Picture this scenario: It's early in the development of the 2015 Chevrolet Corvette Z06. The chassis hasn't been fully calibrated, but engineers decide to perform a test run. Just to stretch her legs. Nothing formal. They slap on tires and wheel the car out for a dash around the challenging road course at GM's Milford Proving Ground. No one is expecting anything remarkable. That's usually when things go wrong. Or really right. In this case, things went well, to put it mildly.
"Track record. We were really surprised," Corvette chief engineer Tadge Juechter says with a snap of his fingers.
It was hardly that simple. The latest generation of the Z06 is the culmination of years of development. It's where the cutting-edge technologies and refinement of the C7 Stingray blend with the competition-derived breakthroughs of the vaunted Corvette Racing program. "What we've got is Stingray on steroids," Juechter says.
The heart of the car remains a small-block V-8, but for the first time ever, the Z06 will have a supercharged engine. With an output of 625 hp and 635 lb-ft of torque "plus," it enables the new Z06 to truly tread in supercar territory. Those ratings aren't final, but you can put a "big emphasis on the 'plus,' " Juechter says. That should reduce the sting of losing the intoxicating normally aspirated V-8 engine that has traditionally powered the Z06. The supercharger yields more low-end torque, which will make the car more responsive on the street and on the track. Expect a sprint to 60 mph in 3.4 seconds (the 2013 ZR1's posted time) or less, easily quicker than before. The blower also allows Corvette engineers to wring more power out of a smaller engine. The 2015 Z06 uses a 6.2-liter LT4 V-8, compared with the 505-hp, 7.0-liter LS7 in the last Z06.
As with the Stingray, the Z06 gets modern technologies to aid fuel economy, although engineers are quick to point out that performance wasn't compromised in pursuit of this goal. Continuously variable valve timing, direct injection, and cylinder deactivation migrate from the base C7, allowing for "surprising" fuel efficiency, Chevy says.
For the first time, Z06 buyers can choose to pair their V-8 with an automatic transmission or opt for the rev-matching seven-speed manual gearbox. Purists might blanch, but the eight-speed automatic with paddle shifters is clearly a nod to the times. Nearly every supercar maker -- from Porsche to BMW to Ferrari -- has migrated to high-tech, high-performance automatic gearboxes. The Z06's eight-speed is nine pounds lighter than the six-speed automatic in the Stingray thanks to the use of aluminum and magnesium, and Chevy claims that it can crack off shifts under wide-open throttle quicker than the PDK dual-clutch automatic in the Porsche 911.
While the automatic transmission is in keeping with contemporary trends, Corvette engineers threw in another wrinkle. There has never been a full Z06 convertible (although the 2013 Corvette 427 used the C6's Z06 powerplant), but the new Z06 will come standard with a removable roof panel. The C7's aluminum frame -- designed and built in-house -- was created with this use in mind. Because the frame will be used throughout the C7 family, including in the C7.R that will compete in the new Tudor United SportsCar Championship, it offers limitless possibilities for open-air variants.
Still, a fixed-roof body structure was a hallmark of the Z06, and an open top in any form could be cringe-inducing for the faithful. Chevy argues that the new Z06 has 20 percent more structural rigidity than its predecessor -- without the carbon-fiber roof panel in place. With the top installed, it's 60 percent stiffer than the old Z06. That could mollify the traditionalists, and Z06 enthusiasts will find familiarity in the styling, which was crafted with performance as the top priority. Even though there are plenty of design cues that look cool, or flat-out fantastic, they all have a purpose.
"It's got to earn its way onto the car," Corvette exterior design manager Kirk Bennion says. "Every part that we do has to have a viable purpose."
For example: The fenders are flared in a sinister manner, but that's to accommodate the wider, stickier Michelin tires. The conspicuously large vents on the car are functional, helping to cool the engine, the Brembo brakes, the transmission, and the electronic limited-slip differential. In fact, the grille is designed to funnel more air into the engine compartment than if there were no grille at all.
There are three aerodynamic options. The "standard" Z06 uses a plastic front splitter, a carbon-fiber hood, and a rear spoiler that is borrowed from the Stingray's Z51 performance package. The carbon-fiber aero package (available in black or with an exposed carbon-fiber finish) swaps in carbon fiber for the front splitter and rocker panels, and it adds a larger rear spoiler. Hard-core track rats will want the Z07 package, which adds large front splitter winglets, carbon-ceramic brakes, Michelin Pilot Super Sport Cup tires, and an adjustable spoiler for maximum performance on the track. The Z07 package creates the most downforce of any General Motors production car in history.
Although the interior is the most refined element of the Z06 -- offering napa leather, suede, and aluminum trim -- it still communicates the athleticism of the car thanks to a flat-bottom steering wheel, carbon-fiber finishings, and a steel-reinforced grab bar. "Competition Sport" seats with added bolstering are available, or buyers can select the more comfortable GT seats. Both setups are mounted in magnesium frames to reduce weight.
All of this should sound familiar. The Z06 has always been a track car. The very first one in 1963 was developed by Corvette godfather Zora Arkus-Duntov, who created the Z06 as a braking and handling package for track-happy customers. Fast-forward fifty-one years, and the C7 has become a vastly evolved, sophisticated creature. But make no mistake, when enthusiasts seek out the track-focused Corvette, it's still the Z06. This is the Stingray with bite.
2015 Chevrolet Corvette Z06
|On sale:||Late 2014|
|Base price:||$79,000 (est.)|
|Engine:||16-valve OHV supercharged V-8|
|Displacement:||6.2 liters (376 cu in)|
|Power:||625+ hp (est.)|
|Torque:||635+ lb-ft (est.)|
|Transmission:||7-speed manual, 8-speed automatic|
|Front Suspension:||Control arms, transverse leaf spring|
|Rear Suspension:||Control arms, transverse leaf spring|
|Brakes:||Vented discs or carbon-ceramic vented discs|
|Tires:||Michelin Pilot Super Sport, Michelin Pilot Super Sport Cup (standard, Z07)|
|Tire Sizes F, R:||285/30R-19 (87Y), 335/25YR-20 (94Y)|
|L x W x H:||176.9 x 75.9 x 48.6 in|
|Track F/R:||63.5/62.5 in|
|Weight:||3400 lb (est.)|
|0–60 MPH:||3.4 sec (est.)|