The 2015 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 exceeded my expectations. Let me put that in context. The Corvette Z06 is (currently) the ultimate 'Vette. It offers a 650-horsepower supercharged V8 engine and the Z07 performance package ramps things up to racecar levels with the carbon ceramic brakes. A performance data monitor logs your track speeds and gives you the ability to download your times and telemetry, and actually watch your lap on a Bing-supplied map of whatever track you were on. The Z06 looks amazing, its tires are specially designed by Michelin, and from the moment you start it and hear that big V8 bark to life, you know you're in for something special.

And with all that billing -- and the fact that the standard-issue Corvette Stingray is no slouch to begin with -- the new Chevrolet Corvette Z06 was even better than I thought it would be. 

On the Track

I wasn't quite prepared when the Corvette's Vehicle Development Engineer for Chassis Controls Alex MacDonald slammed on the Z06's carbon ceramic brakes at about 140 mph at the end of the front straight on Spring Mountain Raceway's south loop. "Ho, JEEZ!" or something like it escaped my mouth as my body compressed against the seatbelt and forced the air from my lungs. I swear I've been in actual collisions that didn't decelerate that quickly. A quick right, and back on the power, the monstrous, incredible, seamless power. Shortly thereafter, a banked left hander slid my insides to the right, compressing me against the upgraded sport seats, the cornering forces pegging the car's internal accelerometer at more than 1.25g. 

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I've ridden around racetracks in high-performance cars plenty of times, and it's always equal parts entertaining, education...and humility. But there was one overriding difference between these laps and others: the way Alex's hands moved. Or rather, didn't. He wasn't fighting the car, countersteering to battle the prodigious power of the car's V8 engine. Rather, he simply pointed the car and steered. It was something I felt myself earlier: the level of control in the Corvette Z06, especially with the Z07 performance package, is unexpected and most welcome in such a powerful car. A front-engine/rear-drive sports car doesn't usually lend itself to such neutral handling, yet the Z06's electronically controlled limited slip differential is specifically designed to keep the Corvette stable, even with a ham-fisted driver such as myself behind the wheel. How fast is it? The new C7 Corvette Z06 beat the old C6 Corvette ZR1 around Virginia International Raceway's Grand Course by more than 4 seconds. If you know the track, that's practically a lifetime. 

On the Street

So, OK, the new Corvette is fast on the track. We could've guessed that going into it. And, the Z06 has been the epitome of track performing Corvettes since, well, since it was basically the let's-go-racing option back in 1963, and through its reincarnation in the C5 and C6 Corvettes of the past two decades.

However, those cars sacrificed road livability on the altar of track performance in ways that are already well documented. Couple that history with the fact that this newest Corvette, this seventh-generation version, boasts world-class levels of refinement and sophistication, and I was a little worried that the Z06 would be too much for the street. Instead, it shines.

The 2015 Corvette Z06 loses very little around town in terms of sophistication and refinement to the standard Corvette Stingray. Yes, its big tires make more noise, and yes, the engine is definitely more audible at full throttle. But aside from that, it's a pussycat. Leave it in Touring mode -- or better yet, Eco -- and the exhaust quiets down at anything other than wide open throttle. It's even reasonably fuel efficient, returning a little better than 20 mpg over a moderately driven 50-mile stretch. It transforms from track star to grand tourer as soon as you leave the track.

Automatically at the Head of the Class

Also new for this high performance 'Vette is an 8-speed automatic transmission, the first automatic ever in a Z06. At first blush, the idea of an automatic transmission in a car like this may sound anathema, but for one thing: It's the better transmission. Don't get me wrong, the 7-speed manual is terrific, too, with an amazingly easy clutch, quick shifts, and automatic rev matching on downshifts that let you concentrate on driving. Yet the automatic does even better. Just put it in Drive, and it does all the shifting for you, matching revs on downshifts, knowing precisely what gear to pick for the conditions, and just staying out of the way the rest of the time. You can paddle shift if you want, and the gear changes are very quick; a stopwatch says they're slower than some dual-clutch automated manuals, but it's unlikely anybody will notice the additional milliseconds. Around town, it just drives like any other automatic-equipped car. Oh, and those 2.95-second 0-60 mph times you see attached to the Z06? Those were done with the automatic. 

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Interestingly, the Corvette's new 8-speed automatic transmission isn't from an outside source, but was developed in-house. Chrysler, BMW, Jaguar, and many other manufacturers also have 8-speed automatics, but from supplier ZF, and it's a darn good one. When I asked why GM decided to reinvent the wheel, rather than just use ZF's gearbox, I was told about different design goals, weight targets, and other transmission minutiae. Then, the engineer said something else: "We don't know of a ZF application that can handle 850 horsepower." That's 200 more horsepower than the Z06, and very interesting considering rumors of a mid-engine super Corvette coming in a couple of years.

Best of the Best

For the past year, I've been telling anybody who asks that this current generation Corvette is the best ever. On sale now, the 2015 Z06 is the best of the breed, a thoroughbred that expands the performance envelope tremendously, but still manages to retain the vast portion of the C7's civility around town. At a starting price of about $80,000 for coupes and $85,000 for convertibles, or even the roughly $105,000 price of the cars we tested (including $8,000 for the Z07 upgrade), it's a bargain, too. Whatever comes next, there's no doubt that for now the 2015 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 is simply the best of the best. 

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