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Not so much car as rocket-powered scream machine, the 2011 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 improves on the previous model by being even more focused on its purpose: that of being a track car. Don't expect German refinement or Japanese technical wizardry, as the Corvette Z06 is all about low-down power.
And don't think that just because you're paying almost $100 grand for a car you will get the latest cabin tech. The navigation system in the Corvette Z06 seems more of a practical joke than a gadget, and the Bluetooth phone system echoes GM's former mulishness about embracing that technology.
Our Z06 came equipped with Brembo ceramic brakes, part of the Ultimate Performance Package.
Our car came full of expensive options, with exotic material such as ceramic brakes and a carbon fiber roof. And, OK, a little technical wizardry in the form of magnetic ride, which is a technology that uses magnetically reactive fluid to adjust the suspension depending on road conditions.
The big story in the Z06 is the engine, a massive V-8 power plant displacing 7 liters. Just imagine three 2-liter soda bottles, plus an extra half, and that's the amount of space in the cylinders. Now imagine filling that space with an air fuel mixture, in quick repetition, while the engine is doing 5,000rpm, with explosions worthy of a Michael Bay film pushing the pistons.
You don't get to see this spectacle, but you get to hear and feel it. The push button on the dashboard makes the engine kick over with a roar, then settle down to a low rumble at about 750rpm. The car vibrates, and it feels like you're sitting in a giant subwoofer.
Although a thing of beauty, the LS7 is not the most efficient engine around.
The sound and fury is all quite impressive, but why does this engine make only 505 horsepower and 470 pound-feet of torque? Ford's Shelby GT500 does better than that with only 5.4 liters, through the magic of a supercharger. Granted, the supercharger brings a different character to the Shelby GT500's acceleration. Maybe direct injection would add efficiency to the Corvette's LS7 engine. But no, the Corvette relies on old-fashioned, low-tech big explosions.
However, the Corvette Z06 manages to avoid a gas guzzler tax with its EPA fuel economy of 15 mpg city and 22 mpg highway. Don't expect to achieve those numbers yourself. We made it up to 14.5 mpg with an ample amount of time spent freeway cruising.
Chevrolet hits its EPA figures through a little bit of transmission trickery, the famous first-to-fourth-gear shunt. When shifting up from first gear with low throttle, the transmission pushes the shifter to fourth instead of second. With this big engine, you can drive in pretty much any gear you want. We rolled down city streets at 35 mph in sixth gear, the engine running uncomplainingly at just above idle. Likewise we could get just shy of 60 mph in first gear.
A fast start in the Corvette Z06 makes for a very entertaining 3.7 seconds to 60 mph, as full throttle in second gear produces thumping backfires from the exhaust. The car was generally good about keeping grip when we put the power down, putting everything it had toward forward motion rather than burning rubber.
Built for the track
But the Corvette Z06, and by extension, the driver, is happiest when driving on smooth asphalt, either a freshly paved road or a track. We chucked the car along some of our favorite county roads, narrow twisting lanes through rolling hills that hadn't seen a road crew in 20 years, leading to some terrifying driving. A fast start on a straight stretch of this road nearly sent the car sideways as the front end caught a slight bump.
The Z06 looks good in our photo opp, but getting here wasn't easy.
By contrast, we had the most fun on a freshly paved strip of highway, where the car could do what it was designed for. Here the car clung to the road, sailing through the turns easily at high speed, rotating with just a little throttle application when we could get away with it.
Getting into high revolutions-per-minute driving, the engine's sound level took on a new character as it entered a twilight zone of power. The Corvette Z06 was in its element, the engine keeping tight control over the rear wheels, every little bit of throttle showing immediate effect, lending to overall control of the car. This is the kind of driving you really want to get into with the Corvette Z06, but can rarely do on public roads. This car needs to be tracked.
The Brembo ceramic brakes were very easy to modulate, as we would expect, but they largely go to waste with the kind of driving we were able to do. The brakes, part of the $9,495 Ultimate Performance Package, are made for the track, where they can be properly tortured. They merely laughed off anything we could throw at them during street driving.
The one really high-tech performance item on the Corvette Z06 was the magnetic ride system, which constantly monitored the way the car was reacting to the road and driving style, adjusting the viscosity of the shock fluid to compensate. A knob on the console let us select from a Sport or a Touring setting.
The six-speed manual takes some strength to shift.
With the suspension in Sport, the ride is hard, and on anything less than perfect pavement, it felt like we were getting hit repeatedly with a bag full of oranges. Putting the car in Touring mode, everything loosened up just a little, so that it felt like the bag hitting us was full of hamsters.
The Corvette Z06 is not a car you want to jump in for a quick trip to the grocery store. The trip might be quick, but this is not an easy driver. We had to be careful modulating clutch and gas just to get it going. Lacking a hill-start feature, we had to bring all of our San Francisco driving skill to bear when sitting in traffic on a steep hill, waiting for a light to turn.
Driving in traffic was sheer torture, the shifter requiring serious strength to run it through the gears, the engine burbling along loudly, and the differential audibly grinding behind the cabin. The knowledge of what the car could be doing, given the right conditions, made traffic driving all that much worse.
The stitched leather lining the cabin helped us appreciate the big price tag for the car, but we weren't crazy about the cabin's ergonomics. With the seat adjusted for good clutch operation, our knees were up again the underside of the dash. Much of the sound deadening and heat protection also seems to have been removed for the Z06.
We could feel the heat from the front firewall and the transmission tunnel. Chevrolet thoughtfully put a USB port in the console hatch, useful for plugging in an iPod, but we don't recommend using it. We left an iPod Touch in the console, spent a good day out driving, and suddenly the stereo wouldn't recognize the iPod as an audio source. Opening the hatch, we found the iPod was too hot to handle, which must have caused it to shut down.
This is one of the worst-looking maps we've seen in a long time.
That iPod connection and OnStar's telematics service are the two most advanced cabin tech features. The stereo, with a decent-sounding Bose seven-speaker system, offered only terrestrial and XM radio, and a single-CD slot hidden behind the navigation screen. The iPod interface was slow to show artist and album names. But the audio system doesn't matter too much in this car, as it is usually drowned out by road noise.
The navigation system is not worth the option price. It looked like something that came from a time before GPS even existed. DVD-based, the route calculations were slow and the maps had awful resolution. Forget about traffic information or text to speech.
Our car also came with a no-frills Bluetooth phone system, a strictly voice-command system with no onscreen feedback. This one is initially a little tricky to figure out, as you have to press and hold the voice command button on the steering wheel. Pressing it once merely mutes the stereo.
The Corvette Z06's most useful feature for track driving is its head up display, a projection on the windshield with different modes. In Track mode it shows speed, tach, and g-forces. Standard driving mode is a more limited display, with just speed and tach.
Track performance is really the 2011 Chevrolet Corvette Z06's purpose, its big, 7-liter engine allowing precise throttle control but not much efficiency. The six-speed manual isn't the smoothest shifting gearbox, but the one-four shunt is a smart feature. The magnetic-ride technology is an advanced piece of performance tech, along with the ceramic brakes.
This Corvette looks good. It's a low-down powerful sports car with a unique design. It won't be mistaken for anything else. We had some issues with legroom in the cabin, but other than that, the ergonomics are good, with a decent amount of space under the hatch, which is also accessible from inside the cabin. The cabin tech interface drags the whole design score down, with its haphazard buttons and blocky graphics.
The only saving grace for cabin tech is OnStar and the head up display, both useful and unique features. The Corvette Z06 is one of the few cars we would recommend not getting with the navigation system. The audio system is passable, but nothing to brag about.
|Model||2011 Chevrolet Corvette|
|Power train||7-liter V-8, six-speed manual transmission|
|EPA fuel economy||15 mpg city/24 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||14.5 mpg|
|Bluetooth phone support||Optional|
|Disc player||MP3-compatible single-CD|
|MP3 player support||iPod integration|
|Other digital audio||USB drive, satellite radio|
|Audio system||Bose seven-speaker system|
|Driver aids||Head up display, telematics system|
|Price as tested||$98,010|