King Corvette: Chevy supercar beats elites

Henry Payne
The Detroit News

Imagine Target trumping Saks Fifth Avenue. Timex outshining Rolex. Chevy beating Lamborghini.

The Corvette Z06 at speed on Virginia International Raceway. The Z06 recorded the second-fastest time in the nine-year history of Car and Driver’s Lightning Lap test.

Actually, that last one should come as no surprise. The Chevrolet Corvette has added to its status as the world’s most affordable supercar as it emerged the king of the 2015 Car and Driver Lightning Lap competition at Virginia International Raceway. It outran such thoroughbreds as the $353,115 McLaren 650S Spider, $274,120 Lamborghini Huracan and $163,000 Porsche 911 GT3.

So quick was the $100,245 Z06 — Corvette’s 650-horsepower performance model — that in the nine-year history of the famed Lightning Lap only one car has ever recorded a faster time: the 2014 Porsche 918 hybrid, a carbon-fiber cyborg from the future that costs nearly nine times as much the Corvette. The $875,175 Porsche was faster by a mere 1.5 seconds. That’s over $250,000 per half second.

The Corvette’s performance left Car and Driver Editor-in-chief Eddie Alterman in awe.

“It’s incredible how much performance they pack into that $100,000 price point,” Alterman said. “One of the interesting things about the Z06 is it proves the car with the highest top speed is not necessarily the fastest car around a race track. The McLaren (top speed: 204 mph), for example, was faster on the straights, but the Z06 with more down-force and grip just dominated on the more technical parts of the track.”

Ann Arbor-based Car and Driver is perhaps the country’s most revered auto enthusiast magazine, and VIR is one America’s most revered tracks. “We go there because it’s the closest thing to an American Nurburgring,” Alterman said in comparing the 4.1-mile, 24-turn roller-coaster outside Danville, Virginia, to the legendary, 13-mile German circuit.

The resulting Lightning Lap test is an independent benchmark of whether today’s best performance cars are as quick on the track as their numbers suggest on paper. For three days, four top driver/journalists analyzed 18 of the industry’s state-of-the-art grouped by price.

“The goal is to see ... how much true dynamic value you get for the price,” Car and Driver said. In the case of the ’Vette, quite a lot.

The 2015 Z06 built on the success of the critically acclaimed, $55,400, 2014 Corvette C7 Stingray — the first Corvette to get an all-aluminum chassis. The Stingray also improved interior comforts with features such as dual climate control, stitched leather seats and multi-mode driving controls comparable to pricier Porsches.

“The Z06 is truly an all-around performer,” said Todd Christensen, Chevy marketing manager for performance cars. “You could drive it to work every day and still be the fastest at the track. It can compete with and even beat some of the most expensive, most exotic cars on the market.”

Yet the Corvette remains old-school in many ways to reduce costs. It is still a front-engine, push-rod V-8 in an era of mid-engine, overhead-cam, hybrid-drivetrain mega-bots. No matter. When the rubber hits the road, the Z06 is supreme.

Its 2:44.6 minute lap this year not only nipped the McLaren (2:45.8) and Lamborghini Huracán (2:47.5), it destroyed the Porsche 911 GT3 (2:50.4) which is widely considered to be the best all-around sports car on the planet. Rummaging through previous Lightning Lap data, only the Porsche 918 beats the Z06 with a 2:43.1 second lap. Not the $333,376 Ferrari 458 Italia. Not the V-10-powered, $196,795 Audi R8.

The Lightning Lap results reaffirmed the decision of Farmington Hills resident Bruce Anderson to buy his orange Z06 this year. “It’s nice to know there’s not a lot on the road that I can’t beat,” he smiled.

The Corvette’s showing was not the only bright spot for Detroit iron. Cadillac’s latest entries in the performance sedan field, the Cadillac CTS-V and ATS-V, also impressed.

“The CTS-V is mind-blowing.,” Alterman said of the big sedan that shares an engine with the Z06. It’s essentially a Corvette with four doors. It lapped VIR in 2:56.8, beating competitors in the $65,000-to-$124,999 category such as the Mercedes-AMG C63 S and Lexus RC F.

“It is very cool to see the home team putting out cars that are every bit as good as the heritage European brands,” said Alterman, who has a soft spot for his hometown. “GM, Ford, Fiat-Chrysler are really turning out incredible performance with real personality.”

But for good ol’ driving pleasure, the Car and Driver team gives a nod to another sports car with a lot of bang for the buck: the $33,320 Mazda Miata MX-5. Though it finished last in the coach-class segment (under $34,999) behind the VW GTI, Mini Cooper, and turbocharged four-cylinder Ford Mustang, the Miata got raves.

“The car is in no way remote from you,” Alterman said. “We’ve always loved the Miata. But this is a special, special car.”

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Email him at Follow him on Twitter @HenryEPayne. See all his work at