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Chevrolet Corvette Z06 Preview

For decades, the Corvette has been at the forefront of American performance. Suddenly, from out of nowhere, Chrysler challenged the Corvette with its Dodge Viper, a brutal racing machine sold on the street. Though the Viper has a thoroughly different character than the Corvette, comparisons were inevitable; and, at least on the track, the Corvette suffered.

The Z06 is one of Chevrolet's answers to the Viper. With more agility, performance, and refinement, it pushes the Corvette forward another step.

All 2001 Corvettes now come with a standard active handling system. 2001 also brings lower maintenance costs, better fuel economy, and less noise. Specifically, the coupe and convertible get a standard LS1 engine, with 350 hp, and more low-end torque. At a mere 1,000 rpm, just above idle, an amazing 300 lb-ft of torque are ready for action. The maximum torque is 375 lb-ft (automatics are restricted to 360 lb-ft). Still, automatic owners can take heart; this year's model is as fast as last year's manual-transmission version.

The Z06 package includes a new LS6 engine, with 385 hp and 385 lb-ft of torque, an amazing combination rivaling the muscle-car era's best (which, by the way, was either the 425 hp Chrysler 426 Hemi, or the very limited edition 425 hp Corvette). The LS6 is based on the standard Chevy 350, with modifications to the aluminum block, camshaft, intake manifold, heads, and fuel injectors. A new catalyic converter uses titanium for less weight.

At the same time, gas mileage was raised by one mile per gallon across the board, and all Corvette engines are clean enough to be a National Low Emissions Vehicle.

The Z06 also includes a new six-speed transmission which allows it to get from 0 to 60 in four second flat, with a 12-second quarter mile.

The Active Handling system, first introduced in mid-1998, uses computers, ABS, and traction control to keep drivers out of trouble. 2001 models get a second generation version, with many refinements. It was also designed to be relatively unobtrusive. An advanced mode allows drivers to shut off the traction control, while ABS remains on.

Three suspensions are available - the FE1 (standard), the F45 (with three modes to choose from), and the Z51 ("at the limit" handling) - on standard Corvettes, while the Z06 gets an FE4 version with a large stabilizer bar in front, stiff rear leaf spring, and revised camber.

We mentioned the Viper before, and it is worth noting the differences. The Viper is a thinly disguised racing car, which you can buy for the street. Because it is designed for advanced drivers, many have been wrecked. The Corvette is a high performance car, but it is designed for everyday driving as well as racing, and is considerably more comfortable and easy to drive. The Active Handling system helps keep the car out of the ditch. Vipers are cleaning up across the world in racing trim; Corvettes, on the other hand, are a thrilling ride on the street, with superior performance to many more expensive cars, but without giving up creature comforts. No surprise, then, that it has nearly a third of its market segment, despite hot competition from the BMW Z3, Porsche Boxter, Mercedes SLK, and others. The Z06 is designed to compete with the Viper for the hearts of performance enthusiasts, and its higher power and over-one-G of turning force will help; but for most of the buying public, even the base Corvette is king of its hill.

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