Aww, look at America’s Sports Car. It’s all grown up now. It turned up in 2020 in C8 Stingray form and took home our Golden Calipers, and now, for 2023, the Corvette is getting a major upgrade. Meet the 2023 Chevrolet Corvette Z06, which arrives boasting more of everything: power, panache, sound, vibration, swagger, downforce, grip, luxury, customization. It’s utterly free of turbos and electrification and we’re told it’s the best-performing Corvette ever. Swifter Corvettes are on the horizon, but this fully analog one seems poised to remain our favorite. Here’s why.
In order to go toe to toe with entry supercar greats like the Ferrari F8 and the Lamborghini Huracán, Chevy developed a true racing engine alongside Pratt & Miller. The car that engine powers has been racing successfully in the GTLM series, winning first and second in class at the most recent 24 Hours of Daytona. Then the Corvette team miraculously made it conform to all foreseeable emissions regulations. The resulting LT6 engine shares nothing but the historic 4.4-inch bore-center dimension with any prior small-block V-8 and features a flat-plane crankshaft just like Ferrari, McLaren, Lotus, and other serious supercar makers have used. (As well as the most recent—and dearly departed—Ford Mustang Shelby GT350, of course.) Chevy’s is the largest flat-plane V-8 ever, displacing 5.5 liters.
We explain elsewhere exactly how Chevy did this while also producing 670 horsepower at 8,400 rpm and 460 lb-ft at 6,300 rpm—making the LT6 the most powerful naturally aspirated production V-8 in history. So here we’ll just tell you that this engine truly makes the Corvette Z06 sound and feel like a supercar. There’s nothing quite like the buzz and bark of a big flat-plane V-8. And now that just about every other V-8 flatty employs exhaust-stifling turbochargers, the Z06’s LT6 sounds the best. A unique center-exit exhaust makes the most of this aural extravaganza with “reverse-megaphone” tips that reflect the noise back over the engine and into the cockpit. Bellissima.
With all that sound comes a fair bit of vibration, so the C8’s eight-speed transaxle bell housing gets added ribbing and longer engine-mounting bolts to cope. A sixth clutch pack is added to the even gears’ shaft, matching what the odd shaft already uses to handle the added power. No-lift shifting is also supported, meaning the engine maintains full power during shifts in Track mode at wide-open throttle, provided the car is pointed in a straight line. Additional internal baffles ensure the oil pickups never get starved during a track session. And because the smaller-displacement engine produces less low-end torque than the 6.2-liter LT2 small-block, the axle ratio is shortened from the Stingray Z51’s 5.17:1 to 5.56:1 for a stronger launch feel.
Speaking of launch, to save Z06 owners the embarrassment of a botched stoplight holeshot and the hassle of diving into screens to activate launch control, there’s a new “manual launch” mode that works like this: With your foot on the brake, grab both shift paddles, let one go, then pull it back again. Now floor the throttle, and the engine will hold a roughly calculated optimal launch rpm for when you release the paddles and brake pedal. Proper launch control allows more tailoring of the launch speed, while holding both paddles, flooring the gas, and releasing everything initiates a smokey burnout.
The standard Z06’s overall ride rate is roughly 35 percent stiffer than the Z51’s, with the track optimized Z07 package stiffening things up a further 8 percent. Higher spring rates enable lower anti-roll bar rates. All Z06s get Magnetic Selective Ride Control 4.0 damping tailored to the Z06 (there is no unique Z07 calibration). The brakes are substantially upgraded with larger rotors all around and six-piston front brakes replacing the Stingray’s four-piston units. Carbon-ceramic brakes come standard on the Z07 and are optional on the base Z06.
A choice of five forged aluminum and two carbon-fiber wheels is offered, all sized 10 by 20 inches in front and 13 by 21 inches in the rear (the largest ever on a Corvette). Standard Z06s get Michelin Pilot Sport 4S ZP tires while the Z07 package gets Michelin Sport Cup 2 R ZP tires. The carbon wheels shave a total of 41 pounds of unsprung weight, but they’ll cost a bundle (especially the exposed-weave version). We’re told they’re incredibly robust, and that folks worried about potholes will replace way fewer carbon wheels than they will aluminum ones.
Chief engineer Tadge Juechter says the Z06 is easily the fastest Corvette his team has tested on their various development circuits, setting several internal records. The fastest C7 Corvettes relied heavily on tires, so after one or two great laps the times fell off precipitously. The new Z06’s best lap time is only slightly better than the C7 ZR1’s, but its average lap time is way higher.
That speaks to the natural balance of the car, which Juechter says makes the Z06 exceptionally easy to drive hard. It’s also incredibly sticky—he conservatively quotes maximum lateral grip at 1.10 g for the base Z06, and 1.22 g for the Z07 package. (Note that on GM’s 300-foot circle, the Z07 hits about 80 mph and develops meaningful downforce, so we may see lower results on our tighter 200-foot circle.)
Best Downforce-to-Drag Ratio
All 2023 Chevrolet Corvette Z06s get a front splitter, side skirts, and a rear spoiler that comes standard with a removable wickerbill that generates 365 pounds of rear downforce at 186 mph. These parts come in gloss black but can be ordered in exposed carbon fiber or painted Carbon Gray. Want more downforce? An optional aero package (standard on Z07) buys a more pronounced front splitter and dive planes up front, underbody aero fences that channel air out from under the front of the car to boost front downforce, plus a rear wing that generates 734 pounds of downforce at 186 mph. That’s more than any previous production Corvette and it earns the best ratio of downforce to drag GM has measured.
This Z06 is the first to feature unique front and rear fascias along with widened fender flares all around. Funneling air to a third central engine radiator and the brake cooling ducts drove the front fascia redesign, while moving exhaust outlets from the corners to the center and providing air-extraction outlets motivated the rear redo. The bodywork grows 3.6 inches wider to cover tires that are each 1.2 inches wider in front and 1.6 inches wider in back. The rear air inlets are also enlarged to meet the engine’s increased cooling demands. Bonus points: Frunk and trunk space remain unchanged, despite packaging that new radiator in the front and new exhaust in back.
Inside there are hand-wrapped leather packages and new color schemes available including Adrenalin Red Dipped, which extends the familiar seat color to the door panels, dash, headliner, and carpet. A new more extensive carbon package adds the weave across the center console, on the door panels, to the top and bottom of the steering wheel rim, and even onto the dash. The more abbreviated carbon package is still available, as is a stealth aluminum trim that darkens all the bright metalwork. Quilted stitching on the door panels and the coupe’s headliner will also be available.
“Available” is a Z06 watchword. “Our customers always want whatever we don’t offer,” Juechter noted, by way of explaining why the Z06 can be had in practically every conceivable configuration: coupe or convertible in three different trim level specifications (1LZ, 2LZ, or 3LZ), and a catalog of color options worthy of Maserati, Ferrari, or Lamborghini: 12 exterior colors, six brake caliper colors, stripe options, aero packages, and multiple exterior accent pieces. Inside there are seven interior colors and six seatbelt colors that can be mixed for thousands of combinations, plus three styles of seats and the aforementioned carbon and Stealth Aluminum trim options. The number of total buildable combinations would be a figure with a lot of digits, but no COPO red tape or extra-cost feature-delete packages are required to build the lightest possible 1LZ Z06/Z07 coupe with carbon wheels and competition seats for track days, or a loaded 3LZ convertible with all the carbon appearance stuff for grand touring.
The Bottom Line
The Corvette team started out benchmarking the Ferrari 458, then bought a 488 when that model appeared. They ended up selling the 488 and buying another used 458 because of that car’s more soulful character. Their goal for the Z06 is to deliver all the spine-tingling verve of that wonderful, naturally aspirated former MotorTrend Best Driver’s Car in a modern package delivering benchmark performance plus all the creature comforts Corvette buyers have come to expect. Fancier, more powerful Corvettes are coming, but we predict this one will be our favorite—just as we prefer the GT3 to the more powerful Porsche 911s.
The 2023 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 is designed to be an accessible exotic with ergonomic controls and scrutable infotainment that can be affordably serviced at the corner Chevy dealer. Upon first glance, the Vette team just might have nailed it.
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