Detroit - My "Best of Show" pick

Consumer Reports News: January 21, 2008 09:50 AM

When the judges select the "Best of Show" at the Westminster Kennel Club, they don't choose the dog that has the best disposition, the nicest looks, or the one that's most exotic. The judges thoroughly inspect these dogs and select the one that best represents its pedigree. I'm taking a similar approach for my reflections on the Detroit auto show.

I'm immediately disqualifying any far-out concept vehicle, as they're mostly cartoonish takes on where automotive breeding may (or may not) be going.

I'm also disqualifying the entire crossover category, as I believe that the class is still made up of mutts. It's not that they're bad vehicles as a group, it's that their mission is still very ill defined; one man's crossover is another man's SUV and/or another man's wagon. Moreover, what defines a crossover today is very different from what one was five years ago; I have a hard time focusing on a moving target.

And as a rule, I'm disqualifying any so-called family vehicles with outrageously high belt lines, tiny greenhouses, and swoopy designs that compromise access, and impair the driver's visibility. I think it is a shame when automakers think it's just fine to compromise a family's vehicle access and safety for the sake of fashion; they're making vehicles for trips to lacrosse matches, big-box stores, and theme parks.

My choice is be a vehicle that has stuck close to its original mission: a vehicle faithful to its lineage, but absolutely created for today. Moreover, it's a vehicle that the privileged among us may one day appreciate driving. That car is...the 2009 Chevrolet Corvette ZR1. It's a take-no-prisoners sports car that has all the outrageousness and excitement of its 1990s ancestor, and then some. (True, the last Corvette we tested, a 2006 Z06, wasn't exactly easy to get in and out of, nor did it score points for excellent visibility, but I'm more forgiving of these downfalls in a pure-bred sports car than I am a family-oriented crossover.)

The original ZR-1 (note there is no dash with the new moniker) featured the innovative LT5 V8 engine that provided 375 (and later 405) hp. Its convex hindquarters, wide tires, and square-ish taillights set it apart from other Corvettes, although the distinction faded as the LT1 Corvette was updated over time. .

The 2009 ZR1 makes a similar performance advance, though wrapped in more dramatic bodywork. It features a supercharged 6.2-liter V8 engine that GM says is capable of producing at least 620 hp and nearly 600 pounds-feet of torque. (Yes, you read the last sentence correctly). And in keeping with the tradition of outlandish design treatments: Carbon-fiber body parts include wider fenders, the hood, roof, parts of the front fascia, and rocker panels. And as a crowning touch, the hood window strikingly showcases the omnipotent LS9 engine.

So what if this monster is genetically enhanced? I think the ZR1 would make Zora Arkus-Duntov, the late "Father of the Corvette" who changed the car from a docile roadster to the legendary sports car it is, very proud. 

Look for more staff selections on their personal picks from the Detroit auto show in the blog soon.

Cliff Weathers

See our complete coverage of the 2008 Detroit auto show. And discuss the event in our auto show forum. 

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