There is an ancient Chinese curse that goes something like this: “May you live in interesting times.” The implication being that “interesting” can also equal difficult and patience-testing.
In automotive terms, that could be paraphrased as, “May you drive an interesting automobile,” and I can think of no more appropriate candidate than the Corvette Z06. Interesting? Without a doubt. Difficult to get along with and patience-trying? True also.
Now available with three engine choices and offered as a hardtop coupe or convertible, the ’Vette is an American icon. It debuted in 1953, and originally had a tweaked straight-six engine taken from Chevy’s regular model lineup. Those days are long gone, and my tester, a Z06 with the LS7 package and the optional 7.0-litre engine, is good for more than 500 horsepower, giving it a 0-100 km/h time of much less than five seconds and a top speed of – well, how much road do you have?
This is truly a fast, tear-it-up automobile that reminds you of this every time you slip behind the wheel. It absolutely erupts into life and the six-speed manual transmission is uncompromising and old-school. A six-speed automatic with shift paddles is also available and the manual comes with a launch control feature.
Which leads to interesting/annoying feature number one. At engine speeds of less than 1,500 rpm, the transmission shifts directly from first to fourth. This is known as “skip shift” and the output of the V-8 engine is so prodigious, it can handle the low-rev load, no problem. However, sometimes the linkage gets hung up and you end up in a gearless no-man’s land and have to double-clutch to find your way back to second or third. Originally introduced as a gas-saving feature, the skip shift is of dubious merit.
Speaking of low speeds, because of the massive front tires (P275/35ZR18), manoeuvres such as backing up or parking are hellish. The front end of the car simply does not want to turn at low speeds and makes a frightening racket every time you try. The first time I parallel-parked (an adventure in itself), I honestly thought I’d damaged something. These tires are run-flats, by the way.
Moving on to the suspension: GM’s magnetic ride control is standard on the ’Vette, and it is responsive and infinitely adjustable. That said, this car has one of the harshest and roughest rides I’ve ever experienced in a street car – and I drove Morgans for years.
If you like a buckboard-hard ride, no problem, but don’t expect to be pampered here. And the aforementioned fat tires catch every dimple, rut, and deviation in the road – especially if the pavement is uneven – so you’re continually correcting and compensating with the steering wheel. Construction zones are a nightmare.
On the other hand, the 427 engine is a delight. Massive amounts of power and torque are available almost instantly, and you get a satisfying, anti-social bellow every time you hit the throttle. You can get yourself in trouble with the law before you can say “skip shift.” This engine is rated at 505 horsepower, which, combined with the car’s 1,461-kilogram weight, makes for a serious power-to-weight ratio. Make no mistake, the Z06 is in the upper stratosphere when it comes to performance and can run with the Porsche Carrera or Mercedes-Benz SL all day.
My Convertible model had a power top accessed via a lower-dashboard-mounted button, and a big centre locking handle front and centre. It takes about 20 seconds to deploy and stows neatly away beneath a cool fibreglass tonneau. I had to wrestle with mine when I raised/lowered the top; the centre locking mechanism is tight and the top itself stopped halfway during deployment. This could be a safety feature.
Other accoutrements with the LS7 version include a special carbon-fibre hood ($890), and the usual modcons: heated power seats, push-button start, heads-up display and XM radio. The ’Vette is an old-school sports car, no question, but it’s a well-equipped one.
A word about price. The base Convertible starts at $76,600, but with a few options, such as the 427 engine package ($17,940), and Chevy’s 60th Anniversary Design Package ($2,700), which includes special white paint, blue leather seats, highlighted brake calipers and other goodies, you’re up and over the 100-grand mark before you know it.
At this year’s AJAC TestFest, the Corvette Convertible was one of the candidates in the “Over $75,000 Prestige/Performance Car” category. It lost to the Porsche 911 Carrera. Not because it’s slower or less agile – it isn’t – but because it’s one of the most uncompromising sports cars on the market. This car is all about performance and speed while comfort, convenience and all that other sissy stuff are secondary. I loved driving it, but wouldn’t want to have it as my daily transportation.
2013 Chevrolet Corvette 427 Convertible
Base Price: $76,600; as tested: $112,635
Engine: 7.0-litre V-8 Horsepower/torque: 505 hp/470 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 14.3 city/8.3 highway; premium gas
Alternatives:Porsche 911 Carrera Cabriolet, Mercedes-benz SL-Class, Audi R8 Spyder, BMW Z4