Car Reviews

2019 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 Convertible First Look: Statement Maker

No compromises with the most powerful topless 'Vette ever

No compromises with the most powerful topless 'Vette ever

Want to make an entrance at the country club? They will hear your new 2019 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 convertible from about a mile away with its 6.2-liter supercharged V-8. And then they will see it: the long hood with bulging intercooler and the crazy high wing on the back.

Yes, not only is the king back for 2019, but the ZR1 is also being offered as a convertible for those who don’t want the coupe with a removable hardtop. It is the first ZR1 drop-top since the original 1970 model year.

The coupe has a top speed of 212 mph (341 km/h), and the convertible also exceeds 200 mph (322 km/h). Preliminary testing by Chevy has the ZR1 doing 0–60 mph in less than 3.0 seconds, and the quarter mile is in the “high 10-second range” with the eight-speed automatic transmission.

Both the convertible and coupe go on sale in the spring. The coupe starts at $119,995 USD, and the convertible starts at $123,995 USD.

The Corvette team knew from the start that this ZR1 would be different: time to offer the king as a convertible and with an automatic transmission. Push a button, and the top is down in 21 seconds—and it can be done remotely or while driving up to 30 mph (48 km/h).

Convertibles are part of Corvette heritage. The first model was a convertible: a concept show car for the Motorama display at the New York auto show in 1953, which led to 300 hand-built white convertibles for the ’53 model year. The ’63 Sting Ray introduced the idea of a coupe, and the C3 brought us the removable T-top.

“There was always going to be a convertible,” said Tom Peters, design chief for Chevrolet performance. “There was no doubt in my mind,” he said, even early in the program when they had no idea where the power would end up.

In the end, the 6.2-liter supercharged pushrod small-block V-8 has been coaxed to produce 755 horsepower and 715 lb-ft of torque, helped by the massive 2.65-liter supercharger.

Is the V-8—called LT5 even though it sticks with Corvette’s traditional overhead valve, two valves per cylinder—at the max for how much power can be pushed from a front engine to rear wheels? Chief engineer Tadge Juechter is cagey. “Every time we thought we were at the max, we weren’t,” he said. That’s his way of not discussing a mid-engine Corvette to usher in the next generation and the expected switch to a dual overhead cam engine.

For now, the ZR1 is the most powerful ’Vette to date, and there are no compromises for those who buy the convertible. It has the same underbody as the coupe, the same aluminum track chassis with no extra bracing required, and the same suspension tuning. “All the convertible hardware just bolts right on,” Juechter said. The only structural changes are to accommodate the folding top and repositioned seat belt mounts. And even with a few extra trappings, the convertible gains less than 60 pounds (27 kg) over the coupe’s 3,560-pound (1,615-kg) curb weight.

Like the coupe, the convertible comes with a choice of a stanchion-mounted smaller low wing or a crazy high wing bolted to the chassis; the latter produces up to 950 pounds (430 kg) of downforce and needs a front underwing in the splitter to keep the front down. The high wing is part of the $2,995 USD ZTK Performance package.

Chevy still offers the seven-speed manual transmission, or buyers can get an automatic for the first time in a ZR1 with GM’s eight-speed with paddle shift. GM’s new 10-speed does not fit. The cars also have GM’s first dual fuel-injection system: primary direct injection and supplemental port injection. Estimated fuel economy is 15/22 mpg (15.7/10.7 L/100km) in city/highway driving with the manual and 13/23 (18/10.2 L/100km) with the automatic.

The 2019 ZR1 reflects today’s customers who want all the choices in their biggest and baddest dream car, Juechter said. That means adding an automatic transmission option, and it means offering a convertible.

“People want everything max,” said Peters, who loves the lower, wider look of the convertible. “The drama of the body shape stands out more. The wing will be over the top on the convertible. That is a dramatic statement. It is our gift to the world.”

And then there’s the exhaust note. Juechter said you can tell from a mile away when GM is testing the ZR1 at its Milford proving ground. Building on the bimodal exhaust system offered on other Corvette models, the ZR1 has four modes each tuned to sound different. In Stealth mode, the ZR1 is quieter than the Z06. Conversely, in Track mode, it is much louder. That is because a spring-loaded passive valve closes to allow virtually unrestricted exhaust flow for maximum performance. The other two modes are Tour and Sport.

For true appreciation, put the top down in the convertible and select Track, Peters said.

Production of the 2019 model year starts at the retooled plant early next year. Chevy expects to sell 2,000-3,000 ZR1s, but the Bowling Green, Kentucky, plant can make more if needed. It will be available in North America and the Middle East but not Europe, which meant the new front clip and fascia with four new radiators didn’t need to meet Europe’s pedestrian protection regulations. “The front end has almost no fascia; it is almost all openings,” Juechter said.

Convertibles could be 15 percent of the mix. Owners might never track their car, Peters said. They prefer the look and shape of a convertible but still want a powerful car and know how to make a dramatic entrance. “Picture pulling up to a restaurant in an orange one,” he said, referring to the Sebring Orange Design package with orange body and matching brake calipers, rocker and splitter accent stripes, seat belts, and stitching. And they can still get two golf bags in the back with the folded top.

The 2019 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 coupe is shown below.