The ZR1 is a high-water mark for Corvette performance that – given the macro trends in oil prices, the U.S. economy, and the fortunes of General Motors – almost certainly will never be achieved again.
Here is a car that convincingly answers the question: How much power is too much power? The engine breaks into a roar above 3000 rpm or so. In the wet, this car overwhelms its traction control in 1st, 2nd, and 3rd gear.
Cabin finally tamps down its resin-smelling, plasticene origins, but it’s still not as nice as even that of a Nissan GTR.
Joe Lorio, Senior Editor
The logo is a frigging skull, and that about sums it up. In the annals of “Strangely appropriate music coming on the radio just after I start up a new car,” the ZR1 takes top honors. It was like Christine, possessed, because as I rolled up an on-ramp in first gear, the radio began blasting Danzig’s “Mother.”
“Mother, tell your children not to walk my way…”
(Flooring the throttle. Black stripes unfurling in the rearview mirror, accompanied by the sound of wailing tires and straight-pipe exhaust thunder.)
“…Tell your children not to hear my words, what they mean, what they say.”
(Between first and second, the exhaust valves close for a split second while the engine takes a breath, and then it’s right back to God bowling a strike on your head. Into second gear with a big lurch from the rear end and more tortured rubber. How fast does this thing go in second? 90? Is that possible? Time to roll in third for a moment and take stock of this situation.)
“If you wanna find hell with me, I can show you what it’s like, till you’re bleeding.”
(Flat on the throttle, rolling in third gear and the seat is still squeaking. You can only hear it because it’s up near your ears, but your upper body is getting compressed back into the seat hard enough to compress the stuffing. Which is making the leather squeak. Slowing back down for the exit ramp, blipping the throttle and going down into second. You know what? It didn’t need the throttle blip. You’re only going 50 or 60. That’s cake for second gear. So, with a healthy stab on the gas, the shifter slides down into first. At 45 mph, no problem. This doesn’t feel like a supercharged engine. It feels more… nuclear.)
Ezra Dyer, Contributing Writer
It’s hard for me to discuss the ZR1 without using profanity. The mega-Vette’s 638 hp is simply absolutely f*&#@$% manic! The 335 section-width rear Michelins have barely a prayer of keeping traction if you disable any of the electronic assistants and boot the throttle in a lower gear. Even at highway speeds, you’ve got to be ready to catch the tail. It’s a good thing that these carbon-ceramic Brembos are up to the task.
This is by far the best gearbox I’ve encountered in a Corvette. Positive throws, easy engagement, nice feel – much better than earlier C6 cars. Elsewhere in the cabin, however, I’m not as impressed. The seats aren’t very supportive, in my opinion, and the overall interior quality is definitely not that of a $105K car. A few ZR1-specific touches improve the interior, but enough of the standard Corvette materials remain to leave me with a slightly sour – THIRD GEAR. What was I complaining about again? Never mind.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
The ZR1 is easy to drive normally around town, and much easier to hammer on the back roads – without feeling like I might kill myself – than I expected.
There’s an incredible soundtrack coming both from under the hood and the rear pipes – I love the throttle-induced burble and the to-the-floor roar.
I spent a lot of time doing 2nd and 3rd gear blasts to 90-110 mph, then hard braking. Fun, fun, fun. And the brakes are incredible. In low speed corning through a dip, I lost rear traction briefly while braking and shifting – the stability control corrected instantly and with very little drama.
The ZR1 still is not my cup of tea, but I understand and enjoy it.
Joe DeMatio, Executive Editor
A magic carpet with the sweetest engine. Like everyone else, I love the noise when you boot it. The ZR1 is quick off the line, then unleashes another level of power and gory speed when you light it up at 85 mph.
The Corvette now has a very tightly, perfectly put together interior. Thankfully, shifter has lost the blocky, notchy shift shape and quality of earlier C6s. Lose the hood window though. Dorky.
All in all, this is just a wonderful supercar that rewards any driver.
Jean Jennings, President & Editor-in-Chief
This is what I have always wanted: a Corvette that stands up to the best Europe can provide. Except that it doesn’t. The quality is not there – the loose, clacking accelerator pedal with a half-inch of dead space at the top of the stroke is a good example of this – and its appearance is not sufficiently different from the regular cars.
Performance? Brutally effective engine, chassis that can’t quite get all the power down in poor conditions (where a 911 could), rattles, creaks, movements that you do not want in the bodywork… it is just not world class yet. The engine is a marvel, the gearbox is not. And so on, with each virtue offset by a slip, an error, a disappointment.
I like Corvettes, would like to have one of my own, but I would surely choose a Z06, or even a base level automatic convertible, because no one can responsibly use all the available performance on public roads, and any Corvette is incredibly fast, and incredibly cheap for the performance on offer. And there’s probably not a performance car that is less expensive to maintain in daily use.
As a statement, this is a great car. As a car, it’s, well, a great statement, but not something really desirable to use regularly. Although I am sure you could.
Robert Cumberford, Automotive Design Editor
A very good, much more refined Corvette but still too similar to the cheaper models. The engine is simply wonderful. It sounds great and the soundtrack isn’t ruined by supercharger whine. It pulls strongly at high rpm but also has mega low-end torque. This is one world-class powerplant.
The gearbox is better than other Corvette setups but not brilliant. It’s still a bit too balky for my taste.
While the ZR1 is an amazing car, it’s not for me. I can’t see paying over $100K for a car that really doesn’t look that special. Plus, where are you going to use all this power? Give me a 911 GT3 (or a base 911) any day.
Marc Noordeloos, Road Test Editor
2009 Corvette ZR1
Base Price (with destination): $105, 000
Price as tested: $115,000
Fuel Economy: 14 / 20 mpg (city/hwy)
Size: 6.2-liter supercharged OHV V-8
HP: 638 HP @ 6500 rpm
Torque: 604 lb-ft @ 3800 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Weight: 3324 lbs
Tires: – 285/30YR-19 (Front) 335/25YR-20 (Rear)