mdash; don't plan on impressing your golf buddies in the parking lot. But the ZR1 is civil enough to be driven daily.

2019 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1

Pay Respect
The ZR1 is currently on sale with a starting price of $123,820. The convertible starts at $127,820. One notable option gives you the opportunity to visit the factory and assemble the engine on your very own ZR1 under the supervision of technicians. You even get your name on a plaque on the back of the carbon-fiber supercharger cover.

The combination of big stupid power and sophisticated technology means you can approach the ZR1 with confidence. But this attention to ownership comes bundled with a peerless performance-per-dollar ratio and largely uncompromised road manners, ensuring the ZR1 a special spot in the hearts of its owners.