2019 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 First Drive: Keep Your Cool?


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Wisdom, Justice, Moderation. Those three words make up the state motto for Georgia, where General Motors gave us our first crack at the 2019 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1, the most powerful ’Vette ever created by the Bow Tie brand. The Z06 is already bonkers with 650 hp, so we have to wonder: Is there any semblance of wisdom or moderation by bestowing the C7 ZR1 with more than 700 hp?

Yep, you read that right. The big and brash ZR1 catapults the Corvette into the exclusive group of cars making at least 700 hp, and not just under the wire, either. With 755 hp on tap, the 2019 Corvette ZR1 trounces not only the Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat but also the McLaren 720S, Lamborghini Aventador S, Ferrari 488 Pista, and Porsche 911 GT2 RS. Torque is rated at a thunderous 715 lb-ft. That puts the ZR1 at a 105-hp and 65-lb-ft advantage over the Z06 while also topping the last-gen LS9-powered C6 ZR1 by 117 hp and 111 lb-ft. In short, the ZR1 delivers a right foot full of American justice.

Before setting us loose on a clear, perfect day at Road Atlanta, Chevy’s minders lead us through a series of trackside presentations to school us on what makes the ZR1 tick. We learn that the ZR1’s LT5 powerplant essentially starts life as the LT4 6.2-liter supercharged V-8 from the Corvette Z06 and gets revised with stronger innards and a new 2.65-liter Eaton TVS Roots-type supercharger. The larger blower boasts a whopping 52 percent more displacement than the LT4’s. Immense power requires immense amounts of fuel, which is why the LT5 features port injection to supplement the existing direct-injection setup, a first for General Motors. And the fuel-sipping cylinder deactivation system used in other Corvettes? Banished from the ZR1.

After more presentations on brakes, tires, aerodynamics, and design, it’s finally time to drive. Chevy wisely directs us to Corvette Grand Sports to familiarize ourselves with Road Atlanta’s 12 corners. After knocking out a few fast-paced warm-up laps in that no-slouch edition of the ’Vette, we arrive back in pit lane to find a row of rumbling ZR1s, lined up and ready for lead-follow sessions. It’s time to meet the beast. Initially, the experience from the ZR1’s driver’s seat isn’t much different from that of an ordinary Stingray. The cabin’s snug feeling is familiar, as are all the switchgear and materials. The view out the windshield is decent despite the big supercharger bulge protruding from the hood. The high wing is hardly noticeable from the rearview mirror.

“The ZR1 is going to generate speed a lot faster,” our driver warned us through our walkie-talkies. “You’re coming from the Grand Sport, so you’re essentially gaining more than 200 horsepower. It is a monster, so please hang on.”

He wasn’t kidding. The first lap with the ZR1 was a blur, mostly spent recalibrating my right foot to be more cautious with the go pedal. Thankfully, Road Atlanta’s long stretch of asphalt following Turn 7 proved to be a perfect place to unleash the LT5’s fury. Reaching 100 mph in the ZR1 happens quickly. At 140 mph the LT5 is still pulling strong, and the exhaust note at wide-open throttle is alarmingly loud. Our lead driver is in a Z06 and hovers at 150 mph well before the braking point, but the ZR1 could’ve easily reached 160 mph had we braked later. Chevy is claiming a 0–60 time as quick as 2.9 seconds, and we see no reason to doubt that number.

As we return to that back straight and its dramatic dip into the braking zone, the ZR1 showcases another one of its strengths—stopping. There’s plenty of bite, and the pedal feel is excellent. We saw zero signs of fade, which helped us attack the 12 corners of Road Atlanta with more speed and confidence. The ZR1’s Brembo carbon-ceramic brake setup is similar to the Z06’s but features upgraded front rotors that tolerate more heat. Same goes for the front brake pads

As our group becomes more comfortable with the track, we begin attacking Turn 4 and the esses at a faster speeds. The Corvette’s quick steering really shines on this stretch, as does the tremendous grip provided by the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2s that come as part of the optional ZTK Performance package. (Pilot Super Sports are standard.) The P285/30ZR19 tires up front and P335/25ZR20 in the rear are the same size as the Z06 wears; however, the ZR1’s 10.5-inch-wide front wheel is half an inch wider than the Z06’s to improve cornering stiffness.

As sunset approaches, journalists are cycling through lap sessions at a much quicker pace, giving the ZR1s little time to rest. Every test car stayed cool. ZR1 engine temp management was a priority for Corvette engineers, and their diligence appears to have paid off. The grille and front bumper beam were redesigned to increase airflow to the engine by 41 percent. There are now a total of 13 heat exchangers (12 with the seven-speed manual), which is four more than on a Z06. Chevy also points out that the LT5’s blower spins at a maximum 15,860 rpm (about 5,000 rpm slower than the LT4’s) and its revised intercooler dispels twice as much heat as the LT4’s.

Most of our laps were done with the Performance Traction Management system set to Sport 1 or 2, which provided just enough nanny intervention to keep us out of trouble without being overly obtrusive. Despite the extra weight up front from the bigger supercharger and cooling hardware, the ZR1 felt remarkably balanced through fairly fast Turns 1 and 10. PTM (along with the electronic limited-slip differential) undoubtedly was working its magic here.

So how is the ZR1 without the nannies? As it happens, the Corvette development team hired Motor Trend’s resident pro racer, Randy Pobst, for his input on the ZR1 prior to the media drive. He shared some of his traction-off observations with us, including how the rear tires struggle for grip under power—a common gripe he’s had with the C7 Corvette. “It’s little funky, especially through the slower and sharper turns,” he noted. Without the safety net of PTM, one must really resist the urge to get into the throttle too soon and too aggressively, whether exiting a corner or speeding in a straight line.

Pobst was a fan of the automatic’s quick and smooth shifts and said it seemed more settled than the manual-equipped car. He gave high marks to the ZR1’s magnetorheological damper calibrations, which seemed much more compliant than those in the Z06 (with Z07 performance package).

“The best corners for the ZR1 were the fastest ones, showing the effectiveness of the considerable downforce,” Pobst noted. “And great brakes. Chevy really knows how to do brakes.”

The ZR1 is already rolling into the garages of customers who are undeterred by its $122,095 asking price for the coupe and $126,095 for the convertible. That’s $30,515 more expensive than a comparable Corvette Z06 equipped with the Z07 package. Bear in mind that cars equaling the ZR1’s performance and power are easily double or triple the price. The 720S, for example, starts at around $290,000, while the Aventador S blows past $400,000. The ZR1 may be more brash and wild than those polished Europeans, but most Corvette fanatics wouldn’t want it any other way.


A big side of wings

If you plan on taking your ZR1 to the track (and we hope many of you do), then opting for the ZTK Performance package is a no-brainer. And at $2,995, it’s a relative bargain. In addition to stickier Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires and increased suspension spring rates, you’ll get a substantial aero kit to help keep the ZR1 planted through fast straights and corners.

The high rear wing (officially called the track wing) steals much of the spotlight, but the front underwing is just as important. Made of carbon fiber, the front underwing sits flush with the undercarriage to add downforce but not drag. Meanwhile, the manually adjustable carbon-fiber rear wing is bolted to the frame and works in conjunction with the decklid spoiler. Combined, the rear and front wings provide 950 pounds of downforce at 202 mph (the top speed for high-winged ZR1s). Chevy also put a lot of effort in adding style to the rear wing, mimicking design cues from the C7’s wing.

If straight-line speed is more your thing, then you’ll need the low “street” wing. The Corvette used the street wing when it established the ZR1’s top speed of 212 mph at a track in Papenburg, Germany.

2019 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1
BASE PRICE $122,095-$126,095
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, RWD, 2-pass, 2-door hatchback, convertible
ENGINE 6.2L/755-hp/715-lb-ft supercharged OHV 16-valve V-8
TRANSMISSION 7-speed manual, 8-speed auto
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 3,600-3650 lb (mfr)
WHEELBASE 106.7 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 179.8 x 77.4 x 48.5-48.7 in
0-60 MPH 2.8-3.0 sec (MT est)
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON 12-13/19-20/15 mpg
ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY 259-281/165-177 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 1.26-1.35 lb/mile
ON SALE IN U.S. Currently