First Drive: 2015 Corvette Z06

World-class performance, unexpectedly affordable price.

by on Jan.07, 2015

Chevy is offering the Z06 in coupe and convertible configurations, with stick and auto transmissions.

It’s an unusually chilly morning out in the Nevada desert, and as we buckle our helmets, strap on our seatbelts and make a few final adjustments, we get a last-minute warning: the track is chill and the pavement cold. It might get a little slippery if we go balls-to-the-wall on the first couple laps.

But it doesn’t take long to throw caution to the wind as we shoot through the corners and back out onto the front straight at the Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch, an hour outside Las Vegas. With a neck-snapping 650-horsepower and 650 pound-feet of torque bursting out from under its hood, the new 2015 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 is not only one of the fastest cars you can find, it’s also one of the most forgiving.

Performance!

It’s the sort of sports car that makes an average driver feel like a hero, and a serious performance enthusiast push further than they might ever have thought possible. What’s all the more impressive is that it comes at a price tag that Euro-snobs might snicker at, less than $80,000 to start with – nudging up to around $110,000 for an absolutely fully loaded Z07 version.

The Z06 with the optional Z07 package - including carbon ceramic brakes and big rear wing.

(Lexus confirms Detroit Auto Show debut of new GS F performance sedan. Click Here for a first look.)

The Z06 badge has been around for more than half a century, originally appearing on a track version of the 1963 Corvette, then being offered as a “very niche, very limited” production model, says Tadge Juechter, the chief engineer on the seventh-generation, or C7, Corvette program. The badge didn’t reappear until 2001, with the Gen-5 Corvette, almost as an after-thought. It was a dedicated part of the program with the C6 and was also part of the plans when work began on the latest version of the sports car.

Juechter set out an ambitious goal for his development team: the 2015 Z06 had to deliver more power and better handling than the “ultimate” version of the outgoing Corvette, the ZR1. They didn’t take him lightly, finding ways to squeeze out 12 more horsepower from the new LT4 engine than the ZR1 managed. But the more impressive number was the 2.95 second 0-60 launch time, making the 2015 Corvette Z06 the fastest front-engine, rear-drive car in the world.

If that wasn’t enough to get Juechter’s blessing, the suspension team was able to pull 1.2 Gs on the skid pad, while brake and tire engineers collaborated to get stopping distances down to the once-unthinkable. The new Z06 will come to a complete stop from 60 mph in just 99.6 feet.

Running laps at Spring Mountain.

“We exceeded our own expectations,” Juechter says, clearly beaming.

On this chill but sunny morning, we’re out to see what all those numbers feel like from the seat of our pants. And the answer comes quickly, as we pull one lap after another, adding more speed, going deeper into corners each loop of the roughly 2-mile Spring Mountain circuit.

We keep diving deeper into the 2-seater Performance Traction Management System – going from Sport to Track mode, while dialing back on stability and traction control. Finally, in a series of tight S-turns, the rear wheels briefly manage to break loose after we miss an apex. The tail wiggles to the left, then right, but before we can even utter an oath, the Z06 regains its composure in time for a full-speed launch down that front stretch.

What’s all the more impressive is how the new Z06 is remarkably forgiving without reminding you of that fact. Even in Touring mode, its electronics seldom rear up to remind you they’re playing nanny.

A closer look at the optional carbon ceramic brakes and Michelin Sport Cup tires.

The fact is, however, there’s an amazing amount of electronics onboard. That includes the latest version of General Motors Magnetic Ride Control, which can read road conditions and driver input, altering each individual shock so fast you’ll travel barely an inch at 60 mph. There’s also an electronic limited slip differential, or eLSD, which is constantly moving torque left and right on the rear axle to maximize grip and stability.

All those systems talk to one another – and a driver can quickly adjust up to a dozen different vehicle attributes through the driver mode selector. Behind the wheel, you get an immediate sense of what that means because each mode has its own distinct format on the reconfigurable instrument panel – and on the head-up display that helps you keep eyes glued to the road.

There are some impressive mechanical bits, as well, notably including the big Brembo brakes, 6-piston monoblocks up front, 4-piston in the rear. The “base” Z06 gets steel rotors. Option up to the top-rated Z07 package and you’ll move up to ceramic carbon matrix.

The original 1963 Corvette Z06 racer.

Incidentally, where a $10,000 upgrade price for CCM brakes alone is expected on many Euro supercars, you’ll spend $7,000 for a whole package of upgrades on the Z06.

Those Brembos are readily apparent – and can be ordered in a handful of colors – through the Z06 wheels which can be shod with either of two different Michelin tires. The Z06 configuration gets Pilot Super Sports, the Z07 rides on ultra-sticky Michelin Sport Cup 2.

If there’s a downside, neither tire is ice and snow rated – the Sport Cup 2 will get a bit squirrely even in standing water. And, unlike the stock Stingray, there’s no Winter tire option from Michelin.

So, while the 450-hp Stingray can be considered a daily driver in much of the country, that’s not going to be the case for the Z06. Which is too bad considering just how comfortable it is to drive on the street. During a 100-mile loop on local roadways we almost came to forget just what sort of monster we were driving.

(Mercedes’ F015 concept is a hydrogen-powered, autonomous lounge on wheels. Click Here for a closer look.)

The basic chassis was so stiff Corvette engineers needed no added bracing for the ragtop Z06.

Forget those classic muscle cars that bucked and balked when you had to creep along in traffic. The Corvette Z06 proved surprisingly willing to tame itself – until it came time to pass. Even in fifth and sixth gear, the 2-seater would immediately respond to a nudge of the throttle, issuing a guttural roar that made anyone within earshot pay attention.

Credit that supercharged LT4, the most powerful engine General Motors has ever put on the street. Its supercharger crams as much air as possible into the 6.2-liter V-8. But GM has taken several other critical steps to max out the overhead-came engine, among other things adding direct injection. (The Stingray still has less advanced port fuel injection.)

Chevy brought a large cadre of engineers to Spring Mountain to explain the extensive work that went into the Z06. What quickly became apparent was just how extensively the team worked to build a world-class supercar. They used the latest computer-aided design to maximize chassis and body stiffness, while making extensive use of aluminum and carbon fiber to hold down mass.

The LT4 - at 650 horsepower, 650 pound-feet, the most powerful GM production engine ever.

Equally important, every little detail of the Z06 design was massaged to improve aerodynamics, with a premium put on boosting downforce – critical at the speeds the Z06 is capable of. Consider that the last-generation ZR1 was developing as much as 640 pounds of lift at top speeds. The 2015 Corvette Z06 makes just 40 pounds of lift – while the Z07 package actually has 350 pounds of downforce.

The average driver isn’t likely to notice, not while sticking close to legal highway speeds. But Z06 owners are likely to seek out opportunities to turn some lap time on private tracks like the one in Spring Mountain. And there, all the effort that went into the new beast will immediately become apparent.

Even on the street, it’s easy to appreciate the new Z06 – if for no other reason than watching the smug grin on the face of a Ferrari or Porsche owner melt away as you launch off a stoplight.

All the more impressive, you can order a new Z06 in a wide range of configurations, including both convertible and coupe, while opting for either a 7-speed manual or a new 8-speed automatic.

(Click Here for a first look at the new Infiniti Q60 concept set to debut in Detroit.)

Alcantara and other upscale materials.

The new ‘Vette variant has generated a bit of controversy for its over-the-top design cues – though the team insists that every visual detail performs a functional purpose.

Styling aside, Chevrolet has come up with a true world-beater – and an affordable one, at that. The new Z06 isn’t just the best Corvette ever built, it’s one of the best cars you can buy – and at a price tag one decimal place short of some of its key competitors. Those who want the ultimate in performance would do themselves a disservice not to check it out.

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5 Responses to “First Drive: 2015 Corvette Z06”

  1. uncle_vito says:

    Not overhead cam, but overhead valve.

    Wonder if long term intake valve problems with direct injection? Fuel does not wash oil blowbye from the intake valve and it fouls with time. Newer engines have gone with longer stroke and smaller diameter cylinders to help compensate. Perhaps dry sump oiling system helps.

    • Jorge says:

      FYI – Carbon build-up on the valves of direct injection engines has been an issue for all car makers using D.I. for gasoline engines. Blowby is not directly related to bore and stroke. Longer stroke engines deliver higher torque at lower revs which = increased mpg. Later engines also use better ring seal to reduce blowby and reduce carbon build-up. Better quality oils also reduce blow-by deposits. Even camshaft timing changes can help reduce carbon build-up.

  2. MarkP says:

    Very cool! Posted on VetteTube.com and CorvetteActionCenter.com:

  3. Jorge says:

    If they could replace the ’15 Z06 body with the C6 Z06 body, then I’d buy one. The C7 has all the techno whistles and bells but the styling screams boy racer and that don’t work for me.

  4. Dave Willuweit says:

    Love the car and the styling, but the black wheels are just butt ugly. You have a gorgeous car, why is Chevy ruining it by showing it with those brutally ugly black wheels? Notice how much better the blue convertible in the article looks with polished wheels.