The power of the new Corvette stuns when it’s powering down the Mistrale straight, but disappoints when you have to turn a corner
Years ago, while my backside was enjoying the extreme good fortune of occupying the editor’s chair of this magazine, I spent a couple of seasons racing a 1967 Chevy Camaro. Lack of time, money and, above all, driver talent meant it never realised its race-winning potential, but it did cement in my head a love for American muscle cars.
Which is why, earlier this year, I turned up at Paul Ricard for an encounter with the new Corvette Z-06 in a particularly jaunty frame of mind. Under its curving bonnet lay essentially the same small-block engine as had powered the Camaro nearly 30 years ago, albeit recast in aluminium and expanded from 5.7 to 7.0 litres. With 513bhp, 469Ib ft of torque, a 200mph top speed and a 3.7sec 0-60mph time, it was going to disappear down the Mistrale straight like a rat down a sewer. And thanks to a light, composite body, it promised to be no less effective through Ricard’s hideously technical complex of corners.
At first, all was well. Onto the straight for the first time and all the old feelings came back. There was predictably massive thrust accompanied by an inimitable small-block battle cry. It felt faster even than the Camaro — which never struggled for pace — and by the straight’s end, I could have been convinced that this was a landmark American car. Except I was too busy preparing for Signes, a corner designed for those who think the likes of Copse and Eau Rouge are a trifle on the dull side.
Once there, and indeed around the rest of the track, this latest and allegedly greatest of all ‘Vettes was something of a disappointment. Its grip was not in question, but its balance and feel undoubtedly were. It would understeer too much on the way into a corner and oversteer luridly at the exit, while the steering failed to keep you informed of conditions underfoot. On the road it compounded the felony with ride quality that really affected the car’s handling on typical B-roads.
I drove it slowly back to the track. What had appeared at the start of the day to be a car with the statistical firepower to stand comparison with the latest Ferraris, yet at £59,850 cost around half as much, was little more than an epic engine sitting in an unworthy chassis.
I drove a standard Corvette back to the airport and loved it. It was softer and more honest, aspiring to little more than looking and sounding great, both of which it did just as well as the Z-06. It will still do 186mph, but costs just £46,595, at which price it looks really rather cheap. But by pricing the Z-06 at Porsche 911 money, Corvette is making a statement about its car that its execution simply cannot support. Of course the ‘Vette would blow the Porsche away in a straight line and, for all I know, on track, too. The difference is that Porsche figured out long ago that it takes rather more than big numbers to make a milestone sportscar. It’s time Chevrolet did the same.