2019 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 First Look: Big Power, Big Wing, Big Bet


It’s official. After spy shots, speculation, and leaks, the 2019 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 formally breaks cover here in Dubai, home of the fast, rich, and fabulous.

Yes, this latest iteration shares much of the bones of the Z06 but adds more power, refinement, a giant optional rear wing, and a pledge that this really fast car is for everyone. Even though the new ZR1 has a top speed of more than 210 mph, the Z06 and Camaro ZL1 1LE still corner the market on crazy.

General Motors chose Dubai for the global premiere of the last celebration of the C7 generation Corvette and the return of the ZR1 crown that was applied to the third-generation Corvette in 1979, C4 in 1990, and C6 in 2009. “We don’t do a ZR1 every generation,” said chief engineer Tadge Juechter. “It’s not an automatic.”

The private unveiling was held a few days before the Dubai auto show. Corvette continues to grow in popularity in the fast-growing Middle East, making Dubai a good choice for the global debut, said Tom Peters, director of exterior design for GM performance vehicles.

The car goes on sale this spring, and GM expects to make 2,000-3,000 of them at the plant in Bowling Green, Kentucky, but production will not be limited.

Pricing has not been announced but could easily exceed $130,000. The 2009 ZR1 started at $105,000; a carbon fiber package alone added $15,000. The 2018 base Stingray coupe starts at $56,490 and the Z06 starts at $80,490. Juechter said the ZR1 won’t be double the price of the Stingray.

Many of the suspected details were confirmed. The new coupe continues with GM’s 6.2-liter pushrod small block V-8, but the automaker calls this updated version of the supercharged engine the LT5. It’s confusing because the expectation is LT5 would refer to a switch to a DOHC V-8. The ZR1 sticks with Corvette’s traditional overhead valve, two valves per cylinder.

And just when you thought that engine couldn’t squeeze out any more power, GM tells us it’s rated at 755 horsepower and 715 lb-ft of torque. “After driving this around for a while the Z06 feels really sluggish,” said Juechter. It’s a nice exclamation point in the dying embers of C7 before C8 goes mid-engine and DOHC.

“I’ve never driven a Corvette like this before, and nobody else has either, because there’s never been one like this before,” said Mark Reuss, executive vice president, Global Product Development, Purchasing and Supply Chain. “Its unprecedented performance puts all other global supercars on notice that the ZR1 is back.”

A major difference: This is not the supercharger of the 2009 ZR1 or the 2015 Z06. The Eaton supercharger is 2.9 inches taller with a more efficient intercooled system that Chevy says has 52 percent more displacement than the Z06’s LT4 supercharger. Cooling has always been a Corvette bugaboo. The heavier supercharger changed the weight distribution so Chevy made the front wheels a half-inch wider for more cornering stiffness.

Another big difference: GM’s first dual fuel-injection system. It has primary direct injection and supplemental port injection. A cool by-product: It is said to shoot flames from the exhaust.

The Corvette keeps the seven-speed manual, but buyers can also choose an automatic for the first time in a ZR1 with GM’s eight-speed with paddle-shift. There was speculation the model could receive GM’s new 10-speed co-developed with Ford, but Juechter said that unit doesn’t fit the Corvette architecture and was never designed to. Instead, they updated the eight-speed to shift faster.

The ZR1 has the carbon ceramic brakes of the Z06—not the stellar non-ceramic Brembo brakes in the Camaro ZL1 1LE that are among the best on the planet, as we discovered in Motor Trend’s Best Driver’s Car testing.

The look of the most powerful Corvette to date reveals the efforts Chevy has gone to for greater performance. The strip of carbon fiber down the middle of the hood is the cover for the bulging engine that Peters did not want to be any taller so the driver can still sit low in the seat and see over the hood. It was a craftsmanship challenge to match the weave of the many pieces of carbon fiber that had to come together.

The front clip is all new and the new front fascia has four new radiators which means 13 heat exchangers in total. “The front end has almost no fascia; it is almost all openings,” Juechter said.

And the crankshaft has been strengthened. These changes, and the larger supercharger, add about 60 pounds of weight to the car. Curb weight is 3,560 pounds for a car with the most carbon fiber to date.

The latest king is designed to perform better on the track with the option to forego the regular low wing for a crazy high wing that produces an estimated 950 pounds of downforce for the track. The adjustable high wing is part of the ZTK Performance package and is attached right to the chassis. It can be adjusted about five degrees but it’s not an automatic adjustment; it requires changing the bolts. Even the low wing generates up to 70 percent more downforce than the Z06’s base aero package, and it’s much easier to get at your gear in the back.

This is the first Vette to get a front underwing to assist with downforce. Historically GM would use front splitters to push the nose down, but balancing the big wing would result in a front that too easily scrapes the ground. Borrowing some race tech, incorporating underwing creates low pressure to keep the car down, said Peters.

The ZTK package includes a front splitter with carbon-fiber end caps, Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 summer-only tires, and tuning of the chassis and Magnetic Ride Control for better cornering grip—another area where Corvette needed improvement.

And if you like orange, the Sebring Orange Design package is, you guessed it, Sebring Orange with matching brake calipers, rocker and splitter accent stripes, seatbelts, stitching, and bronze aluminum interior trim. There was a strong customer pull for orange, Juechter said. “We’ll see if they show up with their money.”

The ZR1 has leather-trimmed seats with a suede-like microfiber and an option to make them heated and cooled. Or you can opt for a sport seats and a carbon-fiber rimmed steering wheel.

Based on all the spy shots out there, the new coupe with a removable hardtop will be quickly followed by a convertible ZR1 with a soft top.

We doubt it’s a top priority, but the estimated fuel economy is 15/22 mpg in city/highway driving with the manual and 13/23 mpg with the automatic.

GM has been getting ready for the 2019 ZR1 as well as the mid-engine Corvette in the works. Production of the 2018 model at the plant in Bowling Green, Kentucky, stopped for three months to retool for future products.

The 2019 Corvette ZR1 will be on display later this month at the Los Angeles auto show.

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