The Bottom Line
Last year, Chevrolet introduced the Corvette Grand Sport, which bridged the gap between the base-model Corvette and the Z06. For 2011, they've brought out the Z06 Carbon, sort of a mid-way point between the regular Z06 and the ZR1. But at nearly $91,000, the Carbon isn't all that far away from the ZR1's $112,050 price tag. Is the Z06 Carbon worth all that extra dough? Read on.
- Fast, fun and furious
- Easy to live with
- Hard to reap benefits from all Carbon/Z07 package features
- Primitive navigation system
- New Corvette model bridges the gap between Z06 and ZR1
- Performance parts available in the limited-edition Carbon model or Z07 performance package
- Base price: $75,255
- Price as tested: $98,010
- Powertrain: 7.0 liter V8, 595 hp, 470 lb-ft; 6-speed manual; rear-wheel-drive
- EPA fuel economy estimates: 15 MPG city/24 MPG highway
- Best rivals: Audi R8, Porsche 911
Guide Review - 2011 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 Carbon
Okay, so it's not a Carbon
First things first: I'm sure several of you are firing up your email clients to tell me the car in the picture isn't a Z06 Carbon. That is correct, and ten bonus points for paying attention. The Corvette I tested has two option packages that are integral to the Carbon, namely the Z07 Performance Package and the CFZ Carbon Fiber package, both of which I'll explain in a moment. The Carbon is a limited-edition model (500 to be built) that combines the Z07 and CFZ packages with blue or orange paint, black wheels, side mirrors and headlights, a raised carbon-fiber hood and a leather/suede interior with body-color stitching. The Carbon Package costs $15,705, about two grand more than the Z07 and CFZ packages alone.
For the few of you who aren't familiar, the Z06 is the mid-level Corvette; it gets a 7-liter (427 cubic inch) 505 hp engine (link goes to photo), weight-saving bits like an aluminum frame and composite floors, non-removable roof, and comes exclusively with a heavy-duty 6-speed manual transmission. To that, the new-for-2011 Z07 package, priced at $9,495, adds the Brembo carbon-ceramic brakes, Michelin Pilot PS2 ZP tires, and Magnetic Ride Control (MRC) shocks from the Corvette ZR1, along with gray 20-spoke wheels (19" up front, 20" out back). The $3,995 CFZ package adds functional carbon-fiber bits that improve aerodynamics and decrease weight, including a front spoiler, side sills, roof panel, and a body-color rear spoiler.
Do all these extra-cost bits and bobs make a difference? Well, yes -- and no. Yes in that they do really work, and no in that unless you are planning to strip out the interior and take your Z06 racing, not all of the features will provide real-world benefits.
The stuff that doesn't work
Let's start with the CFZ carbon-fiber package. It looks mean, but it's also a huge pain in the butt. The extended front lip scrapes on everything, and the carbon-fiber roof panel doesn't shed enough weight to make a noticeable difference in acceleration. If you're not going to drive your Corvette at speeds where it will try to lift -- I'm guessing 150 MPH plus -- all the aero kit really does is make an expensive scraping sound on moderately-raked driveways and speed bumps.
It's a similar deal for the carbon-ceramic brakes. Granted, they endow the Z06 with the stopping power of an elephant gun -- but their true beauty lies in their light weight and resistance to fade (loss of effectiveness under repeated hard stops), huge benefits on the track but not much of an advantage in street driving. They're also mondo expensive, accounting for a good chunk of the price of the Z07 package, and you don't want to know what they cost to replace.
The stuff that does
The other bits of the Z07 package, however, do have a much more noticeable effect. The Michelin PS2 tires provide significantly more grip than the standard Goodyear F1s, and the Magnetic Ride Control shocks are a work of art. Filled with a fluid that changes viscosity when a magnetic field is applied, the MRC shocks can literally firm up in milliseconds. This allows the car to be tuned for a more tolerable ride without compromising handling -- no matter how fast you yank the steering wheel (or hit a pothole), the shocks will always be ready. One thing I don't understand is why the MRC includes a Tour/Sport switch. I noticed almost no difference in ride quality, but it appears that the "tour" mode merely dumbs down the shocks' response -- and why would anyone want to do that?
All in all, the Z06 is a thrilling car to drive. It's sci-fi fast in the straights and race-car capable in the turns, plus it has an exhaust note that turns my heart to Jell-O. The Z07 package definitely improves the car; the carbon-ceramic brakes may not be much use outside of a racetrack, but the MRC shocks and Michelin PS2 tires really do enhance the day-to-day driving experience. And like every other Corvette, the Z06 is also quite practical: The seats are comfortable, the trunk is huge, and driven gently, it will return 25 MPG on the highway. (Despite its monster engine, the Z06 ducks under the gas-guzzler tax.) And thanks to an excellent stability-control system, which includes a Competitive Driving mode, Corvette drivers can have plenty of tire-smoking, tail-out fun without courting death and destruction.
My chief complaints about the Z06 are the same as every other Corvette I've driven: Expensive options, a prehistoric navigation system, and cheap interior bits like this fabric cargo cover. Still, I wish every General Motors nay-sayer could drive this car -- it really is incredible.
Would I buy one?
I know this is going to sound like a sacrilege to Corvette fans, but... no. If I were buying a 'Vette, I'd go for the 430 hp Grand Sport. It may not be as fast or as capable as the Z06, but it's just as much fun in day-to-day driving, plus it has a removable roof, one of my favorite Corvette features, and it offers an automatic transmission (not that I'd want one -- the Corvette is way more fun with a stick-shift). You can equip a GS with the Z06's dual-mode exhaust and the Z07's MRC shocks and it will still sticker well under $60,000 -- a fantastic bargain. And it's not like the Grand Sport isn't upgradable. Tire Rack will sell you a set of Michelin PS2s for $1,800, and Lingenfelter Engineering will bump the engine up to 525 hp for around $10k (with a 3-year warranty).
Still, for those who subscribe to More's Law*, the Z06 Carbon (or the Z07/CFZ combo I drove) is one hell of a machine. If you've got enough money to afford one (but not enough money for the all-singing, all-dancing ZR1), and if you can live without a removable roof and an automatic transmission -- then why not go for it? -- Aaron Gold
(* More's Law is not to be confused with Moore's< Law, which states the number of transistors that can be placed on an integrated circuit board will double every year. More's Law says, "More is better; too much is almost enough.")