Low and sleek, today's Corvette shows a bit of Italian flair. This sixth-generation Corvette, called C6, was introduced as a 2005 model.
From some angles, it's almost pretty. However, functional elements dictate the design and the result is a forward motion that implies performance. The lines of the bulging hood, the shape of the fenders, and the cat's-eye headlights all point forward to a subtle beaklike shape. A pair of fog lights flanks a wide air intake below.
Vents behind the front tires let hot air out of the engine compartment. The sculpted fenders, with sharp creases that sweep dramatically up to the planed rear deck, call to mind race cars as well as jet fighters. At the back, four round taillights recall Corvette's past and make the car look like an F-18 taking off in full afterburner mode. On the functional side, the optics of the reverse lights magnify the light they throw out to help when backing up in this beast. To move weight from the front to the rear, the transmission is mounted behind the seats and connected to the differential, rather than being attached directly behind the engine.
In the Z06, this quest for front-rear balance extends to the weight of the battery, which is relocated in the rear cargo area.
The Z06 is distinguished from other Corvettes by lots of subtle appearance tweaks, starting with the roof. It's fixed rather than removable, adding an extra element of structural stiffness for track driving. You'll never see a transparent roof panel on a Z06: it would add weight and increase the height of the center of gravity.
In front, the Z06 has a wider, lower grille and a separate, unique air scoop above the bumper to shove more intake air under the hood. Its fenders are wider front and rear to cover massively wide tires and rims (the front wheels are 9.5 inches wide and the rears are fully 12 inches wide, or two inches wider than those on the standard Vette). In back, brake scoops are located in front of the rear wheels, the Z06 spoiler is slightly more prominent, and its exhaust outlets are wider, too (four inches in diameter at the tips).
Several Z06 body and chassis changes are not visible. The frame is made entirely of hydro-formed aluminum (the standard Vettes have steel rails), with a magnesium engine cradle, and its fenders are formed from ultra-light carbon fiber. As a result, and despite a heavier engine and drivetrain, the Z06 weighs only 3,175 pounds.
Take the Z06 and move the theme further along and you arrive at, generally, the ZR1, which has some of its own distinctive features. Chief among them is probably the transparent section in the hood, which allows the proud owner to show off the engine without having to actually do anything except point, as if even that will be required, once one of these things gets parked in a crowd of Corvette enthusiasts.
The Corvette cabin features premium soft surfaces, nice grain in the materials and elegant tailoring. The dashboard is finished in a soft material that feels rich to the touch. Real metal accents are used, but they don't generate glare. The electronics displays serve the driver without getting in the way.
The steering wheel is relatively small. It feels good in the hands and affords a good view of the instruments.
The seats are comfortable and fairly easy to adjust, though moving the manually operated backrest forward is a problem because your weight is invariably resting on it when you want to adjust it. Sitting in the Corvette evokes that feeling of sitting deep down in a massive machine. There's plenty of headroom and the windshield doesn't seem too close to the driver's face. Hefty side bolstering on the optional sport seats, even more so with those in the Z06, makes it more difficult to slide in, but the bolsters squeeze around the thighs and torso and hold the driver like Velcro.
The Corvette is available with a special two-tone leather package that adds leather upholstery to the top of the instrument panel, upper door panels, and console cover. The effect is a more elegant, higher end look than the Corvette has had in the past.
The instruments are big analog gauges, easy to read at a glance. The Z06 gets a unique cluster with more gauges, and the ZR1 has a supercharger boost gauge. The Corvette is, thankfully, devoid of a lot of digital readouts. One exception is the head-up display, which projects speed, rpm and even g-forces onto the windshield, a handy and entertaining feature. The upgrade Bose stereo system includes redundant controls on the steering wheel hub for most functions.
Cubby storage is decent. The glovebox is roomy and, in the Coupe, there is 22.0 cubic feet of storage space under the glass behind the rear seats. That's more than the trunk space in a sedan, with plenty of room for golf bags. You need to be careful when loading to avoid scratching the bodywork, however, and the liftover height is high; this is not a sedan or everyday hatchback.
There's no need to take the key out of your pocket to unlock the Corvette or start its engine. Simply walk up and pull the door handle. With the keyless start feature, sensors detect your key and unlock the door. Climb in, buckle up, and press the starter button. We're not sold on the benefits of keyless starting, however.
The Convertible's five-layer fabric top is available in three colors, and it offers power operation. The power top operates with a single-button control and completes its cycle in 18 seconds. An easy-to-operate manual top is standard. The Convertible looks good with the top up, and it looks terrific with the top down, with body-color trim that gives it a racy appearance.
The Convertible gives up some cargo capacity. It offers 11 cubic feet of storage with the top up, which isn't bad for a roadster, and 7.5 cubic feet with the top down.