In our Dec. '11 issue ("Treat or Trick?"), we grappled with the question of whether Team Corvette's predilection for option packages and special editions had finally reached the point of diminishing returns, yielding a superficially appealing car that would ultimately prove to be less than the sum of its parts. Happily the answer was no, as that Z06 showed itself to be a surpassingly well-executed synthesis of appearance- and performance-enhancing hardware--even if much of it was glommed directly from the flagship ZR1.
Our latest Z06 tester--this one a '12 model kitted up with Chevy's most recent historical self-encomium, the Centennial Special Edition (RPO ZLC, $4,950)--furnished us with another opportunity to validate the company's favored approach. Like our last Z, it was also equipped with the Z07 Ultimate Performance Package ($7,500), which requires the addition of the CFZ Carbon Fiber Package and includes new-for-'12 Michelin Pilot Sport Cup tires on lightweight Cup wheels. Throw in the top-line 3LZ trim level, and the final tally was a fibrillation-inducing $101,760, as compared with the Z06 base price of $75,600. We'll leave the cost/benefit calculation to you, pausing only to note that the 638hp ZR1 starts at just over $111,000 and can also be ordered in Centennial Special Edition form.
The latter package's most identifiable feature is the option-specific Carbon Flash Metallic paint with satin-black graphics, a scheme yielding a Corvette that is the very aesthetic antipode of the Inferno Orange extrovert we drove last fall. Wheel-cap, B-pillar, and steering-wheel badges featuring the likeness of marque founder Louis Chevrolet pay homage to the 100th anniversary of the Chevy brand, while the seat headrests are embossed with a subtle centennial logo.
Speaking of the seats, they've been significantly revamped for 2012, though likely not to a degree sufficient to quash the caviling from the mainstream auto mags. Microfiber suede accents--which also appear on the wheel, shifter, and armrest--lend the cabin a decidedly upscale feel, but we have to wonder how well they're stand up to repeat encounters with oil-smeared elbows and Cheeto-dusted fingers.
While the Centennial package itself has no discernible downside (other than price), specifying the Cup rubber requires a special level of commitment on the part of the buyer. To begin with, these track-bred tires carry a treadwear rating of 80, roughly equivalent to that of a half-melted Mallomar. The shallow grooves and burly shoulder blocks look like a recipe for hydroplaning, and you'll soon grow weary of gas-station kibitzers informing you that "them tires sure look worn."
On the upside, the mighty Michelins confer a positively supernatural quantum of dry-pavement grip--1.1g according to Chevy--meaning you'll no longer have to enlist a support vehicle to haul your race rubber to the weekend HPDE. Out in the real world, the faint patter of road sand plinking off the undercarriage as you putter through the Home Depot parking lot serves a constant reminder that you are, in fact, The Man (or Woman).
Extolling the palmary traits of the Z06's new-in-'06 LS7 engine feels almost unnecessary at this point, but despite its age, this 427-cube, 505-horse continues to impress. Torque is immense and omnipresent, to the extent that knifing through slow-moving traffic or blasting past a back-road malingerer can typically be accomplished without a downshift. And while early C6 Z06s evinced hair-trigger reflexes that could catch an inexperienced driver unawares, our Centennial Z's standard launch-control system and multi-mode stability program made tapping into the LS7's prodigious thrust notably less harrowing.
Stopping is a similarly low-drama affair. Just romp the center pedal, and the ZR1-spec carbon brakes bite down hard enough to hang you up in a seatbelt like some sort of demented Six Flags ride. Detaching your retinas has never more entertaining.
As good as the Michelins are, we're inclined to think that the standard Goodyear F1s installed on non-Z07 cars will furnish a more suitable balance of comfort, performance, and durability for the vast majority of Z06 buyers. With that in mind, we'll further suggest that Chevy consider offering the Cup wheel/tire package as a separate, uninstalled option.
So, in the final analysis, does the Centennial Edition Z06 deliver an ownership experience worthy of its august appellation? It takes a team of CIA cryptographers to order, a chest full of doubloons to pay for, and the skills of Johnny O to push to its limits. Those might seem like insurmountable hurdles in a lesser car, but for one whose appeal is predicated largely on its exclusivity and driving dynamics, this celebratory salvo seems just about perfect.