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2006 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 Review

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
Z06 in Author's Driveway

2006 Corvette Z06 Redux
by Carey Russ

SEE ALSO: New Car Buyer's Guide for Chevrolet

The phone rang. It was the scheduler from the press fleet delivery service. There was a problem with the car I was supposed to get for this week, but they had a replacement in mind.

It's not particularly unusual in my business for a scheduled test car to become unavailable. Press fleet vehicles lead a hard and high-mileage life, and so are exposed to the hazards of the road to a greater degree than most others. Only taxicabs may lead a harsher life. The usual last-minute replacement is a bare-bones, bottom-feeder subcompact economy car or a soon-to-be-discontinued (for good reason) loser. I figured turkey season was coming early, and asked what the replacement might be.

"A Corvette Z06, until Friday" said the voice on the other end of the line.

"That'll work fine," I replied, with a large grin on my face. A Corvette Z06 is a subcompact hatchback, technically, if you consider passenger space. But in spirit, any Corvette, and especially the ultra-high performance Z06, is something else entirely.

I'd had a Z06 for a short, three-day loan earlier in the year, during winter. It rained almost the entire time, with only a few hours on the last afternoon showing any hint of sunshine. Even then, there was plenty of standing water on the road. I became well-acquainted with the Z06's "Competition Mode" Stabilitrak system. That actually took very little effort, given the slippery conditions. A touch too much throttle on an uphill onramp - not much throttle at all, really - and the car started to get a little sideways before Stabilitrak gently tucked it in. Running water across the road was quite noticeable in its effect. 505 horsepower and extra-wide dry-weather tires will do that. But now it's summer, and where I live that guarantees dry weather. Four days of summer weather and a Z06 Corvette? I can live with that, too bad my work schedule won't allow any road trips.

The four days with the Z06 were, unsurprisingly, very enjoyable. I even still have my driver's license. Despite its serious potential - 0-60 in 3.7 seconds in first gear alone and brakes to match, 198-mph top speed, 1-g cornering, and an appropriately stiff suspension, it's a car that can be used for everyday activities. There is even a good amount of luggage space under the hatch - you could even get a set of golf clubs in there. While never quiet, it's civil enough at small throttle openings and the clutch is light enough so that it can be driven in traffic, but it is not really happy there, or in city driving. And care must be taken around curbs, driveways, and gutters - "approach angle" is not a term mentioned with Corvettes in mind, and the Z06's extra-low front splitter can be scraped all too easily. The "rolled curb" at the end of my driveway is ignored in a truck, requires a little care navigating in most cars, and required two 2x6 pieces of lumber and delicate driving with the Z06.

This particular Z06 was a 2006 model. Differences for 2007 are few. The major changes are to prices, and in an upward direction. Where the base price of the `06 (with destination charge) was $65,690, the `07 is an even $70,000. The "Velocity Yellow" paint with my test car was clothed is still $750 (F117 radar-absorbing black would be more appropriate...). The combined audio and navigation system has gone from $3,340 to $3,640. What was a $69,690 car will be a $74,390 car. Expensive? Yes, but still half or less than anything comparable, and the high-performance bargain of the day.

The current Z06 is almost closer to being a road-going version of the very successful C6R endurance racer as it is to the regular production Corvette. It's as close to a street-legal race car as Chevrolet has ever made.

Although recognizably a Corvette, most of the Z06's body panels are unique, as are its engine, frame, suspension details, and wheels and tires. No T-top here with removable roof panels. The Z06's roof is fixed, for increased structural rigidity. Its rear fenders are flared and noticeably wider than those of other `Vettes; the front fenders each have an air exhaust vent not on the standard `Vette, and they are made of carbon fiber, as are the floorpan and fender liners. The standard hydroformed steel frame is replaced with a lighter one made from hydroformed aluminum. While a six-speed automatic transmission is offered in other Corvette models, the Z06 is six-speed manual only. All Corvettes use a rear transaxle, in which the transmission and rear end are one unit, for improved weight distribution.

Under the hood, the standard 400-horsepower, 6.0-liter LS2 V8 is replaced by the 505-hp LS7. If its 7.0-liter displacement brings back memories of big-block `Vettes of the past, stop the reverie. The LS7 is the largest version of the current "small block" engine architecture, bored and stroked compared to the LS2, with design input from the 7.0-liter engine used in the C6R. The blocks and heads of both engines are cast in aluminum alloy, but the LS7 uses dry-sump lubrication to ensure an adequate supply of oil to all components in high-performance driving conditions. The LS7 also uses titanium for its connecting rods and intake valves, with sodium-cooled exhaust valves. The main bearing caps and crankshaft are forged steel. It is very much a racing engine, detuned for longevity and emissions compliance - if 505 horsepower at 6300 rpm and 470 lb-ft of torque at 4800 rpm can be considered "detuned".

Tires are Goodyear Eagle runflats, P275/35 ZR18 on 9.5x18 rims in front and P325/30ZR19 on 12x19 rims in the rear. They transmit the Z06's copious power to the pavement very well as long as it's dry, and their huge contact patches ensure prodigious cornering potential on dry pavement. Brake disc diameter is 14 inches in front and 13.4 inches at the rear, all vented and cross-drilled for maximum heat dissipation. Calipers are six-piston in front, four-piston in the rear, with an antilock system that features a "competition driving" mode. The suspension is similar in design to the regular Corvette's, with unequal-length control arms and transverse composite leaf springs at both ends, but is beefier and tuned more firmly. Very firmly, actually.

Thanks to the lightweight materials in the chassis and body, the Z06 actually weighs less than other Corvettes - 3132 pounds claimed, to the coupe's 3179 and the convertible's 3199. It also has 105 horsepower and 70 lb-ft of torque more than the others. With 6.2 pounds of Z06 for each horsepower, performance is assured.

Despite its near-competition spec, the Z06 is not difficult to live with at all. In common with other current `Vettes, the interior is much improved over earlier models, both for ease of access and style and quality of materials, although it's by no means a luxury car like its similarly- (or higher- ) priced European competitors. Steering is noticeably heavier than in a regular sedan, not surprising considering the amount of rubber being turned, but effort is reasonable at parking speeds and appropriately heavier at speed. Interior noise level is high, but that's appropriate for this car, as enthusiasts will consider the various engine, transmission, and road noises to be music... musique concrete indeed.

My test car was outfitted with the premium sound and navigation package. The sound quality is good, and the touch-screen nav system is pleasant and easy to use. At anything over part-throttle, the stereo gets serious competition from the quad system under the rear bumper. After a certain throttle opening, valves in the exhaust system open to improve gas flow. And the sound goes from a pleasant V8 to pure mean, nasty race car. A truly lovely sound, if somewhat mellower than the old LS6 Z06.

There are two small, simple cupholders on the console. They are inadvertently heated, since the engine and driveshaft sit close beneath. And they won't hold anything very well under acceleration. Don't drink and drive, and a sharp jab at the Z06's loud pedal is as good as a triple espresso anyway.

The best interior feature is the Head-Up display (HUD). This is nothing new, GM has been using it for nearly two decades in many of its cars. It projects a display with digital speed, and analog and digital tach and cornering-force information on the windshield in front of the driver, below the main line of vision but above the instruments. When driving, it can be easily seen without moving or refocusing your eyes. And since a Z06 under anything remotely near full acceleration is capable of making what was up ahead back behind very quickly, and a bright yellow Corvette is, to put it mildly, very visible to people who may take exception to your inadvertently annihilating the speed limit, the HUD is very useful, and not distracting at all. The lateral accelerometer feature is, however, of dubious use, as at anything over about 0.5 g cornering you had better be paying attention to driving, not looking at small numbers - particularly in a corner.

Opportunities for hard driving in a Z06 are rare given the realities of traffic. Time trials and track days would be best for really exploring its abilities. But that doesn't mean it can't be useful and fun on the street. Need to merge into traffic on a short onramp? No problem, 60 mph comes up while still in first gear. The LS7 is very tractable and has good low-rpm torque merely from its displacement, but it really shines above 4500 rpm. From there to redline it pulls, hard. Very hard. Shifting is easy, with great linkage, and the clutch pedal is pleasantly light, although not too light.

Running the LS7 up to redline in first is easy, and almost legal. By second, it's best to ease off on accelerator, at least a bit. Cornering ability on dry pavement is amazing. Surprisingly, the Z06 is one of the few high-performance cars not to be saddled with a gas-guzzler tax. Credit the LS7's flexibility and the six-speed gearbox's ratios for this - legal highway speed is under 2,000 rpm in sixth, and yet roll-on acceleration even from there is strong. Downshifting is optional, and only improves the rocket effect. Need to pass? You already did.

Passing a gas station while playing hard is more difficult, but horsepower comes from a mixture of fuel and air, and 7.0 liters and 505 horses can get hungry. With mostly town and backroad driving, and as many onramp acceleration runs as possible, I managed to squeeze 14 miles out of each gallon of unleaded premium. However, in sedate, steady-state highway cruising, it's quite possible to get over 25 miles out of each gallon.

Chevrolet got this car absolutely right. It has a very different character than a standard Corvette, which seems almost tame in comparison. And that's saying something, because a standard `Vette, with "merely" 400 horsepower, is not a tame machine at all. If anyone out there is wondering if General Motors car build a world class automobile, the answer is an emphatic "yes" and it is embodied in the Corvette Z06.

Vital Statistics:

Chevrolet Corvette Z06

Base price: $65,690 (2006) $70,000 (2007) Price as tested: $69,690 (2006) $74,390 (2007)

Vehicle type: Two seat sports coupe

Chassis: Body-on-frame construction. Hydroformed aluminum frame with cast aluminum and magnesium components. Composite body structure.

Suspension: Unequal-length control arms with composite transverse-leaf springs front and rear.

Brakes: Ventilated and cross-drilled discs all around, 6-piston front and 4-piston rear calipers. ABS, traction control and stability control standard

Engine: 16-valve pushrod overhead valve V8, aluminum alloy block and heads Displacement: 7.0 liters / 427 cu. in. Horsepower: 505 @ 6300 rpm Torque: 470 lb-ft @ 4800 rpm Transmission: 6-speed manual Mileage EPA city / highway / observed: 16 / 26 / 14

Length: 175.6 in. Wheelbase: 105.7 in. Width: 75.9 in. Height: 49.0 in.

Curb weight: 3132 lbs.