by Jay Traugott
Can we genuinely get away with calling the Corvette ZR1 convertible a supercar? Chevy does, and based on what it's done with regular Z06s and Grand Sports, there was already cause for concern from big-money European sports cars. Just because a car is produced locally doesn't mean it can't hang with traditional exotics, and at a starting price of over $125,000, the price tag isn't going to allow just anyone to buy one. The 6.2-liter small-block V8 fitted to the nose of the ZR1 is accompanied by a 2.65-liter Eaton supercharger, making a not un-Lamborghini-like 755 horsepower and 715 lb-ft of torque. All of this is sent to the rear wheels via a standard seven-speed manual or an optional eight-speed shiftable auto. Still not convinced that this is the greatest challenge to the supercar hierarchy in years? Google Corvette lap records, and then we can chat.
This is only the third time ever that the legendary ZR1 badge has been stuck on a 'Vette, and the first time since 1970 that it comes with a removable roof, thus making this a new model for the C7 shape. Additions to the Z06 version that this was based on include the LT5 engine, aero upgrades (a lot of them) and ZR1-specific plaques, paint choices, and interior subtleties. This car is something the fans have been clamoring for, so a lot more carbon and interior leather is added to make sure occupants feel special.
The signature quad-pipes that caused controversy on the release of the C7 Stingray are still present, while functional ducts and vents all over the car make it hard to miss. A "low" wing is standard fare, as is a carbon bonnet vent, but for extra track aero, a massive adjustable wing can be specced. LED running lights and staggered 19/20-inch wheels complete the aggressive look. Curves and sharp edges abound in equal measure, but our favorite design feature is the pair of subtle bubbles behind the seats that indicate this car was always meant to go topless.
Small, the ZR1 is not. At 179.8 inches long and 77.4 inches wide, the ZR1 has an imposing silhouette. It rides on a wheelbase measuring 106.7 inches, while the height is a scarcely believable 48.7 inches. A jet for the road, this is still a heavy car, tipping the scales with a base curb weight of 3,618 lbs - over 300lbs more than a regular Stingray.
We could wax lyrical for hours about the development of the LT5 pushrod V8 and its Eaton supercharger, but for now, the basic specs will do: 755 hp, 715 lb-ft of twist, and 6.2 liters of capacity. The monumental power output needs a way to get to the rear wheels, and those who like two pedals have been catered to as much as those who favor three. Standard, the ZR1 is fitted with a seven-speed manual, while spending an extra $1,725 buys you an eight-speed automatic. With this equipped, you can launch yourself from 0-60 mph in just 2.85 seconds. Cooking the tires is easy if you so wish, but the sticky Michelins are capable of making civilized and legal starts from a traffic light too. Get up to speed, and the slick manual fits like a glove. The faster auto allows for quicker shifts and launch control, but some reviewers have noted that despite quicker official times, in the real world, the slushbox can be just that - slow and indecisive.
Thanks to magnetic dampers, a technology often assumed to be brought to market by the Ferrari 599 but actually first adopted in a Corvette, this supercar can handle like it's on rails and still offer supple and compliant ride comfort. Although its width can be a challenge, the ZR1's steering is quick and intuitive, allowing for split-second direction changes. With massive carbon-ceramic Brembo brakes, coming to a stop is not something to be feared either. Despite all these brilliant features, the ZR1 is not completely idiot-proof, and the summer tires will give up if a bootful of supercharged power is unexpectedly unleashed. In the right hands, though, Lamborghini, Porsche, and McLaren drivers will be spending plenty of time staring agape at their rearview mirrors, wondering how such an unapologetically American beast is biting at their heels. With stealth mode active, you can sneak into your driveway after midnight with no complaints, having kicked major butt at the track, too.
The ZR1's automatic gearbox is expected to perform better here than the manual, but the difference is negligible. With the eight-speed auto equipped, the ZR1 returns 12/20/15 mpg on the EPA's city/highway/combined cycles. With the seven-speed row-your-own gearbox, the results are 13/19/15 mpg on the same cycles. Either variant is fitted with an 18.5-gallon gas tank, which will empty after around 277 miles of mixed driving. In full attack mode, though, you won't make it through half an hour of track effort before the gas tank needs replenishing. To be fair, Lambos aren't much better.
Two seats are fitted to the cockpit of the ZR1: one to take the 'Vette's pilot on the drive of their life, and another to accommodate a screaming passenger as a countermeasure to the supercharger's whine. The standard seats are comfortable and fairly supportive, but Competition buckets are available if you intend to test your neck's resilience against g-forces. However, those of a larger frame may find these a little obtrusive on the shoulder blades. That said, they look stunning and are worth the discomfort. There is no space whatsoever behind the front seats and its this level of impracticality that adds to the supercar status of the ZR1.
A 10 cubic-foot space resides within the trunk of the ZR1, but one gets the impression that the only reason this car has a trunk in the first place is so that there's somewhere to mount the massive spoilers. That said, the space is far more useful than in other big-power, big price-tag super coupes, and it is possible to stow a pair of suitcases with relative ease, or two sets of track overalls and helmets with space to spare. Thanks to the retractable soft-top folding into a space behind the seats, there is no risk of damaging the contents of the trunk or compromising available utility when you put the roof down.
A configurable LCD screen stares at the driver from behind the steering wheel, providing vital info like tire pressures and temps, as well as the status of the car's oil, coolant, and engine. A head-up display is also standard, helping the keen driver to focus on the next bend rather than looking down to see at what speed he or she is hurtling towards the apex. An optional performance data recorder and video logger is another awesome track-focused feature that genuinely helps to make you go faster, and in valet mode, you can see exactly how badly your baby has been mistreated. Keyless entry and start, dual-zone climate control, heated mirrors, a rearview camera, cruise control, and eight-way power-adjustable bucket seats are standard fare, while an optional front parking camera can help prevent you from scratching the splitter. OnStar crash response is standard, but none of the usual driver aids that typically fill a commuter car's spec sheet are present.
Chevrolet's eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system is fitted to the ZR1 and features Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and SiriusXM satellite radio as standard. Bluetooth, USB, and aux input are also included, and when the time comes to unwind to your favorite music, a nine-speaker Bose sound system is fitted, with an optional 10-speaker setup available. Navigation is optional but requires you to spec the performance data recorder too. Overall, the Corvette's system works well and the touchscreen responds quickly, but the graphics are cheap and childish and remind us of those used on the first camera phones. Luckily, the view over the long hood is far better.
J.D. Power has rated the ZR1 convertible 82 out of 100 for reliability. The 2019 Corvette ZR1 was subject to one recall for an issue where harsh braking and vicious acceleration would result in disabling of the airbags - exactly what you want in a 755 hp intercontinental ballistic missile.
Chevrolet covers the ZR1 with a three-year/36,000-mile bumper-to-bumper and corrosion warranty, with five years/60,000 miles of roadside assistance and courtesy transportation. The same period provides coverage for the powertrain, and two free maintenance visits are included in the first year.
Neither the IIHS nor the NHTSA has crash-tested the C7 Corvette in any guise. With a huge performance focus and more of a track orientation than most rivals, the ZR1 is fitted with scant driver aids. A rearview camera, a front parking camera, a head-up display, auto-dimming mirrors, dual front- and side-impact airbags, as well as seatbelt pretensioners, are just about all that can be had with the ZR1. Thankfully, performance brakes and advanced traction and stability control systems help keep things in check.
Do you like the idea of a massive supercharger whining under a carbon cowl that sends power through a seven-speed manual gearbox to the rear wheels only? Does 755 hp sound just right? Do you enjoy hunting supercars? Do you want all of this in one package - a package that allows you to feel the supersonic wind in your hair? Well, unlike Corvettes of old, this track special is probably a future classic - not just driven by those with classic '70s dress sense. The last of the front-engined Corvette, and the last to be offered with a manual gearbox, this is not just the evolution of the best Corvette yet - it is the pinnacle of American supercar manufacturing. Yes, the interior is not on par with that of Italian exotica, and yes, the infotainment system looks wrong, but as a symbol of freedom, noise, and performance, nothing comes close. Hell, it's so unashamedly, brilliantly American that the supercharger could well be mistaken for the mating call of a Bald Eagle. We love it.
The Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 convertible is available in two trims - 1ZR and 3ZR. The 1ZR starts at $125,400 before the $1,095 destination charge and $2,100 gas guzzler tax. This gets you a perforated leather interior, heated mirrors, 19-inch front and 20-inch rear wheels, an eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system featuring a nine-speaker Bose audio setup, and a head-up display. Going for the 3ZR variant earns you genuine Napa leather, a carbon-trimmed steering wheel, a performance data recorder, navigation, and a 10-speaker Bose audio upgrade. This trim starts at $135,400 and, fully loaded with extras like the ZTK Track Performance package and special bucket seats, will cost less than $150k - a bargain when you consider what kind of cars this Corvette can keep up with. An automatic gearbox can be had with either package for $1,725.
If you're gonna get the last of the front-engined 'Vettes, we'd certainly make sure it's got a manual transmission and we'd go the whole hog on the 3ZR trim. This earns you nav, Napa leather, a performance data recorder, and heated and ventilated seats. We'd also make sure it's the best that the engineers could do with the platform, and spec the ZTK Track Performance package with its magnetic suspension and super sticky Michelin Pilot Super Sport Cup 2 tires. Add in a performance air intake and the ideal Corvette ZR1 convertible can be yours for less than $145,000. For a car that can lap the Nurburgring's Nordschleife circuit in a little over seven minutes, that's phenomenal supercar value. If that still sounds steep, park it in the garage and make some money back in 10 years.
The zenith of each brand's capabilities, the Corvette ZR1 and the Ford GT are both supercars in their own right. When the new C8 Corvette touches down, its mid-engine layout will align it closer to the GT's, but for now, how do these titans compare? Well, the Corvette is the clear winner in terms of both price and power. Starting at $125,400, the 755 hp ZR1 is quite a bargain compared to the $450,000 special-order GT that only makes 647 hp from its twin-turbo V6. The 'Vette also offers a manual, whereas the Ford is dual-clutch auto only. With a 0-60 mph time of around three seconds, the GT could be outdone on short sprints too, and with a top speed of 216 mph versus the ZR1's 212 mph, it'll be tough to outperform the Corvette on the track. However, despite all these things, the GT is truly special and has genuine supercar styling and technology, whereas the ZR1 is arguably devoid of the class and elegance that one would expect from a supercar. For outright performance, the Corvette is better in every way, but as an object of truly desirable beauty and flair, the Ford is worth every penny of its hefty price tag.
A far more restrained and affordable variant, the Z06 is still an iconic badge for any Corvette to wear. This $94,345 convertible (in 3LZ top trim) is fitted with an LT4 V8 that utilizes a smaller supercharger to produce "only" 650 hp. The same gearboxes are available and the same infotainment and comfort features are included here too. The styling is also less aggressive but still imposing, which can be a good thing if the OTT look is not for you. Thanks to its smaller 'charger, the Z06 is also a more economical car than the ZR1, yet still provides everyday thrills and supercar-chasing performance. As a vehicle to use every day, whether on the track or on drives to and from work, the Z06 will likely be a better choice, and the massive gap in price is hard to ignore. We'd still prefer the ZR1 if possible, since it's the last of its kind, but we'd be more than happy to settle for a Z06 given the opportunity.