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2023 Chevy Corvette Z06 First Drive Review: America's Supercar

After reinventing the Corvette as a mid-engine machine, Chevy transforms the C8 chassis into a street-legal race car with the high-revving, 670-hp Z06 model.

2023 Chevrolet Corvette Z06, orange with Carbon Aero package
I like the new Corvette Stingray, but after bonding on the track, I love the Z06.
Antuan Goodwin/CNET

The new Chevrolet Corvette Stingray is a total reinvention of the Corvette formula with its mid-engine layout and nimble, neutral driving characteristics. It's an excellent sports car and, despite its exotic appearance, a fairly capable grand tourer with a comfortable ride and two (count 'em, two!) trunks.

The new Z06 expresses the C8 Corvette's wild side with a new, race-bred, high-revving V8 engine, more aerodynamic and mechanical grip than ever before and an exhaust note that's more formula car wail than muscle car roar. The 2023 Corvette Z06 is unlike any street car that Chevy's built before.

670-hp flat-plane V8

We first learned of the new 5.5-liter naturally aspirated V8 when the Z06 made its official debut around this time last year. As a refresher, the LT6 makes use of dual overhead cams, a flat-plane crank, dry sump lubrication and one heck of an exotic intake manifold to spin out 670 horsepower and 480 pound-feet of torque. Even without forced induction, that's 20 hp more than the supercharged LT4 V8 it replaces with a 15-pound weight reduction to boot.

The LT6 is down on torque -- by 170 lb-ft to be precise -- but with a longer sweep, crescendoing at an 8,600 rpm redline, it's thrilling enough that you won't notice. The engine's ultra-light internals, short stroke and flat-plane firing order were engineered to make most of its power at high revs. Meanwhile, the C8 Z06's exhaust has been completely redesigned to emphasize this high-strung character.

The Z06's flat-plane V8 is hand-built by a single master technician whose signature can be found on the intake manifold. Hi, Andy!

Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Buyers expecting the deep, loping V8 rumble of the previous generation Z06 may find themselves disappointed. This is a totally different engine with a completely different temperament and sound, but it fits nicely with the rest of the Z06's more exotic, mid-engine groove. I love it.

On the road

From the driver's seat, the Z06 is noticeably louder around town than the base Stingray, but not in the way you might expect. The exhaust sings loudly when matting the throttle for a 2.7-second 0-to-60-mph dash -- and the induction noise coming from just behind the driver's shoulder is nearly as pronounced -- but the LT6 isn't terribly noisy at moderate speeds. 

The tires are a different story; road noise is pronounced. The Z06 is 3.6 inches wider than the Stingray, a change necessary to accommodate a wider track, but also larger tires. Up front are 20-inch wheels wrapped with 275/30ZR20 Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires and out back are 21s with 345/25ZR21 rubber. I'll do the math for you: That's a 13-inch-wide contact patch for each of the rear tires; they're going to make some noise over bumps, imperfections and road textures. I wouldn't call it a dealbreaker -- certainly it's par for the performance course and worth the gain in grip -- but worth noting for the majority of prospective owners who plan to daily drive their American exotic.

The Z06's standard Magnetic Ride Control suspension is also around 30% stiffer than the Stingray with the Z51 Performance package in its Sport setting. Leave it in the Touring mode and the Z06 is comfortable enough to daily drive or commute. Touring mode is also the standard eight-speed dual-clutch transmission's most mild-mannered setting with immediate but smooth shifts.

Thankfully, the Z06 doesn't ride any lower than the Stingray -- which is already an extremely low-slung coupe -- and the performance variant can even be had with the same optional front lift feature that can raise the nose by 1.8 inches automatically at GPS-set locations. The lift works manually, as well, to clear steep driveways, speed bumps or other obstructions -- an especially helpful feature for keeping the optional aero kit's carbon fiber front splitter unmarred.

Inside, you'll find unique sports seats and racy trim, but it's no surprise that the Z06's cabin features the same tech found on the Stingray. The dashboard is highlighted by an 12-inch digital instrument cluster and an 8-inch version of Chevrolet's excellent Infotainment 3 system. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are standard, which Chevy specifically had us use to navigate the drive route rather than the optional onboard navigation software. The Z06 also retains the Stingray's digital rear view mirror, an invaluable bit of tech if you actually want to see anything behind you past the backlight, the sloped rear glass with engine bay reflections and the massive carbon fiber wing, if so equipped.

On the track

The Z06's capabilities require a track to be exercised, so we headed to the Pittsburgh International Race Complex, a lesser known yet quite challenging course, and one of many that Chevy used to help tune the vehicle's performance. Heading out for a few warmup lead-follow laps behind one of Chevy's development drivers, I cautiously eased the 'Vette around the unfamiliar track. I was so cautious during those first few laps that Chevrolet's engineers pulled me aside to offer a few tips for maximizing the Z06's performance.

The uprights for the Carbon Aero rear wing go all the way through the body and are supported by the bumper structure.

Antuan Goodwin/CNET

The hardest thing was keeping my foot in it and not short shifting. The Z06 revs much higher than any Corvette before, and my instinct was to grab the paddle shifter 1,500 to 2,000 rpm short of the 8,600-rpm redline. That leaves a lot of power on the table. Letting the well-programmed DCT handle shifting for a few laps helped train my ears to the sound and rhythm of the Z06's powertrain and recalibrate my shift points.

Next up was learning to trust the brakes. Chevy outfits the Z06 with huge 12.6-inch front brakes with six-piston calipers and even larger 14.9-inch rear discs grabbed by 4-pots -- an odd combo, but an effective one that's easy to modulate. Combined with the massive, sticky contact patches, there's no shortage of stopping power, and I was encouraged to brake later and harder as my confidence in the Z06 grew with each successive lap.

The Z06 proved to be a willing and communicative track partner with a generous, forgiving performance envelope and great steering feedback. I could have spent dozens of laps shaving down my time and each would be more rewarding than the last, but I didn't have time for that. So after sliding into the passenger seat for a few final hot laps with Chevy's driver -- an eye-opening experience that showed me just how much performance and speed I was still leaving untapped -- it was time to swap into the Z07.

The Z06 can also be had with carbon fiber wheels that shave around 41 pounds of rotating mass and around 1.5 seconds from a 2-minute lap time.

Antuan Goodwin/CNET

The Z07 Performance package

The 2023 Chevrolet Z06 with the Z07 Performance package is built around taking full advantage of the upgraded ultra-high performance Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 R tires. In addition to the street-legal race rubber, you get standard carbon-ceramic brakes with larger 15.7-inch front rotors and a retuned magnetic suspension that is 10% firmer than the Z06 in Sport or Track modes. The Z07 also makes the carbon aero kit with its large rear wing, front splitter, dive planes and underbody strakes standard equipment. Together, the aero bits generate up to 734 pounds of downforce at 186 mph, more than double that of the base Z06's aero.

Stepping up to a higher tier of performance is usually intimidating, but the Z07 is surprisingly much easier to drive quickly than the base Z06. It is, after all, the same car just with significantly more grip. Around tight corners and high-speed sweeping bends, the Z07 felt yet again like a car transformed with even more of the chassis' potential unlocked. Of course, my skill cap still fell short of the Z07's capability for pure unhinged speed, yet even as I found myself approaching and testing the seemingly unlimited grip, the handling proved to be pleasantly neutral with excellent seat-of-the-pants feel and an almost telepathically communicative chassis. 

On my final lap, for example, the Z07 began to oversteer over a mid-corner crest on a left-handler that I've taken too fast. The grip gave progressively, the slight over-rotation felt instantly through the seat. With just the right amount of countersteer, I felt the grip hook up again, catching the slide perfectly and pulling the tail back in line. Going from cautious and unsure to that intimately connected within the span of an hour is possibly the highest praise I can heap on the Z07's formula.

The Z06 needs to be experienced on a track in order to be appreciated.

Chevrolet

Pricing and availability

With production of the Ford GT being discontinued this year and the SRT Viper long gone, the Z06 stands unchallenged as America's supercar and must go hunting overseas for worthy rivals. Chevy is targeting the much more expensive Porsche 911 GT3, Lamborghini Huracan EvoMcLaren 720S and Ferrari F8 Tributo as its primary competitors.

The 2023 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 starts at $106,395 for the base 1LZ Coupe or $113,895 for the Convertible. That price includes the requisite $1,395 destination charge. The $8,995 Z07 Performance package requires the $8,495 painted carbon aero package (or $10,495 for exposed carbon fiber), so you're looking at $123,885 minimum for the most track-ready version before options. (And you're going to want options, I'm sure, so check out our price breakdown for more details.) 

Most Z06 drivers -- even those who opt for the Z07 spec -- will log the vast majority of their miles on public roads. Many will never see a circuit, which is a shame because the 2023 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 is one of the few race-bred American sports cars that actually walks the walk. This car truly needs a track in order to stretch its legs and be appreciated.  


Editors' note: Travel costs related to this story were covered by the manufacturer, which is common in the auto industry. The judgments and opinions of CNET's staff are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.