Wicked power. Endless grip. Fantastic brakes. Functional aerodynamics. If that were all the 2015 Chevy Corvette Z06 offered it would still be a winner, but it also has the same superb ride quality as the normal Corvette, which makes it a class leader by a country mile. If the new Z06 was wearing anything other than a Chevy badge, it would be twice the price.
What Is It?
The 2015 Z06 starts with the superlative platform of the new Corvette Stingray and turns every knob to 11. The normal Corvette has a 6.2-liter V8 that makes up to 460 horsepower and 465 pound-feet of torque. For the Z06, Chevy added a supercharger to the 6.2-liter V8 that pushes output to 650 hp and 650 lb-ft of torque.
To help wrangle all that power, Chevy added ultra-fat (285/30ZR19 front, 335/25ZR20 rear) tires that required widening the fenders by more than 2 inches up front and more than 3 in back. Beyond the less-than-obvious width increase, the Z06 also gets additional external changes including a unique front splitter, spats by the front wheels that lead into black fender extenders, larger side vents, and a hood and rear spoiler made from carbon fiber. Interior changes are minimal, a flat-bottom steering wheel with a "Z06" logo being one of the only noticeable upgrades.
What Body Styles and Trim Levels Are Available?
The 2015 Chevy Corvette Z06 is available as coupe (with removable roof) and, for the first time ever, as a convertible. Pricing for the coupe starts at $79,990, while the convertible starts at $84,990. A slick seven-speed manual transmission is standard, while the eight-speed automatic adds $1,725 to the price.
Like the Corvette Stingray on which it's based, the Z06 is available in three trim levels: 1LZ, 2LZ and 3LZ. The differences here are mostly to do with interior trim and options. The 3LZ trim comes with napa leather seating, navigation, Chevy's Performance Data Recorder and the highest price tag. More important and interesting, however, is one line-item on the options chart, the Z07 Performance package.
This $7,995 option transforms the already racy 2015 Z06 into a track-ready beast that will run with any street car in the world. At any price. From any manufacturer.
Additions include functional aerodynamic enhancements that produce downforce you can actually feel, a stiffer suspension and carbon-ceramic brakes the size of cymbals (15.5 inches up front). A set of ultra-sticky Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires are also part of the package. They're so close to slicks, a Michelin rep told us that they're counting on Chevy and dealers to warn people about using them around standing water.
How Does the Base Z06 Drive?
The base C7 Z06 with a manual transmission is remarkably civil. As with the Stingray, if you keep to a reasonable speed with the standard magnetorheological suspension in Comfort mode, the Z06 loafs along, barely above idle, cruising over road imperfections as if they're not even there. Road noise is minimal, wind noise nonexistent. It's not twitchy and on edge, goading you into driving like a lunatic the way a Porsche 911 GT3 or the last-generation Chevy Z06 does. The C7 Z06 is restrained until you want it not to be and then...whoa.
Engage Track mode, punch the gas and try to remember that a death grip on the wheel isn't doing anyone any good.
You hear the supercharger whine, the exhaust changes from a muted whoosh to an open-mouthed belch and the traction control light flashes what we can only assume is Morse Code for "650 horsepower through the rear wheels and you went full throttle?" With the manual, 1st gear is just a smokescreen generator. With a smart shift, 2nd hooks up and rockets you past 90 mph. Bang it into 3rd and hang on. With hot tires there's no wheelspin as you think about how decent a life you've lived as 120 mph rolls on by.
When it comes to cornering, like the Stingray, the Z06 is pointy. There's no steering delay and the nose goes where you point it the millisecond you ask it to. The difference is that with nearly 200 more horses, things happen faster. With Chevy's genius traction management turned off, the base Z06 takes a delicate right foot and quick hands to stay straight. Unsurprisingly, it can get a little loose. Keep the system on.
Adding to the trickiness, the Z06 comes with steel brakes that simply aren't up to the task of keeping the Z06 in check. On a short loop at Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch that saw top speeds in the low 130s, we experienced brake fade on the first hot lap, which is a disappointment. The Z07's carbon-ceramic discs would make a great upgrade, but aren't available on the base car.
Though this isn't the fastest way around a racetrack, it's so much more exciting than anything else you can get for $80,000. Alive and responsive, frightening but controllable, this could be our favorite Corvette ever.
How Much Difference Does the Z07 Package Make?
The Z07 package takes all of that speed potential and adds the brakes, aerodynamics and tires the Z06 so desperately wants. The result is a car with videogame-like manners. More speed means more downforce means more grip means better cornering. Couldn't get back on the power soon enough at exit? Who told you to slow down so much going in? Front end got squirrely at that corner entry? Go faster.
Every bit of the Z07 echoes this ethos. The giant carbon-ceramic brakes are unflappable. The liquid in your inner ears will fail before they do. The Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2s are racecar tires in disguise. The automatic transmission is an outstanding track-day secret weapon that should be banned by any sane regulating body. Yes, the automatic Z06 is the fastest Corvette you can buy.
On the road, the eight-speed is fine for cruising, but can be jerky at very low speeds, fails to respond to manual inputs well and times out of its more aggressive sport modes far too early. On the track, however, the 8AT is as close to perfect as we've experienced.
Ignore the paddles, stick the thing in Drive, turn the dial to Track and go set the fastest lap of your life. The transmission, talking to all of the other sensors in the car, knows what you're doing and predicts without fail when to hold gears, when to upshift and exactly how quickly it needs to downshift. Go boot up Forza, select your favorite high-dollar exotic and race in fully automatic mode. It's like that but better.
On the track we were some 20 mph faster through certain corners and on the road, there are no sacrifices beyond a lower top speed and the fuel efficiency hit that the aero and tires will ultimately cause. The only downside is the Z07 car makes it almost too easy: Endless grip, flawless brakes, predictable electronics. Who needs experience?
What Is the Interior Like?
The Z06's interior is exactly like that of the Corvette Stingray. The only difference is a small plaque that tells you how much horsepower and torque the Z06 makes, and a flat-bottomed steering wheel that says "Z06" on it.
Like the Stingray, the Z06 is available with either the touring seats or the more aggressive competition seats. We like the look of the Competition seats better, but found they can be a little tight in the shoulders and we're disappointed that they don't sit lower than the normal seats.
In a car like the Z06 where a driver has a high chance of wearing a helmet, we'd like to see more headroom available. We also noticed on Z07-equipped cars that both seats rocked forward slightly on hard deceleration.
What Kind of Unique Safety Features Does It Have?
The 2015 Z06 is a road car and has everything you'd expect like antilock brakes, a back-up camera, a host of airbags and GM's OnStar suite of emergency services. And with this motor, we're going to lump Chevy's magical Performance Traction Management (PTM) into the safety category.
PTM is what makes it possible for a mainstream company to sell a 650-hp rear-drive car to normal people. When fully engaged, PTM allows a whiff of wheelspin, even under full throttle. Even midcorner. As you get more comfortable with the way the car behaves, there are a handful of more advanced modes that require you to know what you're doing, but simply help the car put down the power. In the focused Track modes, it's clever enough for the driver to go full-throttle at the apex, steer toward the exit and let PTM figure out the traction. It's not as fun as sliding around like a lunatic, but it is way faster.
What Are Its Closest Competitors?
Dodge Viper: The bad boy among bad boys. The Dodge Viper was finally forced to add traction control, but it's still a beast. The 8.4-liter V10 now makes 645 hp and 600 lb-ft of torque. The only transmission is a six-speed manual, and the most advanced traction control available is the one that links your brain and right foot. In a comparison test against a Z51-equipped Corvette Stingray, the Viper barely eked out a victory on the track. After a massive price drop, the Viper now starts at $86,990.
Nissan GT-R Nismo: The Nismo might be the final iteration of this generation of Nissan GT-R, and, boy, is it a doozie. The Nissan's twin-turbo 3.8-liter V6 makes 600 hp and 481 lb-ft of torque, and that's delivered to the pavement through all four wheels. Add the upgraded suspension and aerodynamic tweaks and the $150,000 price doesn't seem so bad. Unless you compare it to the Z06.
Porsche 911 GT3: Call it the gentleman's racer if you must, but Porsche managed a real feat with the new GT3. Porsche squeezed 475 hp from a naturally aspirated 3.8-liter six-cylinder, and the GT3 does zero to 60 in 3.3 seconds. Not bad for a car that's made for racetracks, not straight lines. Prices start around $150,000.
Why Should You Consider This Car?
You want a car that'll get you to the track comfortably and then whoop everybody out there. Horsepower doesn't scare you, but being boring does.
Why Should You Think Twice?
The 2015 Chevy Corvette isn't subtle. It shouts its performance potential from the rooftops and looks every bit the part of almost-racecar. That's not everyone's bag.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.