I experienced tunnel vision for the first time a few months ago, in a tunnel, in a ZR1. I had a clear 700 feet ahead of me, and this little red Corvette humming patiently in second gear. What happened next is harder to remember.I recall a battle between traction control and tires. The rear writhed and struggled to find ground. Dragon fire expelled from the open exhaust baffles, and the windshield became a pigeonhole, reducing my vision to a red-and-grey splotch of painted carbon fiber and cement. Third gear, slipping and spitting still. I was underground, but I think the ZR1 forced a total eclipse of the sun.
I hit the brakes a little too late, realizing the ZR1's surge had rushed me too close to the glob of cars ahead. Slowing, as the blood rushed back to my eyes, I upshifted to sixth at an indicated 20 miles per gallon. Like nothing happened.
Saving the rides to high school in my friend's Honda CR-V, the ZR1 gave me the scariest few seconds I've ever had in an automobile. Not even tires a foot in width could contain the Vette's 604 lb.-ft. of torque. Nothing near its $111,100 price has played on such fear, and that includes exotics like the "gullwing" Mercedes SLS AMG, the 621-horsepower Bentley Supersports, and, yes, the $287,000 Ferrari 458 Italia we drove in California.
That's because the ZR1 brings a superior power-to-weight ratio of 5.2 pounds per horsepower. Its extensive use of carbon fiber, carbon-ceramic brakes, and an all-aluminum frame keeps the ZR1 at a trim 3,333 pounds, about 59 above the Ferrari and 161 below the Porsche. And while it's obviously traction-limited, the ZR1 punches 60 mph in about 3.2 seconds, and is likely quicker in midrange and top-end acceleration than the two Europeans. As on the 911 Turbo, subtlety is the secret weapon. Only a transparent hood dome, unpainted carbon fiber roof and rocker panels, plus blue brake calipers behind special chrome wheels call this a ZR1.
But while there are lots of pricey bits on the outside, inside is a bargain basement. Cheap leather covers the unsupportive seats and dash, the navigation/radio system is very dated, and the switchgear is insubstantial. You do get a precise shifter and a pussycat clutch. Around town, the 6-speed manual ZR1 can be feathered almost as perfectly as the automatic 911, and rides beautifully for such a super-low two-seater. The fast steering is a bit numb to road surfaces and artificially light at times — take extra care on narrow back roads. Remember, though, that overall the ZR1 can outgun cars costing three times as much.
Americans love a value, and thankfully, the ZR1 sacrifices little to raise the performance bar — and our mortal fears — among the world's greatest sports cars.
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About Boston Overdrive
|Clifford Atiyeh is an automotive writer and car enthusiast . He has spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own.
In the garage: 1995 21-speed Iron Horse, 2002 Jeep Wrangler X (by association)
|Bill Griffith is a veteran Boston Globe reporter, having reviewed cars for more than 10 years and serving as assistant sports editor for 25 years. He was also the paper's sports media columnist.
In the garage: 2006 Subaru Baja
|John Paul is public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England, a certified mechanic, and a Globe columnist. He hosts a weekly radio show on WROL.
In the garage: Hyundai Sante Fe, Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible
|Craig Fitzgerald has been writing about cars, motorcycles, and the automotive industry since 1999. He is the former editor of Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car.
In the garage: 1968 Buick Riviera, 1996 Buick Roadmaster, 1974 Honda CB450
|Keith Griffin is president of the New England Motor Press Association and edits the used car section on About.com. He also writes for the Hartford Business Journal and various weekly newspapers in Connecticut.
In the garage: Mazda 5, Dodge Neon
|George Kennedy is a senior writer for WheelsTV in Acton, which produces video reviews for Yahoo, MSN, and other auto websites.
In the garage: Lifted 1999 Jeep Cherokee