Not so much car as rocket-powered scream machine, the 2011 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 improves on the previous model by being even more focused on its purpose: that of being a track car. Don't expect German refinement or Japanese technical wizardry, as the Corvette Z06 is all about low-down power.
And don't think that just because you're paying almost $100 grand for a car you will get the latest cabin tech. The navigation system in the Corvette Z06 seems more of a practical joke than a gadget, and the Bluetooth phone system echoes GM's former mulishness about embracing that technology.
Our car came full of expensive options, with exotic material such as ceramic brakes and a carbon fiber roof. And, OK, a little technical wizardry in the form of magnetic ride, which is a technology that uses magnetically reactive fluid to adjust the suspension depending on road conditions.
The big story in the Z06 is the engine, a massive V-8 power plant displacing 7 liters. Just imagine three 2-liter soda bottles, plus an extra half, and that's the amount of space in the cylinders. Now imagine filling that space with an air fuel mixture, in quick repetition, while the engine is doing 5,000rpm, with explosions worthy of a Michael Bay film pushing the pistons.
You don't get to see this spectacle, but you get to hear and feel it. The push button on the dashboard makes the engine kick over with a roar, then settle down to a low rumble at about 750rpm. The car vibrates, and it feels like you're sitting in a giant subwoofer.
The sound and fury is all quite impressive, but why does this engine make only 505 horsepower and 470 pound-feet of torque? Ford's Shelby GT500 does better than that with only 5.4 liters, through the magic of a supercharger. Granted, the supercharger brings a different character to the Shelby GT500's acceleration. Maybe direct injection would add efficiency to the Corvette's LS7 engine. But no, the Corvette relies on old-fashioned, low-tech big explosions.
However, the Corvette Z06 manages to avoid a gas guzzler tax with its EPA fuel economy of 15 mpg city and 22 mpg highway. Don't expect to achieve those numbers yourself. We made it up to 14.5 mpg with an ample amount of time spent freeway cruising.
Chevrolet hits its EPA figures through a little bit of transmission trickery, the famous first-to-fourth-gear shunt. When shifting up from first gear with low throttle, the transmission pushes the shifter to fourth instead of second. With this big engine, you can drive in pretty much any gear you want. We rolled down city streets at 35 mph in sixth gear, the engine running uncomplainingly at just above idle. Likewise we could get just shy of 60 mph in first gear.
A fast start in the Corvette Z06 makes for a very entertaining 3.7 seconds to 60 mph, as full throttle in second gear produces thumping backfires from the exhaust. The car was generally good about keeping grip when we put the power down, putting everything it had toward forward motion rather than burning rubber.
Built for the track
But the Corvette Z06, and by extension, the driver, is happiest when driving on smooth asphalt, either a freshly paved road or a track. We chucked the car along some of our favorite county roads, narrow twisting lanes through rolling hills that hadn't seen a road crew in 20 years, leading to some terrifying driving. A fast start on a straight stretch of this road nearly sent the car sideways as the front end caught a slight bump.
By contrast, we had the most fun on a freshly paved strip of highway, where the car could do what it was designed for. Here the car clung to the road, sailing through the turns easily at high speed, rotating with just a little throttle application when we could get away with it.
Getting into high revolutions-per-minute driving, the engine's sound level took on a new character as it entered a twilight zone of power. The Corvette Z06 was in its element, the engine keeping tight control over the rear wheels, every little bit of throttle showing immediate effect, lending to overall control of the car. This is the kind of driving you really want to get into with the Corvette Z06, but can rarely do on public roads. This car needs to be tracked.