I drove a $137,000 Corvette ZR1 to see if the most powerful Vette ever is worth the steep price tag — here’s the verdict

So ferocious. So powerful. So cool.

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So ferocious. So powerful. So cool.
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The next generation of the Chevy Corvette, a car that has been in continuous production since 1953, will not have the engine up front where it belongs, but in the middle. Chevy has confirmed this and set a date to reveal the eighth-generation Vette: July 18.

The mid-engine design will make for a better race car – Corvette Racing has for years been notching prestigious victories – so the eighth-gen Vette will be a whole new ball game.

Things change, and there’s no point in defying progress. But until the new Vette arrives, we have a bevy of seventh-gen Vettes to enjoy.

There’s the magnificent Stingray, Business Insider’s 2014 Car of the Year. Then there’s the Grand Sport, in my view the best bang for the buck in sports cars on Earth. For the fearless, there’s the beastly Z06, Bowling Green’s version of a supercar.

And finally, there’s the ZR1. If the Z06 turns Corvette up to 11 with 650 horsepower, the ZR1 takes it to 111, or 1,111 – or just trashes the amplifier dials altogether and creates a white-hot supernova of noise and power. The same V8 engine that provides the Z06 with its epic output, when modified and ridiculously intensified, generates a near-comical 755 horsepower in the ZR1.

The ZR1 designation has come and gone in the Vette’s history, first arriving in a special package in 1970 on the third-generation car. There was a fourth-gen ZR1, but no fifth-gen version. Gen six also saw a ZR1. Gen seven has been around since 2014, but a new ZR1 arrived for the 2019 model year.

The latest ZR1 isn’t for the faint of heart. If you don’t like huge rear carbon-fiber wings and low front aero technology, you might want to look elsewhere – like at the Stingray or the Grand Sport.

I did not look elsewhere on a weeklong visit to the Motor City last year; Chevy kindly lent me a roughly $137,000 2019 ZR1 to sample.

There was a surprise in store for me. Read on to find out what it was.


You could barely tell that the ZR1 was a handsome “Elkhart Lake Blue Metallic” when I picked it up at night near the Detroit airport.

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The first challenge: getting my suitcase into the quite small truck — over the carbon-fiber wing. The trick? Load from the side!

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I got my really good look at the ZR1 under ideal conditions: as the sun rose in the east over Michigan.

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The design will be familiar to anyone who’s seen the ZR1’s stablemate, the Z06. But this Vette is more ferocious in every way.

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The angles are more angular; the muscles are more muscular.

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In fact, there’s so much going on with this coupé two-seater that you have to step back a few yards to note how relatively small the Vette is, even with all the ZR1 extras.

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We’ve tested the entire Corvette lineup, from the Stingray hardtop with a seven-speed manual …

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… to the Stingray drop-top with an eight-speed automatic transmission …

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… to the Grand Sport (also a convertible) …

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… to the mighty Z06, with its 650-horsepower V8 supplying 650 pound-feet of torque.

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The ZR1 adds another 105 horsepower, making it the most powerful vehicle we’ve tested for more than a few hours.

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The exterior is simply vicious.

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Front aero shapes the air around the intake scoops in the ZR1 maw.

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Out back, the rear wing provides the immense downforce needed to ensure the Vette’s tires remain stuck to the pavement when the hammer drops and the horsepower flows.

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The rear wing defines the backside of this Vette …

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… from every angle …

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… but it’s really not <em>too</em> obnoxious at the end of the day.

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It steals some thunder from the quartet of trumpets that shape the ZR1’s monumental exhaust note — sort of like a demonic version of the Count Basie brass section.

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You have to look closely to find the ZR1 badging …

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… fore and aft.

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Even the Corvette badge fades into the frightening dynamic of the ZR1’s exterior.

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I must report that the massive carbon-fiber hood scoop — which is really part of the engine, not the hood — and the rear wing reduce visibility.

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But we’re not dealing with a car that’s holding anything back. You have to accept the ZR1 for what it is.

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The fastback hatch sweeps boldly from the carbon-fiber targa roof.

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As it is with the Z06, the targa top on the ZR1 is easy to remove. Two people are best, but I handled it with no difficulty.

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Just throw a latch …

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… and two more …

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… until the top pops free.

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The stow is in a specially designed mount in the trunk, complete with a fabric cover.

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Nice and snug!

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We can debate whether the ZR1 looks better with the top removed. I’m not sure. But open-air motoring in the Michigan suburbs was definitely pleasant on a warm day.

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The tires, Michelin Pilot Super Sport Cup 2s, were brilliant.

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The ventilated discs and chunky calibers provided ample stopping power.

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Let’s raise the hood — what there is of it — and check out that stonking V8.

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Given that the V8 is cowled by a massive carbon-fiber cover for the supercharger, you’ll just have to take my word that the 6.2-liter pushrod LT5 V8, making 755 horsepower with 715 pound-feet of torque, is an unholy monster of a powerplant. MPGs are 12 city/20 highway/15 combined.

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The hood, of course, has a great big hole in it.

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And one would have to admit it looks crazy cool.

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The ZR1 channels all that power through a smooth-shifting seven-speed manual or optional eight-speed automatic. The 0-60 mph dash passes in about three seconds, on the way to a top speed of 212 mph (attainable only when drag running on an approved track).

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The drive-mode selector gives you access to “tour,” “sport,” and “track” settings. You can also turn off the traction control. But don’t.

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Let’s slip inside.

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It’s cozy in here, all black leather, carbon fiber, and Alcantara.

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A bit of topstitched detail from the steering wheel.

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The manual comes with a rev-matching feature that when engaged is blissful on downshifts. I’m decent at matching my own revs, but the ZR1’s computer never makes a mistake.

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The seats are sport and prepared to accept a racing harness. Bolstering hugs driver and passenger tight.

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The ZR1 is equipped with Chevy’s very capable and easy-to-use infotainment system, though it runs on a rather small touchscreen by necessity.

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Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are available, as are Bluetooth pairing and the usual AUX/USB ports.

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The system also features GM’s useful Marketplace interface.

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It can connect drivers with merchant partners so you can make purchases on the road, as long as you have an account set up.

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OK, so what was ZR1 like to drive?

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I’m not going to shock anyone by saying I could have used a drag strip or the Nürburgring to undertake a proper evaluation. The ZR1 has so much power and is so well-outfitted to deploy it that mere public roads were not much of a challenge.

Weirdly, while I was initially terrified of the ZR1 and drove it gingerly for the first few hours, my comfort level later skyrocketed, regardless of which drive mode was on tap. This was not the case when I tested the Z06 and felt that it was endlessly demanding more bandwidth.

With that car, I could get into some of the meat of the V8’s 650 ponies. But when it came to the ZR1’s 755 horses, let’s get real: I was barely tickling the stallion. At no time did I have the real estate available to unleash hell, nor did the laws of Michigan permit anything that would have revealed the ZR1’s savagery.

So I did what I often do with Vettes: I cruised and enjoyed the luscious sounds of the engine as I shifted gears and played with the throttle. This motor sounds so, so good. That’s ample compensation for not being able to access all it can give, because even at 50 mph, settled into a third-gear roar, there’s a lot of give.

The steering is heavy and purposeful, and the upgraded suspension is rock-steady, though the impression I got in some corners was that if you try to power your way out, the back end could get lively.

The temptation to use that oomph is ever present, but also an unending tantalization. Even when I was getting on it, the feeling was that I had miles of horsepower and sprawling vistas of torque in reserve. This makes that astonishing 755 number – so impressive on paper – more than a little abstract in reality. The Stingray’s 460 ponies are accessible by contrast.

But let’s be totally honest: 755 horsepower for less than $150,000? You have got to be kidding, Corvette. Ha ha ha ha ha! The value that this machine presents for an enthusiast is flatly ridiculous. OK, it’s not an inexpensive car. But you’re well into supercar specs, pushing toward hypercar numbers, and your bank account isn’t going up in flames.


The verdict?

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The 2019 Corvette is the undisputed king of American supercars that nobody routinely refers to as supercars. It costs hundreds of thousands less than the competition that gets to use that title. You might think that some sort of law of diminishing returns kicks in as you march up the Vette hierarchy, but I’ve made the march, and I’m here to tell you that just as you get way more than you pay for with the Stingray, the Grand Sport, and the Z06, so you do with the ZR1.

The ZR1 is brilliant – and too good for me, really. I couldn’t give it what it wanted, which was a stripe of unbroken asphalt between here and the moon to chew up and spit out. All I got to do was tool around Detroit in epic, thrummingly noisy style.

You might assume I returned the ZR1 with a smile on my face. I did. But I felt bad. The ZR1 had come to deliver the goods and then some. And I disappointed it.