Today’s Corvette represents a paradigm shift from its forebears, not strictly because the C8 is the first of these sports cars to go mid-engined, but because they drive differently than any of the icon’s preceding seven generations. If anything, that trend appears poised to accelerate with the introduction of the stunning 2023 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 revealed Tuesday.
This new Z06 doesn’t just build on General Motors’ basemodel; it expands more aggressively and totally than any Z06 before it. This ultrahigh-performance, track-focused Chevrolet is powered by an all-new and unique engine, and it wears new body panels that stretch 3.6 inches wider across. The widebody not only allows for broader rubber for more grip — it accommodates additional cooling for the new 5.5-liter LT6 V8. This engine breaks from tradition with its dual overhead cams, an architecture long discounted by Corvette’s leadership for its inherently higher center of gravity and additional complexity. It also has a flat-plane crankshaft to help it rev to the moon and back (or at least to an 8,600-rpm redline, which is pretty close). In the process, the 2023 Z06’s LT6 whips up 670 horsepower at 8,400 rpm. That’s 20 more ponies than the managed to corral, a car that GM’s president, Mark Reuss, famously nicknamed “the Big Nasty.”
Flat-plane crank LT6
Flat-plane cranks are a rarity in the automotive world, showing up largely in dedicated race engines and a handful of pricy European exotics, along with performance specials like Ford’s recent. Compared to a conventional cross-plane crank, a flat-plane lines its crank pins on a single plane without the need for big counterweights that bog down this rotating assembly. The net-net is the engine can rev quicker and to higher revolutions due to this intrinsically lower-inertia design, especially when unencumbered by forced induction. It also means that the LT6 V8 in this new Z06 doesn’t sound like a typical American V8. There’s no guttural rumble or lumpy, big-cam idle.
2023 Chevy Corvette Z06 reveal: Big Nasty’s sequel revs to 8,600 rpm
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GM was kind enough to give me an early in-person look at the Z06. Before officials obliged my request to fire one up briefly in the studio, Tadge Juechter, Corvette’s longtime chief engineer, showed me around, taking particular pride in highlighting the car’s new rear fascia with its center-mount exhaust tips. While detached from the tailpipes themselves in a floating mount, these tips have been designed to funnel sound back toward the driver.
They work. Simply put, this C8’s soundtrack is utterly alien to any production Corvette before it. Even parked, when software prevents the LT6 from spinning all the way to its aforementioned 8,600-rpm climax, this engine revs with seemingly zero inertia while emitting a wail like Ferrari or Lotus. GM says this is the most horsepower anyone has ever squeezed out of a naturally aspirated production-car V8 ever.
That said, one of the chief downsides of flat-plane crank engines is a reduction in torque compared to a cross-plane design, a reality made even more apparent by the fact that this generation goes without the C7 Z06’s supercharger. Whereas the previous Z06 generated 650 pound-feet of torque (neatly matching that engine’s 650 hp), the 0.7-liter smaller LT6 only manages 460 lb-ft, a peak figure obtained significantly higher in the rev range — 6,300 rpm versus the C7’s Z06’s 3,600 rpm. That’s actually ten fewer pound-feet than a Stingray equipped with the optional Z51 Performance Package. The DOHC LT6’s very different power delivery is likely to shape this ‘Vette’s character almost as much as its mid-engined construction. If you’re a fan of zinging tachometers to their nether reaches with F1-like backing vocals during weekend track days, this 2023 Corvette Z06 could be just the ticket. But if you like your V8s to vibrate your chest cavity, you’re going to want to stick with the Stingray’s small-block 6.2.
Despite the LT6’s comparative dearth of torque, it’s only reasonable to expect that this new Z06 will be quicker around a racetrack than the old front-engined model, and it’ll likely feel far friskier doing so. Whereas the last Z06 had rather heavy inputs that required its driver to muscle the car around a circuit, the C8 is already a much nimbler-feeling machine, full of finesse and precision.
Track day potential
GM officials swear this production LT6 motor is closely related to the 5.5-liter V8 that has been powering thearound the world’s toughest tracks since 2019. While Chevy didn’t quite manage to win its class at Le Mans, the Corvette is the reigning IMSA GTLM series champ.
According to Juechter, “Racing was the reason the Z06 was developed in the first place in 1963, and it continues to support development of the road models that make them better on the street and the track. It also means we’ve tested the Z06 on the best tracks around the world, from Circuit of the Americas here in the United States, to the Nürburgring in Germany.”
With high-performance parts like forged-titanium connecting rods, sodium-filled exhaust valves and a new six-stage dry-sump lubrication system, the hand-assembled LT6 should be fit for prolonged track beatings.
As mentioned, the 2023 Z06 wears a menacing widebody look, and it’s not all hips — Chevy didn’t just slap some new fender flares front and back and call it good. There’s fresh perimeter bodywork from tip to tail. Things like the roof and hood remain unchanged, but otherwise, it’s all new, including front fenders that are 1.2 inches wider and rears that are 1.6 inches broader — the latter helping to ram even more cooling air into enlarged side intakes.
This is a level of bodywork change and, frankly, investment, that we haven’t seen in the Z06 before. Even without the optional Z07 Performance Package’s far more aggressive downforce elements, this new Z06 looks better balanced to my eyes. While I’ve loved driving the base C8 Stingray, its appearance has always struck me as narrow and pointy. While the new flanks aren’t exactly voluptuous, they help the body look more planted on its wheels, less overtly angular and slightly less paint-by-numbers mid-engined sports car. More importantly, they aid both aero and cooling, including a new center heat exchanger, one of five on the Z06’s substantially upgraded breathing apparatus.
No manual transmission or 0-to-60 time
If you’ve been holding out hope for a stick shift and a clutch pedal in the Z06 since being shut out in the standard Corvette Stingray, prepare to be disappointed. The Z06 uses a modified version of the base car’s eight-speed dual-clutch gearbox, one with a unique 5.56:1 final-drive ratio and different software tuning, among other things. The former should help the Z06 accelerate even more quickly both off the line and when rocketing out of corners on racetracks and canyon roads, taking advantage of the quick-revving LT6.
Chevy isn’t saying how quick this new Z06 is just yet, but the stock Stingray Z51’s official 0-to-60-mph time is a scant 2.9 seconds, and a number of automotive publications have managed to better that. Such performance is thanks in part to the additional grip afforded by the mid-engined design’s inherently superior weight distribution. With even wider, stickier tires, the Z06 should be quicker still, if only to solidify its position in the Corvette’s hierarchy.
On the downside, top speed is likely to suffer versus the standard Stingray, which tops out at a heady, estimated 194 mph. Chevy isn’t yet saying what the Z06’s terminal velocity is, but it’s apparently at least 186 mph. We know this because the company says the base Z06’s aerodynamics package generates an additional 365 pounds of downforce at that speed when the rear spoiler has its rear wickerbills installed. GM didn’t have the latter present on the models in its studio, but if you picture two small, vertical lips on the outboard trailing edges of the silver car’s spoiler, you’ve got it. It’s reasonable to assume that with those aero bits removed, the car could be slightly faster.
That’s just the standard aero, too. There’s an optional carbon pack (as seen here on the silver car) as well as an even more track-focused Z07 Performance Package (fitted to the orange convertible) that includes a bigger front splitter, race car-like front canards (dive planes), as well as a pedestal-mount rear wing and underbody strakes for increased downforce. How much downforce, exactly? Try 734 pounds of the stuff at 186 mph — that’s like having a full-grown musk ox strapped to the roof.
Hyperbolic visuals aside, it’s important to remember that top speed is largely academic on track-focused cars, as they typically never hit vMax on closed circuits (or anywhere else). Generally speaking, it’s better to have stronger acceleration and additional downforce for maintaining higher cornering speeds and enhanced stability, and on that front, Chevy assures this Z06 will deliver. Juechter tells me that while the Z07 will circle a 300-foot skidpad to the tune of 1.22 g, even the base Z06 on Pilot Sport 4 S summer rubber will manage 1.1g. He also says the new car will have 6% more downforce than the C7’s range-topping ZR1 while simultaneously having 8% less drag. Apparently, with the aerodynamic advantages of a mid-engined architecture, you can eat your cake and have it, too.
Z07 Performance Package and carbon fiber wheels
Ticking the “Z07 Performance Package” box on the order sheet won’t just bring aero enhancements. There’s a lot more to the option bundle, including a unique FE7 suspension tune with its own Magnetic Ride Control settings (MRC is standard on all Z06s), as well as upsized Brembo carbon-ceramic brakes (15.7-inch discs up front, 15.4 inches out back) backed up by Z06-specific Michelin Sport Cup 2 R ZP rubber. Speaking of tires, the Z06 wears 20-inch, 275-series rubber up front and 345-series, 21-inchers out back.
The Z06’s standard spider-pattern forged alloy wheels — the largest ever fitted to a Corvette — should provide lots of cooling, and they look great. However, if you’re a particularly well-to-do enthusiast, you may want to splurge on the optional carbon-fiber wheels. Chevy isn’t saying how much these wheels weigh, only noting that a complete set shaves a whopping 41 pounds in unsprung mass — the kind of mass that’s simultaneously the hardest and most beneficial to shed on a performance car.
Juechter tells me that Chevy doesn’t have final numbers yet, but these stiffer wheels alone appear to be good for a 1.0- to 1.5-second reduction in lap times on a typical 2-minute lap, partly due to their lightness, and partly due to their extraordinary rigidity, which enables tires and suspension to work more effectively. In a world where engineers sweat bullets over a couple tenths of a second, that sort of delta is massive. GM officials also joked with me saying that these super-strong wheels are likely to outlast the car itself. Engineers apparently had to develop entirely new durability tests just to find a way to test the failure properties of these wheels, codeveloped with Australian partner Carbon Revolution.
So far, the only way the automaker is quoting the Z06’s weight is with these carbon wheels and the Z07 package. Coupe models weigh in at 3,494 pounds dry, while the convertible rings up at 3,593 pounds.
There’s no word yet on pricing for these exotic woven wheels, but they’re likely to be over $10,000 per set, limiting their appeal to the hardest-core track rats (and the richest preeners).
While arguably a bit claustrophobic, the standard C8’s cockpit is easily the best-finished Corvette cabin of all time. With its strong driver focus and high-quality materials, little needed upgrading for Z06 duty. As such, most of the model’s changes are superficial.
There are three different seats and seven standard interior colors to choose from, including a new Adrenaline Red option for those who really want full scarlet overload (everything is crimson, from the seats to the dashboard and headliner). A new carbon-fiber-wrapped steering wheel with matching paddles is available, as is a carbon-fiber interior trim pack and no fewer than six different seatbelt colors. Beyond a few badges, though, the rest of the cabin feels like a carryover, including the controversial high ridgeline of buttons separating driver and passenger.
Pricing and on-sale availability
As you might’ve surmised from this Corvette’s 2023 model year designation, it’s going to be a little while before you’ll be able to park a Z06 in your driveway. Pricing has not yet been disclosed, but production is scheduled to start in the summer of 2022 at the Corvette’s longtime home in Bowling Green, Kentucky.
Interestingly, the Z06 won’t just be sold in North America. GM is pledging international availability, including in right-hand-drive form. In other words, it won’t just be GM’s pro drivers who have the opportunity to terrorize far-pricier Porsches, Aston Martins and Lamborghinis in their C8.R competition specials on the world’s racetracks. Everyday buyers will get their chance with the 2023 Chevy Corvette Z06, too.