The biggest news for Corvette fans in 2001 is the Z06, a super-performance offshoot of the long-lived domestic sports car with a specially tuned 385-horsepower LS6 V-8 engine. Chevrolets fiberglass-bodied two-seater has been an American sports car icon since its debut in 1953, and the Z06 is the latest special-edition model, delivering even more performance than a regular Corvette. Based on last years hardtop model and intended to honor Zora Arkus-Duntov, the first Corvette chief engineer, the Z06 is said to be ready for the racetrack.
This generation of the Corvette went on sale in 1997. All Corvettes now are equipped with an enhanced, second-generation electronic stability system called Active Handling, which was previously an option. The dual-function system can apply braking force to individual wheels and also retard engine power in an attempt to keep the Corvette on course through swift turns. Sales rose slightly during 2000, according to Automotive News, reaching 31,208 units.
Just like those of the last five decades, Corvettes are still constructed of fiberglass and now come in three body styles: a hatchback coupe with a removable center roof panel; a fixed-roof coupe, now called the Z06; or a convertible with a glass rear window, defogger and manually folding top. Several styling cues play a major role in carrying on the Corvette tradition, including side air scoops, hidden headlights and quad taillights.
The new Z06 coupe features functional bodyside brake ducting, unique Z06 seat embroidery and special alloy wheels with wider tires than usual 265/40ZR17 up front and 295/35ZR18 at the rear, compared to 245/45ZR17 front and 275/40ZR18 rear rubbers on other Corvettes. Run-flat tires equip regular Corvettes, which are capable of going as fast as 200 miles per hour even when punctured and airless; the Z06 gets extended-mobility rubber. No Corvettes have a spare tire because it would take up too much space. In case of trouble, Z06 owners have a can of liquid tire sealer in the trunk.
Hatchbacks and convertibles have a choice of three suspensions: base FE1, optional Z51 Performance/Handling system or optional Selective Real Time Damping. In the latter, the driver chooses from three preset levels of ride firmness. The new Z06 coupes come with FE4, another suspension that aims to produce the ultimate handling skills.
Since 1953, Corvettes have been strictly two-seaters, though todays bucket seats are clad in black leather. Snug-fit sport seats are optional. Interior storage space is at a premium, apart from a small glove box and a console bin. Standard equipment includes full analog gauges, a low tire-pressure warning system, air conditioning, a six-way power drivers seat, remote keyless entry, a cassette stereo, theft-deterrent system, heated power mirrors, and power windows and locks.
In addition to the more potent engine, the Z06 gets dual-zone automatic climate control and a Bose CD stereo system. Options for hatchbacks and convertibles include a head-up instrument display, which projects car speed and other information into the windshield visible to the driver while looking ahead.
Under the Hood
All Corvettes have 5.7-liter V-8 engines. The basic LS1 version gets 350 hp a 5-hp gain this year and promises greater low-end torque for quicker standing-start acceleration. A four-speed-automatic transmission is standard, with a six-speed manual as the optional choice. The 385-hp engine in the new Z06 comes only with a new six-speed-manual transmission. That LS6 engine features a modified aluminum block, more aggressive camshaft profile, new high-compression cylinder heads and a less-restrictive titanium exhaust system. Chevrolet claims the Z06 can accelerate from zero to 60 mph in 4 seconds and run a quarter-mile in 12 seconds.
Traction control, antilock brakes and dual front airbags are standard, but side-impact airbags are not available. Corvettes Active Handling electronic stability system applies brakes as needed to maintain traction on either wet or dry surfaces.
Even in regular form, Corvettes are fast, tight and eager on the road, delivering all the exuberance the enthusiast would expect plus a surprisingly diverse array of creature comforts. Corvettes demonstrate that traditional, muscular rear-drive sports cars dont necessarily go hand in hand with discomfort or austerity.
In the current Corvette generation, the two-seater has a decidedly heavy feel, though its less so than in the past. Acceleration from a standstill is nothing short of superlative raucous, yes, but reasonably refined at the same time. Response for passing and merging is no less energizing and enthusiastic. Manipulating the six-speed-manual gearbox which is mounted atop the console takes some effort, and shifting into reverse can be difficult. Once that fact is accepted, the driver can just sit back and enjoy the experience.
If anything, the Corvettes handling is even more striking than its performance. This two-seater hangs tight at all times, even on coarse pavement. Braking is quick and sure, even from high speeds. A current Corvette rides better than some rival sports cars and more peacefully than most earlier models, which tended to be harsh and jarring.
Engine sounds are loud yet satisfying just as they should be for a car of this caliber. Road noise is definitely noticeable and can grow annoying on longer journeys. Seats are wonderfully supportive yet supremely comfortable, with abundant head- and elbow room and good leg space.
The Z06 simply adds greater capabilities to what is already one of the strongest, best-handling sports cars on the market, with a reputation dating back nearly half a century. Most reasonable people will be more than satisfied with a plain Corvette. Tromp its gas pedal once, though, and the extra dollars for a Z06 almost begin to seem worth the price. Observe how it behaves on twisting roads, and that Z06 starts to feel like a virtual bargain.