2015 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 - TEST


Go Kart Champion
Richmond, ca

Stingray? The new Z06 is a stun ray.

A few years ago, during the darkest hours of the GM bankruptcy, Corvette chief engineer Tadge Juechter found himself on a conference call with company execs and government overseers. A conversation on the bolts and screws of bailing out GM suddenly halted when one of the federales, a Corvette fan, wanted to know the plan for the C7. “At the time, there was no plan,” recalled Juechter as we stood trackside at Road Atlanta this past October. “We were at full stop.”

So much has happened since then. Flash-forward to 2014 and the scene of our own technical director, Don Sherman, banging on the door of Juechter’s home like some marauding zombie early one summer Saturday, intent on hand-delivering our October issue, which featured an exposé on the C8 Corvette. (Juechter neither confirms nor denies our story.) And to our later meeting at Road Atlanta, where the new Z06 sat freshly unwrapped and awaiting its ritual molestation by car writers. Whatever satisfaction an engineer derives from his or her ideas becoming realized, from seeing mere talk and drawings evolve into a finished product, must increase tenfold in the Corvette program, once an idle afterthought in the mayhem of a bankruptcy and now a full line of highly acclaimed vehicles.

Nothing to see here. Just the shortest-stopping, most tenaciously gripping production car we've ever tested. Oh, it has a kind of powerful engine, too.
A line that includes a 650-hp thunder wagon with the sophistication and poise of the world’s best sports cars. There, we said it. The Z06 must be ranked among the world’s best. You know that we here at Car and Driver are not idle flatterers, our job being to find the faults for you in haste, before you have to live with them at leisure over 72 months of payments. However, the Z06 completely fulfills its mission to be a super Corvette. It is an accessible American fantasy intended to inject joy and fascination and, let’s face it, a healthy dose of awe into the driving experience, such that there’s not much left to shout about except details.

Details such as a 60-mph nuking of three seconds flat, set by a Z06 equipped with the Z07 Performance package and an automatic. This car tore the quarter-mile a new one at 11.1 seconds at 127 mph, scorched the skidpad with 1.19 g’s of grip, and stopped from 70 in an astonishing 128 feet, the latter two figures setting C/D records for a production car. We also tested a slightly less potent manual-trans Z06 [see bottom of page 2].

Please pause here for an important message about tires. If you’ve followed our preview coverage, you already know that there are now a lot of Z06s to choose from. There are coupe and convertible body styles. There are two transmissions, a seven-speed manual with automatic rev matching and an eight-speed automatic. And there are three trim levels, dozens of options, and three separate aero packages. Then there’s the mega Z07 Performance package that further weaponizes the car with carbon-ceramic brakes, a carbon-fiber aero package, a slightly revised suspension tune, and different tires. The Z07’s run-flat Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 summer almost-slicks replace the base run-flat Michelin Pilot Super Sports and are, to borrow from Mark Twain, the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.

Back to the test numbers: Um, holy crap. Riding a Z06 through the first four gears feels like putting a saddle on Superman, though the Z06 is 200 pounds heavier than the old ZR1. Obviously, there’s a squidge more power, but this is down to the race tires and the fact that today’s automatics are often faster than manuals in a straight line. We didn’t even use launch control, a simple flat-foot drop in full auto mode being all that was needed to produce these fireworks from the test equipment.

The Z06 we photographed was fully loaded with the Z07 package, Stage 3 carbon aero trim kit, and optional carbon-kablooey interior. As you can see, there’s a Z06 for, well, if not exactly everyone, then a wider swath of humanity’s more impatient *drivers, all of whom will be swamped by admirers at parties. Prepare for the eager smiles of your audience to droop slightly when you say you bought the automatic, as up to 70 percent of Z06 buyers are expected to do. This is a natural, instinctual disappointment, conditioned by the expectation that real sports cars have sticks, mounting evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.

We drove both the manual and the automatic Z06 and feel that the stick, with its notably soft and seamless clutch takeup, is still the best choice. Rev matching sounds like a hateful automation of the heel-and-toe skill until you get used to it. Then you wonder why all manuals don’t have it. Or just turn it off. Or use it to learn proper rev matching and then turn it off.

The automatic gets its robot chores done efficiently, but it’s the one area where we found the Z06 falls a little short of its billing. GM claims that the automatic does the work of the manual by quickly intuiting your intentions and behaving like a racer, taking data from the throttle, steering, and yaw sensors to determine whether a gear*change is possible or likely to unsettle the car. It does that fairly well, but when you’re really playing racer boy, the auto can get caught in the wrong gear, especially if you like left-foot braking and easing off the binders while simultaneously squeezing on the power. That sends ones and zeros up the transmission’s snoot that it doesn’t like.

Chevy’s choice of wild, bucking Road Atlanta as a launch venue proved both wise and a bit brave. This fast but highly technical track let the Z06 stretch its legs all the way up to 150-plus mph on the back straight, while also taxing its suspension and grip over crests and curbs. The Z06 immediately showed itself to be a Corvette Plus: plus more speed, more grip, more hunkered-down stability at triple digits, more noise, and a lot more stopping power.

When it’s not producing circa-30 mpg in cylinder-deactivation (eco) mode, the direct-injected LT4 is a typhoon of noise and power. Muffler flaps that bang open under hard acceleration (or stay open in track mode) release the crackling furies as you make the jump to hyperspace. Shifts are accompanied by a buzz-bang from stuttered spark and loose fuel. You do have to be competent before you’re attacking turns with anywhere near the Z06’s peak grip, especially on the gluey Cup 2s. The car’s eagerness to change direction stands in confounding contrast to its 106.7-inch school-bus wheelbase, more than 10 inches longer than a 911’s. No doubt our Z06 was set to the “track alignment” mentioned in the owner’s manual, which suggests an extra degree of negative front and rear wheel camber. Juechter said Chevy tries to set its press cars up with the track alignment when it knows they are headed to a circuit, as this Z06 was.

It’s precisely the Corvette’s long inseam that gives it stability over curbs and pavement pitches that would upset a shorter car. That and shock-tuning sophistication (engineers were fussing with the magnetic-shock maps right up until our drive, deciding to relax them slightly in track mode) let the chassis digest the worst the road can deliver. The Z06 eats track curbs and moves on. Stability. That’s the word on your quavering lips when you emerge after the first session.

But the newest Vette is a complicated toy that will take many, many hours of play to fully reveal itself. The traction- and stability-control modes affect many parameters now, including throttle aggression, the electronic limited-slip differential engagement, the magnetic shocks, and the automatic’s shift speed. You can push buttons and twist knobs in the pits for quite a while before you’ve explored all the combinations. The important take-away is this: You, Bo-Bob Racer, can pound the snot out of the Z06 with your manly lapping technique, then reconfigure the car for your rookie squire with absolutely no fear of him being in any danger—as long as no one fools with the buttons. MG’s motto used to be “Safety Fast.” It applies much better to the Z06.

Afterward, if you’ve optioned the Perform*ance Data Recorder that comes with the navigation system, you and your team can watch the video replay of your exploits, complete with speed, rpm, g’s, track position (thanks to integrated GPS data), and lap times. The Z06 isn’t merely swift; it’s designed specifically to make you a better driver through the stair-step configurability of its controls and its onboard learning tools.

The Z06 does not transcend its roots; it’s still a Stingray, meaning wide, bat*winged, loud, and full of numerous types of plastic. But once you’ve peeled back its many *layers, the performance is that of a true supercar and yet another step forward for the American Dream Machine.

We tested both the automatic and manual Z06, the latter returning numbers lower than expected. The base seven-speed coupe, 3559 pounds, did a 60-mph strafe of 3.4 seconds, a quarter-mile clobbering in 11.5 seconds at 126 mph, skidpad laps averaging 1.12 g’s, and a stop from 70 in 139 feet. However, our tester grumped that the car should have been quicker, especially since its computer threw a code during testing and may have been cutting power. Even if it was, the car still posted numbers comparable to the old ZR1. Retesting before deadline wasn’t possible, so we teed up our next subject, a Z07 automatic coupe, which logged the performance shown in our charts.
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