The ideal sports car is something that’s as at home on the interstate as it is on the race track, so you can enjoy it every day. But what if you’re a bit weird and only care about performance? What if you say, “Damn it all, I don’t care if the noise makes my ears bleed, the ride shatters my spine, and the acceleration rearranges my organs. I want to go fast!”?
The 2019 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 can help, and while it’s a chore to drive every day, if you can deal with the noise and discomfort, it’s a thrilling way to get from A to B.
The heart of every Corvette is under the hood. In the Z06’s case, a furious 6.2-liter, supercharged V8 pumps out 650 hp and 650 pound-feet of torque. Even with a semi-literate bag of flesh and bone managing the seven-speed manual transmission (yours truly), this Corvette can sprint to 60 miles per hour in just 3.2 seconds. That’s hilariously quick for a car that starts at just under $80,000.
But good luck laying that time down. The Z06 is so powerful that even with my test car’s optional Michelin Pilot Sport 2 Cup tires – little more than slicks with some tread painted on – it’s easy to exceed the ample levels of grip on offer. It’s also tremendous fun, because you’ll either end up accelerating quickly or creating a big cloud of smoke. Dealer’s choice on the preferred outcome.
Regardless of whether you go for speed or theatrics, the Z06 sounds fantastic. It’s easy to look at Chevrolet’s continued insistence on using an old overhead-valve engine as the American equivalent to Porsche sticking with a rear-engine layout for the 911– an anachronistic piece of engineering that continues to exist because a small portion of owners would get their panties in a twist over anything different. But there’s real character to this engine.
It’s the lopey idle of the amped-up 6.2-liter, the clatter at low or middling engine speeds and under light throttle, and its borderline malicious roar under hard applications – along with the speed, of course – that makes the Z06 the charmer that it is. This thing sounds fantastic at about 4,000 rpm under wide-open throttle, where the revs climb as quickly as the volume.
But be judicious with the throttle and the Z06 isn’t all that difficult. Unlike the last-generation Z06, this new model feels far more refined and manageable. Sure, it’s remarkably powerful, but the throttle is easy to modulate (even if it is a little slow to respond to light inputs), and the seven-speed manual’s clutch pedal requires only moderate effort and gives plenty of feedback. Along with the broad catchpoint and light shift lever, negotiating traffic in the Z06 is a lot easier than exploiting all its power safely.
My test car wore the optional Z07 Ultimate Performance Package, a $7,995 setup that takes the standard Z06 even further, with Brembo carbon-ceramic brakes, enormous Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires, and a tweaked suspension.
Those brakes, aside from the squeakiness common with carbon-ceramics, are excellent. CCBs occasionally struggle with everyday usability, owing to a heavy brake pedal that’s difficult to modulate and grabby behavior. But in the Corvette’s case, it’s easy to think these are the standard stoppers – they feel remarkably natural and easy to dial in, while still offering a .44 Magnum’s worth of stopping power.
I’m less keen on the Michelin rubber. Stretching over 13 inches wide on the back axle – and not much narrower up front – tire roar is a constant companion. I heard every pebble and stone on the road, every expansion joint, and it’s all crystal clear. I’ve never driven such a noisy coupe before.
But task those sticky tires with handling turns, and the Z06 has performance that takes a race track to fully exploit. I’m not kidding, this isn’t some safety thing. I literally couldn’t find turns sharp enough or fast enough in the real world that came even remotely close to challenging this Michelin rubber. Part of that ability is down to the adjusted suspension and its magnetic dampers.
The Z06’s handling is impressively sharp, with aggressive turn-in and absolutely no body roll. It’s the perfect complement to the aggressive tires. Feedback through the chassis is excellent, too. But it’s also poised when simply commuting. Sure, you hear every bump and imperfection and most of them of them make it into the cabin, but the Z06 is unflappably stable when faced with Michigan’s many potholes.
I had a love-hate relationship with the Z06 during my week with it. I hate the tire roar, the way I could rarely deploy all the power without feeling like I’d need a will, and the seven-speed manual’s stupid insistence on shifting from first to fourth gear in certain situations. I don’t like the occasionally dull throttle and the infotainment system is remarkably bad.
But then I would jump on the throttle just right and the rear end would wiggle slightly – like a dog that thought he heard “walk” – before settling back down. On the freeway, I could drop from seventh to fourth with the active rev matching enabled and plant the throttle, just to revel in the noise from the 6.2-liter V8. For no extra cost, I could remove a portion of the freaking roof, effectively turning my coupe into a convertible. With each of these things, the little annoyances start to vanish.
The Corvette Z06 is not a car you want to use every day, but it’s really good at making you forget that fact. And when it comes to high-performance cars, that beats daily-driver practicality every time.