Chevrolet surprised the world when they unveiled the C7 Stingray Corvette a few years ago. The design was still very “Corvette” but it departed from the previous three generations with a fresh design language. Most people liked the aggressive looks, the fantastic performance that it offered and the competitive price tag. So, when rumors of a new Z06 began trickling out, excitement started to build. The C6 Z06 has always held a reputation as the die-hard athletic overachiever of the family so it was expected that the C7 Z06 would improve on that reputation. Many expected an even lighter car, a more pure driving experience, a more focused track car.
What arrived surprised everyone. It was heavier. It was supercharged instead of naturally aspirated. To most, it was a good thing overall – how could you not like 650 hp and 650 lb-ft of torque, massive aerodynamic downforce, and those aggressive looks — but there were some aspects of the car that really gave pause; An optional automatic transmission? A convertible version? Could a Z06 possibly be convertible or automatic? Wasn’t the Z06 supposed to be the most track-focused model in the lineup? How could it be the most track focused with an automatic? Or as a convertible? We’ll admit that we were a little confused and wondered what Chevrolet was thinking. Well, Chevrolet tossed us the keys to one in Los Angeles for a few days to show us exactly what they were thinking. Wait – what? A 650hp performance car in the most congested city in North America? Yep. It turned out to be an eye-opening experience.
They delivered a Laguna Blue Z06 convertible, automatic of course, with a dark gray interior and soft-top to our hotel and told us to try it out for a few days. It was beautiful. It literally drew a small crowd and brought the valet operation at the hotel to a standstill. Say what you will about the Z06’s design but it has presence. A lot of presence. Our car dominated everything around it, even in a city like LA where exotics are almost as common as food trucks. The swollen fenders encompassing the wider wheels and bigger brakes give it a tensed, muscular appearance.
The large open mouth and those glowering headlights make it look like it’s hungry and on the prowl to take down whatever Lamborghini gets too close. The swollen fenders and body work also accentuate the larger side vents and the tail vents look much more pronounced than on the base Stingray. The aggressively low front carbon fiber splitter, the carbon fiber side skirts, and the pronounced Lexan rear spoiler lip create one purposeful-looking car. One that could easily be confused for the GT-series C7.R racer if it had sponsor decals on it.
As ferocious as the outside looked, the inside looked quite inviting. Everything is plush leather, microfiber, and carbon fiber. The interior is cohesive with gracefully curved lines running throughout and a design emphasis on the driver’s position. The instruments are surrounded by real carbon fiber, not the cheap-looking faux stuff. The leather is of good quality and the stitching is clean and neat. Other than where the door trim meets the dash trim, there are no large gaps between sections. Everything fits together tightly.
The seats were the standard GT seats, not the super-bolstered performance seats, but they were comfortable and still very supportive. On backroad blasts and canyon runs they held us in place superbly. These are great all-around seats, perfect for daily drives around town and good for moderate track duty. Plus they’re heated and air-conditioned. The seat pad and the seat back are upholstered in microfiber, which keep the driver and passenger from slipping around like one sometimes does on leather. The buttons were all logically laid out and had a quality feel to them. Once something that Corvette owners took a lot of grief for, the interior is now as good as anyone’s. We were impressed and quite comfortable spending long days in the car.
Taken as a package we thought it looked stunning and it turns out we weren’t alone in that opinion. We became minor celebrities everywhere we went for the next few days, which speaks highly of the car’s appearance and reputation. Wherever we went the blue Z06 convertible got noticed. People asked questions at stoplights; they complimented it’s looks; they whipped out their cell phones to take pictures; they gave us thumbs-up; they stopped what they were doing and stared as we went by. We had exotic car owners pull up next to us and crane their necks, thoroughly looking it over before nodding appreciatively.
Truck drivers literally leaned out of windows on the 101 Expressway and wildly gave us thumbs-up while yelling things like “SEXY CAR, MAN! AWESOME!” At one stoplight someone screamed across the intersection to us, offering to “trade you cars straight up!” Of course, it caused some problems too. More than a few times we watched in horror as cars got within feet of our rear bumper so the driver could squint and read the “Corvette” nameplate on the tail before backing off to a safe distance. Be sure you like attention before buying a Z06 convertible.
The problem with reviewing a sports car in LA is that all the fun roads are outside the city, or at least on the fringes of it. So everyday we had to slog across town in order to find a road that might challenge the Z06. Here’s where we were surprised to discover what a big pussycat the Z06 can be if you want it to. It handled LA’s dense stop-and-go traffic without issue. Sun too hot? Put the top up and turn on the air conditioning. Heck, turn on the ventilated seats and keep your sweaty back from sticking to them. Switch the driving mode to Tour or Eco and the exhaust quiets right down to barely audible. Turn on the radio, find some great music, slip the transmission into automatic and relax. Chevrolet has engineered it to be as docile as a Camry for everyday driving. You could send your grandmother to the store in this car it’s so easy to drive.
There are five driving modes that you can dial in. Each has a dramatic effect on the car’s character. “Weather” is for heavy rain, wet roads, and wintery conditions. It fully engages the stability and traction control systems to keep you safe when the roads aren’t. “Eco” is designed to maximize your fuel efficiency, which is a good idea when the car gets an EPA estimated 14 mph in the city/20mph on the freeway, and we at one point saw 6.6 mpg on our economy display. It limits the engine to running in 4-cylinder mode as much as possible. “Tour” is a good setting if you’re stuck in traffic or your wife is with you. It keeps the engine noise quiet and and offers a firm but pleasant ride. “Sport” opens up the secondary exhaust pipes and increases the amount of engine noise while making shifts quicker and more aggressive and sharpening up the handling.
The last setting is one we didn’t play with much as it shuts off most of the stability controls. It’s called “Track” mode and it’s designed to allow a competitive driver to get the most out of the car at the track. It holds shifts to maximize acceleration and allows greater slip angles through corners. Los Angeles is perhaps not the ideal place to unleash the full performance capability of the Z06 so we alternated between Tour and Sport most of the time.
The display is digital with traditional analog needle gauges for speed, fuel level, and supercharger pressure/vacuum. The tachometer, a digital speedometer, coolant and oil temperatures, and transmission gear are displayed digitally. The clarity of the digital images is exceptional and easy to read, even at speed, even in the day. Other data is available by a selector on the steering wheel, including tire pressures, trip odometers, engine hours, engine lifetime revs, and oil life. The dash also projects a holographic digital display in the lower part of your windshield so you don’t have to take your eyes off the road when driving fast.
The first day we had it we decided to take it easy while we got acquainted. We pushed the button to lower the top – about 20 seconds to accomplish, at speeds up to 35 mph – and headed north towards the Pacific Coast Highway. With the top down there are no squeaks, rattles, flex or shaking, even over bad sections of road. In fact, it’s nearly as rigid as the coupe, which is significantly more rigid than the C6 coupe ever was. With the top down and the air conditioning on, we navigated through the busy towns of Santa Monica, Venice Beach, Marina Del Rey, and past Malibu to where the traffic thins and the road rises and falls and curves with the ever-changing shoreline.
With the driving mode in Tour we quietly hummed up the coast with the wind in our hair, enjoying the sea breeze and the beautiful views of the vast Pacific Ocean and the steep mountain headlands. You barely hear the engine in Tour at light throttle. It’s just a deep ever-present hum and burble, letting it’s immense torque do it’s talking. Should you need to pass someone, tip in the throttle and instead of the growl you expect, you’ll hear the nasally whine of the supercharger providing quiet but plentiful boost. Need more speed? Push a little harder on the throttle and the growl of the V8 rises to mix with the whine of the supercharger and the car shoots ahead effortlessly. Let off and the deep hum and burble return. It’s incredibly civil. In Tour mode, violence is always just a toe push away, but it prefers to remain hidden until needed.
There are many canyon roads along Pacific Coast Highway that run up into the mountains. Many are steep, narrow, and wind through the long canyons for miles with little traffic. To explore these we selected Sport mode. The engine got noticeably louder, and then even louder yet as we hammered up the mountain roads feeling the rush of the torque propel us along. We pulled the transmission selector back to M (manual) and paddle shifted our way down to 2nd gear so the transmission would slow our descents and be more responsive to the throttle.
The sound is amazing, popping and snapping and snarling like a race car. This is what we were looking for! We pushed a little harder, being careful as we dove into tight corners with steep drops on the outside. The steering is well-weighted and precise, not over-boosted. You can set your line with confidence and even adjust it mid-corner if necessary. The suspension is unflappable, doing exactly what you want without surprises or a punishing ride. After a while the road bottomed out and headed back up and we hammered it again. The engine roared and ferociously launched the car up the road, around a few more corners, and then back down to the sea and Pacific Coast Highway again. My palms were sweating and I was grinning like an idiot.
Finding a place to unleash the supercharged 6.3L direct-injected V8 is hard. As you can imagine, 650hp and 650 ft-lb of torque is mostly useless in a dense, overcrowded city like Los Angeles but out here we were able to get on it for at least a few seconds at a time to feel the visceral violence of the engine. When prodded hard, the supercharged engine explodes in a thermonuclear fury, propelling the car forward with such astonishing force that your hands instinctively grip the wheel tighter and your jaw involuntarily clenches. Your vision tunnels and things like life insurance, the faces of loved ones, and prison time swirl about the edges of it. The relentless acceleration is so ridiculous that it’s easy to miss a shift because your brain is so busy still struggling to recalibrate itself. What’s more is that the urgency of the engine simply seems to increase exponentially if you keep your foot in it. Back off and the car immediately returns to docile pedestrian performance.
To check the speed from the immensely powerful engine, the brakes are slotted two-piece ventilated steel rotors (carbon-ceramics come with the Z07 performance package) with aluminum 6-piston calipers in front and 4-piston calipers in back. They’re anti-lock, as expected, and they do a superb job of stopping the car. Whether trying to scrub off speed before the corner on a mountain run, needing to slow the car quickly after a massive accelerative event, or during an emergency stop on the notorious congested LA freeways, they repeatedly proved themselves again and again. They’re a little grabby when cold but the feel improves once they warm up.
The 8-speed automatic works as well as you’d expect any automatic transmission to, doing it’s job invisibly in the background. Pull the gear selector back to “M” (manual) though, and you can use the paddle shifters behind the steering wheel. This is a proper F1-style paddle shift setup where the left paddle downshifts and the right paddle upshifts. Chevrolet claims the automatic transmission rivals Porsche’s celebrated twin-clutch PDK system in performance. Maybe so, but there seems to be a noticeable fraction-of-a-second delay between when you click the paddle and when the transmission actually shifts.
It’s a minor annoyance but we can live with it because holding gears to redline with the paddle shifters produces full-on LeMans car sounds which forgive any offense. Running up to redline the menacing snarl quickly becomes a loud roar which builds even quicker to an ear-splitting scream that causes pedestrians to step back from the road. Let off the throttle and the engine drops back to a loud roar, cracking and popping on overrun. It’s absolutely intoxicating. A lot of time was spent driving around holding a gear just so we could listen to the glorious, glorious engine noise. Which could partly explain our massive drop in fuel economy but it’s so awesome that you don’t want to upshift. It’s so worth the additional fuel.
Every stoplight became an opportunity to feel the fury of the engine again, holding gears as long as we could, basking in the cacophony with stupid ecstatic grins on our faces. Every tunnel or long overpass became our private symphony hall. This is why you buy a convertible Z06 then: To let in more of the noise, to be closer to the aural anger sounding from those four stainless steel trumpets at the back of the car, to revel in some of the most pure, most perfect automobile noises ever. With the top down that phenomenal engine sounds larger than life. It also comes with something called Active Rev Matching, whereby the engine finds the optimal rev when you downshift, so that it sounds like perfect heel-and-toe downshifts with the accompanying sounds, which are also glorious. It’ seems a little dishonest but it sounds incredible so we’re okay with it.
We eventually found our way to the mountains north of the city. Our first plan, to run the length of Angeles Crest Highway, fell through when we discovered that the road was closed about halfway in due to mountain snow. But that was fine with us because the 20 miles that we could drive was some of the greatest mountain road driving we’d ever experienced. The road is a twisting ribbon of asphalt laid around and across some of the most scenic mountains in the region. It rises and falls, twists back and forth, and offers some stunning views of the Los Angeles basin. More importantly, because the road was closed halfway in there was almost no traffic.
As our confidence in the car grew we found ourselves pushing harder and harder. The car stepped up to the challenge and impressed us despite the quality of the road, which was very pebbly in places and wet in others after an unexpected rainstorm. The Michelin Pilot Super Sports were so sticky that they constantly showered the underside of the car with pebbles. We worried that we might feel some slip in corners because of it but the tires always maintained their grip.
The Z06 suspension is, frankly, amazing. The Corvette suspension has always been a little different. It doesn’t use coil springs or a strut system like most cars utilize in their suspensions. Instead it uses a composite leaf spring that stretches across the car from wheel to wheel. These perform the jobs of the coil springs but are more compact and much lighter. Our car also came equipped with highly praised magnetic-fluid shocks that can electrically change the density of the magnetic fluid inside 1000 times per second based on information it gets from sensors in the suspension.
The result is a ride that never seems to change, even though it’s changing faster than the human brain can comprehend. It’s firm but never uncomfortable. The system does a great job of eliminating most bumps, body lean, and harshness. Even on rough road it smoothes out most of the bad ride. No matter if you’re driving fast or slow, cornering hard or gently, driving on cratered or fresh asphalt, have the mode set to Tour or Track, the suspension keeps the ride consistent and the chassis completely controlled. It’s unflappable. It’s so much better than a traditional suspension while at the same time it’s so invisible that you barely realize how well it’s working. Astounding. It’s easy to see why Ferrari licensed it shortly after it debuted on the C5 Corvette.
It was while we were in the mountains that we decided to try out Chevrolet’s new PDR – Performance Data Recorder. The first system of its kind to be offered from a manufacturer, PDR eliminates the need for independent data acquisition equipment. It uses GPS and a host of sensors to measure vehicle dynamics and performance while a video camera and microphone built into the rearview mirror record the driver’s perspective, engine noise, and audible comments (or a passenger’s terrified screams).
It overlays information such as speed, gear selected, revs, accelerator pedal pressure, brake pedal pressure, steering angle, the amount of g’s generated and the direction they’re generated in, and stores it in .mp4 format on a common flash card in the glove box. You can then review your performance on the infotainment display or a computer. Cosworth Engineering software is available to analyze or compare your telemetry data even further. The system is great for track junkies who are always looking to improve their lines and times, or drivers who just want to record a drive on their favorite road.
After Angeles Crest, we headed to another great road called Glendora Ridge Road. This narrow, mostly empty road follows the crest of the mountain range for several miles and is the kind of twisty road that motorcyclists love. The Z06 never felt out of breath at the altitude, always launching us towards the next corner. The brakes kept us out of trouble, never fading. The steering and sticky tires allowed us to place the car perfectly through the corners, roaring through the curves, back and forth and back again for miles. It was only when fuel started to get low that we reluctantly headed back down the foothills, the exhaust crackling and popping the whole way.
This car is a huge step forward for the Corvette brand but there are few things that could be improved. There were large 1/2” gaps between the door trim and dash trim when the doors were closed. These gaps marred an otherwise beautiful interior. The infotainment touch screen wasn’t always responsive to our first touch. Occasionally we needed to tap it again. Though the trunk was usefully large, the trunk lid was very flexible and it felt a bit awkward getting it to latch shut.
A more rigid panel or an electric motor to grab it and pull it closed would be an improvement. And finally, the front carbon fiber splitter is low. I mean LOW. Even angling the car as we pulled into parking lots, we still managed to scrape it quite often. It survived but we can see having to replace this part on a semi-regular basis, which we’d gladly do for the downforce it probably generates at the track. Raising it would probably compromise it’s performance.
We initially wondered why Chevrolet would have us drive the Z06 convertible in LA, of all places, but it vividly showed us that the real beauty of this car is it’s versatility. It’s not such a one-trick pony anymore. Once solely a single-minded performance car, it’s now a dual-personality sports car designed to appeal to a wider buying audience. With most cars that would mean disappointing compromise but the C7 Z06 is able to be an easygoing daily driver AND a nuclear track weapon or just about anything in-between. Does an automatic convertible Z06 make sense? Surprisingly, yes. It excels as a pedestrian daily driver, it excels as a hot backroad-conquering sports car, and I have no doubt that even in convertible form it could wipe the track of all competition most weekends.
It’s not a less track-focused car; rather it’s a track-focused car that understands that it’s okay to offer some luxury and comfort to it’s passengers, and that makes it possible to enjoy it as an everyday driver. But the best reason to own a Z06 convertible – in my opinion – is to be immersed in the sounds of the engine. The absence of a roof means you’re right there in the thick of it and it sounds so achingly good that you can’t help but grin every time you get on it. If our experience is any indication, you’ll be getting on it rather frequently.