The Odd Couple: M6 vs. Z06

October 23rd, 2006 by William

When you see the BMW M6 and the Corvette Z06 parked side by side the cars look like night and day. The Z06 in its brilliant yellow paint with super-aggressive styling and gargantuan tires isn’t exactly modest. In contrast the BMW looks dignified and elegant with smooth flowing curves and a less audacious deep-blue exterior. So why even bother comparing the two cars if they are so different.
Well it just so happens that the one thing they do share is roughly 500 horsepower–the Z06 with 505 and the M6 with 500 even. But how they achieve these power figures, and what they do with the ponies could not be more different.
Z06
The Z06 Corvette still uses a pushrod engine. While this archaic technology seems dated, GM has developed the motor exceptionally well. The hand-built 427 cubic inch all aluminum V8 pulls hard from 2000 rpm all the way up to its redline at 7200 rpm, and it will pretty much do this in the first 5 gears (it has a 6 speed manual transmission). The speedometer goes to 200mph and it isn’t lying. Driving the Corvette is down right scary. In 3rd gear with the traction control turned on, a stab of the throttle will still make the back of the car step out. I didn’t have the nerve to try this trick with the traction control turned off. With such a wide power band you can leave the Corvette in 3rd or 4th gear on almost any road and still have a blast driving it.

To get all the power to the ground the Corvette has massive tires; 275/35 ZR18 fronts and 325/30 ZR19 rears. Although the ride is a little bumpy by normal car standards, I felt it was remarkably smooth considering the stiff suspension setup, the low ground clearance and the 30 series super-low-profile tires. Grip was good even on undulating surfaces, and the Corvette steering felt light and easy to use. If I had to grade the interior I would give it a B+. Aside from some cheesy fonts on the gauges, the Z06 cockpit was very minimalist and affective. With nice seats, easy to use controls and a comfortable driving position, I felt right at home behind the wheel.
M6
After about 45 minutes in the Corvette I switched over to the BMW M6. It’s sort of like going from a raging frat party to a German techno club. The M6 has noticeably better fit and finish overall. No gaps in any of the interior panels, and once inside you feel like your sitting in a 5 star hotel. This is partially due to the rich leather upholstery and the said headliner. The controls on the BMW are a bit trickier. With the complicated iDrive computer running the show, I was at a loss to control the stereo or navigation systems. And the turn signal switch is down-right terrible (see my 330xi write-up).

Shifting is done via paddle-controls on the steering wheel or a console mounted shifter. Both control a 7 speed sequential gearbox. The power plant for the M6 is a 5.0 liter V10 that loves to rev but is a little down on torque. The car has numerous adjustments for both engine, transmission, suspension and traction control, but simply pushing a button marked “M” on the steering wheel puts the car in a pretty aggressive mode for hard driving, and saves you the trouble of reading through the manual.

When I first got behind the wheel of the BMW I thought using the paddle-shifters would way more fun than driving a stick, but I was wrong. While easy to use I felt that the sequential transmission was slow to shift and didn’t give a solid feel of engagement, even in M mode.
The V10 sounded great and was really fun to drive. With power coming on strong at around 4000rpm the BMW felt more like a small displacement 4 cylinder in how you drove it. Flicking the paddle-shifters up and down, I felt really comfortable driving the M6 fast on back roads. Although you could feel the weight of the big BMW, it had really predictable handling and stuck in corners well. The ride in M mode was a bit harsh for a passenger, but as the driver you hardly notice. And while the car seemed to transmit every little bump right to the seats, it didn’t move around much on the road, which I attribute to superb suspension design.

In direct comparison to the Corvette, the M6 felt a little slow and heavy. With about 800lbs more weight and a lot less torque than the Z06 it makes sense that there would be some speed differential. But the M6 was a more civil car to drive, especially around town in standard driving mode. If the goal is out right speed, than the Z06 is the way to go, especially when you consider that it costs about $40,000 less than the BMW. If you want to be wrapped in gaudy luxury, and still be able to do 180mph than the BMW might be a better choice.
Although the M6 grew on me by the end of the test, I personally would choose the Corvette for its simplicity, good looks, and brutally fun power.
-Bill Mertz

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About William

I am a twenty something car enthusiast. I spend most of my days working in a small restoration shop in Northern California that specializes in vintage Alfa Romeos. I also manage to do some freelance writing for a handful of automotive publications. When I'm not at the shop I can usually be found working on one of my own project cars, out driving on a good windy road or good jeep trail. Despite what my girlfriend says cars aren't what defines me, they are only what I do. When I have a chance I also love to go camping, play sports or generally do any type of outdoor activity. I don't take myself to seriously, so I hope you don't either.

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