The Chevrolet Corvette has, at its core, always been about offering value. Through its multi-decade run, it has proved itself as a proper performer in its own right, but the Vette’s secret sauce is how well it undercuts its competitor’s pricing while often surpassing them with power and speed. The mid-engined Stingray opened a new lane for the American sports car, setting six-figure exotics as its latest target. But while the standard C8 Corvette has the performance of a proper supercar fighter, its small-block LT2 V8 feels more old-school than cutting edge.
Last week, I flew to Pittsburgh to drive the latest iteration of the C8, the 2023 Chevrolet Corvette Z06, through lonely back roads, open highways, and on track. This included the standard Z06 and cars with the track-focused Z07 package. Regardless of the setup, the Z06 represents a fundamental shift for the Corvette. The bean counters took a backseat and allowed the engineers to thrive. Its naturally-aspirated high-revving V8 not only transforms the driving experience but also delivers a thrill that is genuinely rare. The Z06 is no longer just a value proposition. It has the goods to go toe to toe with Europe’s best.
As is a common theme with the Z06 as a whole, its styling follows function over form. Beneath the skin, it shares its chassis with the C8.R racecar, and thanks to the need for wider 345-section tires in the rear, it also shares similar proportions. The result is a car that is 3.6 in (9.4 cm) wider than a Stingray, and the added heft does it well. By widening it, the Z06’s designers gave it a proper set of hips. Where the Stingray feels too angular, rigid, and even slightly boxy towards the rear, the Z06 fills out in all the right places allowing its design to flow harmoniously.
Pretty looks aside, the Z06’s wider bodywork brings significant aero improvements. For starters, it can suck in more air through larger air intakes, and additions such as a taller rear spoiler and new rear brake ducts help its downforce capabilities and cooling efficiency. In its standard configuration, the Z06 delivers 362 lb of downforce at 186 mph, or 110 lb more than a Z51 pack-equipped Stingray at the same speed.
The track-focused Z07 package kicks things up with an extended front splitter, front dive planes, a full underwing, underbody strakes, and a massive rear wing. At 186 mph, a Z07-equipped car produces a massive 734 lb of downforce, more than double that of the standard Z06. Chevy will also let you option those track goodies in painted or exposed carbon fiber if you want to show them off.
Wide arches and fancy aero aside, perhaps the most surprising aspect of the Z06’s styling is its choice of wheels. As standard, you get 20’s in the front and 21’s in the rear, the largest ever fitted to a Vette. They’re sleek, wide, and stylish but not the stars of the show. The optional five-spoke carbon fiber wheels are the ones getting excited about. They save 41 lb of unsprung mass, lightening the front end and allowing it to change direction quicker.
Sitting in the Z06 for the first time felt eerily familiar, mainly because its interior is mostly unchanged from the Stingray, except for an abundance of new carbon fiber trim. However, as soon as I pressed the start button and its naturally-aspirated 5.5-liter V8 roared into life, everything changed as it genuinely startled me. This is an exceptionally loud car, and thanks to its flat-plane crank, it delivers plenty of exciting vibrations while standing still. It feels alive, whereas many modern supercars feel muffled and sterile.
Despite being naturally aspirated, the LT6 V8 delivers 670 hp at 8,400 rpm and 460 lb-ft at 6,300 rpm, 20 hp more than the supercharged LT4 in the C7 Z06. However, the LT4 wins in the torque department with its 650 lb-ft output. To combat this, Chevy engineered the LT6 to have a near flat power curve from low in the rpms all the way to its 8,600 rpm redline. All of which goes to the rear wheels via an eight-speed dual-clutch transmission. The big secret is airflow. Each bank of cylinders has an 87 mm throttle body with three 72 mm valves controlling flow between banks. For context, Chevy’s 6.2-liter LT2 V8 counts on a single 87mm throttle feed for all eight cylinders. (edited)
If you slice open the Z06’s intake plenum, you’ll find precisely angled horns that help direct air as efficiently as possible to each cylinder. The LT6 manages air so well that it makes 150 hp more than the LT6.R in the racecar with its 44.3 mm restrictor. A quick chat with Assistant Chief Engineer Dustin Gardner revealed that the LT6 is as good as it is because the accountants took a backseat. He and his team got to design the LT6 exactly how they wanted to, without cutting corners.
Once on the road, it was as if the rest of the car didn’t exist. All I could think about was that NA V8 behind me. The Z06’s throttle response is instantaneous, and while most of its torque lives higher in the rev range, the LT6 spins so quickly that you’re seemingly always in the power band. It also helps that its quick-shifting transmission has a shorter 5.56 final drive ratio, and its gears are nice and short. The lack of a low-end shove like you’d get in a turbocharged car means you can roll into power and genuinely enjoy the ride up the rpms.
A Stingray runs out of breath at 6,500 rpm, whereas the Z06 takes you all the way to 8,600 rpm. Forget shifting quickly. That last 200 rpm between peak power is where the Z06 goes from just thrilling to fully lighting your head on fire. It’s the point at which a resonant roar turns into a high-pitched scream. It’s a sensation comparable to what you’d get redlining a Porsche 911 GT3 or Lamborghini Huracan STO; utter madness.
Despite its track-focused nature, the Z06 loses none of its livability. At all four corners, you’ll find Chevy’s Magnetic Ride Control 4.0 with an available front lift earning you around 1.7 in (45mm) of clearance. Like the Stingray, the Z06 is genuinely compliant. Even the Z07-equipped cars proved more than comfortable enough for daily use.
Over dinner, Executive Chief Engineer Tadge Juechter explained that during development, his team kept increasing spring rates without noticing significant losses in comfort. I concur. While the Z07-equipped cars have stiffer springs and can stiffen considerably, you’ll hardly notice outside a track.
My drive concluded at the Pittsburgh International Race Complex, where after a bit of rain, I got to test the Z06 in its natural habitat. Switching over to the car’s track mode fully opens up its exhaust. According to the team behind the setup, it’s truly open. There’s very little muffling. At full throttle, the Z06 sounds way more Ferrari than Corvette. Seriously, I closed my eyes as a Z06 blasted by on the front straight, and I instantly thought of the 458 Italia.
There’s very little old-school Vette left. Its engine is in the middle, and it has an engine that could have easily come from Italy’s Motor Valley. As I rolled onto the track, the Z06 proved even more un-Vette-like. It feels precise, and while its steering is far too light and numb, it’s quick and allows you to point, and the front end will follow. There’s so much front-end agility and grip that the Z06 inspires confidence, not fear.
The Z06 remained flat, stable, and composed even through Pitt Race’s high-speed corners. As standard, the Z06 comes with Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires, which came in handy after the rain. The Z07 cars feature Sport Cup 2 Rs, which, while a bit noisy on the road, more than make up for it on track. This chassis is so well sorted and capable that there’s no way we could approach its limits in one afternoon. There’s enough on the table for the Vette’s future electrified variants to play with.
Under braking, the standard steel brakes and their six-piston Brembo calipers up front proved ready for track duty. They remained consistent with short pedal travel and firm response even after back-to-back runs. Z07 cars feature carbon ceramic brakes. While the upgraded brakes should hold up better over a full day at the track, their bite was equal to that of the steel brakes.
It’s impossible to say for sure without testing them back to back, but this Z06 felt just as quick as many of the Ferrari or Lamborghini products I’ve tested over the last few years. If anything, the Corvette falls short in the tactile feel department. It’s nowhere near as communicative as McLaren’s 720S with its hydraulic steering or racecar-style pedal feel, its inputs feel more removed, with all of the excitement coming from its engine.
Pricing-wise, the Z06 starts at $105,300 plus a $1,395 destination charge. Opting for the Convertible adds between $7,000 to $7,500, depending on the trim level. The Z07 Performance Package costs $8,500 but requires both the Ground Effects ($0) and the High Wing Rear Spoiler ($8,495) options. A fully optioned coupe will top out around $139,735, while the Convertible maxes out at $146,735.
The 2023 Chevrolet Corvette Z06, regardless of trim level, body style, or optional extras, is a masterpiece. It’s quick and capable, sure, but above all else, it’s exciting. It’s all about that LT6 in the middle. Its exotic sound, immediate power delivery, and high-revving nature make the car. The C8 finally has the engine it deserves. Put it all together, and the Z06 is more than just a value proposition. It’s a clear example that when the bean counters take a back seat, engineers flourish and create a machine that is a true contender in the supercar space.
Image Source: Chevrolet