2019 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 First Review
- Starting Price: $119,995
- Max Capacity: 2 Passengers
- Engine: 6.2-liter supercharged V8, 755 horsepower, 715 pound-feet of torque
- Transmission: 7-speed manual or 8-speed automatic
- Fuel Economy: 13/19 mpg (manual), 12/20 mpg (automatic)
- Similar: Audi R8, Mercedes-AMG SL63, Porsche 911 Turbo S
When you attend a symphony what defines the experience? Is it the pronounced rumble of the bass drum? The deep tone of the bassoon? The bright call of the flutes? No, it’s the combination of these and dozens of other instruments in synchronized harmony. That’s what driving the 2019 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 is like. During the ZR1’s technical presentation the Corvette team described over a dozen specialized components and advanced systems that make the ZR1 unique among Corvettes (and modern cars in general). Like a talented musician, any one of those items would have impressed the journalists in attendance. But it wasn’t until we drove the Corvette ZR1, on both public roads and the demanding Road Atlanta racecourse, that the symphony of its advanced systems revealed itself.
As expected, much of the new Corvette ZR1’s design and performance features build on the previous C7 performance top dog, the Z06. For example, both the ZR1 and Z06 feature a supercharged 6.2-liter direct-injected V8 with a dry-sump oil system. But the ZR1’s hand-built LT5 engine outguns the Z06 by more than 100 horsepower (755 versus 650) and 65 pound-feet of torque (715 versus 650). A 52 percent larger supercharger, bazooka-shaming 95-millimeter throttle bodies and an upgraded airbox, good for 17 additional horsepower under track conditions, contribute to the ZR1’s superior numbers. Two transmission options, an 8-speed automatic or 7-speed manual, send power to the ZR1’s rear wheels through an electronic limited-slip differential.
The LT5’s larger supercharger couldn’t easily be contained under the standard Corvette hood, so engineers created a new ZR1-specific “halo” hood with an opening for the carbon-fiber-wrapped intercooler. This opening shows off the engine while allowing underhood heat extraction flowing from the ZR1’s larger vertical opening in the front grille. A total of 13 heat extractors, including four new front-facing outboard radiators, further enhance the ZR1’s cooling capacity.
The carbon fiber engine cover is part of a comprehensive exterior design language featuring the lightweight material. A new carbon fiber front splitter, rocker panels, air extractors and rear wing communicate the ZR1’s performance mission while helping keep curb weight below 3,600 lbs. The standard ZR1 rear wing is similar to the Z06 in size and location while the optional, stanchion-mounted high wing (part of the ZTK performance package) is anything but subtle. Offering up to 950 pounds of downforce at the ZR1’s 212 mph top speed, this wing works with a new front underwing to balance front-to-rear downforce.
It was this level of downforce, along with the ZR’1 standard Magnetic Ride Control suspension and advanced performance traction management, that provided confidence when exercising those 755 horses around Road Atlanta’s 2.54-mile race course. Tadge Juechter, the Corvette’s Executive Chief Engineer, told us the ZR1’s aero package is already producing substantial downforce at 70 mph. Given our speed was more than twice that through Road Atlanta’s turn 9 on the backstraight, we liked hearing this. Dialing in the ZR1’s “Track” driving mode and letting its advanced traction control system dole out power allowed us to make the most of Road Atlanta’s 12 turns. With that much power things can go wrong quickly, but the ZR1’s standard Brembo 15-inch carbon ceramic disc brakes and aluminum monoblock calipers (6-piston front, 4-piston rear) never hinted at fade over the course of multiple track sessions.
Which brings us back to the synchronized nature of the 2019 Corvette ZR1. The car’s engine, aerodynamics, suspension, traction control management and brake system would impress under any circumstance, but hammering the car around Road Atlanta illustrated the seamless integration of these design elements, resulting in the classic “greater than the sum of its parts” experience. Better still, the ZR1’s proclivity for racetracks (it’s already set multiple production car lap records) doesn’t preclude it from everyday functionality.
During the press event we spoke with Mark Reuss, General Motors’ Executive Vice President, Global Product Development, about his experience driving a ZR1 in a late-spring snowstorm. Despite the car’s track-oriented Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires Mr. Reuss navigated Detroit’s snow-packed mean streets without incident. He also mentioned the ZR1’s available “stealth mode” that keeps the exhaust note on the down-low, perfect when making those early-morning commutes without annoying the neighbors. Our own experience on the slightly warmer, sunny roads outside Atlanta mirrored his experience, with the ZR1 delivering a composed ride and minimal exhaust boom while in “Tour” mode. Driving this car across the U.S. would be easy.
At a starting price of $119,995 ($123,995 for convertible) the 2019 Chevrolet Corvette packs a lot of performance bang into a relatively small amount of bucks. Finding another production vehicle in this price range that delivers zero to 60 mph in 2.85 seconds, zero to 100 mph in 6 seconds, the ¼-mile in 10.6 seconds (at 134 mph) and 187 mph in the standing mile is not possible. It’s safe to say Chevrolet has established a new performance standard with the ZR1. We’ll see how long it takes the competition to catch up.