Ever since Zora Arkus-Duntov reimagined the Corvette as a sports car powered with Chevy's then-new small block V8 engine, the Corvette has been about being faster and handling better than ordinary cars. Duntov then created a whole series of special high-performance Corvettes that rose above the run of standard 'Vettes. The 2011 Corvette Z06 is heir to that tradition, and keeps the faith of the Corvette as a true Supercar.
So, What’s A Corvette Z06?
Here are the basics you need to know about Corvettes in the modern era – a base model 2011 Corvette comes with a 430-horsepower, 424 pound-foot 6.2-liter LS3 V8 engine, dubbed the LS3. You can bump that to 436 horsepower by selecting the option for the sport exhaust. That Corvette costs about $50,000 (give or take) in brand new condition. A Corvette Grand Sport runs about $6,000 more, and offers the same engine, but with the upgraded suspension and brakes from the Z06.
Now the Z06 starts about $75,000, but it’s tough to find one outfitted the way you want it for less than about $80,000. You get the 505 horsepower 7.0-liter LS7 engine with 470 pound-feet of torque, plus those upgraded suspension pieces and brakes. What you don’t get is a convertible top – the Z06 is available only in coupe form, with a nice big hatch-opening rear window.
Riding the halo above the Z06 is the Corvette ZR1, with 639 horsepower from its supercharged 6.2-liter LS9 engine. With the ZR1, you get some different bodywork and an even sportier suspension and brake setup. You can also buy an optional Z07 package for your Z06 if you want the body, suspension, brake, and wheel upgrades of the ZR1 on your Z06. You’ll pay about $110,000 for a basic ZR1, however, so there’s a pretty steep ticket price for that ride.
OK, so now you know where the Z06 lives in the Olympian pantheon of modern Corvettes. What you’re asking yourself right now is probably “is it worth the money?” or “how can I afford one of these?” Well, I can address the first question, but not really the second. We have other Guides for that, though.
Is a Corvette Z06 Worth The Money?
To be honest, there’s not much new about the 2011 Corvette Z06 compared to the last 5 years of Z06 models, and the 2012 model year is almost upon us. But even the 2012 model will have only the tiniest of incremental changes as Chevy prepares for the C7-era Corvette in 2013 or 2014. But if you’re going to have the same-old same-old, you might as well have it in Z06 form, with 505 horsepower, a 6-speed manual transaxle, and all the fantastic goodies that come in a new Corvette.
You'll pay about $80,000 for a new Corvette Z06. That's a lot of money, about $30,000 more than a basic Corvette. Put another way, that's $400 for each one of the 75 additional horsepower you get with the Z06. For most of us, a car with 430 horsepower is a big step up from the family grocery getter in the first place, and it will take a while before that level of power looks ho-hum. So it's important to look at the pros and cons of stepping up to the Z06.
Pros & Cons
- 505 horsepower. You really can tell the difference, and the Z06 suspension and brakes set this car even further apart from the ordinarily fast LS3 Corvette.
- Lightweight chassis and bodywork. OK, so saving 136 pounds over a regular Corvette by using hydroformed aluminum chassis components and a composite of balsa wood and carbon fiber may not even account for the weight of your passenger, but come on, you love the idea of it!
- Fuel Economy. I know, you're wondering what I'm thinking. But the basic Corvette gets 16/26 MPG, and the Z06 gets 15/24 MPG. So it's not like you're sacrificing your green bona fides by stepping up to the Z06. Let's be real - your green street cred was long gone the moment you started shopping for a Corvette.
- Nifty Z06 badges on the side of the car tell the whole world that your 'Vette is the real deal - translate that 7.0-liter number into good old fashioned engine terms and you come up with 427 cubic inches - a magic number among Corvette lovers.
- Engine heat. In the weekend I spent driving around the Z06, I was unfortunate enough to get caught in a couple classic Southern California slow-n-go traffic jams, and the amount of heat that comes up through the floor and center tunnel is impressive. You will have to run the air conditioner in warm weather, because rolling down the window just won't cut it, and I doubt you have to run the heater in cold weather. Sacrificing a little extra weight for some heavy-duty heat shielding would be a good investment.
- Occasionally I'd go for a 1-2 shift and hit 4th gear. Clearly I was not the first to experience this, because Chevy has a bright friendly "1->4" dash light that illuminates to say "You should have bought an automatic, chump." I'm sure that this would not happen after the first week of owning a Z06, however. People just get used to the idiosyncracies of their cars in a few days.
- OK, come to think of it, I can't think of any other cons. In a long weekend zooming all over Southern California in the Z06, I had no complaints apart from my sweaty legs - and the air conditioning took care of that in no time, even over a sweltering August weekend. If there's one thing the General knows how to do, it's make an AC system that works.
The Corvette Z06 on the Road
The Z06 has a firm, taut chassis and suspension - make no mistake, you're getting the streetable version of a Corvette Racing car. This is not the car to buy if your wife or girlfriend likes to put on makeup while you're driving around. This car is really all business.
The engine power is nicely managed in the Z06 - you get one exhaust note if you drive in a mellow fashion, using the first third of accelerator pedal travel, but then the sound changes along with the entire demeanor of the car if you push past that first third into performance territory. The thrum of the 7-liter V8 changes to a roar, and the car just takes off. You'll have your hands full just getting up through the gears, and it's easy to find yourself going seriously extralegal speeds without even trying too hard.
The brakes on the Z06 are firm and respond well to modulation - you can be subtle with your foot in this car, and finesse the brakes for weight transfer or serious stopping power. Outside of a race track, I doubt you could ever get these brakes to fade.
In a long weekend of driving, I never got tired of being the Corvette Z06 - although I will admit that in the long freeway traffic jams, it would have been nice to just push the gear selector to "D" and inch along by letting my foot off the brake! The clutch in the Z06 is a serious piece of hardware! But the interior was nice - Chevrolet has clearly listened to complaints about prior years' interiors on the Corvette. The Z06 has a nice stereo, and the hatch rear window works well for access to a spacious trunk area. That's all you need in a sports car, right?
The bottom line on the Corvette Z06 is just this - $80,000, 505 horsepower, killer good looks, great handling in a true sports car. You're either going to like that or not.