Corvette Z06: Power, perks and an intoxicating roar

At $80,000, Corvette Z06 ranks among best values in production cars on the market today

Ignore the part about zero to 60 in 2.95 seconds. Instead, check out the price.

The new Corvette Z06 starts at $80,000. Fully loaded, it costs $110,000.

That's a lot. But because this 650-horsepower Vette is packed with power and perks, and has the chops to keep up with and even beat McLarens, Lamborghinis and Ferraris, it ranks among the best values in production cars on the market today.

"We decided to go whole hog and give people what they really wanted in the car, in whatever way they wanted it," said Tadge Juechter, chief engineer for the Corvette.

All versions of the current-generation Corvette have an aluminum frame that is lighter and stiffer than their predecessors'. This allowed Chevy to let a little sunshine into the cabin. A Z06 convertible is available for the first time, and all Z06s now come with the same standard removable roof panel as other current Corvettes.

An optional eight-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters is another first for the Z06. Current owners were "screaming" for an automatic in the Z06, according to one GM transmission engineer. For $1,725 extra, they can now get one.

On paper, a pure automatic puts the Z06 at a potential disadvantage since nearly all its competitors offer a more sophisticated dual-clutch gearbox.

But on the track this transmission proved its worth. We tested all varieties of the Z06 at the Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch track, an hour outside Las Vegas. All our fastest laps of the day were in cars with the self-shifting gearbox. Shifts were immediate and smartly timed, and the software was smart enough to know when to hold a gear rather than upshift.

This gearbox also earns its keep in straight-line acceleration. This is the first front-engined, rear-wheel-drive production car in the world to do zero to 60 mph in less than three seconds, Chevy says. The seven-speed manual transmission takes 3.2 seconds.

That doesn't mean the standard seven-speed manual should be ignored. Rev-matched downshifts (which can be turned off) make novices sound like pros. The clutch isn't too heavy to work in freeway traffic, and the shifter has a firm, meaty feel to go with the massive horsepower.

The car's odd name is steeped in racing lore. General Motors first used Z06 in 1963 as the code well-informed buyers could specify on their order sheet to buy a race-ready Corvette.

This was Chevy's way of getting around a ban by the Sports Car Club of America against factory-sponsored auto racing. Customers could simply check one box on the order sheet and get a Corvette fitted with all the race parts that a factory-sponsored car would have — but for the ban.

A couple of decades later, Chevy resurrected the Z06 name for a track-oriented (but street legal) version of the fifth-generation Corvette in 2001.

This year's Z06 is powered by an all-new 6.2-liter, supercharged V-8 engine. Lurking underneath the Z06's bulging, ventilated hood, it makes 650 horsepower and 650 pound-feet of torque. That's a jump of 145 horsepower and 180 pound-feet from the outgoing model's 7.0-liter V-8.

The engine also packs fuel-saving technologies such as cylinder deactivation and direct injection that help it achieve a fuel economy rating of 22 mpg on the highway.

Yet the sound and the fury of this engine are so intoxicating, few buyers will hit that number. During a week of testing a Z06 with a manual transmission, we averaged 13 mpg overall.

The Z06 fires up with a quick roar before settling down into a low, masculine burble. Even when idling, it's a beast, evoking the spirit of yesterday's muscle cars — when men were men and cars were tested not by Consumer Reports but at the drag strip.

That roar returns when the driver mashes the gas pedal and hangs on.

It's a big car, and the front-engine setup also means the driver needs to be a little more deliberate when carving through turns than in a mid-engine machine.

Chevy worked hard on this car's aerodynamics, and to great effect. It carries speed through turns with superb grip and stability. The automaker offers two optional packages that use spoilers and front splitters below the bumper to increase down force.

The more extreme of the two is the Z07 package. At $7,995, this is a tip-to-tail suite of upgrades that includes carbon-ceramic brakes, ultra-sticky Michelin tires and a stiffer suspension. Even Chevy admitted that this model will be a lot happier on the track than in daily driving.

The Z06 has few flaws. The steering could use more feedback from the road, especially considering the rest of the car's abilities. The non-carbon ceramic brakes on the car we tested on the road faded during hard driving.

The cabin in this generation of Corvette offers plenty of comfortable room for two adults of any size. But while that's acceptable for the base model Corvettes, once you start spending Z06 money, it's not on par with the refinement and quality of other cars in that price range.

But these are just footnotes. The 2015 Corvette is mean, visceral and thrilling. It's hard to put a price on just how much fun this car is to drive. Maybe $80,000 is a good place to start.

david.undercoffler@latimes.com

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