There's just something about speed that makes a person feel omnipotent. Youthful. Alive. If you have any doubt, check out the 2011 Corvette Z06. After all, it's become the inadvertent poster child of the American midlife crisis.
Cranking 470 pound-feet of torque and boasting a zero-to-60 acceleration time of 3.7 seconds, this 7-liter V-8 version of the 'Vette is as blazing fast as its inferno-orange shell would indicate.
It may not be fast enough to turn back the hands of time, but it was certainly quick enough to flatten me back in its leather bucket seat so effectively that I exited the car feeling thinner. That's to say nothing of the giddy laugh it squeezed out of me with the pressing of its accelerator pedal.
Introduced in 2006, the Z06 is one of four current Corvettes. While it isn't the fastest, the Z06 is the version that injected high performance back into a brand that had become a high-status vehicle for men to display their trophy wives.
With a fixed roof that makes it more lightweight than the standard and Grand Sport models and a six-speed transmission that is available only as a stick shift, the Z06 is probably the closest-to-race-ready Corvette a person would want for driving on the street.
For 2011, the two-seat Z06 widens the gap between Corvette's base-model bestsellers and its more performance-oriented higher end.
Though the Z06 has the largest engine of any production 'Vette and is also the lightest in the lineup thanks to its aluminum frame and carbon-fiber fenders, the supercharged ZR1 trumps it in horsepower. The limited-edition ZR1 gallops with a whopping 638 versus the 505 horses of the Z06.
It's the $111,100 ZR1 from which the $74,305 Z06 takes its cues for 2011. Sticky F1 tires, new exhaust tuning and different exterior paint are the most substantial and noticeable changes from the 2010 model for the stock vehicle.
It takes some extra cash for the upgrades that push this Z06 closer toward the ZR1. To get the lightweight carbon-ceramic Brembo brakes that will slow this 198-mph car more expeditiously costs extra. So do the competition gray wheels that make the car look more racetrack serious and less flashy. Add the fast-acting magnetic ride control that smooths the discrepancies between a comfortable ride and good handling, and drivers are looking at an extra $9,495.
A carbon-fiber touch-up to lighten the load and make this already fast car even quicker off the line costs an additional $3,995. Navigation and a USB jack, $1,795.
Already an exercise in excess, the Z06 I was testing had all these things.
As for attracting attention: This car gets the looks, the double takes. I've never seen a man do a triple take of a parked car before. Nor have I had so many guys try to yell compliments over the grumbling of its four mufflers.
The Z06 is also the perfect car to channel one's inner jerk. At idle, this car has a bit of a shimmy, as if it's rumbling for a fight. So if, like me, you're even remotely inclined to heed its siren song and push the posted speed limit, this Corvette is torque-y enough to drive you over the edge.
I was regularly prompted to bully my way through traffic to find the wide-open spots where I could press pedal to metal and risk a vehicular impound. And, while doing so, enjoy the upward counting of the digital speedometer reflecting in the windshield. Looking down at the car's fuel economy was, however, a buzz kill. I was averaging 13.5 miles per gallon.
Wide-set and low to the ground, the 'Vette made me feel planted to the road even in high-speed turns. Going straight, however, I just felt short. Pulling up behind a line of cars at a stoplight, a Toyota Corolla actually seemed tall.
Because speed is king for a Corvette, aerodynamics are crucial. That means the front end is exceedingly low, the better to scoop up air and throw it over the roof. There are just 5 inches of ground clearance, which, I learned the hard way, makes it easy to scrape going in and out of driveways that are even marginally sloped.
I think I speak for most sport car drivers when I say there is no more sickening sound than the scraping of a front splitter — a sound that is quickly followed by the mental ka-ching of a cash register tallying up the damage.
Oh well. Money is rarely an obstacle when it comes to the pursuit of youth and virility.
It may be impossible to drive away from age, but the in-the-moment exhilaration of the Z06 was far more enjoyable than blowing out the candles on a cake that is, at this point, essentially a firebomb.