2008 Chevrolet Corvette Z06: "By the numbers" this car wins. Beyond the numbers...

Posted by Karl Brauer August 13, 2008, 6:00 AM
Edmunds.com


I've driven a lot of Corvettes over the past 10 years. So many, in fact, that getting into one feels like putting on an old shoe. When you drive a new/different car on a regular basis you develop a mindset of opening the door, dropping into the driver's seat and cranking up the "So how does this one work?" thought process.

But when I get into a Corvette it's like hopping into one of my personal cars. Adjusting the driving position, tweaking the audio settings and utilizing the car's full performance capacity requires almost no familiarization time. Just get in and go.

The 2008 Corvette Z06 I drove over this past weekend was a welcome refresher course on everything that's good -- and not so good -- about the current Corvette.

Thankfully, the "good" list is longer and includes everything from the excellent (and highly configurable) driver's position to the "instant on" power streaming from the naturally-aspirated, 505-horsepower 427 c.i. V8. I actually had to recalibrate my throttle input when accelerating out of corners in the Corvette Z06 because there's essentially no delay between when you press on the pedal and when the car leaps forward. You want a wall of torque forever poised to strike on command? This car supplies it better than any other vehicle I've driven except, maybe, a Dodge Viper (yes, that includes the Ford GT, Nissan GT-R, Porsche 911 Turbo and any AMG product).

The car's responsive bursts of acceleration are undoubtedly aided by its featherweight status, with the Z06 putting less than 3,200 pounds of pressure on whatever pavement it's crossing. Now throw in Chevrolet's brilliant "Competitive Driving" mode in the Corvette's stability control program, as well as the powerful and progressive stoppers, and you have a lithe coupe capable of harassing any over-priced exotic on the planet, whether in a straight line or through a series of corners.

And did I mention the plentiful cargo space (22 cubic feet)? How about the econo-car like fuel mileage? Corvette's will pull mid- to high-20s in highway MPG with minimal driver restraint.

Yup, when it comes to the numbers you only have to cross the Z06's price with its horsepower, curb weight and track times to easily solve the equation and arrive at an answer: This car is a screaming bargain.

And if you're the "shop-by-spreadsheet" buyer there's little to question regarding the Corvette's performance potential.

BUT (you knew it was coming), if you delve beneath the numbers and analyze the car's finer points the picture isn't quite as clear. I'll list off the items, in order, that force me to qualify my "buy" recommendations on a Corvette (Z06 or otherwise):

1. Transmission: I keep hearing about "tweaks" to improve the "feel" and "quality" of the Corvette's six-speed Tremec transmission. It does indeed keep getting better...but it's still not good enough by 2008 supercar standard (yes, even supercar "screaming bargain" standards). For instance, I tend to like to leave my hand on the shifter when driving a high performance car, even when just cruising along PCH (and certainly when catapaulting between apexes on Mulholland). But the Corvette's shifter buzzes like a defective electric razor, making me want to avoid contact until absolutely necessary.

And shift action itself remains pretty much at the bottom of the barrel in today's crop of $50,000-plus performance cars. There are numerous aftermarket shifters that can improve the shift action, but fixing that buzz will likely require a complete revamp of the driveline's mounting system (and/or a completely new transmission). Choosing between this transmission and the increasingly common "F1" style transmissions on the Corvette's competitors isn't easy. I'd rather go for option "C" -- a well-sorted, traditional manual transmission (ala Audi R8, Ford GT or Porsche 911).

2. Dynamics: This one is harder to explain because, as stated previously, the Corvette has all the basics covered: lightweight body components covering an aluminum chassis riding on a double-wishbone suspension. These items certainly keep the Corvette Z06 on course when tossing it down a twisty road, but the feel of the car, like the transmission, isn't up to modern supercar poise. It's not overt, but subtle chassis shudders and minor steering wheel kickbacks are not uncommon.

What's most troubling is how these traits largely negate the car's leightweight technology. At less than 3,200 pounds the Corvette should feel like the lightest, most nimble coupe in the segment. It doesn't. Drive a Z06 back-to-back with an Audi R8 and you'll swear the 3,400-pound Audi is lighter. Even the somewhat tubby Nissan GT-R doesn't feel remarkably (let along 700 pounds) heavier than the Z06. There's a psychological element playing a role here as well, with the Corvette's large exterior dimensions and flaring front fenders in your forward view adding to the Chevy's "big" impression. Regardless, the Corvette doesn't feel as sporty as it is, which is a rather crucial element in a sports car if you ask me.

3. Scraaaaape!: The first modern Corvette I ever drove was a convertible C5 as part of a roadster comparsion test we did in the summer of 1999. In that test was an Audi TT, a BMW Z3, a Honda S2000, a Mercedes-Benz SLK, a Plymouth Prowler and a Porsche Boxster. None of them made any contact with the pavement as we snaked over backroads along the California coast between Los Angeles and Big Sur...except the 'Vette, which emitted loud scraping and grinding noises on anything but billiard-table smooth road surfaces.

Nine years and one generation later the highest performing Corvette still sweeps the pavement like a low-slung street cleaner. I've driven my Ford GT in and out of my driveway a couple hundred times without so much as a wisp of undercarriage contact. But every time the Z06 pulled in or out -- SCRAAAAAAAAPE!

Sometimes I wonder if Chevrolet wants the front spoiler to serve as a sort of "early warning system," alerting owners long before anything really important slams into the ground. Whatever the intended goal, the real-world result is a constant (and LOUD) reminder that Corvettes don't like real-world road imperfections. Somewhat contradictory for a car that otherwise prides itself on being the practical man's sports car.

4. HOT! HOT! HOT!: I first noticed this when I drove a 2006 Corvette Z06 from Monterey to Los Angeles a couple years ago, but I'd forgotten about the Easy-Bake Over effect from the car's drivetrain tunnel. Leave anything in the cupholders or center console, such as sunglasses, a cell phone or even the Corvette's own keyfob (easy to do because the car comes standard with keyless ignition), and you'll want oven mits when it's time to retrieve them. God forbid you leave a cold drink in there...

I don't know what's causing this heat issue, but like the transmission performance and suspension tuning, it compromises the Z06's pedigree as a full-fledged (and fully-sorted) supercar.

So what's the upshot? Do these items neutralize the Corvette's otherwise stellar performance? No, the car simply provides too much bang-for-the-buck for these issues to negate the value equation. I raise them not to discredit the Chevrolet's capabilities but to remind people (once again) that there's more to a car than just its performance numbers.

However, when I contrast the Z06's $71,000-plus price tag against the base Corvette's $46,000 I find myself leaning toward the base car. Put simply, you're getting 85 percent of the Z06's performance for 60 percent of the price. Additionally, the issues I mentioned above are much easier to forgive when the price tag is on the right side of $50,000.

In other words, if we're going to fixate on numbers (a common mistake made by performance car fans) the base car smokes the Z06.