'VETTE & WILD: Mean, green Z06 goes from zero to 60 mph in 3.7 seconds on less gas

Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Scott Burgess, Detroit Auto News

PHOENIX -- The Chevrolet Corvette Z06 used to play first chair in the Corvette hierarchy. It's the performance-oriented virtuoso from a powerful family; the ultimate achievement after 50 years of fabulous vehicles.

The upcoming supercharged ZR1 relegates the Z06 to second fiddle for some. They're bowled over by the 620 horses under the ZR1's carbon-fiber hood. Sure, it's 115 more horsepower, but the 505 in the Z06's 7-liter, heart-stopping V-8 is more than most drivers should legally be allowed to handle.

The Z06's vital statistics prove my point: Zero to 60 mph in 3.7 seconds (in first gear); an 11.7-second quarter mile; and a top speed of 198 miles per hour. Its monster 14-inch vented and cross-drilled front rotors and 13.4-inch rear rotors stop the 3,132-pound coupe from 60 mph in 111.3 feet. If you're not impressed with any of those numbers, stop reading and go look up used VW Jetta prices on Kelley Blue Book.

At least Volkswagen hails from the home of the autobahn, a suitable asphalt playground for the Z06. American highways make two-thirds of the Z06's speedometer illegal -- something police will quickly teach the accelerating inattentive.

The Z06 taught me two things: Racy moves on blacktop should be left to professionals, and nobody puts this baby in a corner. Not even the ZR1.

Fast but smooth ride
And few should try to accelerate too quickly out of any corner. It's a lesson I learned at the Bondurant Racing School track, where instructors quickly showed me my driving skills would never lead to a pro career. While I was able to master squeezing the accelerator just right to catapult me into a straightaway -- without throwing the back end of the Z06 in front of me -- I never came close to perfecting a "heel-toe shift." That's a racing trick for pressing the brake and gas pedal at the same time -- a few milliseconds before depressing the clutch and downshifting.

In theory, the madness to this method produces smoother stopping as you approach a turn. The car is properly balanced, the engine's revs are in synch to avoid engine braking during the downshift and prime the power pump, so you can unleash it as you ram through the apex. You win races in the turns.

In reality, I felt like my black-and-red Pilotis were tied together as I slammed on the brakes and red-lined the tach at the same time; and then thanked the locking seat belt for keeping my mouth from smashing into the steering wheel.

But the Z06 is far from a rough ride, though it is bouncier than the regular Corvette. Only when you attempt to push it does it seem to stiffen up and bite back a little. I credit this more to my inexperience in true performance cars than the vehicle. When I would do a lap with a professional racer, we would chat and hit 180-degree corners at 50 mph, chuckling as we blasted out of turns, with just a touch of that rear-wheel spin to remind us that front-wheel drive is for commuters.

The Z06 is a mechanical work of art that enhances performance in every way. The revised rack-and-pinion steering feels perfectly weighted at all speeds. The six-speed manual gearbox handles the power and aggressive shifting, which on a track is the only kind of shifting you do. Off the track, the Z06 is pleasantly comfortable and even a touch eco-friendly.

Stop laughing. Seriously, stop.

Now, I know most people associate a 7-liter V-8 with being mean to green, but creating an engine this powerful means engineers are also making it extremely efficient. Using light-weight high-tech materials, such as carbon fiber and composite body panels, aluminum for the block and frame, the Z06 sheds pounds faster than Mike Golic on Nutrisystem. In fact, the Z06 avoids the gas guzzler tax.

It's far from a gas guzzler: It gets 24 miles per gallon on the highway, matching the highway performance of the Lexus RX 400h two-mode hybrid, the all-wheel drive four-cylinder Dodge Caliber compact and the sporty V-6 Hyundai Triburon. That may not make the Z06 the greenest machine on the planet, but its greener than most sub-4-second 0-to-60 mph super or near supercars: The 2007 Lamborghini Gallardo, 15 mpg on the highway; the Maserati Quattroporte, 15 mpg; and the Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano, 15 mpg.

So if you love speed and are passionate about trees, this 'Vette is your best bet.

Upgraded 'Vette needs more
The only disappointment I had with the Z06 was with some elements of the interior, but it's more of a quibble than a complaint. The Z06 interior is an upgraded version of the regular Corvette, and I wanted more. High performance creates higher interior expectations. The custom leather-wrapped package in the Z06 -- available on all models -- almost gets there. Leather encases the instrument panel, door panel arm rests and seats.

The dash feels too wide with too much plastic for such a fine machine. I don't mind racing-inspired luxury, but the Z06 could offer a little more to remind me how special I really am for plunking down more than $70,000. However, the Z06 does add a number of standard features for 2008, including: OnStar with available turn-by-turn navigation; XM Satellite Radio; auto-dimming rearview mirrors (with compass); and a new keyless fob.

I like the space inside the Z06. There's no pretense that this car can hold more than two people. The dual cockpit provides loads of space for both driver and passenger. There's 22 cubic feet of cargo space, more than enough to carry a few bags for a long trip or two sets of golf clubs.

Whether cruising to the country club or to Key West to park in front of Sloppy Joe's, the Z06 will get you noticed. Corvettes -- all Corvettes -- are distinctive, iconic and easily recognizable. People never ask you, "How do you like that sports car?" Instead, they say, "Nice 'Vette." Or they just nod in knowing approval.

They know, you know, the whole world knows, the Corvette is built for speed. The Z06 adds to the legend.

Its body was designed to cut through the air and push the car down the faster it goes. Taking flight in a car is never good.

Compared with the regular Corvette, the Z06 adds the menacing cold air hood scoop. It keeps the glass-encased headlights following the car's curves.

The low-riding splitter along the bottom of the front fascia and large grille opening add to the Z06's mean stare. The bulging carbon fiber front fenders give it wide shoulders. Even the backside of the Z06 stands out. The four exhaust tips punctuate the bottom while the tall spoiler caps off the vehicle.

The Z06 is picture perfect.

It's the best piece of Detroit iron made today -- though technically, it's assembled in Bowling Green, Ky.

It may lose a half step of hype to the ZR1 -- Chevrolet's forthcoming $100,000 supercar -- but even after the ZR1 arrives, the Z06 stands second to none.

Scott Burgess is the auto critic for The Detroit News. He can be reached at (313) 223-3217 or sburgess@detnews.com.