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First Drive: 2006 Chevrolet Corvette Z06

05/02/2006

Shahed Hussain

The new Corvette Z06 is Chevy's answer to the Dodge Viper and Porsche 911. In the Corvette tradition, the Z06 also costs substantially less than the competition. To differentiate the Z06 from the standard Corvette, GM added performance upgrades that include a dry sump 505-bhp 7.0L V-8, titanium connecting rods, aluminum frame, carbon-fiber front fenders, and high performance brakes. Although, this Corvette is ready for the racetrack, we had the opportunity to experience it on the winding roads of Wisconsin.

Slip into the comfortable leather driver's seat, engage first gear and the Z06 moves out with no fuss. The Active Handling stability control system is especially noticeable in first gear, where a constant clicking noise from the rear axle confirms that the electronics are controlling the chassis effectively. Shift into 2nd gear, and as the stability control loosens the reins the all-aluminum V-8 bellows like a NASCAR stock car. The exhaust note is simply intoxicating. We would boot the throttle at every opportunity to hear the engine as it catapulted the Z06 forward. Unfortunately, the rocket acceleration and high speed thrills are best experienced on a racetrack. It took great self-control not to exceed 100 mph on the local two-lane highways.

A Corvette with such an impressive engine needs serious brake hardware. Chevy adds 6-piston front calipers with 14-inch diameter rotors, and 4-piston rear calipers on 13.4-inch rear rotors on all Z06 models. This is race-ready brake equipment, which is what this Corvette needs to haul it down from speed. A firm pedal and progressive deceleration are the result of this impressive brake system.

Enthusiasts will appreciate the traditional 3-spoke steering wheel. Chevrolet tuned the Z06 for moderate power assist, which enhances stability at high speeds. Despite the fat-rimmed wheel, the steering system filters out too much road texture, so at high cornering speeds, feedback from the front wheels is lacking. The Z06 never feels disconnected from the road, but the steering is not as communicative as one might hope.

Despite the powerful V-8, clutch effort is moderate. Progressive engagement ensures a smooth launch in first gear. Of course, the fat torque band means that it would be difficult to stall this engine easily. The 6-speed manual has appropriately-spaced ratios, but honestly, with 470 lb.-ft. of torque to play with, it really doesn't matter much. Although the shifter clicks positively between gears, it feels like moving through molasses between gears.

Although the Z06 suspension tuning is stiff by street car standards, it never feels punishing. Of course, we didn't drive over potholed roads either, where the suspension settings may prove to be too harsh for reasonable comfort. Over rippled surfaces, the rear end feels slightly unsettled. On the street, this squirminess does not cause much concern, but on a track, we suspect it would be a different story. Despite the firm suspension, a Z06 is perfectly usable commuter car, and should be suitable for extended road trips.

Although we had limited seat time in the Corvette Z06, we can attest that this Chevy is truly a performance bargain. Is it perfect? No. Higher grade interior materials would be an area of improvement. From a handling perspective, the rear suspension needs some fine tuning to better control the massive V-8 torque. But these are minor criticisms. Plainly put, there is no other sports car under $100K that can match the performance of the Corvette Z06.