2023 Corvette Z06 Shows GM Putting in the Work
Faster than a freshman asking AI for an essay.
It seems all the big news happened in 2020, including huge automotive news. The mid-engine eighth-generation Corvette launched at peak ’rona to rave reviews, extreme shortages, and markups that would prove prophetic for the rest of the new car market. While the Stingray was big news then, even more important than the base model is the high-performance Z06 trim launched in 2023. Bust out the jorts and white New Balance runners, it’s time for an in-depth look at the meanest Z06 of all time.
How We Got Here
While the current Z06 is making all the headlines, the three digits go back in Corvette history to when your hipster vinyl collection was new. The C2 Z06 didn’t look much different than the base, but it was a sharpened weapon for track use with performance upgrades to the suspension and brakes. Think more along the lines of a factory ringer in autocross than the wild drag strip oriented 1969 ZL1. Fast-forwarding to this century, the 2001 Z06 debuted with a 385 hp LS6 engine, less weight, and more grip over the base Corvette. Interestingly, Chevy used titanium mufflers and magnesium wheels to reduce weight. It’s high-tech stuff from a time when we were all using Limewire on 56K to burn Limp Bizkit CDs. The Z06 package was just a few grand over base, and sold well enough for GM’s notoriously cheap bean counters to approve it for every following generation.
Built off the revolutionary eighth-generation Corvette, the 2023 Z06 improves on the capable performance of the everyday mid-engine sportscar. Nearly everything sees upgrades, from the suspension and brakes, to a new engine and revised exterior.
The Glorious Engine
Pop the hood of the 2023 Z06 and you’ll see… well, the empty frunk. I’m still not used to that. Head around back, pop the rear hatch and you’ll see the LT6 engine shoehorned between the rear wheels. This is a showpiece of an engine worthy of wearing a prancing horse badge from Italy, and that’s not an exaggeration. The LT6 is a 5.5L V8, so it’s smaller than the 6.2L in the base, and the venerable 5.7L LS6 from 20+ years ago. This engine also lacks the C7 Z06’s supercharger, so you’d think the LT6 is down on power. That is not the case, as the LT6 cranks out 670 horsepower at 8,400 rpm. Torque reflects the displacement and rev-happy design, with 460 lb-ft at 6,300 rpm. If those figures seem like a lot, you’re right. The C8 Z06 holds the production record for the most powerful naturally aspirated production V8 ever released. The Chevy accomplishes this with a DOHC design that allows larger valves for better breathing, and a flat-plane crank for reduced weight and excellent balance. Inside are forged aluminum pistons, forged titanium connecting rods, and a massive active (variable length) intake manifold.
The LT6 intake manifold needs it’s own article. Instead of the familiar LSx-looking single throttle body design, you have here a dual plenum design with twin 87mm throttle bodies. While that’s neat info, what’s cool is how it works, but that first needs a bit of history.
Way back in the Regan-era, cars kinda sucked for making horsepower out of the factory, as performance just wasn’t designed into the early fuel injection systems. GM tried to fix that in the 1985 Corvette with an intake system called Tuned Port Injection. We like to think of air continuously flowing into an engine at a constant velocity, sucked into the engine when the intake valve is open. However, the reality is when that intake valve closes, all that rushing air comes to a stop, creating pulses or pressure waves inside the intake. GM designed the TPI system with long intake runners tuned to a certain length, so that the stop-go pulses of air stack up on top of each other when the car is accelerating. This gave the old C4 ‘vette a pressurized wall of air that hits right as the intake valve opens, almost like a no-cost, no-parts, low-boost turbocharger. The design worked, and the L98 made more torque than the LS1 that would debut over a decade later. The downside was the design quickly ran out of steam above 4,500 rpm or so, and TPI engines saw dramatic decreases in power above 5,000 rpm.
The LT6 intake has the same TPI-ish inspiration, with tuned intake runners that build pressure waves that hit the intake ports at the right time. The “active” terminology refers to the variable length runners, so the LS6 can use TPI tricks without running out of breath at higher rpms like a fixed long runner design. In the Z06, the pressure waves can also pass between left and right plenums, delivering the slightly pressurized air wherever it is needed. This is just one part of what allows the Z06 to rev to 8,600 rpm, high enough for even the Honda enthusiasts.
Some Hidden Bits
Massively mis-paraphrasing Henry Ford: “You can get a Z06 with any transmission you like, as long as it’s an eight-speed dual-clutch.” Alright, we can hear the complaints already. Unfortunately, we have passed the time when a pure sports car requires a manual transmission. The need to chase zero to 60 times and Nurburgring lap times means the bottom line can’t rely on the questionable ability of the meat in the driver’s seat shifting the transmission as it sees fit. The C8 Z06 handles shifting itself with a lightning fast 8-speed dual-clutch transmission built by TREMEC. Power is sent to only the rear wheels (Dicaprio squint at E-Ray here), with a shorter 5.56 final ratio.
Suspension remains the C8 Stingray format, with independent front and rear of the SLA-type. Think 4th gen f-body front suspension and you’re close, but unlike Joe Dirt’s Camaro, the Z06 gets standard MagnaRide active dampers for a comfortable grand touring cruiser feel on the highway, and instant adjustability for on-track challenges. Optional carbon fiber wheels in the Z07 package shed over 40 pounds of rotating weight. Sorry Boomers, no chrome wheels are available this time.
You might not think of brakes as sexy, but these ones are. Standard Z06 brakes feature Brembo calipers and rotors, with iron 14.6” rotors up front with six-piston calipers, while the rear (with more weight) gets 15.0” rotors and four-piston calipers. Those are massive, from the perspective of my old “performance” car that had 10.5” rotors up front. Step up to the Z07 package and Brembo throws the works at you, with ventilated carbon-ceramic 15.7” rotors up front, and 15.4” in back. My old factory wheels weren’t that big. Besides the wheels and badges, you can identify a Z06 by the giant wing and quad center-exit exhaust pipes.
All that power, technology, and capability combine for a zero to 60 time of 2.6 seconds, besting the more expensive AWD Nissan GT-R by nearly a half second. The quarter-mile passes in a Dominic Torreto approved 10.5 seconds. Top speed is the Z06’s weak point, if you can even call it that, as the aggressive gearing limits top speed to “just” 195 mph in base trim, and 188 mph with Z07 aero upgrades. Skidpad results show an absurd 1.22g, which sounds like you would want a four-point harness installed ASAP. You should be able to get into the low 20s for mpg, but reviewers recorded 12 mpg real-world because they were driving it right. So should you.
It’s weird to label a sports car that costs Tesla Plaid money with the title of “bargain.” However, the 2023 Z06 absolutely deserves an award for maximum value for the dollar. It’s the same price as a base (zero options) Porsche 911, a car the Z06 will embarrass. It’s a full base price Corvette cheaper than the 911 Turbo S, and it’s half the price of a McLaren Artura, while being quicker than both.
It’s not just about the numbers either. The 2023 Z06 is more than just an amazing car “for the price,” it’s a genuinely impressive car by any metric. Car & Driver awarded it a maximum of 10/10 in a recent glowing review and a coveted place on their 10 Best List. C&D could find no downsides, citing only a rough ride in the sportiest suspension settings, “…and that’s it.”
In a way, the 2023 Z06 represents the most maddening thing about GM. This is the company that delivered sloppy crap like the Pontiac G3 and Chevy Spark EV. Their half-attempts like the GTO and Volt, or maybe their good-ish cars like the Bolt that has the potential of burning down your home and a class-action lawsuit. This same corporate dumpster fire that can’t figure out how to build competitive minivans or sedans and thus gives up on making minivans and sedans – ceding entire market segments to the competition – can also make a car as perfectly brilliant as the Z06. A car that takes on the world, beats them, and then throws salt in the wound by under-cutting them. The 2023 Corvette Z06 is an example of what GM can do when they try. Imagine what would happen if they put this much effort into every vehicle they made.