So ferocious, so powerful, so cool.Matthew DeBord/BI
- The Chevy Corvette ZR1 is the most powerful Vette General Motors has ever produced.
- The 755-horsepower ZR1 is surprisingly easy to drive on public roads, but the car has the kind of specs that enable it to shame supercars on a race track.
- I was staggered by the ZR1’s power, but I actually found it pleasing for slo-mo cruising.
If there’s any true substance to all the rumors and spy-shoots flying around the internet, the next-generation of the Chevy Corvette — a car that’s been in continuous production since 1953 — will not have the engine up front where it belongs but rather in the middle.
This will make for a better race car — Corvette Racing has been notching prestigious victories for years — but if the motor moves, the eighth-generation Vette will be a whole new ball game.
Things change and there’s no point in defying progress. But until the new Vette arrives, we have a bevy of gen-seven Vettes to enjoy.
There’s the magnificent Stingray, Business Insider’s 2014 Car of the Year. Then the Grand Sport, in my view the best bang for the buck in sports cars on planet Earth. For the fearless, there’s the beastly Z06, Bowling Green’s version of a supercar.
And finally, the ZR1. If the Z06 turns Corvette up to 11 with 650 horsepower, the ZR1 takes it to 111, or, 1,111, or just trashes the amplifier dials altogether and creates a white-hot supernova of noise and power. The same V8 engine that provides the Z06 with its epic output, when modified and ridiculously intensified, generates a near-comical 755 horsepower in the ZR1.
The ZR1 designation has come and gone in the Vette’s history, first arriving in a special package in 1970 on the third-generation car. There was a gen-four ZR1, but no gen-five version. Gen six also saw a ZR1. Gen seven has been around since 2014, but the ZR1 arrived for the 2019 model year.
The latest ZR1 isn’t for the faint of heart. If you don’t like huge rear carbon-fiber wings and low front aero technology, you might want to look elsewhere — like at the Stingray or the Grand Sport. I did not look elsewhere when on a week-long visit to the Motor City, Chevy kindly loaned me a roughly $137,000 2019 ZR1 to sample.
There was a surprise in store for me. Read on to find out what it was.
OK, so what was ZR1 like to drive?
I’m not going to shock anyone by saying that I could have used a drag strip or the Nürburgring to undertake a proper evaluation. The ZR1 has so much power and is so well outfitted to deploy it that mere public roads were not much of a challenge.
Weirdly, while I was initially terrified of the ZR1 and drove it gingerly for the first few hours, my comfort level later skyrocketed, regardless of which drive mode was on tap. This was not the case when I tested the Z06 and felt that it was endlessly demanding more bandwidth.
With that car, I could get into some of the meat of the V8’s 650 ponies. But when it came to the the ZR1’s 755 horses, let’s get real: I was barely tickling the stallion. At no time did I have the real estate available to unleash hell, nor did the laws of Michigan permit anything that would have revealed the ZR1’s savagery.
So I did what I often do with Vettes: I cruised and enjoyed the luscious sounds of the engine as I shifted gears and played with the throttle. This motor sounds so, so good. That’s ample compensation for not being able to access all it can give, because even at 50 mph, settled into a third-gear roar, there’s a lot of give.
The steering is heavy and purposeful, and the upgraded suspension is rock-steady, although the impression I got in some corners was that if you try to power your way out, the back end could get lively.
The temptation to use that oomph is ever-present, but also an unending tantalization. Even when I was getting on it, the feeling was that I had miles of horsepower and sprawling vistas of torque in reserve. This makes that astonishing 755 number, so impressive on paper, more than a little abstract in reality. The Stingray’s 460 ponies are accessible by contrast.
But let’s be totally honest: 755hp for less than $150,000? You have got to be kidding, Corvette. Ha ha ha ha ha! The value that this machine presents for an enthusiast is flatly ridiculous. OK, it’s not an inexpensive car. But you’re well into supercar specs, pushing toward hypercar numbers, and your bank account isn’t going up in flames.
The 2019 Corvette is the undisputed king of American supercars that nobody routinely refers to as supercars. It costs hundreds of thousands less than the competition that gets to use that title. You might think that some sort of law of diminishing returns might kick in as you march up the Vette hierarchy, but I’ve made the march and I’m here to tell you that just as you get way more than you pay for with the Stingray, the Grand Sport, and the Z06, so you do with the ZR1.
The ZR1 is brilliant, and too good for me, really. I couldn’t give it what it wanted, which was a stripe of unbroken asphalt between here and the Moon to chew up and spit out. All I got to do was tool around Detroit in epic, thrummingly noisy style.
You might assume I returned the ZR1 with a smile on my face. I did. But I felt bad. The ZR1 had come to deliver the goods and then some. And I disappointed it.