What is the essence of a lasting impression? Is it merely a strong memory? We say it's more than that; it's something visceral, an impression left throughout the sinews that enables a body to recall a past feeling, to almost feel the same as it did many days past. That's the kind of lasting impression the new Z06 left on the CHP test pilot lucky enough to get a day behind the wheel. So take it from us, it's a bit hard to concentrate and write with the sound of a bellowing, wide-open exhaust in the ears, pulse racing, with right foot bent into heel-toe shifting position. But write about it we must, and in the place where rational thought meets wide-eyed adrenalin, write about it we will.
Visual excitement is the first order of business. Previous berVettes have been all but indistinguishable from their tamer brethren. Not this time. The new Z06 carries itself with the brawny aggressiveness that leaves no doubt about its serious intent. Unique, wider body panels incorporate the Ought-6's signature rear brake cooling ducts and wrap around the massive 325/30ZR19 Goodyears. Combined with the car's unique side-cover treatment, the effect is all sexy, ground-hugging breadth. Taking it in from the front, the Z06-only carbon-fiber hood with its functional scoop leads right into the C6-series' F22 Raptor-inspired cockpit-indulge your fighter pilot fantasies here!
The most enticing exterior feature isn't primarily a matter of looks, though for the fanatical gearhead, the new six-piston front brakes are as sexy as any styling cue this car carries. The form may be eye-pleasing, but function is the message here. And the level of functionality is head and shoulders above anything GM has ever put on the street. In fact, the whiz-bang factor this baby carries is unprecedented in a production car. The trick front brakes (which have a brake pad for each piston, meaning there're 12 per side) are just the most visible item from the Wow! list. The killer, hand-built, 505-horse LS7 powerplant runs a forged-steel crankshaft working titanium connecting rods. Titanium valves reside in CNC-ported aluminum heads. A dry-sump oiling system ensures lubrication under the most serious of g's. And to keep the Z06 svelte, engineers went with an aluminum frame-the permanently mounted roof halo is magnesium. Trick.
Now that you know what all the hubbub's about, you want to know what all the hubbub's about, right? In many ways, driving the Z06 is like driving the C6. The switch gear is well-sorted, and the seats Corvette excellent. The top-line Vette benefits from the improvements made to the C6 shift linkage in '05, though the abundance of torque (470 lb-ft peak) often makes shifting superfluous. Around town, the Z06 is tame and tractable. It'll handle city commutes or cross-country road trips with aplomb. The new car is louder than a C6, to be sure, but not unpleasantly so in this book. The suspension is much tauter-the pilot feels every bump, contour and crease in the road, demanding sharper focus and attention.
Then again, attention is exactly what the driver should be paying to this beast in Corvette's clothing, 'cause in this conveyance, things happen in one hell of a hurry. In fact, we consider the heads-up display mandatory in this model. You've no doubt heard that the Z06 runs an 11.7-second quarter. No kidding...there's torque on tap throughout the powerband. Acceleration is a delirious headlong rip through the six-speed box, rushing to the 7,000-rpm redline and into the heart of that 505 hp. We are here to tell you the 200-mph speedo is there for a reason. This thing pulls, and hard-America's Sports Car has an unadulterated musclecar heart.
It also has a sports car suspension. The aforementioned brakes are superb-they're powerful, and the use of a separate pad for each piston provides excellent feel. What was a stiff, sometimes squirrelly ride on city streets becomes balanced and predictable at speed on a winding road. The C6-version Z is nimbler than its predecessor, though it retains that car's neutral steering characteristics. The Z06 inspires driver confidence-it's easy to turn and burn a set of twisties with this thing. In fact, this car may inspire more confidence than is safe with all that power instantly available. The Z06 will reward a skilled driver with an unparalleled ability to get from here to there in rapid fashion; the unskilled and foolhardy are liable to be overwhelmed.
The '06 Z06 is marked by a lack of compromise, which makes the tire choice a bit puzzling. Heeding buyer feedback, Chevrolet equipped the new Vette with its latest generation Goodyear EMTs rather than traditional tires and a flat repair kit. These new run-flats are the best of their kind yet, and the Z06 certainly has plenty of contact patch. In general, they work well, but we can't help but think what an absolute ball this machine would be with a set of ultra-high-performance gumballs mounted up. And to even approach the limits of this capable Corvette, they're a necessity.
Beef with the tires aside, the new Z06 is an amazing car. But what's really amazing is that here and now, in the 21st century, we can buy an 11-second, 500-horse car that also happens to be well mannered off a dealer's showroom floor. What's even more amazing is that we can buy it from Chevrolet. Let's face it: Our favorite marque's lineup is a performance wasteland. But now that we've sampled what's possible, and in stunning form, we have a bit of hope in what's to come-and another fat adrenalin rush to come down from.