Corvette ZR1

638bhp, 205mph, £100k ZRl is the fastest Vette ever

Evo rating
from £100,000
  • Huge pace, character, ability
  • Would you pay £100K for a Corvette?

Ultimate has many forms. That’s what Corvette chassis engineer Alex MacDonald tells me as I comment upon how fluently the ZR1 soaks up a Michigan surface that has fought the battle with expanding winter ice and lost. But how is it that this ultimate Corvette, with 638bhp, 604lb ft and a likely £100,000 price tag when it goes on sale in the UK at the year’s end, feels so much more supple and civilised than the circuit-hungry Z06 version, despite being, I am promised, much more devastating on track?

Part of the price, numerically almost the same as the US price in dollars, which suggests an attractive profit margin, goes on the latest application of Delphi’s MagneRide system. That’s the key to the civil suspension, now with a greater ‘bandwidth’, the better to differentiate Touring and Sport modes while making both more adaptable. Of more immediate glamour, though, is what lies under the subtly bulgier bonnet.

Subscribe to evo magazine

Subscribe today to have every issue of evo delivered straight to you. You'll SAVE 39% on the shop price, and get evo for its original cover price for a whole year!

A heat-, scratch- and UV-resistant polycarbonate window in the bulge reveals the aluminium top cover of a wide and low, air-to-liquid intercooler whose fluid is itself cooled by the frontmost of the Corvette’s three heat exchangers. Below is an Eaton supercharger whose two rotors each have four lobes rather than the usual three, and which are coated with enough low-friction polymer to make them an interference fit on initial assembly. Eaton’s bedding-in process then gives them the perfect airtight but frictionless co-existence, the better to deliver up to 0.72bar of boost.

Hefty supercharger, hefty outputs. Out on the road the ZR1 proves devastatingly torquey, with 90 per cent of the effort on tap from 2600 to 6000rpm, so it’s unfazed by a long, long first gear able to slingshot it past 60mph. Take it above 3000rpm with a well-opened throttle and you’ll hear the blatter of a now very free-breathing V8, exhaust bypass valves having opened. Throttle-off now and theatrical bangs and crackles mark the moment.

Should you find the space and the opportunity, the ZR1 will take you to 205mph, having passed 60mph in 3.4 seconds, 100mph in 7.0 and 186mph (300kph) in 32.6. There’s something of a Mercedes SLR McLaren about the way it does this, except that you’ll enjoy the build-up to it much more in the ZR1. Accurate, credibly weighted steering, a surprisingly slick-shifting manual transmission (by Tremec) and standard-fit Brembo carbon-ceramic brakes of proper feel and featherability are mainly why.

So this fastest-ever Corvette is also the best-mannered, best-riding and most civilised, but is it really worth over twice the cost of a regular Vette? That car has 430bhp, is claimed to pass 60mph in 4.1sec and level out at 190mph, which you’d think is probably musclepower enough. However, there’s the other ultimate to be explored, the one that the Bob Lutz-Ring is planned to reveal.

That’s the informal name for the new high-speed handling circuit at General Motors’ Milford Proving Ground, a short way out of Detroit. It contains several of the Corvette engineers’ favourite chassis-stretching racetrack bends, plus a re-make of the Nürburgring’s Karussell. With its sweeps, blind crests and heart-in-mouth tests of a driver’s 3D memory, the Lutz-Ring really is its German inspiration in pocket-size form.

Suspension is set to Sport, obviously. Traction and stability systems are set to ‘competitive mode’, allowing quite a lot of slither while keeping a loose safety net for the benefit of GM’s insurance. Brave pills are swallowed.

They’re not working yet. The first lap reveals the ZR1 to be far too much car for such a tight and tortuous track. How can I form any meaningful assessment when it’s all I can do to keep the Corvette on the asphalt while trying to memorise the snaking route? Lap two, and some of the braking gives way to mere lift-offs as speed and confidence rise. The car shrinks and the track grows.

A few laps later, it’s making sense. The lap begins with a fast drop to a long, tightening right-hander, requiring two separate brake-and-turn sequences before powering, still turning, up a hill towards a crest. This, I soon learn, is where the grip from the bespoke Michelin Pilot Sport 2 tyres is the most extraordinary.

There always seems to be more grip – at the front anyway. Even when you expect it to finally understeer because you’ve just asked for an impossible turning effort, the steering still bites and the front wheels find more purchase. As confidence grows you can lean amazingly hard on the Corvette, then as maximum g-force seems to approach you can apply more power and feel the tail drift out for a final flourish before the next twist.

Such confidence comes quickly in the ZR1, because it’s a very understandable car. And that’s because it’s responses are very precise, linear and progressive, so you know exactly where you are with it. If you mis-remember a crest and you’re heading for trouble on the far side, the ZR1 lets you sort it out in your own time. And then, as you enter another long, high-g bend, you can feel the Corvette pivoting about its front wheels as you meter the energy to the rears, holding the gentlest of drifts if you like because that’s what it naturally does. It’s the epitome of the well-balanced rear-wheel-drive car.

It’s massively fast on-track, of course, especially when Jim Mero, who designed the track, is driving. I like to think that fragments of my laps were slightly like his, but had I attempted that first downhill right-hander at Mero speed, I’d have ended up in Illinois.

Anyway, car clearly does fit track. Light weight helps its flick-flick-through-chicane agility, achieved by making the understructure (as in the Z06) a replica in aluminium of the standard Corvette’s steelwork. There’s carbonfibre too, notably for the bonnet, the front wings, the inner wheelarches, the aerodynamic addenda (no less discreet than they need to be) and, most obviously, the roof.

Back in 1989, as I reported for primordial evo in the guise of Performance Car, the only previous Corvette to bear the ZR1 name (then hyphenated as ZR-1) had a Lotus-developed engine with four overhead camshafts, 32 valves, 5.7 litres and 375bhp. This one, too, has an aluminium block and heads, but it keeps the original small-block Chevy architecture of pushrods and two valves per cylinder. Yet it makes 638bhp from 6.2 litres, and still revs to 7000rpm. Clever idea, the supercharger. Wonder if it will catch on?


More on ZR1

Corvette ZR1 coupe

New 744bhp Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 Convertible debuts at LA motor show

Following the reveal of the Corvette ZR1 a few weeks ago, Chevrolet has announced an open-top version.
29 Nov 2017
Corvette ZR1 coupe

Chevrolet Corvette Z06 Convertible and Coupe specs, prices, pictures and video

Chevrolet has launched the new 650bhp supercharged Corvette Z06 Coupe and Convertible. Specs and details here
7 Jul 2014
Corvette ZR1 coupe

2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Z51 review, price and specs

The new Corvette C7 will be officially offered in the UK for the first time later this year. Is it good enough? Review and specs here
9 Jan 2014
Corvette ZR1 coupe

Corvette Stingray Hennessey 200mph video

Hennessey Performance - makers of the Venom GT - tune the new Corvette and hit 200mph on the road
18 Dec 2013
Corvette ZR1 coupe

SRT Viper TA edition specs and release date

The SRT Viper TA is a track focused version of the V10-engined supercar. Specs and pictures here
25 Nov 2013
Corvette ZR1 coupe

A-Z Supercars: Chevrolet Corvette ZR1

The ZR1 has always been the ultimate Vette, and this one’s the most powerful yet
4 Jun 2013
Corvette ZR1 coupe

Hennessey Venom claims production car record

The Hennessey Venom GT trumps the Bugatti Veyron Super Sport's top speed - kind of. Video here
3 Apr 2013
Corvette ZR1 coupe

Corvette Roadster unveiled at Geneva: pictures and details

The convertible version of the new C7 Corvette has been revealed at the Geneva motor show
5 Mar 2013
Corvette ZR1 coupe

SRT Viper Track Pack news and pictures

The SRT Viper gains a circuit-focused Track Pack option, with stronger brakes and a shaved kerbweight
28 Feb 2013
Corvette ZR1 coupe

2014 Corvette Stingray official pictures

It's official: the new for 2014 Chevrolet Corvette regains the Stingray badge and debuts at 2013 Detroit motor show
14 Jan 2013
Corvette ZR1 coupe

Chevrolet launches LT1 Corvette engine

Chevrolet has released details of the new LT1 V8 engine, which will power the 2014 Corvette
26 Oct 2012
Corvette ZR1 coupe

LA Show: tuner cars and oddities gallery

A picture gallery of all the tuned cars and odd sights at the 2011 Los Angeles motor show
17 Nov 2011
Corvette ZR1 coupe

Corvette C6 BlackforceOne

German tuner unveils 666bhp, very limited edition Corvette C6 BlackforceOne supercar
26 Nov 2009
Corvette ZR1 coupe

Corvette ZR1

Footage of the 638bhp Corvette ZR1 drifting its heart out on evo's recent test at the Ring
3 Jun 2009
Corvette ZR1 coupe

Corvette ZR1 details

GM announces UK price tag and production numbers
25 Sep 2008