The traces its roots back to 1963 when Chevrolet built just 199 of the factory race cars for the public. Like its predecessor, the 2001 looks much the same as other models outside (save small functional air scoops, fatter tires, and minimal badging). But inside this screamer is a host of special go-fast goodies. Most notable is the new LS6 powerplant, a Z06-only option. This is the second time in Corvette history for the LS6, the first being 1971 when it was offered as a 7.4-liter big block.

The LS6 5.7-liter V8 delivers nearly 12% more horsepower than the 2001 LS1: 385 hp at 6,000 rpm and 385 lb-ft torque at 4,800 rpm. The power boost comes mostly from better volumetric efficiency.

A billet-steel camshaft gets a more radical profile to open valves more quickly and wider for better breathing while stiffer valve springs handle the higher lift and duration. Breathing is further enhanced by functional air inlets in the center of the body front fascia. Larger-capacity fuel injectors squirt more gas into smaller combustion chambers that raise the compression ratio from 10:1 (LS1) to 10.5.1 (LS6).

Overall, the hotter setup biases the torque curve toward the upper rpm range. Surprisingly, low-speed drivability doesn't suffer, helped by a six-speed manual transmission (no automatic available) with lower-ratio transmission gears. Zero to 60 mph is said to take just 4 sec flat, and the 1Z4 mile, 12.6 sec at 114 mph. That's more than a half-second quicker and 5 mph faster than the LS1-equipped models.

Also helping to improve acceleration is lower weight. The titanium exhaust system, for example, is 17.6 lb lighter or half the weight of the stainless-steel setup it replaces. A lighter-weight battery and a thinned windshield and backlight shed another 11.4 lb. These and other lightened parts reduce overall weight by 36 lb and give the Z06 a lower weight-to-power ratio than a 2000 Porsche Turbo (8.13 versus 8.19 lb/hp).

The Z06 is straight-line fast but is equally capable when tossed into tight turns. The FE4 suspension package includes beefier shocks and a thicker front stabilizer bar, a stiffer rear leaf spring, wider, grippier tires, and increased negative camber. Negative camber helps keep tires flatter in relation to the road which boosts tire contact patch size for greater grip while cornering. Skid pad lateral acceleration is better than 1 g.

Further helping to keep the rubber turning instead of burning is an improved active-handling system. New algorithms better calculate road friction and slideslip angle rate which makes the system less intrusive. Those wanting to explore the car's envelope edges can disable the feature with the push of a button and enter the Competitive Mode. Competitive Mode disengages the traction control but keeps Active Handling.

Whatever the mode, driving the Z06 is basically a point-and-go affair with no discernible body roll in between. "On a rail" best describes the handling. Stopping power is equally impressive. Big disc brakes front and rear offer no noticeable fade. Functional air scoops in the rear rocker panels funnel air to the rear brakes. The scoops are said to lower rear-brake temperatures by 10% during hard use which further reduces fade.

It's tough finding fault with the car, though I do have a short list of gripes and possible fixes: Jettison the annoying skip-shift feature that forces the shifter into 4th gear when upshifting from 1st at low speeds; install the flawless Hurst shifter from the 2000 SS Camaro including the round whiteknob (current shifter is clunky and imprecise and the knob is bulky); boost headlamp power with Xenon lamps.

The Torch Red test model plus destination costs $48,970. High? Compared to basic transportation, yes. But the is a world-class sports car that runs door-to-door with a Porsche Turbo for less than half the cost and gets 28 mpg on the highway. What's not to like?