01/24/06 — The ultimate Corvette is ultimate fun

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The ultimate Corvette is ultimate fun

Chevrolet Corvette Z06 (2006)

Christmas came 10 days early this year. It was wrapped in black.

Everything else that occurred during the festive season was anticlimactic. The ultimate gift landed in our driveway in mid-December, and it wasn’t courtesy of the jolly fat man and his sleigh pulled by eight tiny reindeer, plus Rudolph.

Chevrolet Corvette Z06, 2006

This gift was capable of moving under its own power, pulled by 505 horses.

Rudolph came in the form of a pair of high intensity Xenon headlights.

And as a bonus, the stealthy black Christmas delight had the capability of hauling 22 cubic feet of gifts under the rear hatch.

The ultimate present for a car guy — or perhaps anyone on the planet who has even a modicum of passion for driving — is the 2006 Chevrolet Corvette Z06.

It looked particularly spectacular in our driveway until they reclaimed it a couple days before Christmas. But a week behind the wheel was like a week in automotive paradise.

This is the best and fastest Corvette ever, a wondrous creation because it can be used as a daily driver — easy to shift and docile as a house cat — delivering as much as 26 miles to a gallon of gas.

But turn it on and it becomes a ferocious tiger, capable of stomach-wrenching acceleration and incomprehensible speeds. It has razor-sharp handling and brick-wall braking.

The Z06 becomes even more wondrous when you realize that exotic foreign nameplates with equal capabilities cost 200 grand while the Corvette can be plucked off the showroom floor for just under $66,000.

The primary skills to successfully drive the Z06 are patience and restraint. You need to carefully pick your time and place for exuberance.

But there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy this brute force in daily driving. Aggravations such as attempting to get around a slow-moving vehicle on a two-lane road or merging into a slew of traffic on a freeway become a challenge that a driver looks forward to in the Corvette.

Not only will the Z06 rocket forward, even if you are a gear or two off the optimum torque band, but it can be slowed or stopped as fast as any car sold in America, and it features point-and-shoot steering.

Navigating the troubled waters of a crowed four-lane highway with only a couple ounces of maneuvering skills is so satisfying you find yourself yearning for crowded and touchy situations.

The biggest thrill is a deserted straight stretch of road. Our advice, don’t hit it hard off the line until you’ve explored the Z06’s performance in a more casual manner. Move into full-throttle launches gradually as you gain confidence. Putting the pedal to the medal is like firing booster rockets, and even with the stability control fully engaged the tiger may get out of the cage.

This beautiful piece of equipment can in a split second get away from the unsuspecting or novice driver.

So exactly what is the Z06? It’s a high-performance version of the already high-performance standard 400-horsepower Corvette. The modern version of the Z06 was introduced in 2001 with 400 horsepower — 50 more than the standard C5 Corvette — and was built through the 2004 model year.

The all-new C6 Corvette was introduced in 2005 and the all-new Z06 comes on line for 2006.

It features a new 7.0-liter V-8 generating 505 horsepower and 470 pound-feet of torque. It comes with a 6-speed manual transmission that shifts remarkably easy. It features massive 14-inch drilled and vented front disc brakes and 13-inch rear.

The Z06’s weight has been trimmed to 3,150 pounds through the use of carbon-fiber fenders, wheelhouses and floor panels; an aluminum frame; and a magnesium engine cradle. This exotic setup saves more than 50 pounds from the standard Vette.

Shaving 50 pounds and adding 105 horsepower equals 0 to 60 times of 3.4 seconds (Car and Driver magazine) to 3.7 seconds (Chevrolet’s official time). Car and Driver’s test people managed to record an eye-popping quarter mile run of 11.8 seconds at 125 miles per hour. Chevrolet says the Z06 will top out at 198 miles per hour. All sane people will simply take their word on this.

The massive brakes will pull the Z06 to a stop from 60 miles per hour in a whiplash-inducing 108 feet.

Slashing through our usual back-road curving and rolling blacktop was inspirational, especially when we gained enough confidence to do the carving up at speeds we would never have considered prudent in any other car.

The Z06’s stability control will keep the exuberant driver safe unless he tries to defy the laws of physics. For those expert enough and for those who put their Vette into competition, the stability control can be turned off. But an even better choice is a mode called Competition. This setting lets things get sideways to a point before intervening.

Surprisingly, the sports car-tuned suspension is only moderately intrusive, and just over the most severe road imperfections. We never had a problem with the ride.

Slipping into the Z06, like the standard Corvette, is like slipping into your most comfortable shoes. The bucket seat welcomes you like your favorite armchair. And getting in — and out — is certainly not as easy as entering a sedan, but it’s about as easy as any car riding only inches above the ground.

The driving position offers the kind of comfort that we think would make a coast-to-coast journey effortless.

The power driver’s seat allows virtually any-sized person to gain an optimum position. We do wonder why a $65,000 car doesn’t have a power seatback control, however.

The gauges are well laid out. Particularly user friendly is a head-up display that provides the driver with speed, rpm and “g” force readings on the windshield. Never a need to take eyes off the road.

The Z06 comes with keyless entry and keyless start, which we feel you will find a terrific convenience once you’ve used it for a couple days. Simply have the keyfob in your pocket or purse and the doors will automatically unlock. The car is started with a pushbutton.

An unusual feature are pushbutton door handles on the inside. We were a bit miffed when the door would not open with the car running while doing a 30-second stop at the mailbox. But we soon discovered that the handles could be activated by simply hitting the unlock button on the door.

Our biggest complaint — there weren’t many — was the rather loud interior, perhaps the noise level due to the hatchback design.

As you might expect, the Z06 comes well equipped without options. But there are options and the one on our test car, a preferred equipment package for $2,900, included heated seats, a premium sound system with Bose speakers, XM satellite radio, power telescoping steering wheel and side impact airbags.

That brought the bottom line to $68,700 including destination.

Be aware that you may find the Z06 selling for as much as $10,000 above window sticker.

Whatever the price, the new Z06 deserves to be the subject of the History Channel’s “Modern Marvels.”

By Jim Meachen
Published in Car Reviews on January 24, 2006 10:05 AM