Evaluating a family car for MotorWeek is usually pretty easy. You take it to work, take the kids to school, and do the weekly grocery shopping, all pretty straightforward stuff. But testing a high performance sports car like the Chevrolet Corvette Z06 is another matter entirely. Where can you go to test its limits…without getting arrested? Well, fortunately for us, that turned out to be easy too!
And, a whole lot of fun in the process! We’d already put the 2001 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 through its paces on the street, and on our normal test course, and found it to be a serious sports car that was as drivable as many family sedans. But along comes the even more impressive 2002 Z06, and we knew we just had to rachet up the action and tackle the serious twists and turns of West Virginia’s Summit Point Raceway. We see it as our duty to find how much total performance Chevy engineers can pack into their performance leader.
As any ‘Vette fan will tell you, Chevy’s all-aluminum 5.7-liter pushrod V8, dubbed the LS6, is serious performance hardware. But for 2002 it gets even more so with a power boost of 20 horsepower and 15 pound-feet of torque. This raises peak output to a stunning 405 horsepower and 400 pound-feet of torque! This super-LS6 is coupled with the M12 6-speed manual transmission. It’s still the only transmission available and a unique gearbox to the Z06.
‘02 suspension changes are more modest, and consist of aluminum front stabilizer bar links, and revised rear shock valving. While the 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels are now cast, instead of forged.
Inside, the cockpit maintains its fighter-plane layout, made even more so by the addition of the previously optional head-up display to the standard equipment list.
And with even more power, the Z06 takes off like a jet, too. 0 to 60 is a blistering 4.2- seconds. That’s 3-10ths faster than last year. While the 1/4 mile flashes by in 12.5-seconds, at 118 miles-per-hour. Yes, that’s fast! Throttle response is instantaneous. So much so that you have to feather the throttle to keep the rear wheels from spinning through the first three gears. And with maximum torque at only 4,800 rpm, it’s still pulling like the proverbial freight train at its 6,500 rpm redline.
But according to our test drivers, it handles more like an extra-large go-kart! With its quick, speed-sensitive rack-and-pinion steering, a tight, short-long-arm double-wishbone suspension with composite leaf springs, and a second-generation Active Handling system, with a Competitive mode that allows you to selectively disengage traction control. The new Z06 is tight, precise, and defines the term agile!
And feedback through the steering wheel, the pedals, and even the seat of your pants, is first rate. Our drivers felt connected to every inch of the track surface. Which allowed them to push the Z06 to the absolute limits of its sticky Goodyear Eagle F1 tires. And that feel is also absolute under hard braking. With big four wheel discs, and 4- channel ABS, the Z06 slams down for cornering, and for our 60-to-0 test in an average distance of only 107 feet.
Even over bumpy patches, there’s no loss in stability when braking from triple digit speeds. To quote our test drivers, “This is another Chevy that’s like a rock. No skating, shaking or darting. You point it where you want to stop, and it stops.” Need we say more?
Well, we will. The Corvette Z06 is one of the few street legal sports cars that can truly be considered “race ready.” Just add roll cage, fire extinguisher, helmet, and go. Yet with its exhilarating power and handling, this Z06 is still very day-to-day drivable. It won’t beat you up on any road, and that’s quite an achievement , and one that you can own for $50,350. A lot of money for the working man or woman, but a screaming bargain compared to cars of similar capabilities from Germany and Italy.
The 2002 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 is a car that looks great on paper, is still affordable on the installment plan, and won’t fail to impress you on any street. But, it takes time on a proper race track to prove just how great this American performance flagship really is. It made us believers for life.
Engine: 5.7-Liter Pushrod V8
Torque: 400 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 4.2 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 12.5 Seconds @ 118 MPH
60-0 MPH: 107 Feet
EPA Mileage: 19 MPG City 28 MPG Highway