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2006 Chevrolet Corvette Z06

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2006 Chevrolet Corvette Z06

SEE ALSO: New Car Buyer's Guide for Chevrolet

Chevrolet's Corvette has a unique place in the sports car pantheon. For most of its history, it has been the only true sports car built by a major American automaker. And, since V8 engines found their way under the fiberglass hood in 1955, the `Vette has offered performance on a par with far more expensive European sports cars.

Perhaps that affordability is part of the Corvette's image problem. Corvette ownership is attainable by far more people than for any of the Italian exotics, or even German sports cars. ``Exotic'' implies exclusivity. It also implies state-of-the-art technology and specification.

Almost by definition, a car that leverages knowledge gained from a factory racing program, and which has carbon fiber body panels, a 505-horsepower dry-sump engine with titanium connecting rods and intake valves - not to mention sodium-cooled exhaust valves, an aluminum frame with cast magnesium subframes, and huge cross-drilled and vented brake discs with six-piston front, four-piston rear calipers is exotic.

And if that car was built anywhere near Modena, Italy, there would be no question as to its pedigree. The car in question, though, is built in Bowling Green, Kentucky - right alongside all of the other Corvettes. It's the 2006 Z06, the fastest production Corvette ever.

Although it looks similar to the regular Corvette coupe, the new Z06 has many very major differences inside and out. It's wider across the rear wheels, as those wheels and tires are significantly larger than the one on the standard models. The floorpan, front fenders, and fender liners are lightweight and strong carbon fiber, while the regular `Vette's hydroformed steel frame is replaced by a considerably lighter one made of hydroformed aluminum. Major chassis, driveline, and suspension parts have been significantly strengthened, and lightened wherever possible. Under the hood, the 6.0-liter, 400-horsepower LS2 has been replaced by the 7.0-liter LS7, pumping out 505 horsepower and 470 lb-ft of torque through a six-speed manual transmission. Many of the lessons learned in the recent Corvette endurance racing program, which resulted in four class wins in five years in the 24-hour race at LeMans, France, have been applied to the Z06.

The price? $65,000 base. That makes it the most expensive Corvette ever, although the $60,000 ZR1 of the early 90s comes close in absolute amount, and was actually more, as that was 60,000 1990 dollars. That's a healthy surcharge over the regular Corvette, but you could pay twice, or even three times, as much and not improve on the abilities. Want that performance with an Italian accent? Be prepared to drop north of $200,000.

I received a surprise phone call a couple of weeks ago, from a Chevrolet representative asking if I would like to test a new Z06 for a long weekend. Um, let me think about that for one nanosecond, yes, of course. And, yes, of course, this being March, the month of unsettled weather, it rained the entire time.

The good news is that the Z06 is as easy to drive around town as any car. Yes, the steering and clutch effort are a little higher than in, say, a Cobalt, but there is serious power on tap. The shift linkage is wonderful. The Z06 could be an everyday car, no problem. But... step a little harder on the throttle and there is a personality change, from docile puppy to slavering hydrophobic beast. I have absolutely no doubt that 505 ponies are attached to the other end of the throttle linkage, or that ``competition mode'' in the Stabilitrak system is the best use of electronics in a car made today. The huge tires - P275/35 ZR18 front, P325/30ZR19 rear (versus the mere 245/40 18, 285/35 19 of other `Vettes) are adamantly not all-season tires, but Stabilitrak keeps the peace while allowing just enough wheelspin and slip angle for optimum performance. Zero to 60 is accomplished in 3.7 seconds without having to shift out of first, yet a high overdrive ratios in fifth and sixth mean effortless and economical highway cruising - or 198 mph on the appropriate road (which would be the Mulsanne Straight at Le Mans...).

The Z06 has supercar abilities, yet is easily drivable and as useful as any other Corvette. There's even a reasonable amount of luggage space under the rear hatch. If anyone was wondering whether General Motors could build a world-class automobile, the answer here is a resounding yes.

APPEARANCE: Glance and it looks like a Corvette coupe with a scoop on the nose. Look more closely. The fenders are re-contoured to fit the huge tires, with extra functional air ducts on the sides. The nose is very different, much flatter in profile, with a functional air dam, all the better for high-speed stability. More body panels are different than interchangeable with the standard Corvette coupe, and the Z06's roof is fixed, not removable, for enhanced rigidity.

COMFORT: Six-footers with big feet fit easily, and the bolstered seats do a good job of holding occupants in place. There is enough space behind the seats for luggage or even golf clubs. Soundproofing is minimal, as expected in what is the closest Chevrolet has ever come to making a street-legal race car. Anyone expecting a quiet and refined luxury ride is in the wrong car. Anyone who considers gear, exhaust, intake, and tire sounds to be music will be very, very happy. Yes, there is a stereo, but the quad exhaust system is much more interesting here. The head-up display projected on the lower windshield is most useful, showing speed, rpm, and lateral g-forces.

SAFETY, RIDE AND HANDLING, and PERFORMANCE: Don't blink. At anything more than half throttle, way up there in front is suddenly way back there behind. Despite its classic 7.0-liter (427 cubic inches) size, the LS7 V8 is the largest iteration of the newest GM aluminum small-block V8. Its size and strengthened internal parts allow it to make 505 horsepower at 6300 rpm, with torque peaking at 470 lb-ft at 4800 rpm. It's almost docile at low throttle, which is good for town driving and tire longevity, but it quickly turns ferocious when the right foot is extended. Second gear is really all that is needed. I didn't get a chance to push too hard, as the tires are not even close to being all-season, but even driven moderately, the Z06 is very, very quick.

The ride is stiff, as expected with ultra-low profile run-flat tires. Chevy says the car is capable of over 1G of cornering force. On a dry road. Which I haven't seen for several weeks now. Fortunately, as mentioned, Stabilitrak works wonders, and, unlike the similar systems from other manufacturers, it works in an unobtrusive way.

If it goes, it should stop. And stop the Z06 does, very well. With 14-inch front and 13.4-inch brake discs, all ventilated and cross-drilled for extreme heat dissipation, gripped by six-piston calipers in front, and four-piston in the rear, stopping is not a problem. And handling response is likely to be limited more by driver ability than the car's. Don't look for its limits on a public road.

Passive safety equipment includes dual airbags with the Passenger Sensing System, which automatically sets the front passenger air bag according to the weight in the seat.

CONCLUSIONS: Chevrolet has made a world-class super car in the form of the 2006 Corvette Z06.

2006 Chevrolet Corvette Z06

Base Price			$ 65,000
Price As Tested			$ 67,845
Engine Type			16-valve pushrod overhead valve V8
Engine Size			7.0 liters / 427 cu. in.
Horsepower			505 @ 6300 rpm
Torque (lb-ft) 			470 @ 4800 rpm
Transmission			6-speed manual
Wheelbase / Length		105.7 in. / 175.6 in.
Curb Weight			3,130 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		6.2
Fuel Capacity			18 gal.
Fuel Requirement		91 octane unleaded premium gasoline
Tires				Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar Extended
				 P275/35ZR18 front, P325/30ZR19 rear
Brakes, front/rear		vented and cross-drilled discs
				  all around,
				  6-piston front, 4-piston rear
				  calipers, ABS and Stabilitrak
Suspension, front/rear		independent unequal-length aluminum
				 control arms with transverse
				  composite leaf springs
Drivetrain			front engine, rear-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		16 / 26 / 22
0 to 60 mph				3.7  sec

Polished aluminum wheels		$1,295
Special paint				$  750
Destination charge			$  800