Corvette ZO6: Track-ready at a bargain-basement $75,525

Posted: February 26, 2012

Driving a scantily veiled race car is indelible business. I'll never forget my time behind the wheel of the fabled Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren, a 617-horsepower two-seater that topped out around 200 miles an hour and listed for $452,500.

More recently, I spent a week with another thinly disguised track denizen, the 2012 Chevrolet Corvette ZO6, a 505-horsepower two-seater that also runs out to about 200 miles an hour but lists for a bargain-basement $75,525.

Granted, the Z06 is not as sophisticated and classy as the impeccable SLR was. But like its supercharged, 638-horse stablemate, the Corvette ZR1 ($111,600), it will certainly run with an SLR and incorporates a good bit of the Teuton's racing gear, including dry sump engine lubrication, oil coolers for the engine, transmission and differential, weight-saving carbon fiber body components, and, as an option, carbon ceramic brakes. The latter are used in racing because they resist the brake fade that plagues conventional metallic disc brakes during heavy use.

(Ceramic brakes are also obscenely expensive. The Brembo units in the Z06, along with a set of super high-performance tires, tack $7,500 onto the price of the car. This is because their manufacture is so labor-intensive. A Mercedes engineer told me that it took a week to make a ceramic disc for the SLR.)

This kind of gear, coupled with the huge, super-adhesive tires, a massive, 7-liter V-8, and a six-speed manual gearbox, provides the kind of performance you get from European supercars costing two or more times as much. This is a machine that will get from zero to 60 in well under four seconds, then shut down from 60 to 0 in an astounding 98 feet.

Unsurprisingly, the Z06, with a price $26,000 higher than a base Corvette, is not a huge seller. It accounts for only 5 percent of 'Vette sales, which are typically to people who want to drive it in weekend sports car races.

According to John Fitzpatrick, Corvette's marketing manager, Z06 buyers "tend to be the most hard-core enthusiasts of all Corvette owners."

"The Z06 is clearly not for everyone, as it is a very track-focused performance car offered only with a manual transmission," he added. "Many buyers choose the Z06 because they plan to do track events and prefer the lightweight, naturally aspirated 505-horsepower LS7 engine over the supercharged, 638-horsepower LS9 in the ZR1."

But even if you don't race it, the Z06 is a thrilling ride. Jumping on its gas pedal at a light makes you smile - at least as soon as the G forces subside enough to let your facial muscles work. And the cornering aplomb engendered by that adaptive, track-tuned suspension and those incredibly wide and sticky performance tires is just stunning.

Three things about the Z06 strike me as particularly noteworthy:

At a moment in automotive history when engines are equipped with overhead cams, four valves per cylinder, variable valve timing, and direct injection, the Z06, like other Corvettes, uses an engine design that was old when the muscle car was born: two valves per cylinder actuated by pushrods and rocker arms. That Chevy engineers could extract so much performance from such ancient architecture is quite a credit to their creativity and electronic gizmology.

They also managed to extract awfully good mileage from an engine this large. The Z06 has EPA mileage ratings of 15 city and 24 highway, which is better than a lot of SUVs.

Finally, the Z06, for all its performance, is not a high-strung stallion in traffic. It proves quite docile and drivable. And, while its ride is firm, it doesn't beat you up on rough roads.

A perusal of the tester's window sticker revealed that you certainly can run up the check for the Z06 with optional luxury and performance gear. In addition to the $7,500 brake and tire package, there was the Chevrolet Centennial Special Edition cosmetics ($4,950), the additional carbon fiber body parts ($3,995) and $8,815 for magnetic ride control and sundry luxury upgrades. The tester's bottom line was $101,760.


Excellent

2012 Chevrolet Corvette Z06

Base price: $75,525.

As tested: $101,760 (including shipping).

Standard equipment: Rear-drive, 7-liter engine, 6-speed manual transmission, of racing features like dry sump engine lubrication, oil coolers, weight-saving components like an aluminum frame and carbon fiber front fenders.

Options: Even more luxury and performance gear like ceramic brakes, super-performance run-flat tires and additional carbon-fiber body parts.

Fuel economy: 15 city and 24 highway.

Engine performance: Wow squared.

Handling: Wow to the third power.

Ride quality: Firm but not cruel.

Styling: Graceful.

Warranty: Three years/36,000 miles bumper to bumper.

The Ben Key: Four Bens, excellent; three Bens, good; two Bens, fair: one Ben, poor.


Contact columnist Al Haas at alhaasauto@aol.com

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