This is not a drill. General Motors has built a 670-horsepower, 8,600 rpm, mid-engine monster with all of the trimmings of European prestige for less than the cost of a base model Porsche 911. If you’ve got around $100,000 burning a hole in your pocket, for god’s sake, put your name down for a 2023 Chevy Corvette Z06.
There is no replacement, electric or otherwise, for this kind of car. It grips, accelerates, and brakes like nothing I've ever driven. I didn't have as much seat time as I might've liked—just a few hours—but I can tell you that this is probably the moment a lot of exotic European automakers have been fearing for a long time. All the huge changes that came with the eight-generation Corvette no longer feel like they were done primarily to make the regular Stingray better. It feels like they all happened to make this Z06 impossible to touch.
Is this a supercar? Yes, it is. It's also a wholesale defining moment for the enthusiast's car.
The Z06 has been the track-focused Corvette trim for several generations of America’s sports car, above a regular Stingray but below the range-topping ZR1. It’s never been quite like this, though. It looks different than a regular C8 to start; it’s nearly four inches wider overall and has been refascia’d a bit. Bigger intakes, wider haunches to accommodate 345-section tires in the rear and 275s up front, and, of course, four center-exit exhausts. More exterior aero, new wheels, and a few new carbon fiber interior touches are also on offer, but not much has really changed otherwise.
As a driving experience, I can only put this one way. If you buy a C8 Z06 with no intention of driving it on a circuit: Stop it. Get some help. This thing has cartoonish capabilities once it leaves public roads. The street is where you meet the Z06. The track is where the Z06 meets its purpose.
Once I had this thing out on Pittsburgh International Raceway, the Corvette going mid-engine suddenly made perfect sense, as did ditching the stick shift of the C7 for a dual-clutch automatic transmission. The Z06 is no longer just a high-performance trim of America’s sports car. The Z06 is America’s supercar. I don’t think you should even call it a Corvette anymore. The regular Stingray’s cross-plane LT2 almost felt out of place in the platform once I drove a Z06. This is not a pedestrian, pushrod party piece anymore. Not even close.
Funnily enough, the Z06’s LT6, despite being an amazing powerplant and key to the whole operation, is only a small part of the picture. GM’s 5.5-liter flat-plane V8 produces 670 hp at 8,400 rpm and is able to press occupants deep into their seats anywhere above 4,000. Doling out all the usable power I could ask for, this is not a peaky engine. Performance Traction Management is also key in using all of the available punch. It’s the only traction control system I’ve used that doesn’t feel like it’s cutting power to keep me safe. The Z06 always felt like it was desperately, relentlessly trying to put everything it could to the ground.
The LT6 began to fade into the background on the track, though. I could brake later than I ever thought possible, tackle road surface imperfections I thought would surely disturb the car—but never did—and maintain grip even through the tightest of corners at incredible speeds. Everything else is also so good.
One particular imperfection on the track was a bump on the crest of a high-speed, blind corner coming over a hill. The first time around, I let off the throttle a hair and it was fine—a little more than fine, actually. After that, I was flat out every single time. The thing just didn’t care. Curbs, crests, heaves, the suspension chewed them up and spat them out.
The steering communicated this capability effectively. Feel, weight, and precision were all excellent. The brakes—six-piston Brembos up front, four pistons in the rear—were incredibly powerful and felt totally natural. No touchiness, no fade, just more stopping power than God. The eight-speed DCT was also a case of invisible perfection. Like the best auto ‘boxes, rough shifts or software limits on gear selection were simply nonexistent.
At least by my own standards, I was flying around the track. I also knew I wasn’t driving the car up to its true potential, though, and needed to find someone else to do that. So I got in the passenger seat of a Z06 with one of the car's development engineers and could not believe how it could move in the right hands. The differential was rotating the car like a turntable, the brakes were slowly but surely separating the skin from my face, and 670 screaming hp was sent down onto parts of the track it had absolutely no business going. I knew right then: this was the most capable car I had ever driven—or been driven in—by a long shot.
Moments later, however, it was topped by the Z07-package car that I got in a ride in with Le Mans champion Oliver Gavin at the wheel. It was probably 20 to 30 percent better than the “base” Z06. The Z07 pack adds carbon brakes, tighter suspension, Michelin Pilot Cup 2R ZP tires, and an extra $8,995 to the invoice. On the track, it’s honestly worth every penny.
Going for this package also opens up the option of $9,995 carbon fiber wheels as well as $8,495 worth of extra wings and carbon aero bits. Prepare to pony up even more cash if you’d like visible carbon fiber over “carbon flash” paint. The carbon wheels shed a non-insignificant 41 pounds of unsprung mass while the additional aero more than doubles the amount of downforce at 186 mph. To be fair, these make a big difference, but I’m not sure the wheels or the wings are worth paying to the tune of $20,000 for, especially considering how good the regular Z06 already is.
That’s really the one issue I have with this car: Whether it’s in base Z06 or the more capable Z07 spec, it feels like the fact it can be legally driven on public roads is nothing more than a nice plus. You just can’t do what this thing is really meant to do on public roads.
That’s not saying it isn’t enjoyable, though, because it is thrilling. I actually drove it on the road first and loved it. The LT6 sounds as irresistible on the road as it does on the track, and the impeccably precise and communicative steering can be enjoyed just fine. The ride is definitely more suited to the track but still acceptable on normal roads. It’s sprung very tight, don’t get me wrong, but Magnetic Ride Control 4.0 makes it more than bearable on the street, even in its track setting. Potholes, frost heaves, and more are never harsh impacts. Even the stronger and more capable DCT in the Z06—with its lightning-fast shifts, seamless starts and stops, and a mind-reading automatic mode—is well-behaved on the street, just like its closely-related sibling in the Stingray.
Taking the current hottest Corvette on a track was what really changed my perception of it. It was still the same Z06, but I had the sudden realization that my coworker Clark Kent wasn’t just a savvy journalist, if you know what I mean. And that was without the Z07 package. Not even the base car can be properly utilized on the street. Seeing a Z07-spec C8 on the road would be sort of like watching one of those built-up overlanding rigs with a roof tent and sand ladders roll up to your local Denny’s. Shouldn’t you be cooking that Grand Slam breakfast in the woods?
If it was my money? Get me one in that shiny metallic red with the lowkey decklid spoiler. I highly recommend the Z07 package if you’re a true track rat but, for me, Chevy can keep it and all of that extra carbon fiber. The base car is just that good.
I would also happily buy a regular Z06 knowing that you can’t get a better performance car for the money. $106,395 is a ton for anything on four wheels, but it’s absolutely nothing in the context of what this thing can do. As I mentioned earlier, a base model Porsche 911, long held as one of the Corvette’s closest rivals, is $107,550. Not the GT3. Not the Turbo. Not even the GTS or the S. The base model. The comparatively long-in-the-tooth Audi R8 is off in the distance at $160,095 while the cheapest McLaren, the GT, costs $210,000. Ferraris and Lamborghinis, meanwhile, aren’t even on the same price planet.
This is the Corvette’s defining moment. It hasn’t been compared head-to-head with anything yet on a track, but after driving it, it’s extremely safe to repeat my earlier statement: This is the real deal. After years as the butt of jokes, the Burger Car, it has completed its arc. This isn’t a “supercar killer,” it’s a full-blown supercar. Its competition can’t touch it simply because of its price, and in terms of quality, there is no asterisk anymore.
All of this is happening as the high-performance world changes to the way of hybridization and turbocharging. The Z06 rejects this reality. We don’t build those kinds of cars in Kentucky. Those vehicles may be technologically more advanced and definitely more efficient, but we all know they’re just not better. Not only is this an amazing Corvette, but it’s a rallying cry for the sorts of cars enthusiasts know, love, and sometime soon, will miss sorely.
I wish it could stay forever.