I experienced tunnel vision for the first time a few months ago, in a tunnel, in a ZR1. I had a clear 700 feet ahead of me, and this little red Corvette humming patiently in second gear. What happened next is harder to remember.
I recall a battle between traction control and tires. The rear writhed and struggled to find ground. Dragon fire expelled from the open exhaust baffles, and the windshield became a pigeonhole, reducing my vision to a red-and-grey splotch of painted carbon fiber and cement. Third gear, slipping and spitting still. I was underground, but I think the ZR1 forced a total eclipse of the sun.
I hit the brakes a little too late, realizing the ZR1's surge had rushed me too close to the glob of cars ahead. Slowing, as the blood rushed back to my eyes, I upshifted to sixth at an indicated 20 miles per gallon. Like nothing happened.
Saving the rides to high school in my friend's Honda CR-V, the ZR1 gave me the scariest few seconds I've ever had in an automobile. Not even tires a foot in width could contain the Vette's 604 lb.-ft. of torque. Nothing near its $111,100 price has played on such fear, and that includes exotics like the "gullwing" Mercedes SLS AMG, the 621-horsepower Bentley Supersports, and, yes, the $287,000 Ferrari 458 Italia we drove in California.
That's because the ZR1 brings a superior power-to-weight ratio of 5.2 pounds per horsepower. Its extensive use of carbon fiber, carbon-ceramic brakes, and an all-aluminum frame keeps the ZR1 at a trim 3,333 pounds, about 59 above the Ferrari and 161 below the Porsche. And while it's obviously traction-limited, the ZR1 punches 60 mph in about 3.2 seconds, and is likely quicker in midrange and top-end acceleration than the two Europeans. As on the 911 Turbo, subtlety is the secret weapon. Only a transparent hood dome, unpainted carbon fiber roof and rocker panels, plus blue brake calipers behind special chrome wheels call this a ZR1.But while there are lots of pricey bits on the outside, inside is a bargain basement. Cheap leather covers the unsupportive seats and dash, the navigation/radio system is very dated, and the switchgear is insubstantial. You do get a precise shifter and a pussycat clutch. Around town, the 6-speed manual ZR1 can be feathered almost as perfectly as the automatic 911, and rides beautifully for such a super-low two-seater. The fast steering is a bit numb to road surfaces and artificially light at times — take extra care on narrow back roads. Remember, though, that overall the ZR1 can outgun cars costing three times as much.
Americans love a value, and thankfully, the ZR1 sacrifices little to raise the performance bar — and our mortal fears — among the world's greatest sports cars.
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