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The 2015 Corvette Z06 Convertible: Aero Meets Eros

2015 Convertible Z06Chevy’s latest edition of the Corvette—the Z06 Convertible—might be one of a dying breed, despite its wonderful construction.

THE NICE THING ABOUT Corvette, from a social-theory standpoint, is it requires no interpretation. Chevrolet’s plastic fantastic sports car, in its 62nd year, is obviously an American fertility symbol, and never more so than in top-down, convertible form, when it looks like something out of a bachelorette-party gift bag.

Anthropologists might argue that all two-seat sports cars are plumage, coded attempts to enhance status and mate desirability. The Corvette is just a little more frank, with that silhouette, a little less is-you-is-or-is-you-ain’t? You definitely is.

For real horn dogs, there is this week’s test car: The Corvette Z06 Convertible ($94,235, as tested), powered by the mightiest eight cylinders in the inventory, the supercharged 6.2-liter LT4 pushrod V-8, kicking the slats with 650 hp and 650 pound-feet of torque. And ours was stirred with a much-coveted seven-speed manual transmission. Lordy.

In the Z06 Convertible you see the antipodes of Corvette ownership together. On the one hand, whittlings notwithstanding, it is one of the finest, highest performing automobiles available at any price. It cannot be denied. If you want to go bench racing, consider some of the Z06 Coupe’s published numbers: 0-60 mph in 2.95 seconds; 1.2 lateral g cornering; quarter-mile E.T. 10.95 seconds; 60-0 mph braking in 99.6 feet (that’s with the 8-speed auto-shifter and shod with the Z07 performance package’s Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires and Brembo carbon-ceramic brakes, by the way.)

The Z06 ragtop with the stick-shift isn’t quite as ballistic as the coupe—a scant .25 second slower to 0-60 mph—yet anything like these figures puts the Corvette Z06 all over a Lamborghini Huracán, for example, a midengine dragonfly that costs more than twice as much.

But the Z06 ragtop’s pupil-shrinking performance and all-conquering value comes with a cost. It’s a Corvette, a car very much in the grip of its own ridiculousness, design-wise. For one thing, Corvette is a front-engine car, necessitating that long, lurid hood (most of its elite competitors are midengine, with shorter front overhangs).

2015 Convertible Z06But the Z06 ragtop’s pupil-shrinking performance and all-conquering value comes with a cost. It’s a Corvette, a car very much in the grip of its own ridiculousness, design-wise. For one thing, Corvette is a front-engine car, necessitating that long, lurid hood (most of its elite competitors are midengine, with shorter front overhangs).

Obviously, if you’re kicking these tires, you are not looking to go unnoticed. Good thing. While it’s possible to drive a Z06 around town with a minimum of clamor—short-shifting and otherwise puttering with the engine in cylinder-deactivation mode—if you get frisky with the throttle or pretty much whenever the rpm cross over about 5,000 rpm, the active exhaust opens up, and 91-dB hailstorm commences. Romp it to redline in the first two gears—which is about all that is possible outside a racetrack—and the Z06 roars and crackles, all Nascar-y, bright, metallic, the stropping of God’s razorblades.

It’s especially important to be courteous with the top down lest the parents of awakened babies throw diapers into the car.

This is the first time in decades that Corvette’s top-spec engine has been paired with a convertible body. Open-top versions of previous Corvette chassis were judged to be too flimsy, which was a safe observation in the main anyway.

The seventh-generation Corvette (C7) chassis—based on a brilliantly executed space frame of aluminum extrusions, square-section tubes, aluminum-and-balsa floor pans and cast chassis nodes—barely trembles under the extra load and needs no further reinforcement. Chevrolet says the convertible chassis stiffness is 20% higher than the previous generation with a fixed roof. The convertible is just 58 pounds more than the coupe.

2015 Convertible Z06In rough terms the LT4 is the same 6.2-liter direct-injection, 16-valve V-8 engine as in the Corvette Stingray Z51, where its naturally aspirated output is rated at 460 hp. The LT4 version squeezes a small, hardworking Roots-type supercharger into the décolleté of the V-8, between the cylinder banks. The forced-induction hardware has almost no impact on the overall size of the engine—about an inch taller overall than the one in the Z51—but puts out 37% more horsepower and 40% more torque. Other engine blueprinting measures include Rotocast aluminum cylinder heads; titanium valves; forged-aluminum pistons and steel connecting rods; high-capacity dry sump oiling; and stainless-steel headers. Ungawa.

Our test car was equipped with the (joyous, beautiful, fun) seven-speed manual transmission with rev-matching function. The Z06’s other choice of transmission, the eight-speed, paddle-shifted automatic—sweet, fast, digitally omniscient—is the smart choice, the technocrat’s choice. For the less evolved, the Z06’s stick offers a range of other options, vis-à-vis doing doughnuts in bank parking lots or brake-holding burnouts while playing “Fog the Starbucks.”

The Z06 Convertible has all the other dangerous toys, too, including: the authoritative 14.6-inch Brembo brakes (or the 15.5-inch carbon-ceramic front discs); the flinty, multimode magnetic dampers; the mightiest of Michelin cleats held barely in check by the Z06’s elaborate traction, stability and torque-vectoring code; as well as the electrically actuated limited-slip diff in the transaxle.

The convertible does lose the coupe’s dashing fastback glass. On the plus side, wind management around the open cockpit is excellent. Even at 80 mph, the buffeting is almost nonexistent.

Downsides? As I mentioned, it’s a ’Vette. No elbow room in the driver’s position; a head-tossing ride over imperfect pavement, thanks to the huge, no-profile gumballs; utterly absent, crazy-numb steering feel in the electric-assist, variable-rate rack; the frameless windows feel flimsy; the whole thing smells of Tupperware.

Haters gonna hate but this is a wonderful road car. And with the near-certainty of a midengine Corvette before the end of the decade, enthusiasts have to think about which front-engine ’Vette to pull off the line and stick in the time capsule, the last, best example of gas-fired swagger in the Late Romantic Age.

They won’t make them like this anymore, not for very long.

The Wall Street Journal | By Dan Neil | Updated May 29, 2015 8:20 p.m. ET
Original Article

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