Sales of the once-hot Corvette Z06 have been in a deep freeze over the past few years, thanks to factors both extrinsic (the economic collapse of 2008) and intrinsic (the introduction of the lookalike Grand Sport model two years later) to the brand. For 2011, the Corvette command staff has lobbed a veritable cluster bomb of new production options into the heart of the Z06's target market-call it "Operation RPO Storm"-in an effort to reignite interest in the car.
Heading up the roster is the Z07 package, which borrows the larger wheels, Michelin Pilot Sport tires, Magnetic Selective Ride Control (MSRC) suspension, and carbon-ceramic brakes from the 638hp ZR1 supercar. The CFZ option, meanwhile, adds black-painted versions of the ZR1's exposed-carbon body pieces and a color-keyed rear spoiler, yielding a Z06 that bears a striking resemblance to its uplevel stablemate.
To prevent hand cramps from ticking off all those option boxes, simply opt for the Z06 Carbon limited edition (500 units), which incorporates all the Z07 and CFZ bits as well as a bulged carbon hood, suede interior appointments, a special engine cover, black wheels, and the obligatory selection of model-specific badging to help broadcast your order-sheet savvy to the uninitiated. Just don't expect to save much over the cost of a ZR1: At $15,705, the Carbon package nudges the Z06's sticker past the $90,000 mark-just 20 large shy of the "King of the Hill" Vette's.
All of this is, of course, academic to modestly compensated Fourth Estaters like us, which is why there was much jubilation around VETTE HQ over our most recent press-fleet acquisition: an Inferno Orange, Z07-and-CFZ-equipped '11 Z06 that this author immediately (if inexplicably) took to calling "The Poison Pumpkin." Over the course of the next week, we put the car through its paces on the street and dyno in an attempt to divine its true nature.
Like every other LS7 Vette we've sampled, this one was oozing with instantly available power across the rpm range (see just how much power in the accompanying dyno graph), making it possible to unleash short bursts of passing speed without dropping a gear-or simply disappear over the horizon by shuffling a cog or two. We've been slinging superlatives at GM's largest-ever small-block since late 2005, and the passage of time has done nothing to dim our enthusiasm.
Without access to a "base" Z06, we were unable to make any direct comparisons between that car's standard-issue Goodyear F1 Supercar tires and the gummier Michelins that come with the Z07 package. But if GM's test figures are to be believed-and we have no reason to believe they aren't-the new Pilots demonstrably increase the car's lateral grip without compromising comfort on the street. Certainly our experience seemed to bear this out, as this was by far the best-riding C6 Z06 we've driven to date. Much of the credit for this newfound gentility goes to the MSRC system, whose ability to react to road-surface changes in real time enabled engineers to employ fractionally softer springs on Z07-equipped models.
On the debit side, the clutch action on this particular car was unusually vague, the ZR1-spec brakes were ever-so-slightly noisy (raising the windows restored quietude), and the transmission tunnel radiated enough heat to send our photographer's iPhone into auto-shutdown mode on more than one occasion. While the jutting lip spoiler made surmounting speed bumps and steep driveway entrances an especially nerve- jangling affair, we're happy to report that the car completed its tour with us with its schnoz unmarred.
We've been ambivalent toward the Corvette's dual-mode exhaust in previous visitations, but the system on this latest car actually worked as advertised. Rather than emitting a brief, tentative blat just short of each high-rpm shift, the Pumpkin's mufflers cracked open earlier in the rev range to provide a progressively throatier tone as the throttle was depressed. Let's hope our test car wasn't an anomaly, and that the promise of this clever technology has finally been realized.
Minor cavils aside, this track-day specialist comported itself with admirable civility in everyday driving, particularly with the MSRC knob switched to "Tour" to further blunt impact harshness. That said, the car's big-bore power and gunfighter reflexes make for a deadly serious combination, as we were reminded when we desensitized the stability-control system to make a banzai run through the lower gears. Though subtle refinements to the suspension tuning have dialed back the Z06's hip-wiggling proclivities over the years, this is still a car that does not suffer fools gladly. Our advice to the average (and even above-average) driver? Leave the electronic minders on and live to power-slide another day.
Like the Grand Sport that preceded them, the Z07 and CFZ packages cadge existing hardware from an uplevel model and cannily redeploy it in a more affordable form. And like the Grand Sport, these vehicles may well succeed by poaching sales from the very car that inspired them. Such parts-bin legerdemain may be good for propping up sales in the short term, but its viability as an ongoing brand strategy seems dubious.
But maybe we're over-thinking things. With a freshened model just over the horizon, offerings such as these are, at a minimum, reassuring evidence that Team Corvette isn't just phoning it in. After all, if they're willing to lavish this much attention on the slow-selling, six-year-old Z06, we can't wait to see what other treats they're planning for 2012 and beyond.