Jamming along with the cruise control set at 100 mph and the instant fuel economy reading 23 mpg, you start wondering: how General Motors can be in any sort of trouble? The bright yellow Corvette Z51 is beyond calm, cool and collected at this three digit speed. The tachometer’s barely indicating 2,400 rpm. And get a load of these beautiful gauges. I’ve seen chintzier dials on Tag Heuers. You know what? Forget the instrument cluster. It’s all about the heads up display. Which not only indicates speed, but rpm, temp, pressure and… Wait a second– why does one speedometer read 100 mph and the other 99 mph? And why are there three different rattles buzzing in my right ear? And what is that smell?
Before we return to the inside of the 2009 Corvette, let’s spend a moment with the outside. It’s tough to have fruitful debate about such an iconic shape, but I dig C6 ‘Vettes. Especially when compared to the C5. Nice job Chevy on shaping such a taut, muscular form that doesn’t automatically scream, “I Heart New Jersey.” Moving on…
Here’s what I’ve come to realize. Corvettes are designed by people that have never sat inside a Porsche for people that never will sit inside a Porsche. That’s the only possible explanation for such inattention to detail. The seats are crummy, the shifters covered in crummy leather and there are some extremely low-rent plastics in frighteningly obvious places. Like the fake-aluminum steering wheel inserts. This particular car actually sets a new record for tackiness: fake carbon fiber on top of fake leather. Seriously guys, that sucks. Especially when Holden (who you own) is so fully capable of building world class accommodations. One nice thing? The pedals are in the right place
Of course no one buys a Corvette for the interior (Chevy just throws that in for free). It’s all about the engine. Let me introduce you to latest in a long line of bitchin’ Chevy small blocks, the mighty LS3. 6.2-liters. 436 hp. 428 lb-ft torque. Blood pumping numbers for certain, especially if you like to dabble in the aftermarket. Because the LS3 is essentially the LS9/LSA minus some fancy pieces and a blower. But what if you leave the engine as is?
Thanks to all that muscle and a low weight of just 3,273 pounds, the Z51 assaults 60 mph in 4.1 seconds and attacks the quarter-mile in 12.4 seconds (at 117 mph) on its way to a top speed of (probably) 190 mph. Nuts. And unlike certain turbocharged cars I can think of, the Z51’s power is everywhere. Floor it in first (with the nanny off) and the back tires turn to smoke. Floor it in sixth gear and it pulls, hard. It is my firm belief that if this engine were in more vehicles, GM would be in better shape. Naïve? Sure, but the LS3 is fully, 100 percent excellent. An homage to America’s love affair with power.
The Z51 package does two things (besides raising the price by $1,700). The first is an all-new suspension set up with stiffer springs, firmer dampers and fatter sway bars. You also get better brakes and tires, as well as additional cooling. This setup changes the Corvette’s day to day behavior from “nearly intolerable” to “pretty damn good.” Long gone are tooth-damaging thuds and chronic bump-steer over less than ideal macadam. This is the first C6 I’ve experienced with a livable ride.
All these new goodies help with the left-right stuff too, as I got the g-meter to read 0.99g around one memorable right-hander. Sure, there’s still plenty of USDA prime numbness when it comes to steering feedback, but the car’s grip inspires so much confidence that the former doesn’t matter.
The other thing the Z51 package does is make the Z06 obsolete. I just don’t see $20,000+ more value in the (now) middle tier Corvette. Besides, you can spend a little of the money you save on a blower and easily achieve (if not surpass) LS7 power levels. Hell, that’s what Chevy did with the ZR1. Unless you’re actually racing, you won’t notice the performance gap between the Z51 and Z06. But maybe you should skip Corvettes altogether and buy– oh I don’t know– a Porsche 911?
I spent over 1,000 miles inside the Z51 trying to answer that question. Just when I found an attribute that thrilled me — speed! — I found another that horrified — radio! How can a car hold the road with the best of its competition, yet squeak and rattle like something from behind the Iron Curtain? Sort of like how the country that produces the best doctors in the world doesn’t allow 20 percent of its citizenry access to them. The Corvette is America, both in glory and failure.