Chevrolet Corvette Z06, muscle with manners

Unveiled at last year’s Detroit auto show, the seventh-generation Chevrolet Corvette Stingray is a supple kind of monster. A higher-performance version introduced 13 January at the 2014 Detroit show ratchets up the menace without smothering the Stingray's good manners.

The Corvette Z06 experience begins with a supercharged version of the Stingray’s direct-injected 6.2-litre LT1 V8 engine – rebranded LT4 for Z06 duty – producing “at least” 625 horsepower and 635 pound-feet of torque, advantages of 165hp and a resounding 175lb-ft over the standard V8. Over the previous-generation Corvette Z06, which employed a normally aspirated 7-litre V8, the increases are 120 and 165, respectively.

Outside, the Z06 is differentiated from the Stingray by a black chin splitter that climbs the front fenders and runs to the rear wheel cut-outs. There is also a fixed rear-deck spoiler, black brake cooling vents and a raised black hood cover with deep venting. Enormous Michelin Pilot Sport tires look capable of unrelenting stickiness. The C6 Z06 was already a metallurgical marvel, with a fixed magnesium roof, aluminium frame and bits of carbon componentry, an inheritance welcomed by the C7 Z06, which has visited the periodic table to good effect. It wears a removable carbon fibre roof panel and lightweight aluminium wheels, all affixed to the stiff aluminium frame of the standard Stingray. The message here is unambiguous: track attack. And it only gets stronger with the available Z07 package, which brings Brembo carbon ceramic brake rotors, Michelin Sport Cup tires and other go-fast bits and pieces.

Yet despite General Motors North America president Mark Reuss anointing the Z06 “the big nasty” in his introductory remarks on 13 January, engineers have not sacrificed the refinement that distinguishes the seventh-generation Corvette. The drive-mode selector and active suspension damping that premiered on the Stingray carry over here. Transmission choices include a seven-speed manual or a new eight-speed automatic with paddle shifters, proof that Chevy presumes its faithful have made peace with the idea that a computer is quicker than them on up- and downshifts. There are few telltale signs of differentiation between the cabins of the C7 and the C7 Z06, aside from the obligatory smattering of Z06 badges and a squared-off steering wheel.

That impression should change, and rapidly, when a Z06 is under full throttle.

Chevrolet has not revealed official performance figures, but a broadly echoed stat throughout the press scrum on 13 January was zero to 60mph in 3.5 seconds, or .3 seconds faster than the Stingray. It may sound like chump change, and the Z06 on paper would still be a solid tick behind competitors like the Nissan GT-R (zero to 60mph in 2.7 seconds), but Chevrolet emphasises its car’s balance in the face of faster peers. In development tests, the Z06 circled the manufacturer’s proving track in Warren, Michigan, faster than the ZR-1, a $100,000 limited-production C6 ‘Vette.

Chevy also took the occasion on 13 January to show the C7.R, a racing car set to compete in the Tudor United SportsCar Championship (USCC). It will get its first competitive shakedown at the Rolex 24 at Daytona Beach, Florida, on 25 January.

The Z06 will begin shipping in early 2015, with pricing to be announced closer to the sale date.