IT’S HARD TO SAY WHICH ASPECT OF THIS Z06 WOULD HAVE MOST IMPRESSED LOUIS CHEVROLET the most, but the car’s phenomenal grip would have blown his mind. It did ours. Even with its standard Goodyears tires, the Z06 delivers fairly stratospheric limits of adhesion; fitting it with a set of Michelin Pilot Sport Cups launches the car’s cornering ability into another galaxy. The extra grip these soft semi-slicks provide is immediately noticeable. They allowed the Corvette to sail through tight corners with such ease that it was scary to fathom how much faster we could have driven through them. Attempting to plumb the depth of the car’s grip on the street would entail so much speed as to be foolhardy—which is why we were glad that we had signed up for an autocross event in Camarillo, California, just north of Los Angeles.
But before we get to the cones, we need to say a few words about two other new-for-2012 features—the redesigned seats and steering wheel. Sixth-generation Corvette seats (and C5 ones, for that matter) have been roundly criticized in the motoring press for their lack of support during hard cornering maneuvers, and Chevrolet finally saw fit to do something about it. However, regulatory, budget and time constraints prevented it from installing a brand-new pair of chairs, so atop the existing frame and safety hardware rest reprofiled bolsters and an altered seat back that includes shoulder wings not unlike those on C4 sport seats.
Are the new seats a big improvement? In a word, no. Just to throw out a figure, we’d say they’re 12-percent better. The shoulder wings do provide added support, but just a hint—the wing shape is more of an aesthetic statement than an ergonomic one. The story is largely the same with the recontoured seat bottom. The biggest improvement in terms of the seats holding occupants in place is the material that covers them. The synthetic suede inserts, which come standard on the Centennial Special Edition package and are otherwise optional, are much grippier than the standard leather. We advise all 2012 Corvette buyers to pony up for the faux hide.
As with the seats, the 2012 steering wheel represents more of a reskinning than a redesign. The spokes now feature some shiny, Cadillac-esque trim which nicely dresses up the wheel, giving it a more upmarket look. The slightly thicker wrap is also a welcome change. Another mod is the addition of thumb rests, which sprout from the rim interior. The problem is, unless you have giant mitts, actually using them involves moving your hands up from the optimal “three and nine” position. As far as these new interior mods are concerned, form has won out over function.
Now back to those Michelin Pilot Sport Cup tires, which are all about function. First of all, in most situations they’re almost eerily quiet. A surfeit of grooves generates noticeably less tire noise than the standard Goodyears—a welcome change, especially on the highway. This combined with the supple ride quality of the MSRC shocks in their Tour setting made this Z06 a surprisingly comfortable freeway cruiser. However, the Cups are so sticky that they tend to suck up small stones and other detritus laying on the road, not unlike four massive Hoovers. Unfortunately, these vacuums don’t empty their contents into a bag; they launch them into the fender wells. The resulting racket often left with the sensation of driving down a gravel road, even though we were on pavement.