Raising a bar set very high by its predecessor, the 2015 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 is undoubtedly the most sophisticated sports car ever produced by General Motors - let alone virtually any automaker.
The Z06 ushers in a host of new technologies for GM's flagship sports car: An eight-speed automatic gearbox, a trick Performance Data Recorder system, a new 6.2-liter supercharged engine and Michelin Pilot Super Sport Cup tires developed specifically for the highest-performance seventh-generation Corvette announced yet.
Given that the Z51 package-equipped 2014 Corvette Stingray boasts performance figures generally close to the outgoing Z06, expectations are high for the brand's new track-oriented model - especially since the standard 'Vette already includes the aluminum space frame that was previously reserved only for the Z06.
That aluminum frame carries over to the Z06 unchanged, but that's not to say that GM simply slapped some high-performance tires and stiffer springs on the Z06 and called it a day. Uniquely, the Corvette's aluminum frame will remain essentially unchanged for even the competition-only C7.R racing car.
Underneath the Z06's hood sits an all-new LT4 6.2-liter supercharged V8 engine rated at what Chevy estimates will be 625 horsepower and 635 lb-ft. of torque (figures will be confirmed closer to the Z06's on sale date late in 2014). Like the standard Corvette's V8, it also now includes continuously variable valve timing, cylinder deactivation (to reduce fuel consumption) and direct injection.
Supplying that extra boost is a 1.7-liter Eaton R1740 TVS supercharger that actually spins 5,000 rpm faster than the outgoing Corvette ZR1's unit. Other high-tech features include stronger aluminum cylinder heads, titanium intake valves, forged aluminum pistons and stainless steel exhaust headers. A larger capacity dry-sump oiling system is also included.
The V8 can be mated either to a seven-speed manual or a new eight-speed 8L90 automatic transmission with paddle shifters. Instead of fitting the 'Vette with a dual-clutch unit, the automaker's engineers worked to give the eight-speed gearbox "world class shift-response times." GM says that upshifts - at wide-open-throttle - are executed at eight-hundredths of a second quicker than those in the dual clutch-equipped Porsche 911.
Despite boasting two extra gears, the transmission takes up the same amount of space as the six-speed automatic unit currently used in the Corvette Stingray. Moreover, the eight-cog unit weighs about 8 lbs. less than the six-speed.
Although it is mere speculation at this point, we feel safe in estimating that a version of the eight-speed automatic will wind up in other rear-wheel-drive GM products in the future - namely the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups.
Z06 v. Z07
Early rumors indicating that the Z06 would give way to a Z07 predecessor were partially true; the standard car will be called Z06, while the decidedly more track-capable extra-cost package will be called Z07.
Aside from the name change, the Z07 adds Michelin Pilot Sport Cup tires, larger and carbon ceramic brakes and a number of downforce-enhanching aero bits. Chief among those aerodynamic add-ons is an adjustable rear spoiler that, GM says, gives the 'Vette the most aerodynamic downforce of any vehicle the automaker has ever found.
GM says it isn't quite done developing the Z07, but that early testing has indicated the new model is faster in many ways than even the ferocious outgoing ZR1.
Though the Z06 is unmistakably an evolution of the Stingray, it boasts a number of subtle differences. To accommodate its 285/30-19 front and 335/25-20 rear Z-rated Michelin Pilot Sport (or Sport Cup with the Z07 package) tires, the 'Vette's fenders were extended 2.2 inches up front (to counter 1.5 inch wider tires) and 3.15 inches at the rear (to counter 2 inch wider tires).
A unique rear fascia appears identical at first to the standard Stingray, but the Z06's tail lamps are three inches further apart to accommodate the extra width.
Three downforce levels will be available: Standard Z06, the Z07 described above and, in the middle, a carbon fiber aero package that adds aviation-style winglets to a unique front splitter, rocker panels and a taller rear spoiler all composed of, you guessed it, carbon fiber.
Up front, the Z06's front fascia mesh pattern not only looks unique, it actually provides better airflow to the supercharger's heat exchanger. GM says that the grill actually provides better airflow as-is than if it is removed entirely. More airflow-enhancing elements include a larger hood vent, fender vents and "air blade" style cooling ducts on the rear fenders to keep the transmission cool.
Changes inside are minimal: Unique color schemes, a flat-bottomed D-shaped steering wheel and a choice of GT "comfort" and Competition Sport seats.
The Z06 and optional Z07 package prices will be announced closer to the cars' on sale date late this year.
Live images by Mark Elias.