New Corvette arrives with speed to burn

By Scott Burgess, The Detroit News
Article Last Updated: 08/21/2008 07:13:49 PM PDT


Times are tough. Gas prices are high. Housing prices are low. And the car market is collapsing faster than a Jenga tower after six vodka shots.

America needs a superhero.

And when the next caped crusader arrives, he will undoubtedly screech onto the scene in a 2009 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1.

This car is awesome. It should come with red go-go boots and a cape. It's Superman, Batman, Iron Man and the Fantastic Four combined - with a touch of stone-fisted Hellboy tossed into the mix.

Here's why: The all-new 6.2-liter supercharged LS9. It's a V-8 that produces 638 horsepower. On the extreme other side of Chevy, it would take six 2008 Aveos to almost generate the same power as a single ZR1.

It also creates 604 pound-feet of torque (544 pound-feet at 2,600 rpm). If you toughened up the rear end on a ZR1, you could rip tree stumps out of the ground.

This impressive engine is mated to a charged cooling system that lowers the temperature of the air going into the cylinders by 140 degrees.

Then there are the titanium connecting rods, the aluminum block, and the 10.5-quart dry sump that will keep pushing oil as the car wrenches your body through turns with G forces found on other planets.

In other words: It's out of this world.

The car's body is as advanced as the engine. The hood, front fenders and roof are all made of lightweight carbon fiber, which is stronger than steel. It makes the
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shape of the body and, now, gives it incredible strength.

The roof pieces are actually left in their natural black and gray weave; I would have painted them.

On the track, the ZR1 is incredible. The magnetic suspension monitors the car's pitch, yaw and direction, helping the custom-designed Michelin Pilot Sport 2 tires claw into the road.

Few cars scare me, but on the track the ZR1 would intimidate the fiercest amateur driver. That's why every motorist who buys the ZR1 will be offered free professional instruction at the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving in Arizona - of course, that "free" is worked into the car's $104,000 price tag.

On regular roads, the ZR1 lurks like a wolf in sheep's carbon fiber body panels. Only its low ground clearance - less than 5 inches - made me wonder if it could make it into my driveway. Everything else says daily driver. The ride is smooth and the raw power requires a heavier foot. If you take a mild-mannered approach, clicking through the velvet smooth six-speed manual gearbox, this car is all Clark Kent - never angry, overbearing or impersonal.

Still, people will know this is a ZR1. The polycarbonate window on the hood, showing off the car's cool blue intercooler, is probably the first giveaway. Then there is the subtle ZR1 badging on the fenders and the back of the car.

Nothing is over the top, but there's something menacing and sinister about this car. With its headlights encased in glass, huge air intakes, and the extended hood stretching back to that steep windshield, this car ripples with confidence.

Wrapped in leather, the dash, steering wheel and seats provide comfort - as part of the luxury package, the leather comes in four colors.

The luxury package (one of only two options; the other one is chrome wheels) includes heated seats, a premium Bose stereo system, a navigation system and Bluetooth connectivity for dolts who want to talk on the phone while driving.

There are other nice touches, such as aluminum pedals, ZR1 sill plates, embroidered ZR1 in the headrest and the boost gauge in the heads-up display.

But I don't want to bore you with minutiae that will make no difference in someone buying this car. People buy this to go fast. And the ZR1 excels at it.

It's also a role model.

How does a supercar that achieves a mere 14 miles per gallon in the city - much lower if you're having fun - become the paradigm for the automotive world?

Easy.

The ZR1 exemplifies lightweight building, stretching the limits of what companies can do with carbon fiber - a material that will allow many more cars to become lighter and more efficient down the road. It takes bigger contracts for carbon fiber costs to go down. The ZR1 is a start.

Small-volume supercar programs - such as the ZR1 - put some of GM's smartest folks around the table to wrestle with problems such as creating 100 horsepower for every liter of displacement or creating an electronic stability control system that can save me from myself on the track.

Certainly, when I was on the track behind the wheel of the ZR1, it saved me from myself.

The ZR1 is nearly the perfect machine, and, during tough times, we could all use something superheroic.

Stronger than steel Comfort and luxury

sburgess@detnews.com 313-223-3217