More Expert Reviews
|2011 Corvette Z06
|2011 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 Specs|
By Alex Kramer
- If 505 hp isn’t enough for you, seek help
- With tires as wide as oil drums, lateral grip is abundant
- Hit them hard and the carbon-ceramic brakes will stand the car on its nose
- Surprisingly decent fuel efficiency for such a big engine
- Iconic exterior design definitely looks the part of an all-out sports car
- Suspension gets unsettled over rough pavement
- Embarrassing interior for a $100k car
- Requires a racetrack to fully explore the performance potential
Sometimes the weather can be cruel. Very cruel. Especially when you are scheduled to test one of the fastest production cars available for under $100k and the forecast calls for lots of rain and cold temperatures. Sure, rolling up to the multiplex in a car that can run with Ferraris and Lamborghinis is kinda cool, but oh what would we have given for some nicer testing conditions.
The car in question is the 2011 Chevrolet Corvette ZO6. With a 505 hp 7.0 L V8 engine, a sub 4 second 0-60 time, and a sticker price starting around $70k, the ZO6 has offered supercar levels of performance at a budget price since 2006. Although now eclipsed by the Corvette ZR1, which was reborn in 2009 with a supercharged engine making an astounding 638 hp, the ZO6 is still one of the fastest machines on the road today, especially for the money.
For 2011 Chevrolet is offering the ZO6 with the same adjustable suspension, carbon ceramic brakes, and wheels and tires as big brother ZR1, which closes the performance gap between the two enough that the extra $20k for the ZR1 starts to look a bit steep. Without a test track or a ZR1 test car at our disposal, we’ll have to hold off on judging which Vette offers the best bang for the buck. What we can say is that the ZO6 is a ferociously fast sports car that also looks the part, but is sadly not the best car for cruising around on a cold, rainy weekend.
There’s an old saying that when it comes to car engines and power, there’s no replacement for displacement. Although advances in technology have resulted in more output from smaller and smaller engines, the ZO6 is a compelling argument that bigger is sometimes better. With lightweight titanium intake valves and connecting rods, and a high-performance dry-sump oil system, this is one of the few large engines that will eagerly rev to 7000 rpm without breaking a sweat.
Hit the starter button and the 7.0L V8 thunders to life, and then settles into a low rumbling idle. Keep the rpms below 3000 and the car is actually quite docile and easy to control, but should you decide to gun the throttle, just make sure you have a lot of open road in front of you. With 470 lb-ft of torque on tap and only 3175 pounds to push around, the ZO6 will surge ahead in every gear at almost every speed.
The only thing holding the car back is traction, which given our testing conditions was sadly in short supply. Flooring the throttle in 2nd gear at 45 mph on a cold, damp road is a recipe for traction control intervention. Bump it up to 70 mph and 3rd gear on the freeway, and pushing down with your right foot results in grin-inducing levels of acceleration, along with a simply beautiful roar from the exhaust, but within literally seconds you have to jam on the brakes or risk either hitting someone or achieving felony levels of speed.
Surprisingly, all this big-engine performance is available with equally impressive fuel efficiency; we averaged over 17 mpg during our week with the car and 20 mpg should be easy to achieve when just cruising on the highway. Much of the credit goes to the six speed manual transmission (no automatic is offered on the ZO6), which has insanely tall gear ratios and, like previous Corvettes, encourages you to shift straight from 1st to 4th gear when driving around town. Although it takes a little time to get used to, the prodigious torque makes pulling away in 4th gear at 1100 RPM a breeze.
As previously mentioned, the ZO6 is now available with the same handling goodies that come standard on the ZR1. Select the ZO7 Ultimate Performance Package (an additional $9,495) and you get Brembo carbon-ceramic brakes, Competition Gray aluminum 19″ front and 20″ rear wheels, Michelin PS2 tires, and Magnetic Selective Ride Control, which consists of a set of magnetorheological dampers that can be adjusted to either a softer touring mode or firmer sport mode. Without having driven a stock ZO6 it’s hard to say how much of a difference these options make, but at least on paper this looks like a pretty good bargain for some trick parts.
The only catch to testing a car with as much performance potential as the ZO6 is that it requires a racetrack to really do so. Unfortunately, we were stuck with public roads, in the winter, during a period of rather nasty weather. We’re pretty sure that when the engineers designed the ZO6, they didn’t really have 40 degree temperatures and wet roads in mind. Even with ridiculously wide 335/25R20 rear tires, the rubber just won’t stay hooked up under full throttle in 1st or 2nd gear when it’s wet and cold. Only when the roads dried up a bit one afternoon due to a few hours of mid-day sun did launching the car become somewhat easier.
Despite having a perfect 50/50 weight distribution, the ZO6 proved a handful in the corners, as doing anything aggressive with the throttle results in the rear end stepping out. The same cold, wet roads that confounded straight line acceleration are also to blame here, but with rear wheel drive, gobs of power and relatively little weight, power oversteer will often be an issue, even on dry pavement. Needless to say, turning the electronic nannies off should definitely be reserved for nice weather, a racetrack, and a driver possessing more advanced skills. Leave it on and the traction control does do a decent job of intervening before things get out of hand, but driving the car fast on narrow windy roads still remains quite challenging.
Adding to the handling challenge is a suspension that gets easily unsettled over rough pavement, even when the shocks are set to touring mode. Switch it to sport mode and the benefit is zero body roll or other unnecessary suspension movement, but you end up feeling every little imperfection in the road surface and you’ll probably want to make an appointment with your chiropractor in advance. In the end, the ZO6 just felt out of its element on local back roads, which is not entirely surprising given that it was designed to excel on the smooth surfaces of the racetrack, not the often battered asphalt of real-world roads.
Although we could sense the ZO6’s potential for being a demon on the track, without being able to take it out for a few hot laps we’re left wondering how the car performs when being driven flat out. Sure, hit the carbon-ceramic disk brakes when exiting the freeway and the car practically stands on its nose, but what about slowing down from 130 mph for the Andretti hairpin at Laguna Seca? Take the local cloverleaf at 55 mph and the ZO6 displays impressive grip and turn-in precision, but what about setting up for and then diving through the infamous corkscrew? Boy, it sure would be fun to find out…
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