2006 Chevrolet Corvette Z51
Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Michael La Fave

Discuss this story in the forum at CarTalkCanada

Find this vehicle in Autos’s Classified Ads

Over the years I have had the opportunity to drive a lot of Corvettes. I even sort of own one: a 1987 coupe with the mid-level Bilstein performance suspension, oil and trans coolers, shorter final drive and every conceivable luxury feature. The point of telling you about the ’87 is to simultaneously divulge what might be perceived as a bias and the desire to express my fondness of the marque. Some of my favourite ‘Vettes (that I’ve driven) are: our two-tone ’87, the 330-hp, six-speed manual 1996 Collector’s Edition, the 2001 Corvette Z06 and a rare, custom-built Z06 convertible by a Toronto customizer, Caravaggio Corvettes (www.caravaggiocorvettes.com).

I’ve also driven a few that I didn’t like so much, namely a 2003 Anniversary Edition coupe in which I learned a valuable and expensive lesson about decreasing radius corners — admittedly the fault was mine not the car’s, but it still didn’t have the feedback I like in a performance car. Two convertibles also make my least favourite list: a 2004 and just this past summer a 2005. The convertibles were especially un-enjoyable to me with their soft suspensions and unpredictable, at-the-limit handling. Some other staffers found the ’05 an ideal cruiser so what follows is obviously highly subjective.

2006 Chevrolet Corvette Z51

2006 Chevrolet Corvette Z51
Click image to enlarge

All that being said, I’m willing to forgive and forget all the Corvettes I haven’t liked for two that I absolutely love: a 2006 Z51 with the new paddle-shiftable, six-speed automatic and the new Z06 (see below).

When we were in Las Vegas for the SEMA (Specialty Equipment Marketers Association) trade show, General Motors also gave us the opportunity to stretch the legs of five new models on a desert blast that took us down the Las Vegas strip, through Lake Mead and Valley of Fire National Parks.

Luckily, I secured the ‘Vette’s keys for a 50 kilometre, high-speed stretch through Lake Mead National Park. These are the roads that the Corvette was built for. Long gentle corners, suspension-compressing valleys and blind hillside crests. The steering wheel mounted paddles are easily reachable and help make the most of the car’s impressive 400 hp V8.

2006 Chevrolet Corvette Z51
Click image to enlarge

Floor the pedal from a dead stop with the traction control deactivated and the tires peel out as if you’re on ice. Within a few moments they find their grip and the car rockets forward. An automatic or manually selected shift to second makes the rear end wiggle and there’s another surge of power as the tranny’s torque converter multiplies the engine’s power.

Speed is nothing new for a Corvette, which isn’t ultimately what made the Z51 so special. It was, in fact, the optional Z51 suspension system that has stiffer springs and shocks, drilled brake rotors, shorter gearing and more direct steering. On these roads the car’s ride is taught, well controlled and comfortable. For a relatively large performance car, the Z51 equipped ‘Vette is direct and responsive. The worst road imperfections do cause the rear end to skip around a bit, but the car never felt scary or unpredictable. Once set into a corner, all 400 hp can be poured through the rear wheels making the ‘Vette one of the fastest grand touring cars I’ve ever driven.

2006 Chevrolet Corvette Z51

2006 Chevrolet Corvette Z51

2006 Chevrolet Corvette Z51
Click image to enlarge

That’s right, the ‘Vette is a grand tourer not a sports car. With a roomy comfortable interior, a huge trunk, excellent high-speed fuel efficiency, comfortable ride quality and rafts of luxury and convenience features, this ‘Vette is a great GT similar to an Aston DB9 or BMW 645Ci.

Our test car had an excellent stereo system and a very cool tinted transparent roof panel. A head up display (HUD) is standard and lets the driver see road speed, engine speed, cornering Gs, engine temp, fuel level and gear selection all without having to take eyes off the road. You can order the car with a painted roof, tinted panel, or a package that includes both for around $2000. With the advent of the new paddle-shift automatic the manual transmission becomes the standard tranny and the automatic is now an option. All told our Z51 coupe was about $80,000 Canadian.

A lot of money to be sure, but when you consider what you are getting and how much the competition costs, the Corvette still represents the best performance value in the high-end coupe segment.


2006 Corvette Z06


Review and photos by Michael La Fave

2006 Chevrolet Corvette Z06

2006 Chevrolet Corvette Z06
Click image to enlarge

The new Z06 is the most technologically advanced Corvette ever, which is to say it’s as advanced as any supercar in the world. It is also the fastest Corvette ever offered and by a huge margin. In fact, the numbers are astonishing; 0-60 mph in 3.5 seconds and a top speed of almost 315 km/h!

Unlike most factory performance models, the Z06 is very different from the regular Corvette coupe. Sure you can see the flared fenders, the huge six-piston front brake calipers, the extra vents and ducts and the absolutely massive tires. What you can’t see, however, is the bespoke aluminum structure (its steel on the regular ‘Vette), the carbon fibre front fenders, the magnesium roof structure and engine cradle and a myriad of detail changes. Not to mention the throbbing 7.0-litre 505-hp V8 under the hood and the closer ratio six-speed manual transaxle (its located at the back of the car with the rear differential and axle for better weight distribution).

2006 Chevrolet Corvette Z06

2006 Chevrolet Corvette Z06
Click image to enlarge

On the road the Z06 is as civil as an AMG SL55 and nearly as comfortable as the regular Corvette coupe. On the racetrack, however, this car is an animal. Brutal acceleration, cornering and braking give it the advantage to keep pace with the most exotic Ferraris and Porsches, never mind what it would do to a regular 911. The capability of this car also means that it has way more talent than any amateur driver — this writer included.

Though the Z06’s limits can be safely explored on a racetrack, and in this setting it exhibits predictable oversteer at the limit, the Z06 is a car that you can buy today and spend the next few seasons growing into. Race classes and time behind the wheel on a track will allow interested parties to extract more and more from the Z06 with each passing year. You can barely buy a faster car, but what you will need to do is learn how to use it � and be prepared because it might take a while.

2006 Chevrolet Corvette Z06
Click image to enlarge

The proof of this statement was evident when Corvette C6R race driver Ron Fellows (a LeMans winner) took the car around the same track we did. Comments such as “that’s not the same car we were driving” could be heard from the assembled media as we watched him rocket around the racecourse sometimes in a full gear higher than we were in! Ron can extract the Z06’s maximum capability and if you practice long enough you might be able to as well.

The only thing that makes the Z06 my second choice as the best Corvette yet is that the extra performance it offers is impossible to use in any prudent or responsible way on public roads. That combined with its lack of a removable roof panel and its $90,000 base price mean that, for me at least, the Z51 coupe is the best ‘Vette yet.

Maybe after an entire week of on-road testing next spring I’ll change my mind. Stay tuned.

Connect with Autos.ca