The Corvette’s latest incarnation, the Z06, is an exciting, brutally fast, and even fairly docile vehicle, thanks to a combination of old-fashioned cubes and new-fangled technology. With second-generation active handling and traction control, getting the Z06 up to 60 miles per hour in under five seconds is a snap. With a highly tuned 350 under the hood, sounding like a NASCAR racing engine under high revs, that five seconds can be thrilling indeed.
We were lucky enough to have a Corvette for a full week. In that time, we were continuously impressed not just by its acceleration, road-handling, and braking, but also by the ease with which it can be driven. This is no hard-core, experienced-racers-only Viper. This is a car that can be driven quietly or hard, with attention but not with a constant fear of having the rear wheels showing up in front of you (figuratively speaking, at least).
(Lest we make Vette drivers overconfident, it is possible to break the rear end loose. It’s just not nearly as easy as it should be in a car with 375 horsepower and a top speed of 175 miles per hour).
The engine has gobs of low-end torque, so you can outrace many ordinary cars without reaching what a Honda would consider to be its minimum engine speed. At 1,000 rpm, there is 300 pound-feet of torque waiting to push your head back into the seat. Thanks again to high tech, the engine still burns fuel cleanly, and gets better gas mileage than the previous generation – mileage, by the way, which is better than the average SUV.
“Ordinary” Corvette owners will probably opt for the base model, which, after all, is only a half a second less fast than the Z06, but is a bit more comfortable as a daily driver. Those with excessive skill and training may choose the Z06, with its larger front stabilizer bar, stiffer rear leaf springs, sportier camber, and not unrelated ability to hit a world-class 1 g on the skidpad. Is it a surprise that the Corvette wiped the floor with nearly all Le Mans contenders, beaten only by the Viper?
Even with the heavy duty suspension, it took a firm hand on the wheel to keep the Corvette going in a straight line under hard acceleration. That’s part of having a muscle car.
A heavy but smooth shifter and clutch make the manual transmission worth getting. Six speeds help by providing a very tall overdrive, increasing gas mileage without robbing too much power at highway speeds – and making the top speed higher.
Going to more ordinary topics, the Z06 costs $47,000, considerably more than a base ‘Vette but also less than a base Viper or pretty much any other supercar. As one would expect, it has a good stereo, comfortable electric seat, single cup holder, and lots of engine and road noise, partly because there is no sound barrier between the cockpit and trunk. Cargo room is surprisingly not as useless as one would expect, thanks to designers who chose to make the most of their space – rather than having a flot floor, the trunk has depressions which hold packages upright. Using run-flat tires provides more space, since there is no spare. Unfortunately, there is little space in the passenger compartment for highway passes and such, with an oddly shaped glove compartment and shallow, awkward center console.
The Corvette theme that saturates the interior is not too intrusive, while the speedometer switches from miles to kilometers as needed – so it either has about 25 mph more than needed, or a few kph less than needed. A trip computer is activated by a variety of buttons which line the right side of the instrument panel, letting the owner set various options and get information.
What did it cost?
- Base: 385 horsepower engine, 6 speed manual, active handling and traction control, power sensitive steering, limited slip differential, aluminum spoke wheels, four wheel antilock brakes, Passkey II alarm/theft deterrent, power heated outside mirrors, Bose stereo CD, dual zone air conditioning, driver preferences/information system, cruise, leather, power driver seat, power locks and mirrors, rear defogger: $46,855
- Memory package: $150
- Color-keyed floor mats with carpeted inserts: $25
- Destination: $645
- Total: $47,675 (in 2002—converted to 2018 dollars, that would be $66,792
The cruise control was disappointing for a sports car, set up awkwardly on the left hand stalk, but at least the status readout displayed the speed you set the control for when you turned it on, coasted, or accelerated.
The Corvette is a killer sports car, yet it is generally docile and easy to manage as long as you don’t do anything obviously dumb. We do recommend with this amount of power and rear wheel drive that, if you buy one, you sign up for a reputable performance driving course. It’ll help you to make the most of this incredibly fast car, without cracking its pretty fiberglass body – and yours. But don’t let that put you off – the Corvette is a whole lot of fun.
(Article originally appeared in ssrrs.com, which was absorbed
The author of Dodge Viper, Jeep’s Go-Anywhere Vehicles, and The Rise and Reinvention of Chrysler Minivans, David Zatz has been writing about cars and trucks since the early 1990s; he also writes on organizational development and business at toolpack.info and covers Mac statistics software at macstats.org. His latest book, for kids, is Meet the Jeep.
David has been quoted by the New York Times, the Daily Telegraph, the Detroit News, and USA Today. You can reach him by using our contact form (preferred) or by calling (313) 766-2304.