Now that the California Highway Patrol is switching to Ford Explorers, every Ford SUV in the mirrors looks like a threat. The stress level is especially high when you’re traveling in a three-car, jelly bean–hued convoy propelled by 1810 horsepower. And this excuse probably won’t fly: “But officer, it’s hard to say how fast we were going because the numbers on the digital display were flickering by in clumps of threes and fives.” That’s not an excuse The Man wants to hear.
The cherry-red machine in our candy-colored fleet is the most powerful Corvette ever assembled by the fine folks of Bowling Green, Kentucky. A 650-hp 6.2-liter supercharged V-8 dubbed LT4 makes 195 more horsepower than the standard Stingray. Historical note: Most 1979 Corvettes made 195 horsepower, total. The Z06 engine’s extra stonk comes from direct fuel injection, variable valve timing with titanium intake valves, forged pistons with a 10.0:1 compression ratio, and a supercharger blowing 9.4 psi of boost. A hard push of the throttle is all it takes to erase memories of the 638-hp ZR1 we were so lately mourning.
In the foreground are what appear to be two very angry robots. In the background is the world’s quickest Lemonhead.
Our Z06 arrived with the reworked Z07 chassis. Notching up to Z07 spec costs an extra $10,990, or $7995 plus $2995 for the mandatory carbon-fiber ground-effects package. Expensive, sure, but it adds some serious hardware, including huge carbon-ceramic brakes and Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires developed specifically for the Z07. With that gear in place, this Corvette generates some of the best numbers in the history of this magazine, and it is the Z07 option that gives the Corvette the performance to compete with cars costing twice as much.
Dipped in Racing Yellow, our Porsche 911 Turbo S looks like the world’s largest Lemonhead. At $195,175, it is nearly double the cost of the Corvette. A 560-hp treat from the continent that brought us marzipan, it comes with a twin-turbocharged 3.8-liter flat-six, four-wheel drive, four-wheel steering, and a dual-clutch seven-speed automatic, all of which makes it one of the quickest cars we’ve ever tested.
Where’s the 911 GT3? In the interest of saving you from writing in, we’ll tell you that a last-minute accident (by someone other than us) kept the GT3 out of our clammy hands. At the eleventh hour, we swapped in a Turbo S, hoping that its ceramic brakes, sophisticated four-wheel-drive system, four-wheel steering, and boosted engine might prove an even bigger threat to the Z06, despite losing points in our price category.
The vanilla-white car in our confectionery is the Nissan GT-R NISMO. Nissan’s performance department adds an extra 55 horsepower to the GT-R’s 3.8-liter V-6 by borrowing the turbochargers from the GT-R GT3 racer. A revised chassis, complete with NISMO-spec Dunlop SP Sport Maxx GT run-flats and half-inch-wider front wheels, improves the grip. A unibody laced with structural adhesives improves the rigidity. This GT-R has an aero package, including a large carbon-fiber wing that creates downforce without—according to Nissan—affecting the drag coefficient. If this small-batch GT-R sounds appealing, then the $151,880 price, a 50-percent hike over a regular GT-R, might not have you doing a spit-take.
To stay off the radar, we kept these three away from major highways and hid in the canyons. We decided not to lap a road course, instead opting to live with the cars on public roads. We already have lap times for the GT-R NISMO and the Turbo S, and we will be sure to bring a Z06 to Virginia International Raceway for our next Lightning Lap test. But, for now, we shall judge them not by their circuit times, but as real cars on real roads.
2015 Nissan GT-R NISMO
Third place: Candy Crush.
Everything gets old, even Godzilla. Next to the Corvette and the 911, the mighty GT-R is beginning to show some gray, and its lack of refinement is becoming obvious. NISMO’s engineering know-how helps the test numbers, but the end result is a more specialized GT-R that has more trouble adapting to life on the road than the newer Corvette and 911.
The ride borders on the violent, a harshness not present in the other cars. Switching the electronically adjustable shocks to their softest setting doesn’t alleviate the discomfort of becoming human Jell-O. For 2015, Nissan softened the base GT-R’s ride, which apparently opened the door for NISMO to get a bit sadistic. The upsides are no detectable body roll, immediate steering responses, and a skidpad figure of 1.02 g’s. But the chassis is now so stiff that small mid-corner bumps throw the GT-R around enough to trigger the stability control. We might be willing to forgive the NISMO’s punishment if the other two cars didn’t combine more grip with better ride quality.
The Corvette and the 911 sound better, too. The GT-R’s 3.8-liter twin-turbo V-6 pulses out a grin-inducing snarl above 5000 rpm, but the rest of the time it whines, whirs, clicks, clunks, and hums as if powered by so many milkshake blenders. Turbo lag is minimal, and thrust is available from any rpm. But the dual-clutch transmission is slow to react and downshift into the lowest gear, which lengthened the car’s passing times. In manual mode, the transmission responds with quick and crisp shifts, but left to its own devices, it acts a bit confused.
The NISMO’s 55 extra horsepower over the base GT-R results in marginally better acceleration. The run to 60 takes 2.9 seconds, a tenth quicker than the regular GT-R, while the quarter arrives in 11 flat at 128 mph, an improvement of 0.2 second and 3 mph. These are not gains that justify a $50,000 price hike, unless the car will live at the track.
Relentless tweaking has kept the GT-R near the forefront of insanely fast coupes. But it’s rough and heavy and thirsty and expensive.
What hasn’t changed is the GT-R’s mass and footprint. It’s the big-and-tall shopper of the group at 3894 pounds. From behind the wheel, the GT-R feels sedanlike, at least when it’s not moving. Its high cowl and beltline don’t register as sporty, but at least getting in and out is easy. High-effort steering adds to a sensation of heaviness, but, like every GT-R since 2009, the car shrinks in size the harder you drive it. In the slalom, the GT-R bested the smaller and lighter 911 Turbo S.
The GT-R NISMO’s ability to transcend its weight comes at a cost. It acts like a race car and never breaks character. If the idea of driving a pole sitter to work appeals, look no further. Or, if you use it only to terrorize your track-day colleagues, the GT-R NISMO might be what you want. If not, keep reading.
2014 Porsche 911 Turbo S
Second place: Candy Crush.
An 18-point price deficit on our score sheet is a nearly impossible hurdle to overcome with subjective ratings, but the Porsche almost pulls it off. Porsche asks $195,175 for a Turbo S like this one (base: $183,695). We’d say it’s worth it—if you can afford it.
Like most 911s, the Turbo S is safe for daily use. Early on, technical editor K.C. Colwell declared it to be the luxury car of the group, and in their softest setting, the electronically adjustable shocks provide a supple ride despite the 20-inch wheels. A perfect seating position is easily attainable thanks to the heated-and-cooled 18-way adjustable seats. Visibility in all directions is excellent. Both at full throttle and while cruising at 70 mph, the 911 is the quietest in the group. Aside from its price and performance, there’s nothing hugely exotic about the 911. It is that everyday normality that makes the Porsche so agreeable.
The Turbo S is as effective a speed sled as exists, but a 911 GT3 is more fun and less expensive. But, my goodness, this thing is quick.
That said, there’s nothing normal about launch control in a Turbo S. It’s a strange and brutal sensation, this going from motionless to 30 mph in one second, 60 mph in 2.5 seconds, and 100 in 6.2 seconds. The quarter blurs past in 10.6 seconds at 130 mph, and 150 is yours in less than 15. It’s a full-body assault, a four-wheel bull ride, and as nauseatingly disorienting as an Everclear-fueled night. This 8000-mile Turbo S proved to be quicker than a similar car we tested a year ago, and it’s the only car we’ve recently examined to hit 180 mph on our test straightaway. In our passing evaluations, the Porsche snapped down into the lowest possible gear quickly, easily besting the GT-R’s passing times.
Through the slalom, however, the 911 finished last, right behind the GT-R. Next to the instant turn-in response of the Corvette, the 911 feels a little slow to respond. But away from the narrow conditions of the slalom, the car’s responses feel right. In the canyons, it proves an affable ally, with linear power delivery and a dual-clutch transmission that picks the right gears in sport-plus mode. Rear-wheel steering stabilizes the car and helps minimize understeer. There is nothing about the Porsche’s otherwise playful handling that gives away the fact that 61.2 percent of its poundage rests on the rear tires. It never sets a P Zero wrong, even when you’re approaching the 1.07 g’s-worth of available grip.
It’s easy to get into a fast rhythm here. The car feels nimble and tossable. From inside, the flat-six snarls and barks as 911s have since 1965. From outside, though, it’s a different story. On boost, the Turbo S sounds like so much escaping air, like the devil’s own blowtorch.
The Turbo S is the best car here, but it costs as much as two Z06s. And it’s not twice as good.
2015 Chevrolet Corvette Z06
First place: Candy Crush.
There’s more grip in this industrial-strength Pixy Stix than in any other road car we’ve tested. Rib-cracking, inner-ear-smashing, arm-flailing grip. Painted lines aren’t this well attached to the road. Life beyond 1.0 g calls for heavy concentration, so drink your Red Bull and splash some water on your face, because unless your last name is Vettel or Gordon, the Z06 is more than you can handle, even on your best day.
Compared with the other two cars here, the Vette is a live wire, reacting as if it’s missing an electron in its outer shell. The handling is next-level stuff. Most of the violence comes courtesy of the supercharged 6.2-liter V-8. Ads for this car should include the following disclaimers: “Short-term effects are joy, terror, and soreness. Long-term effects include loss of license, skyrocketing insurance bills, and possibly a stenosis of the cervical spine.”
The Z06 posts utterly shocking braking and roadholding figures. But without four-wheel drive, its acceleration is merely stunning.
Speeds that are thrilling in the cars of mortals are nothing to the Z06. From the logbook: “You could set the cruise control at 65 mph on highway 33 and tackle every switchback that canyon road has to offer without ever touching the brakes.”
And somehow, the same suspension that makes 1.15 g’s possible doesn’t pound you senseless. We expected the compliance of a go-kart but were proven wrong. While definitely firm, the Corvette, when set on tour—the magnetorheological shocks’ softest setting—is only slightly harsher and stiffer than the standard Stingray and not nearly as unyielding as the GT-R. The steamroller Michelins sop up most bumps and barely sing louder than Z51 rubber.
Dial up the track setting and the steering effort rises, the shocks tighten, and the exhaust flaps open to release the sounds of Sebring. We prefer the lighter steering of the other modes, but the extra effort isn’t on your mind when the Corvette approaches 1.0 g. Go ahead, splurge on the $1995 Competition Sport seats; you’ll need them to keep you where you belong.
The Z06 has the best power-to-weight ratio here but not the superior traction with which to apply it. In an all-two-wheel-drive world, this would be the quickest car, but as it is, the Z06’s acceleration times were the slowest. Still, a zero-to-60 of 3.3 seconds and a quarter-mile time of 11.5 seconds at 125 mph is hardly embarrassing. The Chevy does come with launch control, but it’s not as effective as the Porsche’s. Our best times were achieved by slowly rolling into the throttle, thereby avoiding time-robbing wheelspin.
There’s so much power here that the gearing feels short. It’s not—first gear is good for 66 mph, tall enough to merge onto a freeway without upshifting. Once your palm moves to the stick, you find surprisingly light effort considering the transmission’s torque capacity. A seven-speed maze means that we found fifth gear sometimes when we were seeking third. Above 150 mph, acceleration tapers off faster here than in the other cars, as the added drag of the Z07’s thorny aerodynamic gear begins to throw out the anchor.
Should a faster-acting anchor be needed, the Corvette can stop from 70 mph in 135 feet and from 100 mph in 261 feet all day long. The stops are so quick that we expected OnStar to call us to see if we had just crashed. The brake pedal feels excellent, with just the right amount of initial bite. Porsche’s brake feel was a close second. The Nissan’s cast-iron rotors provided short stops, but the pedal has enough sponginess to foster doubt.
For all the race car–like performance the Z06 adds to the Stingray, the refinement, civility, and ride are hardly degraded. Regular commuter or force-five hurricane, the Z06 plays both roles with equal aplomb. If this is indeed the last front-engine Corvette, it’s fitting that it’s the best.
|2015 Chevrolet Corvette Z06||2015 Nissan
911 Turbo S
|PRICE AS TESTED||$102,120||$151,880||$195,175|
|LENGTH||177.9 inches||184.3 inches||177.4 inches|
|WIDTH||77.4 inches||74.6 inches||74.0 inches|
|HEIGHT||48.6 inches||54.2 inches||51.0 inches|
|WHEELBASE||106.7 inches||109.4 inches||96.5 inches|
|FRONT TRACK||63.5 inches||63.0 inches||60.6 inches|
|REAR TRACK||62.5 inches||63.0 inches||62.6 inches|
|INTERIOR VOLUME||F: 52 cubic feet||F: 53 cubic feet
R: 26 cubic feet
|F: 50 cubic feet
R: 17 cubic feet
|CARGO||15 cubic feet||9 cubic feet||13 cubic feet|
pushrod 16-valve V-8
376 cu in (6162 cc)
DOHC 24-valve V-6
232 cu in (3799 cc)
DOHC 24-valve flat-6
232 cu in (3800 cc)
|POWER HP @ RPM||650 @ 6400||600 @ 6800||560 @ 6750|
|TORQUE LB-FT @ RPM||650 @ 3600||481 @ 3200||516 @ 2100|
|REDLINE / FUEL CUTOFF||6500/6700 rpm||7000/7000 rpm||7000/7200 rpm|
|LB PER HP||5.4||6.5||6.4|
|TRANSMISSION||7-speed manual||6-speed dual-clutch automatic||7-speed dual-clutch automatic|
MPH PER 1000 RPM/
|SUSPENSION||F: control arms, leaf spring, anti-roll bar
R: control arms, leaf spring, anti-roll bar
|F: control arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar
R: multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar
|F: struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar
R: multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar
|BRAKES||F: 15.5-inch vented, cross-drilled, ceramic disc
R: 15.3-inch vented, cross-drilled, ceramic disc
|F: 15.4-inch vented, cross-drilled disc
R: 15.0-inch vented, cross-drilled disc
|F: 16.1-inch vented, cross-drilled, ceramic disc
R: 15.4-inch vented, cross-drilled, ceramic disc
|STABILITY CONTROL||fully defeatable, traction off, competition mode, launch control||fully defeatable, competition mode, launch control||fully defeatable, launch control|
Pilot Sport Cup 2 ZP
F: P285/30ZR-19 (94Y)
R: P335/25ZR-20 (99Y)
SP Sport Maxx GT
600 DSST CTT
F: 255/40ZRF-20 (97Y)
R: 285/35ZRF-20 (100Y)
F: 245/35ZR-20 (91Y)
R: 305/30ZR-20 (103Y)
C/D TEST RESULTS
|0–30 MPH||1.6 sec||1.2 sec||1.0 sec|
|0–60 MPH||3.3 sec||2.9 sec||2.5 sec|
|0–100 MPH||7.5 sec||6.6 sec||6.2 sec|
|0–150 MPH||17.9 sec||15.8 sec||14.9 sec|
|¼-MILE @ MPH||11.5 sec @ 125||11.0 sec @ 128||10.6 sec @ 130|
|ROLLING START, 5–60 MPH||4.0 sec||3.8 sec||3.4 sec|
|TOP GEAR, 30–50 MPH||13.9 sec||3.8 sec||2.1 sec|
|TOP GEAR, 50–70 MPH||10.8 sec||3.0 sec||2.3 sec|
|TOP SPEED||185 mph (drag ltd)*||191 mph (redline ltd)||198 mph (drag ltd, mfr’s claim)|
|BRAKING 70–0 MPH||135 feet||152 feet||145 feet|
|BRAKING 100–0 MPH||261 feet||275 feet||291 feet|
|1.15 g||1.02 g||1.07 g|
|610-FT SLALOM||50.1 mph||48.2 mph||48.1 mph|
|CURB||3530 pounds||3894 pounds||3590 pounds|
|TANK||18.5 gallons||19.5 gallons||18.0 gallons|
|RATING||91 octane||93 octane||93 octane|
|EPA CITY/HWY||15/22 mpg||16/23 mpg||17/24 mpg|
|C/D 450-MILE TRIP||13 mpg||12 mpg||14 mpg|
|IDLE||60 dBA||54 dBA||55 dBA|
|FULL THROTTLE||93 dBA||90 dBA||83 dBA|
|70-MPH CRUISE||77 dBA||75 dBA||73 dBA|
Max Pts. Available
2015 Chevrolet Corvette Z06
|FIT AND FINISH||10||8||10||8|
|FUN TO DRIVE||25||24||24||20|
* These objective scores are calculated from the vehicle’s dimensions, capacities, rebates and extras, and/or test results.