2023 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 First Drive Review: Detroit’s Ferrari

Verdict

9.6 / 10

Through its development, much was made of how the 2023 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 would compete against Ferrari. It was hard to ignore the similarities as we learned more – obviously the Z06 would be mid-engine, but then rumors of a flat-plane V8 came up.

Supporting that Corvette-versus-Ferrari angle was a spy video of camouflaged prototypes testing alongside a Ferrari 458 and rumors that Chevy dealers were learning how to sway Ferrari buyers.

I still don’t think Ferrari owners will be beating down the door at their local Chevy dealer to join the Corvette fraternity. But they should drive it first, rather than judging the Z06 by its red, white, and blue-collar credentials. Not only is it as exciting and dynamic as anything rolling out of Maranello today, its flat-plane engine and screaming redline are familiar, and will sway anyone that’s looked at Ferrari’s turbocharging and hybridization with caution.

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Quick Stats 2023 Chevrolet Corvette Z06
Engine: 5.5-liter V8
Output: 670 Horsepower / 460 Pound-Feet
0-60MPH: 2.6 Seconds
Base Price: $105,300 + $1,395 Destination
As-Tested Price: $130,000 (est)

Plane As Day

The Ferrari-ness of the powertrain is difficult to ignore, with a flat-plane V8 and a dual-clutch transmission sending power to the rear wheels. Yes, that’s right, Chevy’s dalliance with forced-induction in its flagship Corvette has officially ended as the fifth-gen Z06 hits the market.

While no one I spoke with would say as much, I got the sense that replacing the supercharged 6.2-liter V8 and its modest 6,500-rpm redline for a high-revving, naturally aspirated mill was something of a course correct for the track-focused model. But as several engineers told me, the Z06 “can’t go backwards” from the 650-hp LT4, and that complicated the shift to natural aspiration. It was 651 or bust and getting there without the help of a supercharger or turbocharger would be a tall order.

2023 Chevrolet Corvette Z06

Presumably through a deal with the devil that will one day see Z06 Executive Chief Engineer Tadge Juechter’s soul doomed to eternal damnation, the new 5.5-liter V8 has a 20-horsepower advantage over the blown 6.2. But the devil giveth and the devil taketh away and the 460 pound-feet of torque is down substantially on the 650-lb-ft LT4. Chevy makes up for this shortcoming with a torque curve that’s nearly flat from 3,600 rpm to its stratospheric 8,600-rpm redline, while the flat-plane engine is 31 pounds lighter than the previous Z06’s and it revs relentlessly.

Chevy engineers, alongside their counterparts at Corvette Racing, reached for a lightweight forged-steel crankshaft. Low weight means low inertia, and along with a short stroke, the 5.5-liter screams toward its 8,600-rpm redline before the old 6.2 even laces up its running shoes. Whether on the road or the track, I never really missed the Z06’s supercharger. Like Ferrari’s last naturally aspirated V8, this engine’s torque curve is so accessible, and it revs so, so eagerly that it takes blatant inattentiveness to end up flat footed when exiting a corner. You are the weakest link when it comes to accelerating in the Z06.

In a track environment like Pitt Race, the new engine is an unmitigated delight. Select Track mode and the throttle sharpens, so the engine feels like it’s constantly on the boil. Aiding in that quest is, of course, the Tremec eight-speed dual-clutch transmission, which benefits from a shorter final-drive ratio (5.56:1) reinforced internals, and upgraded lubrication to cope with the rigors of track work.

On the road, when you aren’t in maximum attack, the updated eight-speed dual-clutch transmission has an uncanny ability to perfectly respond to your throttle inputs, short shifting when necessary and hanging onto revs if it detects even a hint of shenanigans on your part. Manual mode is at its best here – press the M button on the center console and take hold of the carbon-fiber paddle shifters for a damn fun time.

The brains of the Tremec M1M are so absolutely predictable, so able to recognize when a downshift was needed and when to hold a gear, that I rarely saw a situation where I wanted a gear change.

As it turns out, the real world is the only place you’ll really want to play with the manual mode. The Z06’s engineers specifically warned me away from it on the track after they saw other journalists in the days prior short shifting or downshifting unnecessarily – to paraphrase, the Z06 knew what to do on the track and didn’t need us meddling about. And after taking their advice, I agree. The brains of the Tremec M1M are so absolutely predictable, so able to recognize when a downshift was needed and when to hold a gear, that I rarely saw a situation where I wanted a gear change.

In either automatic or manual, wide-open-throttle changes come with a whip-crack from the four center-exit exhaust pipes. The flat-plane-crank soundtrack was front of mind when Chevy engineers were designing the Z06’s new exhaust, which shaves nearly 20 pounds from the Stingray’s Z51 setup, and boy howdy have they done good work here.

Rather than a simple dual-mode exhaust, the Z06 adopts continuously variable valves and GM-specific control software to make constant small adjustments to the sound. The two “sound-quality” pipes have a larger diameter, higher flow, and even lower backpressure (which is down 21 percent across the board relative to the C7 Z06) to produce a rich, bassy note at idle that soon settles into rabid howl under heavy throttle.

In fact, the similarities between the road-going Z06 and the C8.R, which has been campaigning the flat-plane LT6’s race-going counterpart for three seasons, is startling. Obviously, the race car is far louder, but the tone is damn near identical. If anything, the production Z06 sounds even better, owing to its higher redline (the LT6.R peaks at around 7,500 rpm, due to class regulations). Suffice it to say, while the Z06 doesn’t make any strong visual statements, anyone within earshot will know this car is something special.

2023 Chevrolet Corvette Z06

All Sixes And Sevens

While Chevy creates all Z06s equal on the powertrain front, they diverge on the suspension, brake, and aerodynamic fronts. A standard Z06, for example, has Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires on staggered 20/21-inch forged-aluminum wheels – the largest wheel/tire pack ever fitted to a Corvette. Fourth-generation Magnetic dampers in a short-long-arm suspension geometry are standard, as are Brembo brakes with six-piston calipers and 14.6-inch cast-iron discs in front and 15.0-inch discs at the back (the unusual size differential is due to the position of the parking brake).

On the cold, damp track, this Z06 felt like a Stingray on steroids with tighter body controls, ample grip, and substantial stopping power. The PS4S tires performed admirably in the poor conditions that dominated my day, with nary a slip from the back end as I squeezed the super-linear accelerator to shoot out of corners. At the same time, the brake pedal was predictable, though I wasn’t able to complete enough laps to judge their resistance to fading. The optional Z07 package is on another level entirely, though.

2023 Chevrolet Corvette Z06
2023 Chevrolet Corvette Z06
2023 Chevrolet Corvette Z06

The standard Corvette Z06.

2023 Chevrolet Corvette Z06

The Corvette Z06 with the Z07 and Carbon Aero packages.

In place of the PS4s tires and alloy wheels sit Michelin Cup 2Rs and carbon-fiber wheels, which shield Brembo carbon-ceramic brakes with 15.7-inch discs and larger calipers than last year’s Z07 pack. Between the brake and wheel changes, the Z07 package shaves nearly 19 pounds of unsprung weight per corner. The reduction is so serious and the Cup 2 tires are so sticky that engineers had to revise the software that manages the MR dampers and fit a totally different steering calibration. Hell, the carbon wheels alone accounted for a 1.5-second improvement on a two-minute lap at GM’s Milford Road Course, Z06 Chief Engineer Josh Holder told me.

Every Z06 wears wider rear fenders to accommodate the larger tires with meatier intakes to feed the LT6. Together, this Corvette’s hips are nearly two inches wider per each side and serve as the most obvious identifier that it’s a Z06. But the subtler cues are what have the grandest impact on aerodynamics. A low-profile rear spoiler, underbody stall Gurney flaps, and revised front corners come standard from the factory, but owners can remove the Gurney flaps and add a taller wicker to the rear spoiler in about 10 minutes – configured so, the Z06 generates 362 pounds of downforce at 186 mph.

2023 Chevrolet Corvette Z06

The Z07 package more than doubles that figure to 734 pounds with the Carbon Aero package. Standard on the Z07 and optional on the Z06 (and not fitted to the cars I drove), it adds with a proper rear wing, a meaty front splitter with a full underwing, dive planes on each corner of the nose, and underbody strakes for ground-effect downforce.

Between the tires, suspension, steering, brakes, and aerodynamics, even someone as raw-fisted as yours truly would be able to spot the difference between Z06 and Z07 on the track. Unfortunately, the weather curtailed my time in the Z06 and kept me from doing the back-to-back comparison my colleagues enjoyed.

That said, when I finally got into the Z07 the next day, I found a car with limits far higher than most amateur drivers. At the same time, though, the Z06 feels like a bit of a pussy cat if you use even a modicum of sense – squeeze the throttle, brake in a straight line, and use smooth steering inputs. Do that, and the Z06 will indulge you all day long as you explore its abilities.

2023 Chevrolet Corvette Z06
2023 Chevrolet Corvette Z06

Give Up Nothing (But Money)

Many vehicles that reach the Z06’s level of performance come with the expectation that they might not work all that well in the real world. That couldn’t be further from the truth here. Chevy engineers went above and beyond to iron out the vibrations inherent in a flat-plane engine, and the programming of the magnetic dampers in Tour mode feels every bit as compliant and comfortable as a Stingray.

There’s certainly more tire roar from the larger rubber, and the Cup 2Rs tramlined horribly on the rough two lanes around Pittsburgh. Engine noise is omnipresent, too (although if you’re the type to complain about such things, I’m surprised you’ve made it this far). But to be blunt, the latest Z06 is damn near as comfortable as the Stingray while being dramatically more capable.

2023 Chevrolet Corvette Z06

Speaking of that Stingray, price remains one of its strengths even with the arrival of the Z06. Prices start at $106.695 (including a $1,395 destination charge) for a base 1LZ Coupe and extend up to nearly $137,000 for a 3LZ Convertible with the Z07 package. Still, a 3LT Stingray Convertible Z51 demands about $92,000, and with this kind of performance, the Z06 is a steal at twice the price.

That’s doubly true of the competition – the $172,450 Porsche 911 GT3 (which doesn’t come in droptop form), the $160,095 Audi R8 V10 Performance RWD, and $325,000 Mercedes-AMG GT Black Series are all far spendier. And a loaded Z06 is still only about half the price of a used 458. I know what I’d buy.

2023 Chevrolet Corvette Z06

Enzo Would Approve

It’s been roughly a decade since I last drove the Ferrari 458, but I still remember the experience like it was yesterday. I remember the pull of the torque even as the tachometer needle was in the middle of the dial, and I vividly recall the change in tone as the valves in the triple exhaust opened up. The immediacy of the steering and the absolute lack of unnecessary body motions still bounces into my mind from time to time. Driving that car was a foundational experience in my career as a car reviewer.

And while I’ve driven things that are more powerful and more capable in that time, only the 2023 Z06 has captured that combination of absolute purpose, massive indulgence, and accessible capability that I experienced that day in the 458. Chevy will readily admit that it used the 458 as inspiration, which is remarkably candid in the world of performance vehicles. And to that, I say “Keep it up, guys. You’ve built the best Ferrari in years.”

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