Corvette ZR1: 2019 Performance Car of the Year

The Chevrolet Corvette, affectionately known as “America’s Sports Car,” went through several redesigns and variants over the years, but none are as notable or special as the Corvette ZR1. While the original ‘Vette debuted on January 17, 1953 at the New York Auto Show, the original ZR1 trim level wasn’t offered until the fourth generation in 1990. And while traditional Corvettes are easily recognizable—with their shapely, lightweight fiberglass bodywork, front engine and rear wheel drive layout, and that always welcome American V8 engine rumble—the 1990 ZR1 pushed the envelope further. It was the fastest and most expensive Corvette produced up to that date, with a top speed of 172 MPH and a cost equivalent to $110,000 today.

The ZR1 is the alpha Corvette, the top dog, the end product of insane levels of engineering and attention to detail. It is the fastest version of America’s favorite sports car, and every time you think to yourself “This can’t possibly get any faster,” Chevrolet will surprise you!

The ZR1 is returning this year, and if you’re expecting big numbers, you won’t be disappointed. Because once again, the ZR1 forges ahead and exceeds expectations with a mind blowing LT5 6.2 liter supercharged V8 making 755 horsepower, boasting a top speed of 212 MPH! This makes this ZR1 the most powerful, fastest, and downright craziest Corvette ever produced.

Performance Car of the Year

Every year Road & Track brings together the best sports cars and judges them all to determine the winner. There were eight vehicles in the running for the highly coveted title of 2019 Performance Car of the Year, and the competition was FIERCE.

The Contenders
  • Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio – 505hp twin-turbo V6 (price, as tested: $93,190)
  • Audi RS5 – 444hp twin-turbo V6 (price, as tested: $91,000)
  • BMW M5 Competition – 617hp twin-turbo V8 (price, as tested: $130,495)
  • Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 – 715hp supercharged V8 (price, as tested: $141,485)
  • Ferrari 488 Pista – 711hp twin-turbo V8 (price, as tested: $448,864)
  • McLaren Senna – 789hp twin-turbo V8 (price, as tested: $964,966)
  • Mercedes-Benz E63 AMG S Wagon – 603hp twin-turbo V8 (price, as tested: $140,730)
  • Porsche 911 GT2 RS – 700hp twin-turbo H-6 (price, as tested: $328,880)

What a world we live in where a nearly one-million-dollar McLaren Senna is being compared to a Corvette. Or a 505-hp Alfa Romeo crossover SUV is being pitted against a 711-hp Porsche 911 GT2…

What a world we live in where a nearly one-million-dollar McLaren Senna is being compared to a Corvette. Or a 505-hp Alfa Romeo crossover SUV is being pitted against a 711-hp Porsche 911 GT2...It’s a colorful lineup, for sure. And according to R&T, many editors were concerned (read: annoyed) that performance SUVs were even included. (Oh to be a fly on the wall in that meeting room, huh?) But the winner of this competition was not to be the vehicle with the most impressive specs—that would be too easy. (Also, that would likely result in the McLaren Senna blasting the competition out of the water, and then we’d be left with an unattainable, told-you-so champion. Really, who wants one of those?)

The Winner

No, this competition was more about heart and soul than logical numbers. A gauging of “sensory assault,” the debate revolved around the intangibles. Take these eight wildly different cars and judge them on criteria that could only be experienced by actually driving them. And drive them, they did. They drove all eight cars over the course for several days, running them through a myriad of real-world driving situations as well as track time and hot laps.

This hands-on approach led to a truly inspired discussion (read: HEATED), but it produced a clear winner: The Corvette ZR1. It won because of the heart-flutter caused by the exhaust when you stomp on the throttle. It won for the insane levels of grip it has to offer. For its “nuclear mutant” face. For retaining everything beloved about the inimitable Corvette and yet somehow being more. And also, for its (nominally) easier-to-swallow price tag. Sure, the interior isn’t on par with the Ferrari or McLaren in the test group, but at one third the cost of the Ferrari and one seventh the cost of the McLaren, should we really expect it to?

R&T staff commented on how the Corvette was almost never parked—everyone wanted more time with the car. This is maybe the best testament to what the ZR1 represents: a truly dynamic and exciting driving experience. One that causes you to pause for the slightest moment while running through the gears and wonder if you’re driving the car, or it’s driving you. It’s a feeling built upon years of history, both of the Corvette and the ZR1 trim. A legacy bolstered by not only snagging the 2019 Performance Car of the Year award, but also by beating out such prestigious competitors as the Ferrari 488 Pista and the McLaren Senna.

The 2019 Chevy Corvette ZR1

It’s easy to list off stats from a spec sheet, but let’s try to look past those numbers.

The ZR1 wears one of the most aggressive bodies yet to grace the seventh generation Corvette. Everything has a purpose, from the great big bulging hood which encloses the supercharger, to the head-turning racing style wing on the trunk for added downforce. Even the front bumper and grille were reworked in order to get enough air to flow through the 13 radiators and heat exchangers. Yes, you read that right. There are thirteen radiators on this car, all working to keep engine oil, transmission fluid, differential oil, and coolant temperatures down. We meant it when we said “insane levels of engineering”—Chevrolet engineers really pulled out all the stops. A monumental effort went into keeping the weight down and maximizing the performance.

This car excels in many ways, but going fast might be its best trick.

The Corvette ZR1 grips the road in seemingly impossible proportions. For a front-engine, rear-wheel-drive chassis it feels planted and intuitive. The steering is electric-assisted, but it feels heavier and more mechanical than other Corvettes. The traction control has multiple settings to allow the perfect amount of tail-sliding, ear-to-ear grinning joy. Changing the drive modes will alter how firm the suspension rides, how loud the exhaust rings out, and how quickly the steering responds. With a little fine-tuning it’s easy to find the perfect combination of settings to make this car SING!

“When you first get in the car it feels just like a base Stingray: the layout, the driver’s seat, even the ride,” says Jay “Stingray” Mowrer, a Corvette specialist at VanDevere Chevrolet (and drag racing enthusiast) in Akron, Ohio. “Then you stomp down on the gas pedal and it quickly reminds you that you’re in something completely different! The torque is instantaneous and feels limitless.”

The End of An Era

If the rumors are to be believed, and this is the last front-engine rear-wheel-drive Chevy Corvette ZR1, this car will certainly be an icon. The 2019 ZR1 could represent the upper reaches of performance possible in this type of driveline setup, the end of an era, and an absolute triumph of power and performance. If the rumors are false and the next generation of Corvette is NOT a mid-engine platform, this car will still stand above all others as the king, the top, THE example of “America’s Sports Car.”

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