The Chevrolet Corvette is a lot of fun to drive in any iteration. The LS3 V8 engine sounds great, and its low, throaty roar is accompanied by thrilling acceleration. Stand on the gas and even the automatic will chirp the rear tires when it shifts into second.
With 430 horsepower, the Corvette can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 4.2 seconds and cover the standing quarter-mile in 12.5 seconds. There's lots of torque at all engine speeds, and throttle response is very willing. This thing goes, and it boasts a top speed of 190 mph. We haven't experienced 190 mph, but on a tight racing circuit we found the Corvette easy to drive at speed.
The Corvette is happy cruising around, as well. It gets an EPA-rated 16/26 mpg City/Highway with the manual, 15/25 mpg with the automatic.
The 6-speed automatic and 6-speed manual are each appealing in their own right, so choosing between them comes down to priorities and personal preference.
The manual gearbox is so easy to use that we recommend it as a viable option for a daily driver. It shifts easily and the clutch is easy to operate smoothly. For fuel economy purposes, Chevrolet includes a mechanism that forces you to shift from first to fourth gear when accelerating slowly. We find this annoying, but adjusted to it. This fuel-economy strategy can be avoided by revving higher and waiting longer to shift. Fifth and sixth gears are both overdrives, again to improve fuel efficiency. Shifting through the gears is a lot of fun and it's easy to brake and downshift using the heel-and-toe method when approaching a corner (actually by braking with the ball of the foot and blipping the throttle with the right side of the foot). In short, it's a modern, easy-to-operate manual; we'd own one. Launch Control optimizes performance for full-throttle starts for all manual-transmission Corvettes by monitoring engine torque 100 times per second and maximizing available traction. As such, the system is capable of approaching a skilled driver's very best efforts, and does it with consistency.
The automatic transmission is the best choice for commuting in stop-and-go traffic and it gives up little to the manual in terms of performance. The Paddle Shift automatic offers manual shifting via steering-wheel levers and an electronic controller with more computing power than the typical PC had 10 years ago. The relatively close ratios offer good performance and smoothness by allowing the engine to run at optimal rpm more often. First gear delivers impressive acceleration off the line. Yet both fifth and sixth are overdrive gears, allowing quiet cruising and good highway mileage. If ever a sporting car were suited for an automatic transmission, it's the Corvette, with its big, torquey V8. The automatic does not sap all the fun out of driving the way automatics do in small sports cars with small engines. It's responsive to the driver's intent, shifting hard and fast when you're accelerating quickly, but shifting smooth and soft when cruising.
In the handling department, the Corvette is agile and easy to toss around, benefits of its light weight, trim proportions and refined suspension. The Coupe weighs a trim 3,208 pounds.
We liked the standard suspension and would not hesitate to order a Corvette so equipped. Ride quality is firm but quite pleasant, not harsh. It offers great handling, even on a racing circuit. There's almost no body lean when cornering hard. In short, the cheapest, most basic Corvette is a great car. There is no need to step up any further. But we're well beyond need here, so why stop here?
The Grand Sport package makes the Corvette more fun on a race track. It uses the standard powertrain, but has wider-body styling, a wider track and a race-tuned suspension. It also has wider wheels and mounts 275/35ZR18 tires in front and 325/30ZR19 tires in the rear, and has 14.0-inch brake rotors with six-piston calipers in front and 13.4-inch rear rotors with four-piston calipers. Those bigger brakes may stave off some brake fade. The manual transmission has specific ratios, and, with the automatic transmission, the rear axle ratio is specific. This combination delivers excellent grip in fast sweepers, with just the right amount of body lean. You will feel and hear bumps more, but it's quite livable. Around town, it will handle bumpy neighborhood streets well and not feel terribly harsh. Grand Sports are available with Magnetic Ride Control, and the package includes Goodyear F1 Supercar Gen 2 tires when ordered with a manual transmission.
The F55 Magnetic Selective Ride Control covers both ends of the spectrum, offering the best of both worlds; a very similar setup is used on Ferrari's most expensive models. The driver can switch between Touring and Sport modes, each of which adjusts shock damping automatically according to driving conditions. In the Touring mode, the suspension varies damping from very soft when poking along to something close to the Grand Sport's stiffness when driven hard; these adjustments in damping happen very rapidly. Touring mode felt a little softer to us than the standard suspension on a country road. It filters vibration well, but it verged on feeling a tad floaty in some situations. Switching to Sport mode raises the floor (but not the ceiling) in terms of firmness, so you feel road vibration more. Still, it's not harsh. All in all, Magnetic Selective Ride Control is a great setup. It comes with fade- and moisture-resistant cross-drilled brake rotors. Choosing between the standard and electronic suspensions is problematic only because it gives us a choice. If they gave us one or the other, we'd be perfectly happy, but true performance junkies will probably prefer the Grand Sport setup.
The brakes are smooth, progressive and easy to modulate. The Corvette is very stable under hard braking and it doesn't get unsettled when braking and turning at the same time. Be advised, however, that the engine has so much power that the rear end can break loose if the gas is applied too hard in a turn.
The Z06 has 505 horsepower from its LS7 V8, which displaces 7.0 liters, or 427 cubic inches, just like the famous 427 Vettes of the late '60s. Yet the original 427s were big-block engines. While the LS7 generates big-block torque (470 pound-feet), it's actually a small block V8, so it's lighter and much more compact than the original 427s. Yes, it's still an overhead-valve engine (as are all Corvette powerplants), and in certain respects it has more in common with a heavy-duty Silverado pickup than a Ferrari. Yet the LS7 is impressively tuned and highly refined. The Z06 features a host of racing technologies that enhance durability, including dry-sump engine lubrication and separate cooling systems for the oil, power steering, rear axle and 6-speed manual transmission.
The Z06 is a great supercar value: Zero to 60 mph in 3.7 seconds, 11.7-second quarter mile, top speed in the neighborhood of 200 mph, and capable of generating slightly more than 1g constant lateral grip, according to Chevrolet. These numbers surpass those generated by European sports cars that cost twice as much as the Z06 during clearance sales, and all but a handful of low-volume, $500,000-plus specials built in small workshops around the world.
Our 2012 Z06 Centennial Edition let out a satisfying, thunderous roar from the first touch of the pushbutton start. Its throaty growl was audible but tame at lower revs, then proportionately more raucous as the needle climbed on the tachometer. Acceleration in this mean machine invokes a tickle in the stomach akin to plunging down a freefall ride. Braking is equally heart-stopping; the ceramic cross-drilled Brembo rotors are impressive but are overkill for everyday driving. Make no mistake about it, this is a track car. And to use this any other way would be just silly. The Z06 suspension is about as stiff as they come, allowing the driver a succinct connection between the car and every pebble in the road. After a day driving in the Z06 Centennial Edition, even hopping into a sport compact car known for its performance and handling can feel akin to piloting a marshmallow.
The Pirelli Sport Cup tires on the Z06 Centennial Editon look like racing slicks and offered amazing grip when warm, making them a perfect choice for the track or the street on a hot summer day. For daily driving, they were precariously slippery when cold, making for a lot wheel spin off the line in cold weather. What's more, our urban driving had us picking rocks off the tread at the end of the day. And we didn't even think about taking this beast out in a rainstorm.
The carbon fiber splitter, which comes with the Carbon Fiber package, is so low on the Z06, we had to cautiously circumvent crossroads and driveways with anything more than a 5 percent incline. Parking lot curbs and restaurant valets proved to be challenging hazards.
Driving the top-of-the-line ZR1 hard has been likened to an exercise in trying to stay about two corners ahead of the thing. Chevrolet says it will accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 3.4 seconds, from 0 to 100 mph in 7 seconds, with a quarter-mile acceleration time of 11.3 seconds at a speed of just over 130 mph, and continue on from there to a top speed of 205 mph. Perhaps most impressive is a claimed time for the somewhat-well-known exercise of 0-100-0: From a standing start, to 100 mph, and back to a dead stop. Chevrolet claims it will make that little endeavor in 12 seconds flat, which is far, far better than any ride you're going to find at an amusement park.
The ZR1 is extraordinarily quick from point-to-point on a race track, or getting down a curvy road. In all probability, the number of drivers in the world who could use as much as this car has to offer is not a very big number and would not include drivers who have not had some serious racing experience. If you use a car like either the Z06 or the ZR1 (or even the regular Corvette, for that matter) to anywhere near the edges of its capabilities, you are going very, very fast. The corners come up very quickly, the requirement for saving the situation becomes a difficult thing to do and the consequences of a mistake can be enormous. The ZR1 is not a car for the faint of heart or for those without the highest of skill levels. While it is possible for the Z06 and the ZR1 to be driven in a more sensible manner, these cars are simply too much for the street. Then again, that's part of the fun.
The standard Corvette is far easier to live with every day than either the Z06 or ZR1, with a smoother ride on rough roads and a lighter clutch pedal. And it has 430 horsepower.