'You have the car everyone wants right now.' Souls are ice-skating in Hell. Pigs are airborne. The guy handing the Corvette Z06 the ultimate accolade wasn't a sixty-year-old Midwestern mid-life muscle car maniac. It was a BMW M3 owner fresh from the track at the Motorsport Ranch roadcourse in Houston. General Motors may be on Death Watch, but its Chevrolet-branded halo car has, after 53-years, ascended to the top of the honest-to-God sports car category. Of course, even Euro-snobs are susceptible to baseless hype. Well guess what? The Z06 is all that, and more.
Unless you're looking for pretty. In ideal lighting, the Z06' form evokes all the sleek, thrusting glamour of a 550 Maranello. Take off the beer goggles and it's a bit of a mess. Peep the bulging carbon-fiber fenders, hood scoop and brake cooling ducts: items longing for Pininfarina's magical powers of integration. The matte black 'Gurney Lips' (mud flaps) stand out like a fanny-pack'd tourist strolling the Louvre. Tacked-onto on the C6 Vette's clumsy profile, the performance-oriented addenda create an unsightly blend of hard edges and undefined curves, not to mention a posterior straight from the Sir Mix-A-Lot School of Design.
The exterior may be a challenge to skin deep beauty theorists, but the Z06 interior gets it done. Dual-zone climate control, XM radio, in-dash navigation and power everything supplies sufficient indulgence. The cabin's soft-touch petroleum byproducts are another giant step-up from the brand's Avis-grade interiors. (The door panels alone would make some wikkid kicks.) The 'Vette's heads-up display provides useful eye candy, and can be switched off faster than you can say 'i-Drive.' Metal grilles hide seven crackalackin' Bose speakers. Pump up the volume via chrome-ringed knobs that move with Teflon-coated precision. Yes, this is still a road test of a GM product.
Close the Z06' portals and the side windows bury themselves deep inside ample weather stripping (finally ending the dreaded Corvette triple digit howl). A new three-spoke wheel supersedes last year's headless doughboy, though the thin rim can't match a BMW M-series' beefcake hula-hoop. The seats also need to leave Atkins behind and hit the pasta bar. Cushions this flat, short and lacking in lateral support belong in a Monte Carlo, not a car boasting a Nürburgring-fettled pedigree. And just in case you forgot that the Z06 hails from the Land of Lawsuits, the GM parts-bin rearview mirror brightly shines 'PASSENGER AIRBAG ON/OFF.'
Once underway, the Z06' compliant ride and docile demeanor help the uber-'Vette mount a convincing challenge to the 911 for everyday drivability. The 'Vette's peanut butter smooth idle, dual-stage exhaust system (from mild to monster), light but accurate steering (with a welcome improvement in on-center feel) and mid-weight clutch will endear it to unrepentant boulevardiers and brand loyal commuters. Aside from the Goodyear run-flats' tendency to holla back over rough pavement, it's hard to fault the Z06' civility. A real world twenty-nine mpg at 75mph seals the deal.
Pull the trigger on the Z06' 7.0-liter powerplant and it's clear pushrod proletariats needn't take a backseat to OHC elitists: the 'Vette's burbling aluminum/titanium masterpiece provides unadulterated four-cycle fun. Switch to 'Competitive Driving Mode,' put your foot down and unleash the beast. Massive low end grunt belies the 7000rpm redline, pinning your spine to the seat back at any engine speed. Quick? Only in the same sense that a photon is sprightly. Accelerating from zero to sixty takes just 3.7 seconds, while a quarter mile deducts a mere 11.8 seconds from your lifespan.
An aluminum, magnesium and carbon-fiber diet has significantly improved the donor car's turn-in and cornering poise. And why not? The 505hp Z06 weighs three hundred and sixty-four pounds less than the 480hp next gen Porsche Turbo. Missile the Z06 into a turn and its run-flats stick with supernatural tenacity, carving corners with uncanny balance and, most deliciously of all, the option of a predictable power slide exit. [Traction control aversive greenhorns beware: you'll trim the landscape the hard way with even a little extra throttle.] The Z06' brakes are equally astounding, equally reliable. Lap after lap, manhole-cover sized discs serve-up bottomless cups of stopping power java. Much to the dismay of the folks at Hurst, even the short-throw shifter is perfect.
In short, the Z06 is the best vehicle to come out of General Motors in decades. Which begs the question: how can such a fantastic vehicle come from such a horribly flawed organization? The fact that combative Corvette project manager Dave Hill capped his career with this car is one possible explanation– and a stark warning that the Z06 may represent a Pyrrhic victory for a terminally ill automaker. If so, there's no question: the manufacturers of "America's sports car" saved the best for last.