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The 2019 Corvette ZR1 is easily the fastest, most powerful and officially the loudest production car GM has ever built. So when they asked if I wanted to come to Willow Springs and … ride in it … well, I must admit for a second or two there I was disappointed with the word “ride” when I was hoping for “drive.” But what the heck, it beat attending the second day of press conferences at the LA Auto Show (just kidding LA Auto Show — please don’t cancel my credentials). And it was the toweringly powerful ZR1, after all. I’d pay to watch that drive by.

Plus, I looked forward to someday echoing what GM executive vice president Mark Reuss had said at the ZR1’s launch in Dubai: “I’ve never driven a Corvette like this before, and nobody else has either, because there’s never been one like this before.”

Indeed, Reuss is right. This is the most powerful and best-handling Corvette ever made, the proverbial Best ‘Vette Yet, to quote every car magazine ever made, and it will certainly give the European supercar makers a run for their euros. As you no doubt know by now, the new ZR1’s supercharged direct- and port-injected LT5 engine makes 755 peak hp and 715 lb-ft of torque, more than any production car on the market except one Ferrari (and the Dodge Demon/Bugatti Chiron, depending upon your definition of ‘production’). Yes, it even beats the Hellcat, and probably turns a lot better.

In a straight line, the ZR1 is officially listed with a 212-mph top speed. That’s in the standard coupe with the “low wing.” It would probably go faster but they got the 212-mph number on a closed course, so they had to take some corners. The 212 is a two-way average on a measured mile, too, so if you were at, say, Bonneville, you could probably go 216 or higher. In any case, the fuel cutoff comes on at 215 because the tires are rated for that speed. They don’t want to have to go out and recertify more tires. 

At a drag strip, the ZR1 coupe will hit 60 in “under three seconds,” according to Chevy, and do the quarter-mile in the “high 10-second range at over 130 mph.” Top speed of the convertible is 208 mph because of that car’s aerodynamics.

“Yes, yes, I know that,” you’re saying. How does it handle on a road course? It’s a monster. Chevy invited me to Willow Springs to experience full ZR1 at full tilt. We’d be on Big Willow, the self-proclaimed “Fastest Road in the West.” There’s a long back stretch and an even longer front stretch to Big Willow, connected by the long, long right-hander of turn 2, the fun uphill lefthander of 3, the terribly confusing section before the back stretch and finishing up with the death-defying turns 8 and 9.

Strap me in!

My driver was suspension development engineer Michael Tung, officially in charge of chassis controls, ABS, traction and stability control on Corvettes and Camaros, and who looks way too young to be a suspension engineer. In we strapped and off we roared. The ZR1 has four settings that affect the exhaust. We were in the loudest of the four.

“The ZR1 will make the loudest and most aggressive sound in Corvette history,” Tadge Juechter had said earlier, before he went on to describe, “…screaming down the front straightaway.”

ZR1 at speed at Willow

ZR1 at speed at Willow. This was a pre-production prototype. It still had the camo on.

So right out of the pits we pretty much did that. It is loud, even from the inside of a helmet. And the acceleration was mighty quick. Down the short straight to turn 2, Tung hit 112 mph and then got on the brakes hard, harder than I remember ever feeling brakes at this point on the track. Then we ground around the long turn 2 at just under 100 mph and up the hill toward Willow’s “Budweiser Balcony,” one of the greatest marketing partnerships in motorsports. Tung was not sliding the car around, he was simply hammering fast through all the turns. The ZR1 held on well, banging up against the g-meter that only recorded up to 1.25 gs. This might be your favorite track car, but only if you want to beat everyone else every time you go out. You might get tired of winning.

We hit 143 mph on the back straight and sailed through 8 and 9 at over 100 mph before hitting 158 on front straight in fifth gear. It was enthralling.

Later, I timed some laps and found them in the lower half of the 1:20s. This car felt fast from my perspective in the passenger seat, but it seemed like it would inspire confidence in drivers, too. I don’t think I’d be going quite as fast as Tung through 8 and 9, but the rest of the track it felt like the ZR1 was stable enough to warrant safely pushing the edges of adhesion. We never got the rear end sliding around and I never felt any significant understeer from the front seat, though there surely had to be some slippage, especially up in turns 4 and 5.

The fun part will be when I or some other lucky Autoweek staffer gets to try this thing out for ourselves. It is truly the greatest Corvette ever made, if and until that mid-engine thing comes out. And they ain’t talking about that yet.

On Sale: Spring 2018

Base Price: $119,995

Powertrain: 6.2-liter supercharged V8, 7-speed manual, rwd

Output: 755 hp at 6300 rpm, 715 lb ft at 4400 rpm

Curb Weight: 3524 lbs

0-60 MPH: “Under 3.0 seconds” (mfg.)

Fuel Economy: 15/22 city/hwy(EPA City/Hwy/Combined)


Cons: No stowable third-row seat