Dionne Warwick was wrong. LA isn’t just a great big freeway. It’s a great big freeway surrounded by some of the very best driving roads anywhere in the world. Roads that are well-surfaced, warmed by the almost permanent sun and with views that make you want to just stop and point stupidly at them.
Sure, LA has more than its fair share of traffic problems – the lava-slow freeways being one of the main everyday headaches at any time after 2.30pm. But it also more than makes up for those with its vast network of almost deserted canyon, coast and ridge roads that spin their web across the county, from the shining Pacific Ocean in the west all the way out to the desert in the east.
So it’s the perfect place to test the abilities of any fast car, but especially suited to helping us understand the talents – and drawbacks – of a new high-performance convertible like the Corvette Stingray Z06. Apart from the terrain and weather suitability, this is the place where the soft-roof version of the USA’s favourite supercar – and TG award-winner – will mostly be sold and used. If it doesn’t work here, it hasn’t got a hope anywhere else.
Just to keep the Chevy honest, and offer a European counterpoint, we’ve brought along a 217mph Lamborghini Aventador LP700 Roadster. Like you do. We’ve tested this car before, the last of the proper supercars in our view, but never here. So we’re looking forward to seeing how it copes with the new environment – and the Z06.
On paper, the 650bhp supercharged Chevy is down on power compared with the 690bhp Lambo, as they both weigh exactly 1625kg. So you’d think that the Italian exotic with its V12, carbon-everything, Öhlins push-rod suspension, four-wheel drive – and just the fact that it’s a Lamborghini – would give it an edge. But let’s wait and see what happens. This isn’t a head-to-head, but we’ll learn a lot about both cars over the next few days.
Typically, we’d start a road trip like this in LA then head for some distant interesting point hundreds, if not thousands, of miles away. But this time, we thought we’d stay local. LA residents often boast that there is so much mixed terrain nearby that it’s possible to ski in the morning, surf in the afternoon and have dinner in a desert oasis. Which is all true if you like to get up early and have a helicopter handy.
We thought we’d try the motoring equivalent, but take our time about it. Cruise by the ocean, attack the tight twisting canyon roads above Malibu, then sweep over to the San Gabriel mountains and get lost up there for a day before hitting the cruise control back to Santa Monica. You could do it all in a day, but why rush?
So we broke it into two days and, to add a bit more colour, we invited a couple of local drivers along for the ride and drive. We have our favourite roads in the area, but we thought they might have some good suggestions, too. We also wanted to get their take on the two cars. The Z06 convertible is an interesting car to us, but it’s part of the American fabric. Does it fulfil the dream or is it overshadowed completely by the lime-green Aventador?
With all these questions yet to be answered, we swing the two cars into the beachside car park, drop their roofs – two carbon panels in the Lambo and a fabric foldaway on the Vette – and wait for our first guest driver to arrive. In vanity- and novelty-obsessed LA, how you look is almost your most important quality, after the size of your bank balance. So the first test was which car would draw the most attention. To our eyes, the Aventador is now an almost familiar shape, so the bright yellow Z06, also being the newest car here, was our bet.
Couldn’t have been more wrong. The moment the pair of cars turn up, all the skaters, cyclists, walkers, vagrants – even the seagulls, weirdly – surround the Aventador and would have stood roughly on the Vette to get a better look at the Lambo. Now the last remaining model in the range that truly captures the complete absence of design restraint that characterised the marque over the past decade, the Aventador draws crowds like the first day of a Harrods sale. A few more petrolheaded punters in the car park clock the Z06 and give their grunts of approval, but it is not even close.
Just when we think we could start charging people to look at it, Ryan Phinny, our first guest driver, arrives and we decide not to hang around. Ryan has raced in various formulas in Europe and the US, and will be the first new US rookie in IndyCar for three years. Ryan wakes up thinking about cars, spends the day driving and talking about them, then likes to end the day with a good chat about, yep, more cars. Perfect, then.
Watching him fire out of the car park into the streaming traffic, the Z06’s bass exhaust blare – the Lambo’s supersonic note is much more shrill – ricocheting off the crumbling, gullied cliffs, we feel a bit bad about the lack of attention the car had been getting. But it doesn’t take long before we have to revise our opinion. A blonde woman driving a red Golf GTI completely blanks us and makes a beeline for Ryan in the Vette. Unable to tell if she is getting animated about her love for the car, driver or hatred of both – hard to tell from the hand signals – we notch up a point for the Stingray anyway. It’s getting noticed and that’s what matters here.
The other revelation on the coast road was just how different the two cars feel. With the Lambo’s roof panels stowed in the front boot, even with the seat on its lowest setting there is still a lot of airflow into the cabin. This gives anyone with more than a lick of hair the full Swiss Toni quiff inside five minutes. The Vette by comparison, is a relative ocean of calm with the roof down and the windows up. Neither car has an inbuilt or accessory wind-deflector, but only the Lambo would really need one. Roof up or down, there isn’t the faintest wriggle from the Aventador’s exotic carbon tub chassis over bumps. There are a few tremors in the Vette cabin over the same road, but, at this point, at these low cruising speeds, nothing to worry about. Its standard third-gen Magnetic Ride dampers smooth everything out so well they compensate almost completely.
Compensation of a different sort is also very obvious as we pull into Malibu, home of the rich and even richer. There are million-dollar supercars everywhere, a LaFerrari parked on the street as if it were a Ford Focus, Bentleys and Rolls-Royces bulging out of the parking spaces in the market. Kids wearing Rolex Daytonas. That kind of thing. There are a few casual glances at us – they are more interested to see who is driving than the cars – but that’s it, so we press on to the first proper bit of road.
As calm and flowing as the coast road had been, as soon as we make a right turn and head up the hill into the canyon, everything gets much, much busier. The road flicks left and right, tight hairpins followed by blind, tightening uphill turns that open out into small straights. On these roads, you’d think the Lambo, with its 4WD and massive n/a motor, would be the faster of the two cars. It certainly feels it at first, the firm suspension and weighty steering tying you closely into the action, letting you feel everything that’s going on while the car rasps, crackles and shrieks its fantastic way up the hill.
But a quick look in the rear-view mirror, far from showing Ryan as a receding dot in the past, reveals him casually stroking the Vette up the hill just a few inches off our rear bumper. Part of this ease is clearly due to his professional driving skills, but when we swap cars, it’s immediately obvious that’s not the whole story.
The Z06 is just much more fluid and composed, a smooth sine wave to the Aventador’s jagged seismographic progress. The engine starts pulling at 1rpm and doesn’t stop until you hit the rev-limiter. The seven-speed manual gearbox, with its now-genius rev-matching tech, makes up and downshifts foolproof and smooth. And its traction, thanks to the spookily grippy Michelin Cup 2 tyres (we lost count of the number of valets who told us our tyres were bald – they aren’t; they’re born that way) plus the witchcraft-level Performance Traction Management, is nothing short of astonishing. Ryan, and the rest of us, are all majorly impressed.
After another 4,607 corners or so, we arrive at a section of the Mulholland Highway known as The Snake. This is where bikers and drivers head at weekends to watch each other slither around one particular tight uphill bend. There are usually a couple of accidents a week there, mostly harmless, which ensures a crowd and The Law is ever present, and today is no different. Even to this seasoned viewership, the Lambo is the one that causes all the cameraphones to come out. We have a new name for it: the Eventador.
Just down the hill, we stop for a breather, and a couple of 11-year-old kids cycle up excitedly to look at the cars. They know what they both are, but it’s the Italian that wins their bedroom-wall-poster vote two-nil. And just as well if you’d spent over $500k on it. The Z06, just for comparison, even loaded down with the Z07 performance kit, plus all manner of other goodies, struggles to top $100k. You can see where the money goes on the Lambo. There is some proper quality detailing going on here, from the smoothly mirror-polished edge of the side windows, to the quality of the switchgear. But the Z06, other than the dodgy on-screen graphics, is perfectly functional.
It also has a number of features that even the exotic Lambo can’t match. Along with the PTM mentioned earlier, there’s also a Performance Data Recorder, a kind of hardwired GoPro with technical overlays. So you can record all your favourite drives and relive them later on the car’s screen or your TV. Clever. But a long way from the end of the technical geek-out on the Z06.
Despite being supercharged, its LT4 engine uses the same cylinder deactivation system as the n/a LT1 lump in the regular Stingray, which is impressive. But not, we were genuinely surprised to learn, unique to the Chevy. The Aventador also has cylinder deactivation – it knocks off a bank of six cylinders when they are not needed. It only works when the car is in Strada – the least extreme engine and gearbox map – which might be why we haven’t spotted it before now. But we are still glad it’s there. The Z06 has averaged just under 10mpg on the last blast. The Aventador? Er, 4mpg.
With Ryan’s canyon knowledge and opinions of the two cars now fully dispensed – he’s a fan of both but cannot believe how fast and generally competent the Z06 has become – we cruise on the freeways over to the higher altitudes and wide open expanses of the San Gabriel mountains. On the way over, we pick up our next local specialist, Hans Schiff. Think of Hans as the real-life version of hard-charging talent agent, Ari Gold from Entourage. Because that’s who he is. He’s animated, has a firm handshake and does multi-million dollar deals from his iPhone like you or I order an Uber.
When he’s not pushing deals at CAA, he likes to push his 911 and M5 to their limits as often as possible. He’s blown the engine on his M5 – on the way to work! – and has got to the very edge of the 911’s performance. So he is the perfect target customer for one – or both – of our two cars. And he is also a fount of all knowledge about the best routes through the mountains. So he’s our perfect guide for this bit of the trip.
And he doesn’t waste any time getting to know the cars. As we fire up into the wide-open arid scenery – it looks like the backdrop to a thousand Westerns – Hans is clearly having fun wrestling with the Lambo, the car’s bodywork entertainingly shape-shifting as it sheds heat and adds downforce. I’m just as busy in the Z06. With the PTM set to Sport, the e-diff being orchestrated by the car’s brain according to everything from throttle position to tyre temperature, I’m having a proper laugh. Brake, turn, bellow, chuckle, brake, turn, bellow, chuckle.
It’s truly shocking how capable this open-topped Z06 has become. It’ll happily cruise along and yank you out of corners with its supercharged grunt. But it will also blaze along keeping a proper supercar honest as required. On becoming a cabrio, it’s lost virtually nothing, and gained a new level of atmospheric involvement. Hans is also a fan, being momentarily lost for words after his first taste of the new Chevy. “This thing is awesome!” he shouts as we stop for a breather.
And he’s right, too. It is awesome. Not taking anything away from the Aventador, which is still probably the most striking proper supercar you can buy today, especially in green. But the Z06 convertible is an astonishingly good piece of kit. After spending the best part of a day running with the packs of superbikes that roam these mountains at weekends – and explaining the cars to them – we are all starting to wonder why you would need, or want, anything more than the Z06 convertible to get your open-topped driving pleasures. At least that’s Hans’s verdict as he throws me the Stingray’s keys and leaves us in a cloud of tyre smoke and deal-making.
Personally, I’d stick with the regular hard-topped coupe Z06 – still with the Z07 package, though – as they come as standard with removable roof panels. So it’s the perfect mix for me of open and closed motoring. That car is also closer to the Lamborghini’s offer – a massively rapid, anvil-strong supercar with a built-in hair dryer. The new SV will undoubtedly be even faster and more focused. And, with that fixed wing on the back, maybe even a bit more crowd-pleasing too, if that’s possible.
But even that, even though it’s for a totally different audience, is unlikely to beat this Z06 convertible for all-American driving thrills. If, like Ms Warwick urges you to do, you are about to put down 100k and buy a car, we couldn’t think of anything better to spend it on right now. A bargain at twice the price. By: TopGear