C/D Comparison Test - Chevrolet Corvette Z51 vs. Porsche 911 Carrera

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  1. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Super Moderator

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    Can Porsche excellence hold off the bargain American bruiser?

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    BY LARRY WEBSTER
    PHOTOGRAPHY BY AARON KILEY
    December 2004

    We know what you're thinking: This is not a fair fight. In one corner, there's the American value-packed brute, the $44,245 Corvette. And in the other, a high-priced über-coupe, Porsche's latest 911 (code-named 997), which costs a stunning $70,065.

    Pitting cars with such wildly unequal prices (the 911 costs 58 percent more than the Corvette) is not our standard practice, but this comparo is different. Both of these are fantastically fast sports cars that are almost quick enough to be ranked as supercars but have prices that make them somewhat accessible. And whether they're used for commuting to work in reasonable comfort or getting your g-jollies at the track, these cars can do both jobs. Plus, they're new or, shall we say, extensively updated for 2005.

    These two legendary models both have an illustrious racing heritage, and they have at some point graced every enthusiast's wish list. Despite the price difference, they have competed against each other numerous times in these pages (see sidebar).

    And to be frank, we needed some real competition to put up against the Vette. Only the $48,995 BMW M3 is even close in performance and price. But the M3's back seat makes it a different kind of car, and even with a sultry 333-hp inline-six, its firepower wouldn't be adequate.


    So the task fell to Zuffenhausen's franchise player, the 911. For 2005, a freer-breathing intake system yielded six more ponies from the 3.6-liter aluminum flat-six. The total now stands at 321, with torque the same, at 273 pound-feet. That's 12 fewer horses than the M3 has, but the 911 weighs about 200 fewer pounds.

    Thanks to wider fender flares, the 911 has a slightly increased track front and rear. The combination of a front-strut and rear-multilink suspension carries over, but the development process has continued, and the entire system has been tweaked for the usual claims of a smoother ride and tighter handling.

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    There's a new interior, there are 18-inch wheels and tires, and finally, Porsche has gone back to the more upright headlight housings that we liked so much in previous models. It's a typical array of detail improvements that Porsche says add up to a major step forward. For the 911's sake, we hope so, because the Vette looks awfully strong.

    Although the Vette, too, is an evolutionary version, its engine room received a serious bump. The aluminum V-8 is not only larger (5.7 to 6.0 liters) but also has a thumping 400 horses and 400 pound-feet of torque. The previous Vette had 50 fewer horses and 25 fewer pound-feet of torque when coupled to the six-speed manual gearbox.

    The Corvette also gets a host of chassis changes, new bodywork, a new interior, and finally, such features as a navigation system and heated seats. For a car so capable, the base price of $44,245 is a genuine bargain. Ours came with the $1495 Z51 suspension package that offers shorter transmission ratios, grippier tires, bigger brakes, and a transmission-oil cooler. It's the track hound of the Corvette lineup. In addition, $8500 worth of nonperformance options brought it to a grand total of $54,240.

    The 911 arrived with a navigation system, bixenon headlights, a Bose stereo system, and a few other options, for $76,195.

    As a couple of advertised do-everything sports cars, we put them through our usual battery of performance tests, along with 500 miles of highway and back-road driving, and since these cars are meant for the occasional romp at the track and we weren't popping for tires, we spent a day lapping 1.9-mile GingerMan Raceway in South Haven, Michigan.

    Don't rush off to the results chart just yet. We made an adjustment to our ballot that needs explaining. It's an attempt to rectify the price discrepancy between these cars.

    Our ballot has 21 categories that are worth a varying number of points, from a minimum of five to a maximum of 25. Drivers rate the cars in most categories, and others are calculated from dimensions or test results; then we average the scores and total the points. The car with the highest total wins. In our usual comparison tests, drivers can award a maximum of 10 points in the value category. But as we noted, the Porsche's base price is 58 percent greater than the Chevrolet's—in a typical comparo the difference is closer to 15 percent. So for this test, the value category has a maximum of 20 points.

    Considering that a perfect score in every category would be more than 200 points, this is a small change. But it's one that allowed voters to better consider each car's cost.

    So, anyway, enough about points, here's how things played out.

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    Second Place - Porsche 911 Carrera

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    The 911's classic, time-weathered shape has never looked better. The wider fenders give a beefy, more purposeful look that complements the silhouette. And the packaging benefits of the rear-engine layout are as handy as ever. For the first time, the 911 is longer than the Corvette. And the Porsche, at least, still has room for a couple of kids in the back seats.

    So when it comes to handling, which is better, an engine in front or in back? For racing, the answer is neither—the mid-engine design is clearly better, as demonstrated by every purpose-built race car. But what about street cars that offer at least some practicality?

    We're not going to answer that one because, well, there is no simple answer. Here, both of these cars are fantastic curve carvers. On the street, though, the nod goes to the 911.

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    We never found a patch of road that gave us even a whiff of that "Oh, %#$@!" feeling that precedes some type of midcorner correction or wheel sawing. Editor-at-large Pat Bedard calls this "path accuracy." At speed, how accurately can you place the car? With the 911, the answer is in fractions of an inch; with the Vette, it's in inches. This feeling likely is why the 911 went through the cones of our lane-change test 1.1 mph faster than the Vette. You can plant this car anywhere.

    Although we were initially skeptical of the 911's variable-ratio steering, we're believers now. The ratio quickens the farther you turn the wheel, but you don't notice it. The effort is light, but the steering is wonderfully accurate.

    Bumps have no effect on trajectory. The suspension is nicely supple and not the least bit floaty. It's a lot like the suspenders of the BMW 3-series that we like so much. The 911 suspension is stiff enough to keep the chassis movements to a minimum and communicate irregularities to the driver but also resilient enough to absorb bumps and cushion blows. The 911 pulled 0.97 g on the skidpad, a tick less than the Vette's 0.98, but in every subjective handling category except one, the 911 outscored the Vette.

    It also trailed the Vette in every speed contest except top-gear acceleration, where the Vette's hugely tall top gear puts the Chevy at a disadvantage. You have to grin and bear the gut-wrenching, axle-hopping launch to make the Porsche go its quickest, but the 911 seems to outperform its spec sheet. The power-to-weight ratio is 23 percent poorer than the Vette's, but the 911's rear weight bias keeps things close until speeds rise. At 60 mph, the Porsche's 4.3-second time is only 0.2 second slower than the Vette's, but at 150, the gap is 3.5 seconds.

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    The 911, therefore, needed a major handling advantage to outrun the Vette at GingerMan. No such trump card arose. Like most recent 911s, this one predominantly understeers, so in GingerMan's long corners, we had to wait seemingly forever to put the power down and accelerate out of the turns. The 911's best lap time of 1:37.95 was 2.3 seconds slower than the Vette's. That's an eternity in road racing.

    Still, we love this Porsche. It has a visceral attitude that's been softened only enough so the car is perfectly livable. We'd need just one hand to count the things we'd change, and the manual seat-height adjuster that tilts the seat as it rises would be numero dos.

    Numero uno is the price. Would we pay an extra five grand, over the Corvette, for the 911? That's a no-brainer; absolutely. Fifteen? Probably, but we'd have to think about it. Twenty? Well, you already know our answer: no.

    The Verdict

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    Highs: Telepathic steering and brake feel, an engine that sounds as good as it performs, you cannot upset this chassis.

    Lows: Raising the seat via the manual adjuster tilts it forward, sticker shock.

    The Verdict: Deserves to be lusted after.


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    First Place - Chevrolet Corvette Z51

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    We never thought this would be such a close match. After our first test of the C6 Corvette and before we'd piloted the new 911, we figured the Porsche was a mackerel, the Chevy a barracuda. But the Vette won by one measly point.

    We even managed to wring a couple of 10ths out of the Vette's already stellar acceleration times. Chevy's sportster knifed to 60 mph in a scant 4.1 seconds, a couple 10ths quicker than the 2005 yellow car we tested in September. This red car was a little slower in top-gear acceleration tests, so we don't think it was a particularly strong example. Or maybe we simply got better at launching it.

    It's far from a stoplight special, though. "Very nice highway car—smooth, quiet, refined. At 80 mph, I can barely hear the engine. Plus, I could easily get comfortable in the new, attractive interior," wrote one tester.

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    But Chevy hasn't removed all the Vette's traditional character. This is still a brute. For one, you look out over a long, wide hood. Although the Corvette is an inch shorter than the 911, ask anyone which is longer, and no one will get it right. Between the two, we all preferred the more expansive view out the 911.

    You can't argue with the Vette's capabilities, though. On back roads, it can pull some distance on the 911, but it really makes you work for it. Two comments from the test-driver logbook: "The 911 doesn't throw you around nearly as much as the Vette over bumpy curves, and it's noticeably more stable." And this: "With the Vette, you have to tell yourself it's going to stay glued to the road, but in the 911, there's no need to wonder." On the smooth racetrack, up-and-down motions were still present and the chassis moved around a lot more than we expected. Plus, as in the 911, it was a little tricky to feed in power while coming off the turns, but for a different reason. Where the 911 slid its front tires, the Corvette was a little too eager to fishtail.

    But that was the Vette's only vice, and in some ways it was an advantage.
    GingerMan has a lot of long, gradual curves, and if the Vette started to drift wide of the intended arc, a little added power could rotate the car back on line. We couldn't do that in the Porsche. And if we hung out the tail a little too far, it took only a quick dose of countersteering to put the car straight. The brakes, like those on the Porsche, didn't exhibit any fade during our five-lap sessions.

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    There is, however, a numbness to the chassis that was especially apparent when compared with the Porsche, and that cost the Vette some points.
    The Chevy can be driven extremely quickly, but it doesn't inspire the same confidence as the Porsche. Although both these cars ride quite well, the Vette feels a little less buttoned down. It could use more precision and perhaps stiffer shocks.

    The difference was most noticeable while braking. Stomp on the middle pedal in the Vette, and it practically stands on its nose, whereas the Porsche squats hard. The 911 stopped from 70 in only 150 feet, 14 fewer than the Corvette.

    True, that difference is due largely to the Porsche's rear-weight bias, but taken as a complete car, the 911 has a tick more sharpness. The Vette's steering is lifeless in comparison to the 911's. Plus, Chevy could have done better with the shifter. The throws are short, but it's stiff, and it balks every once in a while at a gearchange. It's the opposite of the Porsche's precise and easy-moving rod.

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    We're talking nuances here; the difference in most categories amounted to only a point. The 911's added feel and precision must be what the extra money buys you, because despite the much lower price, the Vette still has more features, such as power seats, adjustable lumbar and side-bolster supports, and a nifty head-up readout showing lateral acceleration.

    In the end, though, it was the Vette's outstanding value that carried the day, as it scored 20 points in that category to the 911's 15. It was a deficit the Porsche almost, but not quite, surmounted. As we've said before, for the money, there isn't a better sports car around.

    The Verdict

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    Highs: Performance that puts most sports cars on the trailer, surprising comfort and value.

    Lows: We'd give up some cush for more road feel and a throatier engine note.

    The Verdict: Still a great car, but it's not the wunderkind we first thought it was.


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    23 Years of Going Nose to Nose

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    We have put a 911 against a Corvette five times on these pages. Two of these encounters were multicar comparos, and three were head-to-heads. The first was in December 1981, when we pitted four sports cars against the De Lorean. Even then, the 911's as-tested price of $34,165 seemed audacious when compared with the $19,000 Vette. The horsepower numbers seem puny by today's weaponry standards: 172 for the Porsche and 190 for the Chevy. We didn't pick a winner or rank them, but it was clear the 911 easily had the Vette covered.

    Fast-forward to September 1988, and the tide had shifted. Against the 214-hp 911 Club Sport, the 245-hp Corvette Z51 fell behind in acceleration tests but stormed ahead on the race and autocross courses. It was also about 15 grand cheaper, and it won.

    Two years later, in a five-car roundup [September 1990], a $59,795, 375-hp ZR-1, dubbed the "Corvette from Hell," finished a hellish third, one spot behind the $80,257, 247-hp 911. Advantage Porsche.

    And then a funny thing happened. In April 1991, the ZR-1 went head-to-head with the most powerful 911 of the day, the $105,191, 315-hp turbo model. It should've been a Porsche rout, but it wasn't—the Vette prevailed, due largely to a better-sorted suspension.

    The next meeting came in May 1998. The 911 was strong for that meeting, besting the Vette to 60 mph and on the road course. But it wasn't enough to overcome the 30-grand price premium, and the Vette prevailed.

    Do Porsche guys care that the score is now four to two for the Vette? Probably not.—LW

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  2. Gundam

    Gundam Tell Drama he's on my to do list, right after inse

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    :coold: Both are fantastic cars. However, unlike most of OT's uberballers, the C6 is more of a realistic option for me.
     
  3. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Super Moderator

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    :mrbonus:
     
  4. Mopar03

    Mopar03 73-9 OT Supporter

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    I'd still take the porsche :o
     
  5. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Super Moderator

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    And coming soon to the main forum,

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    :eek3d:
     
  6. Chizm

    Chizm OT Supporter

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    that is a dope picture, i wish there was a high res :eek3:
     
  7. cantankerously

    cantankerously Active Member

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    I'd take the Vette -
     
  8. cantankerously

    cantankerously Active Member

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    Good thing they didn't switch the cars - people might think they were pitting a Vette against a VW Beetle.
     
  9. BLoG

    BLoG Scented Meat

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    not too suprising.

    I'm more interested in the upcoming z06 vs the new turbo 911 next year :big grin:
     
  10. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Super Moderator

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    [​IMG]
     
  11. Gundam

    Gundam Tell Drama he's on my to do list, right after inse

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    :wackit:
     
  12. cantankerously

    cantankerously Active Member

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    Ford would find a way to lose.













    :fawk:
     
  13. BLoG

    BLoG Scented Meat

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    :ugh:
     
  14. Mopar03

    Mopar03 73-9 OT Supporter

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    and am I the only one who doesn't like the fact that Porsche went back to the old style headlights?
     
  15. BLoG

    BLoG Scented Meat

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    yes
     
  16. Gundam

    Gundam Tell Drama he's on my to do list, right after inse

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    I know I'm gonna get flamed for this, but I agree with you. I think the 996 style lights looked much more agressive then the beetle look.
     
  17. Jason Bourne

    Jason Bourne Guest

    C6 > all "Sports cars"

    C6 Z06 w/ 575hp >* (GT, Enzo, you name it)
     
  18. Jericho

    Jericho Active Member

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    is that the S model of the 911?
     
  19. CitznFish

    CitznFish Don't live life by a single sentence OT Supporter

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    IBpeoplesaythatsnotarealZ06 :mamoru:
     
  20. Jericho

    Jericho Active Member

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    :ugh:
     
  21. BLoG

    BLoG Scented Meat

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    mmmmmmmmmm no
     
  22. Jason Bourne

    Jason Bourne Guest


    GT is gonna get raped.
     
  23. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Super Moderator

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    This should be ten pages by now. :nono:
     
  24. Jericho

    Jericho Active Member

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    I'm surprised they pulled 4.2 out of the normal carrera model, I thought it was rated at about 5? does that mean the S does is in under 4? :eek:
     
  25. Jericho

    Jericho Active Member

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    also I only read the bolded parts. :o what did they mean by this part in the C6 conclusion?

    The Verdict: Still a great car, but it's not the wunderkind we first thought it was.
     

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