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Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Asphalt Jungle- What you don't get in a Corvette ZR-1 for almost $120,000

The new Chevrolet Corvette ZR1 is a Krakatoa eruption encased in aluminum and carbon fiber, so powerful, so fast, so impatient along any horizontal axis to warp your precious pink guttiwuts into tofu, you almost don't know whether to dash for the driver's seat or the men's room. Recently, the ZR1 took on the world's sports-car elite -- Ferrari 599 GTB, Porsche GT2, Nissan GT-R -- and leaves them all choking in the gaseous offal of its supercharged humiliation foundry.

Yet while the ZR1's capacity for reducing test gear to tears may earn it the mantle "King of the Hill," in most driving situations it's more like a precocious prince. Kings are august. Their rough edges have been honed away by fastidious breeding, seemingly limitless monetary support, and time passed in the most privileged of corridors. Moreover, true kings walk, act, and talk like kings. Thus, it's not without cause that the Ferrari and the Porsche command such kingly sums-especially in comparison with the brash bolide from Bowling Green. The driving experience they offer is simply unmatched by the ZR1.

Part of it lies in the driver interface. To board the Ferrari is to immerse oneself in the come-hither aroma of hides from bovines obviously fed a steady diet of tagliolini con funghi and Chanel No5. Your eyes transfix on voluptuous ellipses of carbon fiber, on aluminum pedals drilled into modern art pieces, on a Formula 1-bred steering wheel that costs as much as a good motorcycle. The Porsche is more formal, more starched-business shirt, but no less evocative. A mere touch of the Alcantara-wrapped wheel or shift lever fires the word "special" deep into your cerebellum. The sport seats restrain you like a wise mentor. Pieces fit as if the entire cabin were milled from a single billet of good taste.

In contrast, the ZR1's cockpit smells like a glue factory. The leather radiates a mass-production gloss. The steering wheel: plucked straight from a pedestrian Chevy Malibu. None of this diminishes the ZR1's prowess; it merely highlights that the 599 and the GT2 offer something more.

Other, more-intangible virtues surface when you take Ferrari or Porsche for a run. There is no denying (or escaping) the aristocratic exceptionalness of these cars. Their engines-the 599's naturally aspirated V-12, the GT2's turbocharged flat-six-crackle and effervesce from idle to redline. Never for a moment do you forget you're piloting a special machine. In comparison, the ZR1's V-8 (and the GT-R's turbo-six, for that matter) rises out of the ordinary only at full-bore. Like the most charismatic of movie idols, Ferrari and Porsche own whatever space they enter, whenever they enter it. The spotlight they perform under never switches off.

By now, the haters are undoubtedly reaching for their crayons. "St. Antoine you ignerent snob! The ZR1 blows those crappy Euro weenies out of the water!!" Ah, clearly, this crowd wishes to wade into profound discussions of empiricism and methodology. What, that is to say, is the definition of "better?" Is rock band A better than rock band B because it plays louder? Is one teacher better than another because he can speak more quickly?

The ZR1 deserves its spot at the top of this month's comparison. Its staggering performance results and huge price advantage (compared with the supercar elites) cannot be ignored. Given a free choice of keys for the weekend, though, almost all of you would bolt for the 599 or the GT2.

And I wouldn't blame you. The ZR1 is a sensationally fast car. The Ferrari and the Porsche are crowning achievements.