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2011 Corvette ZR1 – A fire breathing dragon of speed

Apparently a 505-horsepower Z06 was just not enough for the Corvette team. No, they needed something outrageous. They needed something with a  supercharger for massive power, race ready ceramic brakes,  tons of carbon fiber, a name-plate with some history, and a six-figure price tag.  They call it the ZR1; we call it a fire breathing dragon of speed.

2011 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1

Specifications as-tested

Model Year: 2011
Make: Chevrolet
Model: Corvette ZR1

Engine:
Supercharged 6.2L V8 (LS9) / 638 hp at 6500 rpm and 604 lb.- ft. of torque at 3800 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual

EPA Fuel Economy: 14mpg city / 16mpg combined / 20mpg highway
Observed Fuel Economy: 17.8mpg

Base MSRP: $109,800
As tested MSRP: $124,345

Standard Equipment: carbon-fiber hood/fenders/roof/floor panels , carbon fiber splitters/rockers,  aluminum frame, 6-piston front/4-piston rear ceramic Brembo brakes, keyless start, 19″ front / 20″ rear wheels, dry-sump oil system, magnetic ride control, heads-up display, OnStar, XM Radio

Equipped Options:
3ZR Premium Equipment Package [$10,000] – Includes: Leather wrapped interior, Bose 7-speaker premium sound system w/navigation, heated seats, USB and AUX port for audio
Chrome Aluminum Wheels [$2,000]
Pedal Covers [$295]

Required Fees:
Gas Guzzler Tax [$1,300]
Delivery Charge [$950]

Check out our full gallery of photos shot during this review

A $124,000 Chevrolet?

2011 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1

A Chevrolet that costs over $100k? Sure it’s a Corvette, but are they serious?  Turns out, yes they are.

I had my first ride in a C6 ZR1 just over two years ago.  Ron Fellows from Corvette racing was my driver and nearly relocated my stomach in a quick 5 minute drive down Woodward Avenue. Back then I knew the ZR1 was something special, but only recently when I had a chance to drive one over a long weekend did I begin to understand what the ZR1 was truly capable of.

The ZR1 is a challenge, a statement, and a piece of art wrapped up into one glorious machine.  It’s everything you’d expect from a Corvette, mixed with the upset child of a wood-chipper and nuclear power plant.  Driven lightly the ZR1 is as calm and civilized as any Corvette, but deep inside it carries the power to shame exotic cars from around the world.

Supercar performance

2011 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1

As with any car sporting a house sized price, the engine is an important part of the package.  With the ZR1, on-lookers are not left to guess what engine lies under its carbon fiber hood. A unique clear window on the top of the hood allows the plenum of the LS9’s supercharger to be visible.

The story of the LS9, however, is not how good it looks, but how much power it produces. With 638-horsepower and 604 lb ft of torque, the LS9 bestows the C6 ZR1 as the fastest and most powerful Corvette ever sold to the public. The LS9 is based off the Corvette’s standard LS3 engine, not the 7.0L LS7 engine from the Z06. Enabling that hefty output from 6.2 liters is a four-lobe Eaton Twin-Vortices Series intercooled supercharger.  The LS9 also features titanium intake vales, titanium connecting rods, and a high performance pressurized dry sump oil system.

A high-tech hydroformed aluminum frame lifted directly from the C6.R race car saves the ZR1 138 lbs of weight over a traditional steel Corvette frame.   The car runs the scales at an impressive 3,352lbs, allowing for a weight-to-horsepower ratio of 5.2 lbs per horsepower.  This high-power and low-weight combination drives the Corvette ZR1 0-60 in 3.3 seconds and will complete a quarter-mile in 11.2 seconds at 135mph. Top speed is a blistering 205mph.

2011 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1

The ZR1 can stop just as fast as it can accelerate thanks to a race ready cross-drilled carbon-ceramic brake system. A testament to how serious Team Corvette was about performance, the rear brake rotors were lifted straight out of the front brakes of the Enzo Ferrari. The ZR1’s front brake rotors are very similar to the Ferrari FXX’s front rotors and only differ in size.  Besides weighing half as much as a comparable steel brake rotor, ceramic rotors can withstand temperatures as hot as 1,800 degrees without warping.  A 6-piston front / 4-piston rear Brembo brake system has been spec’d to complement the ceramic rotors.  The ZR1 can stop from 60mph in only 96-feet; a current production car record.

While the brakes do feel fantastic, they do take some getting used to.  Far touchier than a “normal” car, the ZR1 can slow down considerably from just a light brush of the brake pedal.

Corvette civility remains

2011 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1

You’d expect the ZR1 to be uncomfortable, harsh, and loud, right?  Well, not so. In fact the ZR1 is nearly as quiet and unassuming as it’s base counterpart. Part of this is is due to the electronically actuated exhaust baffle, similar to what you’d find on other current sixth-generation Corvettes.

Under idle and most acceleration circumstances, the ZR1 diverts exhaust gas through a sound reducing chamber. At wide open throttle, twin butterfly valves automatically open, allowing for straight-through exhaust and a monster sound.

On the road we found the ZR1 to handle just like you’d expect out of a car with this sort of resume. Standard magnetic select ride control allows for two ride modes (tour/sport) and is fully integrated with the traction control and stability control system to further enhance performance driving.   You can select one of a handful of stability/traction control programs to compensate for wet or dry track conditions.  Chevy has even provided a launch control system to aid in full power starts at the drag-strip.  All this technology ensures almost telepathic response from any input on the road or track.

2011 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1

On the street you’ll never even come close to exploring the potential of the ZR1.  Fortunately, GM has made sure you can come as close as you dare without risking your life. Last year we drove a 610-horsepower Dodge Viper and found the massive V-10 was always on the verge of biting back. Without traction control the Viper had to be handled with care. Even with 28 more horsepower, not so with the ZR1. Staying composed in every situation is one of the ZR1’s strong points.

The entire car allows you to get close to chaos but seamlessly prevents you from going over the edge.  No harsh reactions, no overly aggressive throttle changes, and never the feeling that the car has more control than you.  This is one of the best stability systems we’ve ever tested.

Even with the safety net, it takes some time behind the wheel before you feel safe letting things rip. This is 638-horsepower we’re talking about here and rumors peg the output at around 700-horsepower in near freezing temperatures. Despite massive 335/20 rear wheels, the ZR1 is a very effective smoke machine if you’re not careful. But rest assured, once those wheels lock up you’re in for the ride of your life.

Official performance numbers for the ZR1 confirm it’s maximum cornering acceleration at 1.11G.  That means the ZR1 has so much lateral grip, it can corner at a force greater than that of the gravity holding it to the road.  This statistic was not shocking to us after the ZR1 chewed up and spit out every road we threw at it.  Even the most intense section of switchback pavement we use to evaluate cars was a yawner in the ZR1.

Unassuming yet recognizable

2011 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1

One thing we noticed most during our short stint with the ZR1 was that it doesn’t get nearly as much attention as you’d think. Even with it’s sky-high price and Viper beating horsepower, the ZR1 gets barely more attention than any other Corvette. Only dedicated car nuts who know what a ZR1 is were even bothered to come and take a look.

Less attention; isn’t that a bad thing? Not so much.  In a Corvette that can out-accelerate 99.9% of every car on the road, standing out as bluntly as a Viper or Lotus Exige would be a curse.  We came to appreciate the down-low nature of the ZR1 when our arrest-me-red tester failed to draw even a second glance from passing law enforcement.

Should someone familiar with the ZR1 walk by, prepare for a conversation. On a handful of occasions pumping gas we were berated with questions.  Thankfully there’s a lot to talk about.

For example; that shiny wet clear coat that covers the carbon fiber roof costs nearly $2,000 a gallon and uses a UV protectant that costs $60,000 a gallon.  Also interesting is that the ZR1’s engine puts out over 100 horsepower per liter.

2011 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1

For all you get with the ZR1 in the performance arena, it’s a surprise that you give up little creature comforts from the base model. The one substantial option on our tester was a $10,000 3ZR package which added some-what out of date looking navigation system, heated seats, a premium Bose sound system, bluetooth, memory seat, and a telescoping steering wheel.  We could do without the navigation system but really enjoyed iPod integration and the killer sound system. Unfortunately, you lose the USB port with any other radio option.

Some buff-books rag on the ZR1’s interior and while we’d like to say they are right, we hope customers buying a ZR1 realize it is not a luxury car.  The factory racing technology applied in the ZR1 is alone worth the vehicle’s price.  We think it’s amazing that you can buy a car that does 0-60 in 3.3 seconds all while heating your rump and listening to satellite radio. With that that said, things could be nicer. While the leather wrapped dash is a great touch, we think that you should get more for this much money.

Yes, $124k is an astronomical price for a car that most of us cannot and will not ever be able to afford. If you’re one of the lucky few who can, the ZR1 opens up a new world of possibilities.  Why buy an expensive exotic car when a Corvette ZR1 costs less, performs better, accelerates faster, and can still be serviced at your local Chevy dealer.

Conclusion

A race-ready car disguised as a daily driver delivers supercar performance at a 50% off price point.

Strengths

  • Spectacular engine pulls in any gear
  • Extremely stable & predictable under all circumstances
  • Very quiet and civilized- could pass as a daily driver
  • Shifter is firm yet precise feeling
  • An exhaust note that will give you shivers of joy

Weaknesses

  • Seats are not very supportive or comfortable
  • Cheap feeling/looking steering wheel and interior
  • Fake carbon fiber interior trim looks cheap when compared to the real bits on the outside
  • Navigation system visually looks out of date compared to other GM nav systems
  • “Butterfly” valve on exhaust system keeps the car far too quiet (thankfully pulling a fuse can fix that)

Check out our full gallery of photos shot during this review

2011 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 Road Test Photo Gallery

2011 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1

Supercharged 6.2L V8 (LS9)
638 hp at 6500 rpm and 604 lb.- ft. of torque at 3800 rpm

As tested MSRP: $124,345

Standard Equipment: Carbon Fiber Hood/Fenders/Roof/Floor panels , Carbon Fiber splitters/rockers,  aluminum frame, 6-piston front/4-piston rear ceramic Brembo brakes, keyless start, 19″ front / 20″ rear wheels, dry-sump oil system, magnetic ride control, heads-up display, OnStar, XM Radio
Equipped Options:
3ZR Premium Equipment Package [$10,000] Leather wrapped interior, Bose 7-speaker premium sound system w/navigation, heated seats, USB and AUX port for audio
Chrome Aluminum Wheels [$2,000]
Pedal Covers [$295]

Read our entire take on this car in our article: 2011 Corvette ZR1 – A fire breathing dragon of speed