It had been a long time since the Corvette lineup didn’t include a high-performance model, but that’s exactly the situation we’ve been in since 2020. The model years that have passed after the C8 generation debuted represent a chasm, the likes of which hadn’t been seen since the 1997-2000 C5. However, these dark days have ended with the official announcement of the 2023 Chevy Corvette Z06.
It was 2001 when Chevy first resurrected the Z06 designation, previously a code for a special package on 1963-1965 C2 Stingrays to make them more race-ready. For the next 18 years, a new Corvette Z06 was almost always available, bringing the road car ever closer to race car territory with each iteration. Now GM has put the world on notice with their feature film hyping the return of the designation with the 2023 Chevy Corvette Z06 – the car that finally, undeniably achieves the Corvette’s long-established ambition of providing a European sports car experience in a relatively affordable American format.
In typical Corvette fashion, the 2023 Z06 is inspired and informed by its legacy but not bound by it, delivering a futuristic vehicle of historical significance. The options available for personalizing the Z06 provide the opportunity for every vehicle to be a truly bespoke creation. And the performance… never mind the numbers, which are so good that they don’t matter. The emphasis of this vehicle is the experience of the ride, the sensation, and the event of driving or being driven in it, which results from the staggering science that has completely redefined America’s most exciting supercar.
Make Mine a Z06, Please
It was practically with a wink and a nod that in-the-know buyers requested the first Z06 package in 1963. The unadvertised option provided a stiffer suspension, bigger brakes, a thick front stabilizer bar, and a huge 36-gallon fuel tank to go with a 4-speed manual transmission and 360 hp 5.4L V8 with fuel injection technology, all in the name of making the Stingray more track-ready from the factory. Then the option disappeared for nearly 40 years.
The next Z06 was a 2001 C5 model, which resumed the task of closing the gap between the road and the racetrack. The C6 version had a 7.0L V8 making 505 hp, the largest “small block” engine ever made, while the C7’s was the most powerful – its supercharged LT4 made 650 hp and was only surpassed by the C7 ZR1’s LT5. Now the C8’s LT6 engine changes the game once again – returning to a naturally aspirated configuration but using a flat-plane crank design to achieve even more power and higher rpm limits, despite having the smallest displacement of any modern Z06 engine.
However, Z06 is much more than an engine package. It has always been a declaration that the car was as track-ready as it would ever need to be, and that has never been more true than today. In fact, its chassis is shared not with the base C8 but with the C8.R race car that has captured podiums at Sebring, Le Mans, and Daytona and dominated the 2020 IMSA championship series. The 2023 Z06 is the first model to have a unique front or rear fascia from the base model C8, with this edition instead leaning more into its track DNA. It borrows design elements in the front, for example, from the C8.R to direct more air to five front-mounted heat exchangers, including a center-mounted unit that is the largest radiator on a production ‘Vette ever.
Added up, the modern Z06 is certainly not the under-the-table upgrade it once was. It isn’t even a sleeper-style package where the upgrades are almost entirely invisible to the naked eye. But every inch of it is closer than ever to the race car that inspires it.
Let’s not forget that the Corvette Z06 is a luxury car, too. It must be in order to fulfill its mission of competing with European legends like Ferrari. Chevy starts executing that plan with base features that are expected to mirror the trim levels of the base C8. The 10 or 14-speaker Bose sound system, highly adjustable seating and steering with memory functions, and removable roof panel for the coupe body style set a high bar that helped justify the price gap between the Corvette and Camaro. However, what sets the Z06 apart in the features department is the level of personalization available to every buyer.
The 2023 Corvette Z06 configurator has been compared to Porsche’s model of giving the owner full control over the appearance of their vehicle. It features, among other options and details:
- 12 exterior colors
- 7 wheel packages
- 7 interior colors
- 3 seat choices
- 6 seatbelt options
- 2 interior carbon fiber packages and a Stealth Aluminum trim option
- 6 brake caliper colors
I put on my engineer’s cap, did the math, and then scooped my jaw up off the floor when I saw that this adds up to 190,512 combinations. The reality, of course, is that certain choices are exclusive to certain packages, and Brett Golliff – Corvette’s Color and Trim Design Manager and former athletic footwear designer – claims that the possibilities cap out at “only” 11,000 – 12,000. While this may appear to be a meager degree of customization compared to nearly 200,000 combos, our sources inform us that this is, in fact, a tremendous number of options.
Personally, I like the convertible in Elkhart Lake Blue Metallic, with Z06 Graphite Red Stripe Accessory wheels and Edge Red calipers, black racing stripes, Two-Tone Blue GT2 seats, red seat belts, and the Level 1 Carbon Fiber Interior Trim Package. You can bet I downloaded a picture of my personalized Z06 from the visualizer when I was done!
The Sensational Z06
This is what the Z06 is all about. The idea is to make a road car that is as close to the C8.R race car as possible, and the Z07 performance package takes it even farther than the base Z06 does on its own with carbon fiber features and special tuning throughout. The point is not to set performance benchmarks at all costs – the point is a drive that feels like nothing else on Earth, a car that’s genuinely suitable for driving to the track and on it, an experience you would never forget.
The heart and soul of this car is the engine. The C8 Stingray revolutionized Corvette design by moving to a mid-engine architecture; the Z06 takes advantage of the inherent benefits to this design by swapping the LT2 with the LT6, and the new small-block (defined by 4.1″ bores on 4.4″ bore centers) uses a flat-plane crank design to change everything. The design, combined with choices like forged titanium connecting rods and low-profile pistons, minimizes the rotating mass inside the engine, enabling faster rpm changes and a higher redline overall by reducing the rotational inertia of the engine’s moving parts.
The design also contributes to how well the engine can breathe, balancing the airflow from one bank to another, a feature augmented by the dual throttle body intake with three tuning valves that optimize airflow at any speed. The outcome is an engine that has similar torque output – with a peak of 460 lb-ft near 6300 rpm – but more power and a higher redline than the LT2 engine of the base model. How much more? This thing revs out over 8600 rpm and punches with 670 hp when it does, making it the most powerful naturally aspirated V8 engine ever installed to a production car and landing it squarely in Italian supercar territory in terms of acceleration and noise.
Speaking of noise – the naturally aspirated engine provides more than an immediate throttle response. Its sound, uncompromised by whining turbines, is an event unlike any thundering Corvette V8 that preceded it. But when engineers rolled out their first prototypes of the Z06, they noticed a problem. The engine sounded absolutely fantastic – but only from the outside. In the cockpit, they could barely hear the glorious howl that they had worked so hard to generate.
In response, they scrapped the entire exhaust system and redesigned it from end to end. The design was finished with parabolic reverse-megaphones capping the outlets, pieces that are not included for performance but which reflect exhaust noise forward towards the cabin to raise the decibel levels a little bit on the inside. Even the floating frame around the quadruple tips is reportedly a part of this aural engineering masterpiece, all intended to help the driver experience the symphonic scream that they control with their right foot and the paddle-shifted dual-clutch transmission.
A Car to Change the Market
The efforts noted above, and many others that bring the Z06 to a 2.6 second 0-60 mph time and up to 1.22 g of lateral grip with the Z07 performance package equipped (meaning the tires have a 22% stronger grip than gravity itself), position the 2023 Chevy Corvette Z06 as a genuine supercar that’s expected to price in under $100,000. One only needs to see the reaction of Emelia Hartford – responsible for the fastest C8 ‘Vette ever with 1200 hp and a 9.9 s quarter-mile time – being driven in the new Z06 to understand that the new performance Stingray is more than a lightning-quick sports car – it’s the ultimate American supercar experience.