If you’re interested in a reliable, tuneable, fast, exciting sports car, and your budget is around $25,000, there’s really just one answer: get a C5 Chevy Corvette Z06. It doesn’t matter if you’re into European cars, or little cars, or you don’t like Corvettes, or whatever it may be. Get a C5 Chevy Corvette Z06. It’s wonderful.
I’ve had this realization for years, but I especially came to this conclusion a few weeks ago, when I actually drove a C5 Chevy Corvette Z06 in order to film it for a review. Here’s what I discovered: the C5 Z06 is really one of the greatest performance car bargains in existence. I love it. And you should, too.
Here’s a basic overview. The C5 Chevy Corvette came out in 1997, following up on the controversial C4, which had been on sale for like 15 years by that point. The C5 was hailed as a huge step forward for the Corvette, but, like all Corvette models, it wasn’t a huge hit with the most hardcore automotive enthusiasts. As usual, it was more of a car for older people, for guys who had wanted a Vette their whole lives, and who finally got one — just to keep it in their garages and wax it on weekends.
That all changed for the 2001 model year, when Chevy released the Z06. The Z06 was intended to take the Vette to the next level, bringing true performance car credentials to this well-known, but increasingly soft, icon. The Z06 was only offered as a coupe, and it had an additional 40 horsepower over the regular Corvette for 385 horses — a figure that was bumped to 405 horses for the 2002 model year. It also featured other performance touches, like better brakes, larger wheels and improved suspension.
Although these changes are often given to "performance" cars to make them sporty — sometimes with little effect — they truly transformed the C5 Corvette. It went from a "yeah, that’s sort of cool" car to a true performance car, touting excellent acceleration, amazing handling and grip, and fantastic balance. It’s a really, really excellent car.
Normally, this would be about where the story ends: Chevy makes a cool performance car, everyone likes it, and that’s that. But the most amazing thing about the Z06 is still to come: it’s just so insanely cheap. Right now, you can go on Autotrader and find the bulk of C5 Z06 models for sale in the United States listed for somewhere between $20,000 and $25,000. That’s not much money for a truly excellent sports car — and it’s an even better bargain when you consider that these aren’t losing value, meaning you can buy one, lose it for a while, and not suffer any depreciation.
With that said, it’s been 18 years since the Z06 first went on sale. So how is it holding up?
The answer is, quite surprisingly, that it’s doing really well. The Z06 I drove was a fantastic example with low mileage, and I was surprised by several things about it. To start, it was really, legitimately fast, even to this day: the Z06 did 0-to-60 mph in about 4.2 seconds, which was really fast back then and still fast today — and it still feels exciting and thrilling when you push down on the accelerator.
Handling is probably the most impressive thing, though, as you’d think the Z06 would start to feel old and sloppy by now — but it really doesn’t. Instead, it’s shockingly tight, with impressive steering feel and excellent balance through turns. Notably, it doesn’t just feel nice through wide, sweeping turns, as you might expect from a Corvette, but rather through all turns — even tight ones. The steering feel is excellent, it’s reasonably precise, and a stab of the throttle coming out of the corner completes the rewarding experience.
Unfortunately, though, there is a problem — specifically the interior quality. The C5 Corvette was always a real mess in terms of interior quality, and it didn’t look very good back then, 20 years ago — let alone now. These days, it’s still a mess, and it hasn’t aged well or attained classic status in any capacity. It just looks cheap.
But here’s the thing: given the capabilities of this car, given the performance, given the excitement, and most importantly, given the price tag, you put up with crappy GM buttons and large panel gaps. Because this car delivers in all the important ways, it makes the right sounds doing it, and it really is one of the great performance car bargains of the modern era. Find a Chevrolet Corvette for sale
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