When the C6 Z06 was first unveiled to the public at the 2005 Detroit Auto Show, it was an immediate sensation. It provided a 105-horsepower bump over the standard LS2, and, thanks to its new aluminum structure, it was the lightest Corvette in more than 40 years. For three years the Z06 was the Corvette line's top performance offering. That all changed when the 638hp ZR1 was introduced in 2009, and Z06 sales took a nosedive. Remarkably, only 402 '10 Z06s had been built through April of this year, accounting for a mere 4 percent of total production. For 2011, the Corvette design team decided to breathe some new life into the car, in an attempt to reverse the trend.
From a performance standpoint, one of the most notable changes involves the addition of new "Generation 2" F1 Supercar rubber courtesy of Goodyear. According to Corvette Chief Engineer Tadge Juechter, these tires matched the wet and dry performance of the ZR1's Michelin PS2s in testing.
Another tweak worth mentioning centers around the car's exhaust system. The retuning includes a ZR1 X-crossover pipe and new muffler solenoids to modulate the sound. These solenoids provide a unique "burbling" effect when the car is downshifted. Bowling Green Assembly Plant employee Mark Gardner took us for a ride in an '11 Z06 during the National Corvette Museum's recent C5/C6 Birthday Bash. We really liked the retuned exhaust's more aggressive tone and the nice rumble it provided during spirited driving. Gardner also performed a high-speed drive by for us, and the Z06 sounded very authoritative when it flashed by.
In addition to the Z06's standard-equipment updates, three new option packages will be available. Two may be ordered individually, while the third is a limited-production offering combining elements of the other two.
Let's start with the Z07. When you check this box, you get Brembo ceramic brakes, Magnetic Selective Ride Control, Michelin PS2 ZP tires, and 20-spoke Competition Gray wheels-all from the ZR1 parts bin. The CFZ package, meanwhile, includes a black-painted carbon-fiber splitter, rockers, and roof, plus a full, body-colored rear spoiler.
The final option is the ULZ Carbon Limited Edition. Only 500 will be built, and these will be available only in Inferno Orange or Supersonic Blue. The ULZ includes the Z07 and CFZ options, plus a raised carbon hood. It's also fitted with black wheels, mirrors, and headlights, along with standard body-colored door handles. Special suede interior enhancements include a covered steering wheel, seat inserts, door pulls, an armrest cover, and door panels. The cabin is finished off with body-colored stitching, special carbon badging pressed into the headrests, and a set of custom covered pedals. Juechter has found that Z07-equipped cars are 3 seconds a lap quicker on the GM test track, as compared with a stock Z06. He credits the carbon brakes and the Magnetic Ride Control for the improvement.
The rest of the 2011 lineup also offers more choices. These include blue, yellow, or red interior stitching and contrasting headlight-bucket colors (Cyber Gray, Black, or Blade Silver). The J55 cross-drilled brakes will be available on the standard coupe and convertible, and base C6s will receive a new standard wheel design (available in QG6 Silver, RQ1 Machine Faced, QX1 Competition Gray, and QX3 Chrome). Magnetic Selective Ride Control will be available on all models.
On the performance side, Grand Sport coupes and convertibles fitted with a manual transmission will come with the new Goodyear Gen 2 Supercar tires at no extra cost. More notably, the active handling system will offer a dual steering mode. When the system is placed on the performance setting, the steering stiffens to provide a more precise feel of the road. This calibration is intended to help the driver on serpentine pavement or when running at a track event.
Also new is the addition of a "D" mode to the six-speed automatic. This setting will allow drivers to change gears with the paddle shifters when the car is in Drive. (Previously, a shift to the Sport setting was required to use this feature.) The transmission returns to automatic operation if the paddles aren't used for more than 10 seconds.
Finally, cars outfitted with the U3U Navigation System will come with a USB port and input jack. This feature can be found under the center armrest, leaving plenty of room for an iPod or USB flash drive.
Overall, the '11 Corvette lineup has undergone a significant number of subtle enhancements that should make an already great car even greater. We're happy to see the Z06 receiving some much-needed attention, and hope that these incremental improvements help restore the car to sales salubrity. The $75,235 Z is still one of the best performance buys on the planet; losing it to buyer indifference would be a tragedy indeed.