2009 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1: First Drive

August 20, 2008
Dear reader, there's really no chance that you're some run-of-the-mill consumer searching for information on a car you're likely to buy. We know the truth. You want to know what it's like to drive the uber-Vette you've been reading about or otherwise drooling over for a couple years. Well, Buckie, it's here.

Drum roll, please.

Introducing the 2009 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 in all of its 638-horsepower-from-a-hand-built-supercharged-V8-that-doesn't-need-no-overhead-cams-to-go-fast glory.

Production has started in Bowling Green, and the first vehicles will arrive at dealers before the end of September. Due to production constraints traced to the limited availability of some carbon-fiber pieces and the carbon-ceramic brakes, production will be limited to around 2,000 units.

Chevrolet dealers across the country have already laid claim to these cars. Expect to see initial markups. Ignore the happy profit takers, sit back, pop a cold one, and watch the parade of schmucks pay over sticker. Our bet is that ZR1s will be selling at sticker (or below) before the 2010 model year. It's not that we don't love the Corvette ZR1 and think that its $103,300 sticker isn't a huge value—it is—we just know what the market holds for cars like this. It pays to wait. Need proof? Go shopping for a few-year-old Z06 or a mid-90s ZR1.

Not that the above should pop your bubble or anything, because the 2009 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 is one heck of a car. I half expected a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde kind of personality. But the ZR1 is not two-faced. On the road, it is as driveable as any other Corvette. It may be even nicer than some because the magnetic ride control manages to smooth out the road despite the Michelin PS2 run-flat tires that have an aspect ratio of 30 in front and only 25 in the rear. (Them are some skinny sidewalls!) We put about 100 miles on the ZR1 on the roads around GM's Milford Proving Grounds, and these are Michigan roads, complete with pot holes, frost heaves, and cracked pavement. Despite these real-world and imperfect road conditions, the ZR1 rode more than acceptably and the interior refused to squeak or rattle.

After the on-road driving we headed to the track where we could experience what genuinely separates the ZR1 from any other Corvette--about 133 horsepower, to be exact. The LS9's supercharger can generate 10.5 psi of boost as its twin-four-lobed rotors compress 2.3 liters of air with every rotation. The air is cooled with a compact air-to-liquid intercooler that features a hand-welded reservoir located just forward of the driver's-side front tire. It looks like a race-shop piece because it is. Very cool. To support the 638 horsepower at 6,500 rpm, this engine also produces 604 pound-feet of torque at a low 3,800 rpm. Ninety percent of this torque is on tap from 2,600 to 6,000 rpm, so you can even be a ham-fisted shifter and still drive pretty quickly.

With 638 horses (133 more than the Z06), the supercharged 6.2-liter LS9 can generate ferocious 0-60-mph times. Chevrolet claims 3.4 seconds along with an 11.3 second quarter with a trap of 131 mph. The wind doesn't conquer the motor until 205 mph.

Of course, your performance may vary--ours did.

We drove the 2009 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 at General Motors Proving Ground in Milford, Michigan. It was a beautiful day in August clouded only by warnings from Chevy PR folks and safety officials regarding the potential for wadding up one of their $100,000 Corvettes. The risk was real, as the Milford Road Course is an extremely technical track with plenty of blind corners and off-camber turns that could not be mastered with a couple of familiarity laps. (Look up the track's layout using Google Earth.)

The results of my on-track time are available for all to see, and can be compared to the runs performed by Corvette development drivers who are among the best in the business (one currently holds the record for production cars at The Ring). They're lots faster. In spite of my relative slowness, I still had a blast and learned plenty about the car.

The power comes on like a smooth explosion, and you can call up successive concussions with your right foot. The sound is wonderful (turn your speakers up when you watch the video). Equally wonderful are the carbon-ceramic brakes with six-piston front calipers and four-piston rear clampers. I found out that these brakes smell just like conventional brakes when they get hot--a function of the pad material, not the disc itself. The folks from Brembo claim that the discs will last the life of the car in "normal" use, whatever that is for a ZR1. (You know they factored in track days.) Handling limits are very high, but my time on the track was so limited that I was not able to get comfortable enough to explore the car's formidable limits. I did ride with an engineer who could run those limits ragged, and the car did itself proud. It corners so hard that it takes considerable energy to just hold your head straight.

So now the 2009 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 is a reality. Is the world ready for a $100,000 Vette? Who cares? It's here. Supercar lovers around the world can rejoice.

Stay tuned for TheCarConnection.com's review summary and full review, but in the meantime, savor some high-res ZR1 photos here.

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