“The 2019 Corvette ZR1, a supercar that pushes Corvette’s performance legacy with the highest power, greatest track performance, and most advanced technology in its production history.” That’s what Chevy says. Are they right? Oh yes. Oh my yes . . . mostly. It’s that “supercar” that gives me pause. Is this thing fast? Very much so. Quick? Senselessly so. Grip? Like a barnacle. Stops? Like a train hitting a bank building. Supercar? Hmmmm . . .
Supercar is an interesting moniker. It used to be the top of the heap. The highest step on the ziggurat. It used to go like this: Car, sports car (which I still believe is one word) supercar, and now, hypercar. Cars are just cars, simple and utilitarian with enough “performance” to make their average owner wish for more convenient public transportation. Sports cars lode-stone toward the True North of performance at the expense of everything else (except style, if it’s an Italian sports car). Supercars are, or were, the best (of the best) a given automaker had to offer. Hypercars added another step to the pyramid (something within the rules in any technological game) and added enough high-velocity tech to the go/turn/stop derby to nearly keep up with an F1 car.
The problem with these demarcations is that, performance-wise, things are always shifting upward. Something as mundane and forgetful as a Toyota Camry probably could have sat on the pole at Le Mans in 1950. What passes for a good example of a sports car today, say a Porsche Cayman, could have won Le Mans outright in 1955. When the first modern Corvette ZR1 came out a while back, it was a near world-beater. If it could not outright defeat something like a Ferrari 458 Italia or the latest big gun 911 variant, it could at least run with them. Now? That “old” ZR1 has been pushed out of the supercar category and into the sports car class.
The new ZR1? Oh, it’s good. Very, very, oh so good. But the competition is fierce. Cars like the Ferrari 812 and Porsche 911 GT eat sharks for breakfast and wolverines as an afternoon snack. Can the 2019 Corvette ZR1 match that, let alone beat it? Dunno, since no one has driven the new ZR yet, but I swear on the grave of Zora Arkus-Duntov the new ZR1 looks, reads, and seems imposing. Dauntingly so.
Power & Performance
Under the huge composite clamshell hood of the ZR1 lives an LT5 6.2L V8 engine, delivering the highest output ever for a Chevrolet production vehicle. The mill and blower combo in this new ZR1 puts out 755 horsepower and 715 lb-ft. of torque. That’s a significant gain for the Corvette, and it’s all down to a new, more-efficient intercooled supercharger system and a dual-fuel-injection system, which employs primary direct injection and supplemental port injection. In case you’re interested, those figures definitely put it in the ballpark with Ferrari and Porsche and Aston Martin, but being in the ballpark does not make you Joe DiMaggio. You might be Pee Wee Reese good, but not Joltin’ Joe good.
That extraordinary plant is mated to your choice of two transmissions: either a seven-speed manual or an eight-speed, paddle-shift automatic. Yes, one of them is a slush-box, but if it’s like the same unit found on “lesser” Vettes, (it is) it actually is a pretty good choice, although a full-blown semi-auto box should have been on offer.
Styling & Design
The 2019 Corvette ZR1’s appearance has been described as “aggressive,” which is sort of like saying a switchblade looks pointy. This thing is “aggressive” the way a gila monster is aggressive; like it’s going to champ onto your arm and never let go. The ZR1’s styling is largely driven by what the wind tunnel says it should be, which makes total sense, given the terminal velocity this thing can hit. The styling is, however, rather childish in its execution. It still looks like a Vette, that’s for sure, but one with a body kit Dominic Toretto would pick.
The front end is entirely new and designed to channel cooling air for the drivetrain’s massive thermal loads. The 2019 ZR1 has four new radiators, bringing the heat-exchanger total to 13. The hood is open in the middle to clear the LT5 engine’s supercharger/intercooler assembly and made of carbon-fiber. This new bodywork/aero package plus that fire-breathing engine make for a top speed of over 210 mph.
The ZR1 comes with two aero packages: a standard rear Low Wing, which gives you the highest top speed (obviously) and an available, two-way-adjustable High Wing that offers maximum downforce (obviously X 2). The adjustable High Wing is part of the new ZTK Performance Package, which also comes with a front splitter with carbon-fiber end caps, Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 summer-only tires, and specific chassis and Magnetic Ride Control tuning for greater cornering grip; plus an unending sense of regret that your Corvette has this hideous wing perched high off the back that would seem right at home on a slammed, stanced, totally rad, sick, and off-the-chain Honda Civic. Really Corvette people? Really? I know it makes (a ton of) downforce, but really?
Speaking of questionable aesthetic choices: orange. Orange is one of those colors that few people are ambivalent about. Strangely, I am one of them, but boy howdy are the pictures of the new ZR1 orange. And I mean hit of Orange Sunshine LSD orange. Chevy calls the color Sebring Orange Tintcoat and it is, unsurprisingly, part of the Sebring Orange Design Package. The package also includes orange brake calipers, orange rocker and splitter accent stripes, orange seat belts, orange interior stitching, and bronze aluminum interior trim. No word on an orange-trimmed motion sickness bag.
The 2019 Corvette ZR1 goes on sale next spring and no, they didn’t mention the price. Would I buy one? Yes. A definite, hard maybe . . . with the low wing package.
Tony Borroz has spent his entire life racing antique and sports cars. He means well, even if he has a bias towards lighter, agile cars rather than big engine muscle cars or family sedans.