Corvette: 2023 Z06 Drive Test – The Legend Returns Better Than Ever


Corvette: 2023 Z06 Drive Test – The Legend Returns Better Than Ever


Z06 is a nameplate with a storied history. It spans back to a time when Kennedy was in the White House and the Beatles were simply an up-and-coming British band; an era when an engineer could buck the corporate system and push forth his vision for performance and motorsports success.

Although a GM-backed Automobile Manufacturers Association ban prohibited factory-supported racing in the early 1960s, Zora Arkus-Duntov had other ideas. Nicknamed the Father of the Corvette, the GM engineer had been instrumental in the two-seater’s transformation from the leisurely cruiser that debuted in 1953 to the muscular sports car it had become by the end of the first-generation car’s production in 1962.

Keenly aware that racers were going to campaign the Corvette in competition whether Chevrolet was involved or not, Duntov and his colleagues developed a number of motorsports-focused components on the down-low during the lead-up to the launch of the second-generation Corvette Sting Ray.

The Z06 name began six decades ago with legendary Corvette engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov, shown here with a 1966 Corvette Stingray. He first developed the Z06 for 1963, as a race-ready version of the Corvette.

After GM management decided to withdraw their support for the AMA ban, Duntov’s team established “RPO Z06,” an internal ordering code designation that denoted a group of special high-performance parts for the new Corvette. Available exclusively with the 360hp fuel-injected 327ci small-block V8, the package included a beefed-up suspension system, upgraded brakes, and a high-capacity fuel tank that allowed for fewer pit stops during endurance races.

While less than 200 examples of the C2 Z06 were produced in total, Duntov had created a template for a legendary track-tuned sports car. The package would eventually return to the fold mid-way through the C5’s production run as a roadgoing model that paid significant homage to the mission of the original race cars, and a Z06 model has graced the lineup of every Corvette generation since.

Sixty years after the first Z06s rolled off GM’s assembly line, the basic concept still remains the same: Take a standard Corvette and make it a seriously capable performer on a road course. But as the first mid-engined Corvette to wear the badge, Chevrolet knew that the C8 Z06 needed to be something particularly special. And what they’ve created is an American supercar that’s ready to take the likes of McLaren and Ferrari to task.

The widened stance and revised side intakes provide the Z06 with a more aggressive look and help to balance out the C8’s proportions.

Reinventing a Performance Icon

Even though the Z06 is still effectively an options package for the standard Corvette Stingray, the latest incarnation represents a major rework of the sports car both mechanically and aesthetically.

In terms of the latter, the Z06 is 3.6 inches wider than the standard C8 thanks to widened and reworked side intakes, along with flared-out bodywork that’s been designed to accommodate significantly wider wheels and tires. The standard Z06 setup consists of 20x10-inch front and 21x13-inch rear wheels wrapped in 275mm and 345mm-wide Michelin Pilot Sport 4S summer tires (representing a 60mm and 80mm expansion of the contact patch at the front and rear of the car, respectively), but those who opt for the hardcore Z07 package will score even-stickier Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 R rubber as part of the deal.

The Z06's bulging bodywork allows for wider forged wheels that measure 20x10 inches up front and 21x13 inches at the rear. Larger brake discs with six-piston calipers also come standard as part of the Z06 package.

To ensure that the rest of the car could properly utilize that substantial upgrade in grip, Chevrolet engineers also recalibrated the C8’s magnetic adaptive dampers and retuned the associated suspension components in turn, while the brake system features larger 14.6-inch and 15.0-inch front and rear discs as well as six-piston Brembo calipers at all four corners – all of which is equipped on the Z06 as-standard.

The unique front and rear fascias are also a first for a Z06 model and provide the car with a more aggressive look as well as additional air intake capacity, while Chevrolet says that the “floating” center-mounted exhaust system design helped engineers fine-tune the Z06’s song.

The center-mounted exhaust system also helps to distinguish the Z06 from a standard C8 at a glance. Chevrolet says the system’s floating design was “key to the precise tuning in the exhaust note.”

But the centerpiece of the Z06 package is undoubtedly the new LT6 engine, and it’s a dramatic departure from the pushrod V8s that have been installed in nearly all factory-produced Corvettes since 1955. A true clean-sheet design, the all-aluminum 5.5-liter V8 utilizes a dual overhead cam configuration as well as exotic internals like forged titanium connecting rods and a flat-plane crankshaft.

The advanced hardware results in a searing 8600 RPM redline and an exhaust note that more closely resembles something out of Maranello rather than Detroit. It also allows the LT6 to achieve peak output figures of 670 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque, which makes this the most powerful naturally aspirated V8 ever offered in a production vehicle.

Combined with an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic that’s been outfitted with a shorter 5.56 final drive ratio for more rapid acceleration, the rear-wheel-drive Z06 is capable of hitting 60 miles per hour from rest in just 2.6 seconds on its way to a top speed of 195 mph (when outfitted with the standard aero package).

And in practice, it all adds up to a Corvette unlike any we’ve ever seen – or driven – before.

As denoted by the signature on the plaque bolted to the intake, each LT6 is hand-assembled by a master engine builder at the Performance Build Center within GM’s Bowling Green Assembly Plant in Kentucky. Dishing out 670hp and 460lb-ft, the new DOHC powerplant is the most powerful naturally aspirated V8 ever put into mass production.

Behind the Wheel

The Z06’s cabin doesn’t stray far from the look of the standard C8, although optional extras like the carbon-fiber trim on this particular example – a convertible 3LZ with a base MSRP of $125,850 and an as-tested price of $144,210 with destination fee – add to the performance-focused vibe.

Aside from the odd column of HVAC controls, the C8 cockpit feels logically laid out and most of the technology is immediately intuitive to use. Like the standard car, forward visibility in the Z06 is excellent, although it must be pointed out that this convertible model has substantial blind spots directly behind the seats that make it difficult to see cross traffic when backing out of a parking spot, regardless of whether the top is up or down. The fact that the LT6 is completely covered by a plastic service panel in convertible models is another point against the droptop, but the sounds from the exhaust that reach your ears uninhibited when the engine is on boil and the roof is stowed do make up for quite a lot of it.

The Z06's cabin provides an effective workspace for high-performance driving, as well as a comfortable environment for less intense use. Shown here are optional carbon-fiber trim inserts.

Although our instinct was to immediately head to the hills to put the Z06 through its paces in its natural environment, we decided to first spend a bit of time with it on the gnarled streets of LA to see how it fares in normal, everyday use. And GM’s Magnetic Ride Control technology continues to work wonders here: Even though the suspension is significantly stiffened in the Z06, the ride quality is remarkably civil in the default Tour driving mode, allowing the sports car to absorb road imperfections at speed with minimal head toss and overall harshness.

The revamped gearbox deserves some praise here, too. While the dual clutch will happily fire off fierce and near-instantaneous upshifts and downshifts in Track mode, it’s also willing to work quietly in the background when asked to do so in more docile drive mode settings. A firm yet easily-modulated brake pedal also allows the Z06’s pace to be regulated at lower speeds without a sense of over-eager nervousness.

Although start-ups are an aural event for everyone in the vicinity whether the engine is cold or at-temperature, the active exhaust quickly settles back down to a hushed burble unless you decide to drop the hammer or switch to a sportier drive mode. Outfitted with the optional nose lift feature, which temporarily raises the front end of the car to make it easier to clear speed bumps and driveway aprons without scuffing the front splitter, the Z06 really requires very little compromise as a daily-driven sports car.

The low front bodywork would make everyday driving a bit nerve-wracking if it weren't for the optional nose lift feature that temporarily raises the front end of the car to clear speed bumps and driveway aprons.

An extended jaunt through Angeles National Forest allowed the Z06 to showcase what it was really designed to do. While Sport mode uncorks the exhaust, stiffens the suspension, and recalibrates the gearbox for performance-oriented response, we found that the sharper and stiffer Track mode was better suited to livelier stretches of canyon road without feeling over-damped in the slower, more technical portions.

The My Mode setting also offers a custom drive mode preset that allows you to key up all favorite settings together. For example, you could program it to have the softest suspension setting and the loudest exhaust setting. But the only way to dig into Performance Traction Management settings – which allows you to fine tune the stability- and traction-control systems – is to press the Z-Mode button on the steering wheel. We didn’t notice any electronic intervention getting in the way of our good time anyway, so we left PTM as it was.

Z-Mode allows you to fine tune the stability- and traction-control systems.

Part of that likely comes down to the way that the LT6 makes power. Unlike the previous-generation Z06, which required a measured use of throttle to prevent the LT4’s deep well of supercharged torque from turning forward thrust into wheelspin, this DOHC V8 is more interested in top-end fury. Its best work is done well after 6000 RPM and peak horsepower is realized within 200 RPM of redline, resulting in response that’s more akin to a Porsche 911 GT3 rather than a muscle car. And at those lofty revs, you’ll be rewarded with a soundtrack that bares more than a passing resemblance to the Ferrari 458 Italia’s sonic assault.

Planted, predictable, and eminently capable of serious pace, the new Z06 allows the driver to focus less on taming potentially unruly behavior and more on exploring the substantial breadth of its performance. While the former was admittedly part of the C7 Z06’s charm, there’s no question that the latest Z06 represents a new level of sophistication and prowess for the badge.


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