The thought came to us as the Corvette Z06 bent obediently into Pitt Race International’s tight uphill Turn 5 at what would be an impossible speed in almost any other car. As the nose swung sharply toward the apex, a wave of g-force rose, the front tires clawed for grip, and the words arrived between heartbeats: This thing feels like a race car. A split second later, the Z06 was hurling itself out of the corner and down the next straightaway in a fast-forward rush, its flat-plane-crank V-8 engine blaring, howling, yawping out a soundtrack that was equal parts Gatling gun and circular saw. Yep, the Z06 sounds like a race car too.
Chevrolet invited us down to Pitt Race to get behind the wheel of its new track-focused model. “Focused” is the operative word here, because the Z06 is still a street car—Chevrolet has Corvette Racing’s C8.R race cars to compete in top-level professional sports-car competition at tracks such as Le Mans and Sebring. So a road drive was on as well, a morning-long jaunt on Pennsylvania two-lanes in standard Z06s. There was also an afternoon of lapping in Z06s equipped with the Z07 track package, which is the most aggressive setup that the Corvette engineering team thinks is still streetable.
The heart of the new Z06, of course is the all-new LT6, a 670-hp 5.5-liter V-8 code-named Gemini during development in honor of the astronauts from the 1970s, many of whom drove Corvettes. With a flat-plane crankshaft, double overhead cams, four valves per cylinder, and an 8500-rpm redline, it’s unlike any engine that has ever been in a Corvette. What’s more, it takes the Z06 back to its roots, as it is naturally aspirated like the engines in the previous fifth- and sixth-generation Z06 models. But those cars were powered by pushrod engines with conventional cross-plane cranks. Fire this one up and it settles into a sharp hum that sounds like an IndyCar engine idling at 2000 rpm, though the Z06’s digital tach shows 850. There’s no V-8 burble to it.
HIGHS: The 8500-rpm whirlwind behind the seats, race-car-like handling, still comfortably street drivable.
Nor is there when you set off, as we found on our road drive. The exhaust note is an insistent presence that fills the car with nervous energy just cruising around town. Ferraris and Lamborghinis do that too, and the Z06 sounds like them but also like its own thing. Thanks to its new multimode exhaust system, each of the car’s drive modes—Weather, Tour, Sport, and Track—has its own exhaust note. And using the MyMode function you can dial up multiple levels of exhaust intensity from near silent in Stealth mode to a brain-scrambling scream—essentially straight pipes—that will have your entire subdivision aware of when you leave for work in the morning.
Indeed, the standard Z06 is a car you could drive to the office or just about anywhere three seasons of the year should you so desire. We cruised the local Pennsylvania roads in the convertible version, which has the same structural rigidity as the targa-roofed coupe, though it weighs about 100 pounds more and its top mechanism hides the engine from view when you pop the rear decklid. It’s obvious from the first mile that the Z06 is a very different animal from the base C8 Stingray.
The engineers say they reworked the Z06’s chassis as much to make it feel in sync with the angry-sounding, quick-revving LT6 as to sharpen its track-day skill set. It definitely feels like a holistic effort, where the car’s road manners and engine were meant to go together. Spring rates are up by 30 percent over the Corvette Stingray Z51 track-pack model, the suspension bushings are stiffer, and the MagneRide dampers have been retuned to work with the new chassis hardware and the big tires—humongous 345/25ZR-21s in the rear and 275/30ZR-20s in front—which Chevy claims are the widest fronts ever fitted to a mid-engine car. The rear tires are 1.6 inches wider than the Z51’s, and the fronts are 1.2 inches broader; the body is stretched 3.6 inches wider to cover the fat rubber. Thanks to the higher spring rates, both the front and rear anti-roll bars are marginally smaller. You can feel the firmer ride quality within the first 100 yards, and while it won’t smooth the road like a base Corvette with MagneRide dampers, it never becomes brutal either. And if you want to track the standard Z06, the engineers assure us that it’s fully up to the task, just not as up to the task as the Z07-equipped version.
The $8995 Z07 package, available on either the targa or convertible, ups spring rates another 10 percent, substitutes Michelin’s Pilot Sport Cup 2 R ZP track tires for the standard Z06’s Pilot Sport 4S ZPs, gets recalibrated MagneRide dampers, and adds carbon-ceramic brakes. Brembo brakes are standard on both Z06 versions; the six-piston front calipers pinch 14.6-inch rotors and the four-piston rears clamp 15.0-inchers, but the calipers are different designs to work with the standard model’s steel rotors and the Z07’s larger carbon-ceramics. Going Z07 also requires the aggressive Aero package for another $8495 (or $10,495 in exposed carbon fiber).
You can also option any Z06 with the Z07’s max-downforce Aerodynamic package consisting of a big rear wing, a front splitter, belly-pan strakes, an under-nose wing, and dive planes. That setup provides 734 pounds of downforce at 186 mph; the standard Z06’s Aero package delivers 362 pounds at that speed. The killer Z07 setup, the engineers claim, is adding the $9995 carbon-fiber wheels (or $11,995 for exposed carbon fiber), which save a claimed 41 pounds and sharpen the steering response even further. Our testers reported that the Z07 rode with acceptable comfort on the drive to the test track, where they put it and a standard Z06 through our instrumented testing regimen.
Upping the horsepower from the Stingray’s 490 to the Z06’s 670 required a host of other mechanical improvements beyond the chassis changes. The transaxle’s case and internals are beefed up, and an additional clutch plate is squeezed into the gearbox; the half-shafts are larger too. To keep the engine cool on even the hottest track days, there’s now a front-center radiator, and the front-outboard radiators were upsized. More powerful fans were fitted to the front radiators, and the enlarged body-side air intakes now each contain an oil cooler, up from the single right-side unit on the Stingray Z51.
LOWS: Cup 2R track tires’ disdain for rain, our sudden longing to have one in our garage.
Our drive on rural Pennsylvania roads ranged from comfortable to on-the-edge exciting, depending on how we adjusted this highly adjustable car. The ride amps up from compliant to too stiff as you move through the Tour, Sport, and Track modes; the exhaust note rises in its urgency with each drive mode from thrilling to “Holy crap, that’s loud.” You can adjust the ride, steering effort, brake effort, and exhaust note independently through the customizable MyMode driving mode. We settled on the settings for the softest ride, Sport-level steering effort and brake feel, and the killer Track-mode exhaust note—until it wore our ears out and we toned it down.
It was drizzling intermittently, and the roads didn’t lend themselves to exploiting the standard car’s maximum cornering grip. But when we hit sections of dry pavement, we couldn’t resist dropping down to second gear and nailing the throttle to feel the thrilling rush the LT6 generates as the tach sweeps past 4000 rpm and to revel in the engine’s incredible shout as it rips to its 8500-rpm redline. When weather permitted, we put the top down and soaked up the intoxicating engine note. And to anyone who thinks the low-rpm gut punch of the previous-generation Z06’s supercharged small-block just has to be more exciting, we say: Try revving an LT6 all the way up, and then talk to us.
Besides sounding otherworldly, the Z06 is also seriously quick: The Z07 coupe we tested jumped to 60 mph in 2.6 seconds and aced the quarter-mile in 10.5 seconds at 131 mph. Its 1.0-second 30-mph time ties it for the quickest rear-drive car we’ve ever tested alongside a couple of track-attack 991-gen Porsches: the GT2 RS and GT3 RS. On the super-sticky rubber, the Z07 clung to the skidpad at 1.16 g’s—short of Chevy’s claim of 1.22 g’s—and stopped from 70 mph in 139 feet.
Back at Pitt Race, we continued to fight the weather, getting only a couple of laps in at a time in the Z07-equipped cars before another squall came through. The Corvette team had us back in the pits each time the rains came; the nearly race-slick Cup 2 Rs want to aquaplane at the mere hint of standing water. Once parts of the track were dry, we went out and danced around the damp spots for another couple of laps until the heavens opened again.
Even though our time on track was short, the Z07’s uncanny front-end authority—its millimeter-accurate steering, sheer grip, and unflappable ability to dive for apexes without so much as a twitch—gave us the confidence to start probing the car’s limits after only a handful of laps. It helped that longtime Corvette Racing team driver Oliver Gavin—a five-time Le Mans class winner—was leading us around at an impressive clip. Gavin retired from racing in 2021 and has helped the Z06 engineers with some development driving. During a rain break, he confirmed our impressions. “The very first time I drove a prototype Z06 at the Nürburgring, just driving through the pits it was giving me the feeling of my race cars.” And did it feel at all like one of his race cars once he was out on the track? Gavin raised his eyebrows, pursed his lips, and nodded.
Of course, the new Z06 isn’t a race car. It has a handsome interior, which you can luxe up with expensive leather—the tan version looks a lot like what’s offered in Ferraris—and carbon-fiber trim, plus a full list of available amenities that can add tens of thousands to the price. But to call the Z06 an American Ferrari is to short its credit. Corvettes have always been influenced by European sports cars and, through the years, have incorporated some of their features and technologies while remaining stubbornly different.
The Z06 is like that. Sure, it has a high-revving flat-plane-crank V-8 behind the seats just like the Ferrari 458 that the engineering team bought and studied while developing this model—and it has the exotic-car proportions to go with it. But it’s still American in its tremendous value; the Z06’s base price is $109,295, more than 200 grand less than a Ferrari 296GTB. And then there’s the Z07, keenly focused on track-driving fun, which feels like a quintessentially American take on a supercar’s reason for being. The new Z06 has a purity of purpose that brings us closer than ever to feeling what it’s like to drive a race car. And that just might make it the ultimate expression of what a Corvette can be.
2023 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 w/Z07
Vehicle Type: mid-engine, rear-wheel-drive, 2-passenger, 2-door targa
Base/As Tested: $127,185/$166,205
Options: 3LZ equipment group (leather-wrapped interior with microfiber headliner, heated and ventilated GT2 bucket seats, navigation, wireless phone charging), $13,850; visible carbon-fiber wheels, $11,995; carbon-fiber interior trim, $4995; front-axle lift, $2595; visible carbon-fiber targa top, $2495; Bright Red painted calipers, $695; black exhaust tips, $395
DOHC 32-valve V-8, aluminum block and heads, direct fuel injection
Displacement: 333 in3, 5463 cm3
Power: 670 hp @ 8400 rpm
Torque: 460 lb-ft @ 6300 rpm
8-speed dual-clutch automatic
Suspension, F/R: control arms/control arms
Brakes, F/R: 15.7-in vented, cross-drilled carbon-ceramic disc/15.4-in vented, cross-drilled carbon-ceramic disc
Tires: Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 R ZP
F: 275/30ZR-20 (97Y) TPC
R: 345/25ZR-21 (104Y) TPC
Wheelbase: 107.2 in
Length: 185.9 in
Width: 79.7 in
Height: 48.6 in
Passenger Volume: 51 ft3
Cargo Volume: 13 ft3
Curb Weight: 3666 lb
C/D TEST RESULTS
60 mph: 2.6 sec
100 mph: 5.9 sec
130 mph: 10.3 sec
1/4-Mile: 10.5 sec @ 131 mph
150 mph: 15.2 sec
170 mph: 24.9 sec
Results above omit 1-ft rollout of 0.2 sec.
Rolling Start, 5–60 mph: 3.1 sec
Top Gear, 30–50 mph: 2.0 sec
Top Gear, 50–70 mph: 2.2 sec
Top Speed (mfr’s claim): 189 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 139 ft
Braking, 100–0 mph: 274 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft Skidpad: 1.16 g
C/D FUEL ECONOMY
Observed: 12 mpg
EPA FUEL ECONOMY
Combined/City/Highway: 14/12/19 mpg
C/D TESTING EXPLAINED
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