Is the Z51 package truly necessary?
Three years after the car launched, General Motors is still struggling to keep up with demand for the Chevrolet Corvette Stingray. It goes without saying that we love the latest Vette after crowning it as our 2020 Poster Car winner and Track Weapon finalist. Though the car hasn't changed drastically for the 2021 and recently-announced 2022 model year, Chevy keeps adding minor improvements to make the car even more satisfying.
There's no such thing as a "bad" Corvette these days, but after testing several different configurations, we think we've settled upon which options are (and are not) worth your hard-earned dollars. We recently drove a 2021 Corvette 3LT Coupe without the Z51 Performance Package, and it certainly answered some questions.
The Corvette comes in three distinct trim levels; 1LT, 2LT, and 3LT. Both of the 2020 examples we tested came equipped with the 2LT Package, so this was our first run-in with the 3LT. The price difference is significant ($68,295 for the 2LT versus $72,945 for the 3LT), but we don't know if the 3LT is worth the extra $4,650. Chevy already tosses in most of the important upgrades in the 2LT, including the upgraded 14-speaker bose audio system, front and rear cameras, head-up display, heated and ventilated seats, and heated steering wheel. Stepping up to the 3LT mainly adds features that are optional on the 2LT, such as GT2 bucket seats, and includes more leather on the dash plus a suede headliner.
These upgrades do little to make the Corvette's cabin feel noticeably more luxurious, so we'd probably skip the 3LT Package. We really enjoyed the blend of comfort and support of the GT3 Bucket seats, but they can be added as a $1,495 standalone option on the 2LT trim.
If you plan to take your Corvette to the racetrack, the $5,995 Z51 Performance Package is the best option you can get. It bundles performance suspension, an electronic limited-slip differential, performance rear axle ratio, performance exhaust, a front splitter and rear spoiler, Brembo brakes, heavy-duty cooling, and Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires. In our experience, the Z51-equipped Corvette feels slightly sharper when pushed hard, but the difference is less noticeable under normal driving conditions. This is subjective, but the C8 looks slightly naked without the Z51's rear spoiler.
In the 2020 model year, Chevy forced buyers to get the Z51 Package if they wanted Magnetic Selective Ride Control; now, it's a $1,895 standalone option. Whether you get the Z51 pack or not, Mag Ride is a must-have option. It helps the Corvette ride smoother over the rough pavement while also keeping it more controlled in corners. Performance exhaust is now available as a $1,195 option, meaning you have a throatier sound without ponying up the full six grand for Z51. If you just want a fun weekend toy and you don't plan to enter competitive racing events, we'd recommend getting the Mag Ride and Performance exhaust to save nearly three grand over the Z51 pack.
Beyond the three trim levels, Chevy gives customers a choice between a coupe or convertible bodystyle. We've discussed the differences before, and it mainly boils down to a $7,500 decision on practicality versus compromise. Both cars offer open-top pleasure, but the convertible doesn't force drivers to hop out to take off or install the roof. The convertible barely adds any weight and suffers from nearly zero performance decreases, so the only "loss" is not being able to see the V8 engine through a piece of glass. If getting out to take your roof on or off sounds tedious, we recommend the convertible. Personally, we think the coupe is fine.
Now that we've driven several Corvette configurations, we know exactly how we'd configure ours. We'd save $7,500 by getting the coupe but would upgrade to the 2LT trim package. From there, we think the Z51 Performance Package and Magnetic Ride Control are worth it for enthusiast buyers. But again, casual drivers can get away with buying the suspension and performance exhaust separately. Carbon Flash-painted aluminum wheels look better to our eyes for $995, the front lift system is a must-have for $1,995, and the GT2 Bucket seats are great for $1,495.
We just described an $80,670 Corvette, which may sound pretty expensive. It's easy to spend even more than this amount, but spending less will require some tough sacrifices. Of course, with demand running higher than supply, it may be tough to find any Corvette selling at MSRP anyway.