Given the gushing praise from automotive observers and industry professionals, it didn’t seem as if the new Chevrolet (NYSE:GM) Corvette could be improved on in many significant ways. At stock, the car pushes 460 horsepower and around 455 pound-feet of torque; more impressively, for a car in its class, the Corvette can manage near 30 miles per gallon on the highway through the use of some clever computer work.
This all means that Chevrolet’s inevitable higher-performance version of the new ‘Vette would have to be pretty spectacular to adequately differentiate itself from its entry-level sibling. Fortunately, General Motors engineers were up to the task, and the new Corvette Z06 — introduced on Monday at the North American International Auto Show — promises to be one insane car.
Horsepower is bumped by nearly 200 to “at least” 625, while torque is at an equally impressive 635 pound-feet thanks to the liberal application of supercharging. This isn’t just on par with the last generation of the Z06, which went out of production after the 2013 model year: This is nearly equal to the last Corvette ZR1, which ran in the arena of $110,000. Provided that Chevrolet is keen to fill the ZR1′s spot for the new generation, this seems to imply that buyers can obtain old ZR1 performance for a price comparable to the last generation of the Z06, which went for about $75,000. The official pricing of the 2015 Z06 will be announced closer to its launch date.
Appearance-wise, the new Z06 doesn’t present any huge surprises. The model is clearly bred to feel at home on a track, with some added aero bits that the stock ‘Vette doesn’t have. With the Z07 Performance Package, the car is adorned with ”unique components for true aerodynamic downforce,” some Michelin Pilot Super Sport Cup tires for better traction, and Brembo carbon ceramic-matrix brake rotors that weigh less and offer better braking performance, as well as enhanced handling.
“Although development testing is ongoing, the Z07 package has already recorded some of the fastest lap times ever for a Corvette, surpassing even the ZR1,” GM said in a statement.
Not surprisingly, the new Z06 traces its roots back to the C6.R, the racing version of the last generation of the Corvette. “The Corvette Z06 is a great example of the technology transfer between racing and production Corvettes,” said Tadge Juechter, Corvette’s chief engineer, in the company statement. “First, we took what we learned on the Corvette Racing C6.R and applied that to the all-new Corvette Stingray. Then, using the Stingray as a foundation, the Z06 and C7.R were developed to push the envelope of performance on the street and the track.”
The Corvette Z06 isn’t just a hotter version of the stock ‘Vette, though — it also represents a number of firsts for Chevrolet and for the Corvette nameplate. See the roof panel in the image above? That’s removable, thanks to a stiffer frame that doesn’t rely on the roof structure for rigidity.
Buyers can also choose from a seven-speed gearbox or a new eight-speed unit, the latter of which “offers drivers the comfort and drivability of a true automatic transmission, as well as lightning-fast shifts and manual control for track driving.”
“There’s no trade-off in drivability with the new 8L90 eight-speed automatic transmission — it was designed to deliver performance on par with dual-clutch designs, but without sacrificing refinement,” said Bill Goodrich, assistant chief engineer for eight-speed automatic transmissions. “It is also the highest-capacity automatic transmission ever offered in a Chevrolet car.”
Update: We now know exactly why the Z06 is meant to step on the toes of the previous ZR1: an exclusive report published by Autoblog says that Chevrolet is not currently considering a ZR1 variant for the Corvette range, leaving the Z06 to head the line for the time being. From a price point. Juechter told Autoblog that if you were able to afford a C6 ZR1, you can afford a new Z06. Further, the creation of a new ZR1 would necessitate “significant investment in design, testing and certification for negligible performance gains,” so Chevrolet is letting the name rest, at least for now.