Used 2009 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 Competition Sport Spec Ed
- Exotic-car performance for real-world money, daily-driver functionality, surprisingly respectable fuel economy.
- Not as nimble and communicative as some competitors, interior lacks pizzazz, Z06 and ZR1 look too much like the standard Corvette.
Edmunds' Expert Review
For the money, you're not going to get a better all-around sports car than the 2009 Chevrolet Corvette.
If you tell the average person that you bought a new 2009 Corvette, they'll likely scrunch up their face, as if they'd just gotten a whiff from a bad carton of milk. "Really, a Corvette?" they'll say. It seems there's a certain stereotype associated with America's sports car, one that involves a midlife crisis and gold chains on exposed chest hair, possibly accompanied by visions of the hideous Vette Mark Hamill drove in "Corvette Summer." However, you can reply with this: "Corvette Summer" was 21 years ago, gold chains haven't come back into fashion yet and the 2009 Chevrolet Corvette has nothing to do with the stereotypes -- it's simply a fantastic sports car.
While there are certainly historical kernels of truth in this stereotype, most of them were excised with the debut of the model's sixth generation (the C6) for 2005. Last year, Chevrolet made further improvements, including more power and a better interior. Even the stats for the base Corvette are enough to drool over. The 6.2-liter V8 cranks out 430 hp, just 50 hp shy of the almighty Porsche 911 Turbo. The track-ready Z06 model puts out even more power (505 hp) and weighs less than 3,200 pounds.
If this isn't enough, there's an additional model being added to the 2009 lineup: the ZR1. The ZR1 moniker was last seen from 1990-'95 (when it was spelled "ZR-1") and represented the ultimate in Corvette performance. The new ZR1 starts with a hand-assembled, supercharged 6.2-liter V8 that cranks out 638 hp and 604 pound-feet of torque, making it the most powerful production Corvette ever -- and one of the most powerful cars ever, period. Naturally, there are further modifications, such as a strengthened transmission, specialized wheels and tires, Brembo carbon-ceramic brakes, unique suspension tuning with adaptive dampers and additional carbon-fiber body panels for weight reduction.
Even if "all" the 2009 Corvette provided was performance equal to high-dollar exotics but at half the price, it would still be high on our list of recommended cars. But a surprising level of utility comes along for the ride, too. The Corvette offers a massive amount of luggage space and a user-friendly cockpit, along with enough ride compliance for daily-driving duty. There's also a convertible body style for those who want to catch more rays (or hear more from that voracious V8), and even fuel economy isn't too shabby -- a standard Corvette has an EPA highway estimate of 26 mpg, the same as an upscale Chevy Malibu.
Our quibbles with the 2009 Chevrolet Corvette are few, though they may be significant for those who expect world-class refinement at the Vette's elevated price point. Although the interior features a soft-touch dashboard material, it still looks rather plain and there are too many chintzy plastics. Nor can the Corvette provide the nimble and engaging handling offered by European sports cars, or the brutal effectiveness of Nissan's new GT-R. But for many shoppers in this segment, these will likely be minor issues. Put down the gold chains and don't worry about the scrunched noses -- the stereotypes are long gone for America's sports car.
2009 Chevrolet Corvette configurations
The 2009 Chevrolet Corvette is available as a two-seat coupe or convertible. Trim levels include the standard Corvette, Z06 and ZR1. The standard Corvette coupe is actually more of a targa, as it comes with a removable body-color roof panel. Like Corvette roadsters before it, the convertible features a hide-away top.
Standard on the 1LT coupe and drop top are 18-inch front alloy 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 tilting 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 upgraded leather seating with a power passenger seat. The convertible gets a power-operated top with the 2LT Package. More equipment can be found on the 3LT; it includes a head-up display, a power telescoping steering column with manual tilting, heated front seats, driver-seat memory settings and a Bose audio system. The top-level Corvette 4LT is very similar to the 3LT but includes an exclusive two-tone leather interior (with leather covering the dash top, console top and armrests).
The Z06 (coupe only) largely mirrors the standard model in terms of feature availability, but gains a more powerful V8, a fixed roof, a lighter frame and body panels, larger wheels and tires, a more stiffly tuned suspension, upgraded brakes and special sport seats. Compared to the Z06, the ZR1 boasts a more powerful supercharged V8, plus larger wheels, high-performance carbon-ceramic brakes, an exclusive suspension with adaptive dampers and additional lightweight body panels.
Major stand-alone options, depending on the model, include a navigation system, a transparent roof panel for the coupe, a two-tone interior, a dual-mode exhaust and different wheels. There are also suspension options for the standard Corvettes: the Magnetic Ride Control suspension (which automatically firms up and softens the suspension according to how the car is being driven) and the Z51 performance handling package (which adds extra cooling, stiffer suspension calibrations, bigger brakes, specific tires and shorter gearing for the six-speed manual). Also available are custom color and trim combinations, plus delivery to the Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky.
Performance & mpg
Both the base coupe and convertible Corvettes feature a 6.2-liter V8 that makes an impressive 430 hp and 424 lb-ft 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.
All 2009 Chevrolet Corvettes have a six-speed manual gearbox as standard, while a six-speed paddle-shifted automatic is available for the base coupe and convertible. Regardless of which Corvette you choose, you'll get stunning performance. In our testing, a base coupe went from zero to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds. The Z06 will knock that down to 3.9 seconds. GM estimates the ZR1 does the 0-60-mph sprint in 3.4 seconds. 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 down by 1 mpg. The Z06 checks in at 15/24/18 mpg, and the ZR1 is still respectable considering its performance with a 14/20/16 EPA estimate.
Antilock disc brakes are standard, as is a superb stability control system known as "Active Handling." The latter provides noninvasive assistance and allows a "competitive" driving mode that gives the expert driver more leeway while still maintaining a safety net. Side-impact airbags are optional on 1LT models and are standard with all other LT packages. Head curtain airbags are not available.
Thanks to a snarling V8 and an engaging view of the raised front fenders through the windshield, the 2009 Chevrolet Corvette is a sports car that never ceases to put a smile on your face. On a deserted twisty road, the driver will likely run out of talent before the Corvette runs out of capability. The brakes are strong and fade-free and there's massive grip from the tires. In tight corners, however, the Vette doesn't feel as nimble as, say, a Porsche Cayman due to its lackluster steering feel and propensity to get unsettled when driven over midcorner bumps.
Around town, the Corvette is an easy and comfortable car to drive. Even the Z06 or models equipped with the Z51 suspension have a respectably compliant ride, and even manual-shift Vettes are surprisingly docile in stop-and-go traffic, with a forgiving clutch and a reasonably sporty shifter. Wind and road noise can occasionally be a bit intrusive, but it's nothing out of the norm for this type of car.
Chevrolet has made big strides in terms of interior fit and finish since the debut of the current-generation Corvette. Still, poke around a bit and you'll find some flimsy plastic panels. Overall, the interior is a step or two behind class leaders, particularly at the rarefied price points of the ZR1 and Z06, though the pricey 4LT leather package does help considerably. Large gauges, simple controls and remarkable cargo capacity (22 cubic feet in coupes and 11 cubes in the convertible) make the Vette a sports car that's easy to live with on a day-to-day basis.
Features & Specs
More About This Model
Possibly the only thing more surprising than the existence of a $100,000-plus, 638-horsepower factory-built Corvette is that the car is a total pussycat.
Don't get us wrong, this 2009 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 can kill you quite completely dead. We mean like augured-in, test-pilot kind of beyond-recognition dead. It is capable of such stunning velocity in such a short distance that if things go wrong at even a fraction of its ultimate speed, it'll tear a ragged hole in just about whatever it encounters.
This ZR1 produces 638 hp — the equivalent of the power produced by the 405-hp 1995 Corvette ZR-1 (the "King of the Hill Corvette") plus a 1984 Corvette plus a 1968 Citroën 2CV.
Or think of it this way. If you bolted three 1980s-era Corvette L83 small blocks end to end to end to produce a single V24 engine, it would still produce 23 hp fewer than the ZR1's supercharged LS9 V8. For perspective, the total power received by the earth from the sun is considerably higher at 174.0 petawatts (1015 watts) or 233,334,000,000,000 hp*.
But for all its badass credentials, its power output of a hydroelectric dam and its stunning production-car lap record at the Nürburgring Nordschleife, the ZR1 doesn't really seem to want to kill you all that bad.
What do you think this is, a freakin' Dodge Viper or something? That widowmaker is right now sitting in a nearby parking lot plotting ways to turn you into freshly chopped liver — liver that it will then fry to a savory firmness right there on its exhaust-heated rocker panels.
A Friend to Widows and Orphans Everywhere
Unlike the small-scale, population-reduction experiment that is the 600-hp 2008 Dodge Viper, the ZR1 has stuff like traction control and stability control. The Viper only got antilock brakes in 2001, almost a decade after the model's introduction, for goodness' sakes.
But this is about more than traction and stability control systems. The 505-hp Corvette Z06 also has these same well-tuned systems, yet we have it on good authority that the Z06 still wants us dead. Corvette Chief Engineer Tadge Juechter euphemistically refers to this particular Z06 trait as "itching for a fight all the time." We note that "fight" is at a different location, yet on the same continuum of violence as "homicide."
Around the 'Ring Is Cozy
Most of our experience driving the Master of all Corvettes came at GM's proving grounds in Milford, Michigan. Specifically, we spent nearly the entire day perspiring as we drove around the Milford Road Course (MRC), a wicked little road course designed to trip up car and driver. It's also called the Lutzring, because "ring" sounds cool and German and because it's shaped exactly like Bob Lutz's pancreas.
Now we do not claim to have set a new lap record around the MRC, nor do we claim to have extracted in our 20 or so laps all that the ZR1 has to give, but we can say this: We did stuff both intentionally and accidentally in the supposedly fearsome ZR1 that a twitchy Z06 would have made us badly regret. The ZR1 is more forgiving than Eliot Spitzer's wife, or Kwame Kilpatrick's wife, or Bill...possibly you get the point.
Badly misjudge your entry speed to a corner — which you will do often despite the ZR1's gigantic Brembo-supplied carbon ceramic brakes — and the ZR1 can be coaxed through a corner without a requisite trip through the grass/sand trap/7-Eleven store. The ZR1's rear end slips wide (another thing you will do frequently in the ZR1) under the oppressive force of 604 pound-feet of torque, but you'd have to be driving in Herman Munster's boots to really screw up too badly. Or at least, the ZR1 will give you the opportunity to reconsider your dunderheaded ways before punishing you for them. Everything happens fast in the ZR1 but progressively and predictably so. That includes the rate at which the driver's confidence builds.
What?! I'm Going How Fast?!
"You should take a peek at the speedometer once and see just how fast you're going," we say to ourselves, possibly out loud, knowing full well that we would ignore any sign of conscience as usual. But we never could bring ourselves to tear our dilated peepers away from the straight-ahead.
The answer to the question would be some essentially meaningless variation of "fast" anyway. We never even swung our gaze low enough or focused closely enough to get a look at the ZR1's signature peephole in the hood, much less the gauges. If ever there was a car where a head-up display makes sense, the ZR1 might be it. Good thing it's standard.
We are aware of ourselves conducting the act of breathing. Goodness, just feel that. Innnn...outttt. Innnn...outt. We're aware of a certain, er, clarity in the general region of our head. Speed will do that.
After track exercises we take the ZR1 on some public roads around the proving ground sans racing helmet and notice that the big ol' Eaton supercharger makes a noticeable whine. It might not be cranked quite to the toddler-level whine of the Shelby GT500's blower, but it is unmistakably there. We didn't notice this on the track, perhaps because the helmet blocked it out. But it might also be that our eyes were open so wide that they partially blocked our ear canals.
Under any set of circumstances we sure as hell could hear the ZR1's exhaust note, which is deeper, thicker and more authoritative than the Z06's high-rpm rip. Once the butterfly valves open thanks to the two servos mounted on the business end of the exhaust, the thing just bellows. If water were sound, a Ferrari F430's exhaust would be the high-pressure stream shot from a water cannon. The ZR1 would be the bowel-rumbling gathering gloom of a tidal wave. It's a sound forceful enough that it might be able to motivate a small car all on its own.
Brakes, Tires, Suspension and Other Good Stuff
We've polled the entire car-liking population of the U.S. (our office) and exactly no one is surprised that the supercharged 6.2-liter LS9 V8 feels strong in an epic kind of way. Neither should anyone be surprised that the presence of so much aluminum and carbon fiber makes the ZR1 shockingly light at 3,324 pounds. So it stands to reason that the ZR1 should be able to blast to 60 mph from a standstill in 3.4 seconds and crank out quarter-mile times of 11.3 seconds at 131 mph, plus that it will power up to a top speed of 205 mph.
It is something of a surprise that (unlike basically all recent Corvettes) the tires don't let the car down. Typically, Corvettes run Goodyear tires. Last we tested a Z06 against a Viper, we noted that the Vette's Goodyear Eagle F1 tires perform like all-season rubber compared to the Viper's larger Michelin Pilot Sport PS2 rubber. And as it turns out, the ZR1 rolls on monstrous Michelins. "We had a shoot-out with prospective tire suppliers and Michelin just blew us away," says Juechter.
The ZR1's ridiculously wide 335/25ZR20 rear tires and tall 20-inch wheels look exactly like one of those crazy drawings that car designers make where a car appears to be riding on water mill-sized wheels with one black line drawn around the edge to suggest a tire. The front tires measure 285/30ZR19. And these Michelins are, so far as we could figure in our short time with the car, spectacular. They provide for better than 1.0g of grip on the skid pad according to Chevy's tests, and break traction so smoothly and progressively that they alone take 60 percent of the fear out of driving fast in this car.
Still, the ridiculously narrow sidewalls of 25- and 30-series tires should make the ZR1 a tailbone-shattering torture device on public roads. Credit for the ride comfort goes to the Magnetic Ride Control dampers. This second-generation, magnetically controlled electrically adjustable suspension will withstand significant track time without wilting with the heat, while they react so swiftly that they also ride well. True, they add weight. But with 638 horses, the system's additional 20 pounds are negligible.
Yes, the steering system for the 2008 Corvette has already been upgraded to improve feedback and the ZR1 incorporates the appropriate hardware, but if you're expecting Porsche GT3 steering you will be disappointed. The ZR1's steering works fine, though. Did we mention 638 hp? The clutch (an agreeable new dual-plate design) and shift lever (connected to a Tremec TR6060 six-speed manual) work fine, too. That 638 hp, it's a lot, don't you think?
Not a Peep
It is surprisingly easy to overlook the Brembo-supplied brakes with their carbon-ceramic rotors and monstrous blue calipers. Chevrolet says that 15.5-inch front and 15-inch rear rotors are the biggest fitted to any production car. Technically, the 4,300-pound, $1.5 million Bugatti Veyron 16.4 has front rotors two-tenths of an inch larger — so you know the ZR1's brakes obviously are garbage in comparison.
Unlike many carbon-ceramic systems, the ZR1's brakes don't embarrass you with incessant squealing when they're cold. They're not in the least bit touchy. And according to Tom Wallace, vehicle line executive for Corvette, the rotors will last almost an entire 24-hour track test at full race speed before needing to be replaced.
Certainly we noticed only that the brakes, with six-piston front calipers and four-piston rears, lop off big hunks of speed without really making us even notice. Incidentally, the ZR1 will do 0-100-0 mph in less than 11 seconds.
Of Carbon and Plastic
Will any of the ZR1's buyers care that the interior is not exactly up to snuff for a car costing more than $100,000? They should. Chevrolet tries to class up the joint with a standard fitment of the Corvette's recently introduced leather-upholstered interior. And, should one want it, basically every option available on any Corvette is available on the ZR1 in one big luxury package for about $10,000.
But it's still a Corvette. And it uses the same switchgear and plastic that we have complained about in Corvettes only half as expensive. Only the seats are functionally bad, of course. They're simply not up to the task of keeping passengers in place under the extraordinary acceleration, braking and cornering forces. Bruises on the outsides of both of our knees attest to the need for better side bolstering. If you're going to track your ZR1, go ahead and get a proper racing seat and five-point harness.
While you're at it, get yourself some stock in a company called Plasan. That's the outfit that produces the carbon-fiber pieces for the ZR1, including the front aero splitter that juts out 4 inches from the face of the ZR1. It's especially prone to whacks, and the one on the car we drove was cracked in a couple of places.
What Price Greatness?
The 2009 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 lists for $105,000, including destination and a $1,700 gas-guzzler charge. The luxury package adds another $10,000 and the showy chrome wheels are $2,000. Other than some additional costs for various paint colors, that's as much as a ZR1 is going to cost you. But that doesn't really matter, because it will cost you oh-so-much-more with requisite dealer markup.
Also the purchase of any ZR1 entitles the owner to a "free" driver training course at a well-known but as-yet-to-be-determined school. Perhaps this momentarily quells the heart palpitations GM's lawyers must surely be experiencing over this car.
Maybe they should drive the ZR1. It's not really diabolical. Also its limits are so high that when things do go terribly wrong, then...oh wait, forget it.
* Not an SAE-certified figure
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.
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Should I lease or buy a 2009 Chevrolet Corvette?
Is it better to lease or buy a car? Ask most people and they'll probably tell you that car buying is the way to go. And from a financial perspective, it's true, provided you're willing to make higher monthly payments, pay off the loan in full and keep the car for a few years. Leasing, on the other hand, can be a less expensive option on a month-to-month basis. It's also good if you're someone who likes to drive a new car every three years or so.