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2018 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 performance review

By Jethro Bovingdon, 13 Oct 2018 Reviews

2018 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 review

America’s take on an all-out circuit monster


That’s the big headline-grabbing figure that puts clear air between the Corvette ZR1 and other track-focused supercars like the Porsche 911 GT2 RS, McLaren 600LT and even the Ferrari Pista. It’s a hell of a headline. But the figure that blows my mind and gives a hint of what this car actually feels like is the peak torque number.

The ZR1’s LT5 6.2-litre supercharged V8 generates 968Nm at 3600rpm. Big cubes plus a 2.65-litre Eaton TVS Roots-type supercharger simply laughs in the face of these highly strung European contenders.

Brands like Ferrari, Porsche and McLaren have proven that circa-520kW can be exploitable, predictable and almost feel entirely natural. But what hope does a front-engined, rear-drive Corvette have of doing the same?

The Corvette guys have thrown more than just grunt at the ZR1. Brakes are monster monobloc Brembos – six-pots at the front, four-pots out back – biting down on 394mm and 388mm carbon-ceramic discs respectively.

Like the Z06 it features magnetic dampers and an e-diff, although the hardware is retuned for the ZR1. To make up for the size and mass of the engine and its 13 heat exchangers, carbon-fibre wings, roof, bonnet and engine cover, rear quarter panels, rear hatch, front splitter and rear wing feature. The front-end flows 41 per cent more air, too.

In the news: Hennessey reveals 895kW ZR1 upgrade

The final piece of the jigsaw is down to you, the customer. Want the fastest ZR1? Tick the box for the eight-speed automatic. It’s not a dual-clutcher, sadly, but it’s still quicker than working the standard seven-speed manual. Either way you’re still looking at 0-100km/h in around 3.0 seconds.

Top speed? That depends. Go for the low-wing car and the ZR1 tops out at 341km/h, but most people are opting for the ZTK Performance Package. It comprises Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres, uprated springs, retuned dampers and a radical aerodynamic upgrade including a big rear wing. So configured the ZR1 runs out of juice at 325km/h but produces up to 430kg of downforce.

Let’s start in the ZTK-equipped machine because… well, you would, wouldn’t you? It looks deliciously OTT from the outside with the LT5 literally bursting out of the engine bay and carbon flicks, slashes and wings everywhere you look.

It’s not exactly elegant, but it sends out a message. As do the 335-section Cup 2s, which appear to have even less tread than usual. They’re half-slick, like the barely-there tread pattern has been tattooed onto the rubber rather than carved into it.

Part of you wants to run away and hide, yet you find yourself opening the door and dropping down into the driver’s seat with a grin and sweaty palms ready for the event.

The view over – scrap that, beside – the carbon-shrouded motor feels immediately restrictive. You want to crane your neck to see up and over the power bulge. However, it takes just a few seconds to adjust and pretty soon you feel at ease.

You can never forget or ignore that huge structure, but you learn to enjoy that it’s there. I’d say it’s a nice reminder of the power under your right foot, but you don’t need one. The noise and response is so extreme that the ZR1 always feels absurdly, wonderfully potent. It’s brilliant.

The engine is simply stunning. It hauls hard from idle, feels vicious through the mid-range and then morphs again as you rip up into the upper reaches. Perhaps it doesn’t have the frenzied feel of a McLaren 720S – the ZR1 weighs 1615kg, remember – but the weight of its punch feels so heavy and the reach is endless.

I’m in the eight-speed auto and it adds to the sense that the ZR1 just doesn’t ever slow-up. Give me the manual gearbox any day, though. This ‘box is quick, but it lacks the wonderfully sharp upshifts of a Porsche PDK or any other dual-clutch.

Of course, that a 563kW car is fast is not news. Can the C7 chassis handle it? Mostly, it can. The ZR1 has fantastic turn-in and carries huge mid-corner speed, the brakes are nothing short of fantastic and the car also communicates nicely through its quick, well-weighted steering.

It also puts its power down pretty well on the road. So much so that soon your confidence grows and then, suddenly, the ZR1 starts to unravel: big bumps catch it out and the car’s body control loses its consistency.

Try to get on the power early and the electronics have to step in smartly. The PTM (Performance Traction Management) actually works with real subtlety in Sport and Race modes, but even so the ZR1 does seem to be fighting the road rather than flowing over it.

If you’re really brave and push through these signals the ZR1 is a pretty sharp-edged device. Understeer is simply not an issue on the road, but the onset of oversteer is sudden and extremely intimidating.

On track things improve and there’s no question the aero kit provides real high-speed stability, but in slower and medium-speed turns the ZR1 still feels uncomfortable beyond the limit of the tyres’ grip. It never settles down and requires a lot of work at the wheel to extract a quick time.

MOTOR review: Corvette Grand Sport

In the end the Corvette ZR1 is a source of frustration. I adore the engine, love the brakes and appreciate how much speed it can carry through a corner. Yet I can’t help thinking that a front-engined/rear drive car should be friendlier and more playful at the limit. And that a car aiming to offer an extreme driving experience along the lines of a GT3 RS, but with way more performance, should be more composed on challenging roads.

Funnily enough the low-wing car with less aggressive suspension settings and more conventional Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres is the much sweeter road car. Still slightly rough around the edges, but more poised, less edgy.

In the end you can only conclude that the ultimate ZR1 is the one that doesn’t try to stand toe-to-toe with the likes of the GT2 RS and Pista. In the context of those cars the ultimate Corvette lacks polish and feels heavy and clumsy. The low-wing car puts those comparisons out of your mind though, and frees you up to focus on and enjoy the incredible LT5 engine.

The ZR1 really is all about those headline numbers and when the V8 is a full cry I’m pretty sure you’ll be fine with that.

Tested and rated on MOTOR reviews

 6162cc V8, OHV, 16v, supercharger
Power: 563kW @ 6300rpm
Torque: 968Nm @ 3600rpm
Weight: 1615kg
0-100km/h:  3.0sec (est.)
Price: $300,000+ (est.)

Like: Take-your-breath-away levels of stonk; glorious soundtrack; track focus
Dislike: The ‘lesser’ car is the car to have; won’t be cheap to get your hands on one in Oz 

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

The Nemesis

Mercedes-AMG GT R
4.0-litre twin-turbo V8, RWD, 430kW/700Nm, 0-100km/h 3.6sec 1555kg, $351,130

AMG’s bruiser might lose out on cubes, but it sounds as angry as the Corvette and is undoubtedly as capable on a racetrack (maybe even more so). It’s also packed with tech and more readily available to buy in Oz.