Turn 7 at Road Atlanta in Braselton, Georgia, is the slowest section on the 2.54-mile road course. The 90-degree right hander leads you onto the track's long back straight, giving you the opportunity to really stretch a car's legs. In my case, I'm exercising the 2019 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1, with an insane 755 horsepower.
Hammering out of Turn 7, working through the slick-shifting seven-speed manual transmission, I'm seeing 150 mph in no time at all. The 6.2-liter supercharged V8 sitting under the hood possesses right-now throttle response, herculean thrust throughout the rev range and a menacing exhaust note. This engine may be based on the 650-horsepower V8 used in the Corvette Z06, but a bigger Eaton supercharger, new throttle body, stronger crankshaft and both port- and direct-fuel injection account for the staggering increase of 105 horsepower.
To accommodate the more potent drivetrain, the Corvette's front clip is brand new, with larger front fascia air dams and fender vents to better cool the 13 radiators (four more than the Z06). More clearance is also necessary for the nearly 3-inch taller supercharger, hence the tall "halo" hood.
At 150 mph, the ZR1 is seemingly epoxy-glued to the pavement, with solid high-speed stability. It never, ever feels out of sorts, even at full throttle through Road Atlanta's tricky Turn 9 kink. Credit the ZR1's available Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires (Michelin Super Sports are standard), not to mention the incredible aero upgrades. The ZR1 has plenty carbon fiber add-ons and the new front splitter, and of course, a huge wing sitting atop stanchions bolted directly into the rear bumper frame. At its top speed, a ZR1 wearing the mondo wing produces 950 pounds of downforce.
You'll appreciate the ZR1's Brembo carbon ceramic brakes when the long back straight ends with a sharp left-hand turn. Six-piston front and four-piston rear calipers clamp with firmness and quickly scrub off speed, with no signs of fade throughout a morning of continuous hot laps.
Corner turn-in capabilities are sharper in the ZR1 than any previous Corvette. Thanks to half-inch wider front rubber, combined with the upgraded Magnetic Ride Control suspension and its excellent Track setting, the ZR1 digs in and holds on around every one of Road Atlanta's corners. The sweeping, downhill right onto the front straight and high-speed esses that display the car's instant side-to-side weight transitions don't faze it in the slightest -- at least not at the brisk, but far from full-bore pace I'm running.
Probably the most surprising aspect about the ZR1 is how relatively easy it is to drive fast. Unlike the dearly departed Dodge Viper, the Corvette isn't so intimidating. Instead, tapping into the car's impressive performance seems attainable to a wide range of drivers with varying skill levels. Besides the brutal acceleration that requires careful throttle application, the ease in how it brakes, turns and hunkers down around corners make it a willing companion that will even have folks with limited track experience moving at a decent clip.
Keeping with the ZR1's attainability theme, the most powerful production Corvette to date is also available with an eight-speed automatic transmission for the first time, which is a $1,750 option. With 80 percent of all new Corvettes being built with automatic transmissions, the business case to offer an automatic ZR1 is a no brainer.
On track, the automatic gearbox performs admirably when letting the computers decide when to switch gears, but response to manual shift commands happens with a slight lag. It's still a good time, but certainly nowhere near as entertaining as manually rowing through the gears of the excellent, rev-matching, seven-speed stick.
In addition to being a turn-key track terror, the ZR1 can be a downright comfortable daily ride. A twist of the center console Drive Mode Selector dial summons Touring mode, relaxing drivetrain behavior, reducing exhaust sound, lightening the steering and softening the magnetic suspension. Small impacts from bumps on Georgia countryside roads are gobbled up by the suspension. Noise from the high-performance tires and drivetrain is low inside the comfortable and well-trimmed cabin, enabling conversations with my co-driver to be carried out in a normal tone of voice.
Infotainment mirrors the rest of the Corvette lineup with a responsive 8-inch touchscreen in the dash, matched with a Bose audio system, OnStar 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot, Bluetooth and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, though factory navigation is optional. For safety tech, all ZR1 gets a head-up display and rearview camera, while a front curb-view camera is available to help you from crunching up the carbon fiber front splitter.
While you can try to fly under the radar quietly idling around town in the ZR1 in Touring, the exclusive body work with the more aggressive front end and high wing option do draw lots of attention. Those who opt to stick with the standard low wing not only will blend in with their surroundings a little better, but will have an easier time loading and unloading cargo into the Corvette coupe's 15 cubic-feet trunk without the tall appendage getting in the way.
Another potential strike to the daily driver credentials is fuel economy. With the manual, the blown V8 is estimated to return 13 mpg in the city and 19 mpg on the highway, while the automatic cars receives 12 mpg city and 20 mpg highway ratings. The lower fuel figures bring on a $2,100 gas guzzler tax, but remember, I'm talking about a car with 755 horsepower that reaches 60 mph in 2.8 seconds, covers the quarter-mile in 10.6 seconds at 134 mph and hits a top speed of 212 mph with the automatic. Considering all that, 20 mpg on the highway is not bad.
As you read this, there are already some 2019 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1s at dealers and in customer hands. The coupe starts at $122,095, which includes $1,095 for destination and $2,100 gas guzzler tax. But for the first time, you can also get the ZR1 as a convertible, with prices starting at $126,095 with destination and gas guzzler fees.
With the addition of the automatic transmission option and drop-top body, the 2019 ZR1 is the most diverse generation of the range-topping Corvette to date. No longer is it reserved simply for harder-core enthusiasts, though it still packs world-beating performance capabilities. It's a super Corvette that can be a lot of things to a lot of people. That's never a bad thing.
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