2001-2004 Chevrolet Corvette Z06

Tim Andrew
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There is something at once tighter, lighter, and more immediate about a top that just covers the cockpit rather than stretching back to enclose more space and expose the luggage to casual view. The Z06 profile would be greatly improved were there a small radius at the upper rear corner of the side windows, but economic considerations mandated use of the same door and glass for the hardtop as is used on the Corvette convertible, We can live with this cost-cutting concession to get a car this good into the hands of eager drivers at the lowest possible price.

The Z06 is available in a restricted range of colors: black, white, red, silver, and the bright yellow that Chevrolet is pushing in its press fleets, perhaps because the C5-R factory racers are painted in yellow and white. The overall design is at its best in black.

But the Z06 is not really about style; it's about all-out performance in a car that can actually be used on the street. It is "no less an everyday driver than a stock Corvette," according to our Mark Gillies, who compared the Z06 with the special $54,000, 300-off Ford Mustang Cobra R ("you would have to be a raving mad enthusiast to drive it every day") in our August 2000 issue. He also noted that it makes a "sophisticated noise that's like a pure racing engine's." All this with a good sound system, excellent air conditioning, and enough luggage space (with a real trunk lid, a nicety once unknown to Corvette drivers) for two people on a long trip. He also reminded us that the Z06 chassis, despite some peculiarities in the variable-ratio power steering, is less edgy and more capable than that of the Dodge Viper ACR.

We think there is no question that Chevrolet was pushed into making this superior extreme-performance model by the resounding success of the Viper, dominant in international racing where Corvettes have never managed to accomplish much, despite many tries over almost half a century by the factory, both openly and clandestinely, and numerous private owners, including Briggs Cunningham. The Corvette C5-Rs that ran at Le Mans last year--and that are sure to be back this June--and the program that brought them into being were certainly Viper-inspired. If the Corvettes have only beaten their crosstown rivals occasionally this year, they have only one season behind them, and the Z06 tends to prove that Corvette engineers now know what they're doing and have the ear of management willing to let them achieve the necessary results.

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That the engine is so powerful, flexible, and clean is to their credit, but where they have really shown their innovative spirit is in the Active Handling system, which, of course, includes traction control (which, of course, can be switched off if you like) but also has a skid control function.

Sensing control inputs, speed, loads on all four wheels, and rotational discrepancies, Active Handling reduces engine power when necessary and applies the brakes individually to hold the car in line. The system's switch has three modes: traction and stability control off; traction and stability control on (Active Handling); and Competitive Mode, which eliminates traction control but will keep the car from spinning, thanks to the electronic stability program. Okay, you don't need all this magic because you're such a great driver, but, believe us, most people do and will benefit from this work accordingly.

Consider also the purely mechanical aspects of the suspension system, quite apart from the clever electronics (some of them adapted from Cadillacs, believe it or not). The wishbones all around are forged aluminum, beautifully made, and exceptionally light for their proven strength. At both ends of the car is a single lightweight transverse leaf spring made of advanced composites. Not many performance cars, even the most respected, have as favorable a sprung/unsprung-weight ratio as does the Z06. And it's not because the car is heavy; at just a bit over 3100 pounds, the Z06 bears witness to a serious program of weight reduction, including making front and back glass thinner, using titanium in the exhaust system aft of the catalysts, and paring the wheels to the minimal amount of material required to carry the (considerable) cornering loads. The anti-roll bars are tubular, making them lighter than a solid bar and, intellectually, a great deal more elegant. And, with all its emphasis on being track-worthy, the Z06 rides awfully well and quietly.

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