- All-time great naturally aspirated engine
- PDK-equivalent transmission
- World-class handling
- Doesn’t burble
- Can’t see the engine on convertible models
- Squircle steering wheel isn’t for everyone
How can we say this so definitively? What about the Ford GT, you might ask? What about the Dodge Viper ACR? We’ve driven them, tested them with our instrumentation, and we’ve tracked them, and they’re both great cars. Each is a Le Mans winner in its own right (though Corvette Racing has more wins than the two of them combined). The 2023 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 is better.
As much as there is to talk about with the new C8 Corvette Z06, we must begin with the sacrilegious dual-overhead-cam, flat-plane-crank V-8 engine. No, it doesn’t burble like a cross-plane-crank V-8, because it isn’t one. It does, however, make more naturally aspirated power than any production V-8 in history. We’re talking 670 American ponies. Fair trade, we say.
Disagree? You won’t, not after the first pull to redline with the exhaust open. This isn’t the banshee scream of an old Italian V-8 or the monotone growl of a modern turbocharged German eight-cylinder. The 2023 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 sounds like the angriest person you’ve ever heard screaming at the top of their lungs. It’s an unhinged war cry, all ragged emotion and zero conscious thought.
It’s also a happy accident. Originally, the Z06 was slated to have an exhaust system similar to the base car with tips at the corners, not in the center, but the center arrangement quickly proved to reduce back pressure and save weight. Yet it still wasn’t quite right. Taking turns driving an early prototype past their team, engineers realized the car sounded better from the outside than it did within the cockpit. Development delays caused by the global pandemic bought the team time to develop a new center-exit exhaust system that also happens to be 20 pounds lighter. The big fix was the two-piece tips, which aren’t the result of aesthetic cost-cutting but deliberate engineering: What appear to be separate trim rings are actually parabolic reflectors that send more noise forward to the cockpit.
Now that the noise is out of the way, let’s talk about what really matters: the way this engine delivers power. This is the high-rpm, exponentially climbing, never-relenting power delivery that all-time-great naturally aspirated engines are revered for. Low-end power is fine, but true excitement begins at 4,000 rpm. At 6,000 rpm, things get real, and it doesn’t stop until you hit the 8,600-rpm redline.
This is the kind of manic top-end thrust that makes your spine tingle, and it feels almost out of control as it just keeps building. It makes you wonder if you shouldn’t short-shift just so things don’t get too out of hand, as if leaving it in gear until redline might somehow let the car get away from you. It dares you to stay on the throttle until you hit the redline, even when you’re running out of road and really ought to consider braking. If you’ve driven a lot of modern supercars, you might miss the low- to mid-range turbo shove, but you forget all about it when you get to the top end.
This is what the pinnacle of supercars used to feel like, before the turbo revolution. When power meant engine speed and sound and fury. This is what makes Ferrari 458s more desirable than 488s and F8s. Chevy has seen the light, cracked the code, solved the riddle, however you wish to describe it. We thought in the year 2022 we’d seen the last of the great naturally aspirated V-8s, and here comes Chevy with one final hail mary.
On top of all that, Corvette engineers connected the V-8 to a truly great dual-clutch transmission. It’s a worked-over version of the one found in the standard Corvette, but the difference is palpable. The automatic-shifting logic is better than it’s ever been and functionally as good as Porsche’s benchmark PDK. Pull gears yourself using the paddles, and it’ll let you do anything short of over-revving the engine. Want to drop a gear and end up just 300 rpm below redline? Your call/mistake.
Hell, it even slams gears. Absolutely wood it, and the transmission bangs off shifts with a little kick between your shoulders. Not enough to upset the car in any way, but just enough to amp up the drama and make the car feel even more on the edge, even though it isn’t.
(Drop-) Top Numbers
During the official launch event, we got to drive every flavor of the 2023 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 the company will offer. However, at the same time, Chevy shipped a standard Z06 convertible to our California test facility so we could run numbers on it in time for this story. It didn’t have the Z07 package with sticky Cup tires, lightweight carbon-fiber wheels, high-downforce carbon-fiber aero package, or lighter coupe body style, so keep that in mind. In other words, this is what the base car can do. Just imagine what a fully tricked-out Z07 will do when we strap our testing equipment to one.
Start your run by using launch control; the car hits 60 mph in just 2.6 seconds on the way to a 10.6-second quarter-mile time at 131.6 mph. These are wild numbers for a base Z06 convertible with all the trimmings and base tires and the 100-pound-heavier power-folding roof. This convertible weighs a hefty 3,774 pounds and makes “only” 460 lb-ft. (Not that you’ll really notice the weight difference in the convertible; we didn’t on the street or the track.)
Step on the other pedal, and the massive carbon-ceramic brakes, in the best GM tradition, stop the Corvette right damn now. The electronically adjustable pedal feel is aggressive but manageable in its softest setting, and it’s reassuringly firm and direct in its stiffest. Strong, consistent bite happens immediately and is modulated easily throughout the braking zone. As with the Z51 package, though, you’ll want to work your way up to your first big braking event in order to get a feel for it. The pedal has less travel than you expect, and it’s easy in a high-speed braking zone to get all the way into ABS intervention when you think you have more pedal travel to go. That is, unless you get the carbon-fiber wheels, but we’ll get to those in a minute.
Not that the standard Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires have anything to apologize for. Their grip is absolutely unimpeachable on the road and nearly as good on the track. We recorded 1.10 average lateral g on the skidpad with these base tires, and they enabled the Z06 to drop a 22.7-second figure-eight lap at 0.93 average g. Anything less than 23 seconds is world-beating supercar territory.
That’s if you drive it properly, of course. Get too aggressive entering or exiting a corner, and things can get messy. Carry too much trail-braking into the turn, and the rear end will unload and step out. It’s easy to catch and control, and you can just as easily avoid it by starting and ending your braking sooner and being smoother with your steering input. Similarly, carrying too much speed mid-corner can induce mild and predictable understeer.
With a 39/61 front-rear weight balance and the heavy bits in the middle, this isn’t a car that likes to hold a lurid drift on the way out, either. Like the base C8, with the traction and stability control sidelined, it’ll power-oversteer with the best of them—but the margin for catching and holding a drift angle is short and sweet. You’re best to back off the throttle and let it hook up, because staying in it is very likely to induce a spin. This car wants to go forward, not drift.
But really, there’s no reason you should be in that situation to begin with. Chevrolet’s fantastic Performance Traction Management system is more than happy to prevent you from overpowering the rear tires so you never have to worry about looping off the pavement. With any level of PTM engaged, Race modes included, you don’t really need stability control. Any time the steering wheel is turned and the accelerator is pressed, PTM doles out the exact amount of power the computer thinks the rear tires can handle: Just smash the throttle and go.
There’s More to It
Do so, however, and you’ll quickly find other limits, such as the road and your own risk tolerance. Physics limits how fast you can go around any given corner, and the equation changes from vehicle to vehicle. As you approach the limit in any given car, then, you have to decide where your personal limit is. How much are you willing to risk to go a tiny bit faster?
This question looms large on a track and enormously on public roads. Driving the 2023 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 fast requires you to reckon with this question constantly, because you quickly get the impression the car has more in it. It could go faster around that corner. Could you? Are you willing to risk the consequences of being off by an inch? Are your lap times putting dinner on the table? This car could bring glory, but needless folly is also on the menu if you aren’t up to the task.
Not that the Z06 doesn’t urge you to chase that last tenth, hundredth, or thousandth of a second. Midcorner bumps do not matter to this car. Want to use the curbing? Go for it. Slam off the red-and-whites. It doesn’t care. There’s an unfazeable confidence to it, a feeling that it’s impervious to big hits in the suspension, similar to what made us big fans of the fifth-generation Camaro Z/28. This is a car that feels both light and delicate and also indestructible. Drive it hard—it can take it.
Even More Capable Models
Don’t forget, either, we’re still talking about the base Corvette Z06. There’s still the Z07, and it’s even better. Forget about the price, forget about the specs. You will absolutely, without question, feel the difference on the track—and you’ll love a track day in a Z06. You’ll be trying to figure out how to mount the original Z06’s 36-gallon gas tank in a Z07 so you never have to pit.
The magic is in the way the relatively short list of upgrades work together. The lightweight wheels amp up the steering feel and, in concert with the stickier Michelin Pilot Cup 2R tires, dramatically improve the already good braking feel. If the base Z06 feels like it’ll stop right now, the Z07 feels like it already stopped yesterday, but you can still modulate it now, if you’d like.
If the Z06 has anything you could call a weak point, it’s that the car can overdrive the base Pilot Sport 4S tires on a track. The Cup 2Rs solve that problem. Power-on oversteer is much more difficult to induce when exiting a corner, and you must carry a lot more speed to get any midcorner understeer.
The sticky tires are assisted by the high-downforce Carbon Aero package (734 pounds at 186 mph, compared to 362 pounds for the standard aero with optional wicker bill spoiler extensions installed), as well as the 10 percent stiffer springs. Even more so than the Z06, the Z07 feels as though you can absolutely murder the curbs every corner and the car won’t care a bit. Get it light and loose over a crest, and it feels anything but unnerving. You know instinctively it’s not going to come around on you and that it’s going to grip right back up so you can drop the hammer as soon as it does.
This is a car that inspires enormous confidence. You feel like you can throw caution to the wind. You find yourself hitting wide-open throttle in sections of the track you hadn’t before and keeping it pinned deeper into the braking zones. You wait longer on the brakes, use more curb, and get even more aggressive with the throttle. You drive it harder and harder, harder than you ever thought you could, because you know the Corvette can do it.
It’s a refreshing thing to say about a Corvette. Good as the C7 was, its chassis was at its limit, and throwing more power at the car wasn’t going to make for better instrumented performance, lap times, or driver confidence. The C8? It was quicker out of the box, it’s even quicker now, and it’s only going up from here.
Hopefully, the inevitable addition of power to the front wheels on coming Corvette models doesn’t detract from the steering feel. As with everything else on this car, where the former Z51-equipped model was great, the 2023 Corvette Z06 is better. The steering response is immediate and pinpoint precise. The feedback is meaningful and helpful, and should you drop $12,000 on the carbon-fiber wheels (a stand-alone option), it’s better than most supercars on the road today. The “squircle” steering wheel continues to annoy some people, but shy of navigating parking lots and catching big slides, you shouldn’t need to move your hands from nine and three often enough to make it a big issue.
Odds and Ends
Like the steering wheel, the only meaningful complaints we have about the 2023 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 are leftovers from the standard C8 Corvette. The wall of buttons dividing the cockpit is logical in theory, but even after driving a Z51 for a year, we still can’t find the button we want without taking our eyes off the road. The wireless phone charger is still in a difficult to reach and easy to forget place. The power-folding convertible roof completely hides the glorious engine. The trunk gets too toasty for groceries, and now so, too, does the frunk.
And technically, the ride quality is worse than the base C8’s. Chevy engineers say the springs are 35 percent stiffer on the Z06, 45 percent on the Z07. They could’ve fooled us: We put a solid 16,512 miles on our long-term C8, and we’d have guessed the Z06 is 10 percent stiffer, maybe 15. Yeah, it’s a little less comfortable to road-trip than the base car, but not enough to matter.
Although those pedestrian concerns are all true, to dwell on them misses the point. This is the world-beating supercar we always wanted the Corvette to be. This is the formula that made cars like the Ferrari 458 into modern-day icons. It’s what you get as a result of relentless focus on building the best traditional supercar possible, on prioritizing the driving experience over all else, but also making it a stone-cold assassin on the track. People say Corvettes aren’t collectible because Chevy builds too damn many of them. That may be true, but this time, it doesn’t matter. Chevy can build a million Z06s, and each one will still be worth any price the market demands.
Looks good! More details?
|2023 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 70th Anniversary Convertible Specifications|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$158,210|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Mid-engine, RWD, 2-pass, 2-door convertible|
|ENGINE||5.5L direct-injected DOHC 32-valve 90-degree V-8|
|POWER (SAE NET)||670 hp @ 8,400 rpm|
|TORQUE (SAE NET)||460 lb-ft @ 6,300 rpm|
|TRANSMISSION||8-speed twin-clutch auto|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||3,774 lb (39/61%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||185.9 x 79.7 x 48.6 in|
|0-60 MPH||2.6 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||10.6 sec @ 131.6 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||99 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||1.10 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||22.7 sec @ 0.93 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||12/21/15 mpg|
|EPA RANGE, COMB||278 miles (est)|