2023 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 First Ride Review: Is This America’s 911 GT3?
In realizing Zora Arkus Duntov’s lifelong mid-engine dream, the 2020 C8 Corvette elevated America’s Sports Car from a straight-line monster that can be made to handle to a legit supercar. We named it our 2020 MotorTrend Car of the Year and closed its winner review by saying, “And just wait until the more powerful Corvette iterations show up.” Well, we just got a ride in the 2023 Chevrolet Corvette Z06, which represents the first of several big steps the C8 will take up the supercar ladder.
And what a wild step. As the world’s supercar giants pivot toward downsizing and turbocharging and/or hybridizing their engines, Chevy has somehow taken its successful C8.R GTLM race car’s 5.5-liter flat-plane-crankshaft DOHC 32-valve V-8 engine, developed with Pratt & Miller Engineering, and made it legal for road use. Of course, the involved parties also fortified the transaxle, chassis, and aerodynamics to keep pace. The 2023 Chevrolet Corvette Z06’s LT6 engine will be the world’s largest flat-plane-crankshaft V-8 and by producing 670 hp at 8,400 rpm it will rank as the world’s most powerful naturally aspirated production V-8. We’ve explained how Chevy accomplished these superlatives elsewhere, so now let’s focus on why you should care.
First, a brief word about the vehicles we experienced in mid-October. They represent about 99 percent of the final customer-vehicle state of tune, as the team marches toward the start of production scheduled for the second quarter of 2022. The development crew is chasing a few final refinements, including things like a smidgen of transfer-gear whine here and a slight engine hesitation there.
Winning Hearts, Not Just Minds
Throughout the 2023 Chevrolet Corvette Z06’s design and development process, the team responsible for it was keenly aware of the respect the C8 Stingray has received in the wider sports-car community. To build on this respect, the Z06 needs to accelerate quicker and handle better, but it also needs to feel even more special. The Z06 must be a car that inspires buyers to eagerly swap their Lamborghini Huracán or Ferrari F8 for—and not because performance tests like MotorTrend‘s generate better numbers in it, or because of its value proposition. No, Chevy wants to conquest other brands’ loyalists via the fact those customers’ hearts and heads simply must have this Corvette with the banshee howl, the Can-Am sucker-car grip, and the cockpit-style cabin lined with soft leather and carbon-fiber trim. And because the Z06 promises to be the more satisfying driver’s car.
We got a sense how this might happen just sitting in the 2023 Corvette Z06 at idle, feeling the engine’s vibrations through the seats. The vibration is intentional, and it occurs at twice the frequency generated by, for example, a Subaru BRZ/Toyota GR 86 flat-four. So rather than shaking and annoying occupants, the Z06 buzzes with excitement. Quelling the vibes with balance shafts would rob horsepower, and isolating the engine with gooey mounts would dull its throttle response, devaluing the engineering investment in minimizing rotational inertia with titanium connecting rods and an aluminum balancer.
A Baritone Ferrari
When lead development engineer Aaron Rice blips the throttle from idle to 8,600 rpm and back in a fraction of the time it would take to zing the Stingray’s LT2 Small Block to 6,600, this car’s racing bona fides are confirmed. With the new center-exit quad exhaust set to deliver full volume, essentially short-circuiting the muffler, Rice demonstrates a brief taste of full-throttle acceleration that is completely reminiscent of a Ferrari 458 or Lamborghini Huracán. The force on occupants’ backsides builds with the linear, progressive rush that only a high-strung naturally aspirated engine can deliver.
The surging whoosh of a spooling turbo and the instant g-spike from electric motors with peak torque at 0 rpm can take your breath away (as we’re sure they will in the anticipated 5.5-liter twin-turbo Corvette ZR-1 and fully electric Corvette E-Ray), but there’s a unique charm to free-breathers with a steep but linear power curve. And that sound! The melody will be familiar to anyone who’s experienced a non-turbo Ferrari V-8, but the Corvette’s lungs are so much deeper that instead of a tenor/falsetto shriek, this Z06 howls in a spectacular baritone the Bose audio system enhances only slightly. Based on our first ride-along, the 2023 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 delivers a total sensory experience that simply cannot be duplicated by cylinders shouting through turbine snails or by silent electromagnetic force fields.
Equally impressive is the degree to which switching the drive-mode selector to “Tour” and engaging “Stealth” exhaust mode not only quiets the engine’s volume but seriously alters the V-8’s overall signature. In this mode, the exhaust flows all the way through the mufflers and out the smaller, outer pair of pipes.
Ride and Handling
The curves of Huron River Drive outside Ann Arbor, Michigan, would barely test the suspension at twice our pace, and even at that point we’d barely start to engage the downforce created by the front splitter, dive planes, underbody aero fences, and rear wing of the new, optional Z07 package. Still, we can detect the incremental increases in urgency that mark the gradual Jekyll to Hyde transition occurring as Rice steps up from Tour through Sport and Track modes.
In Tour mode various bumps and lumps are traversed with a remarkable suppleness reminiscent of the old Lotus Esprit. During light acceleration and cruising, nobody inside or out of the car will suspect the flat-plane ferocity caged within. After a few miles in this mode, we fully concur with the engineering team’s choice to stiffen the 2023 Chevrolet Corvette Z06’s overall ride rate by 35 percent relative to the Stingray’s optional Z51 setup. Stiffer springs quicken steering response and add sufficient roll control to allow the anti-roll bars to be softened a bit. Sport-mode damping results in tolerable ride quality on these roads, but Track mode feels too brittle. Programming the steering-wheel’s “Z Mode” switch to deliver Tour-mode damping with everything else amped up will be the hot setup for nasty roads.
Halfway through my 45-minute ride experience, I jump out of Rice’s base Z06 and into vehicle performance manager Alex MacDonald’s Z06 with Z07 package. This car has the standard carbon-ceramic brakes and optional Carbon Revolution carbon-fiber wheels, which get wrapped in Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 R ZP tires (standard Z06 wheels get shod in Pilot Sport 4S ZP tires).
The overall ride-rate with this setup is just another 8 percent stiffer than in the base Z06, and the Magnetic Selective Ride Control 4.0 tuning is identical (only the steering-assist and ABS programming must be altered to cope with the lower-inertia wheels and tires). From the passenger seat it’s difficult to tell much difference in ride quality, impact harshness, or even steering responsiveness as MacDonald saws at the wheel for demonstration purposes, clicking up through the drive modes. And the carbon brakes never seem grabby or noisy.
The development team sought to imbue the 2023 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 with a very different ethos, to make it more special than the Stingray Z51, and it certainly seems to have done so. While the Z51 was designed to deliver approachable performance that won’t frighten the front-engine-Corvette faithful, the Z06 is designed to seal the deal with buyers who know what to expect from a mid-engine supercar. Toward that end, its throttle mapping—especially in Sport and Track modes—is far more aggressive, and every Z06 will respond to all control inputs in a quicker, more direct and linear fashion.
That’s not to say this car is a handful—far from it. Corvette product manager Harlan Charles, just back from a shakedown of the 100-percent design prototypes in southeast Ohio, assures us the Z06 will flatter amateur drivers—especially with the Z07 package’s added aerodynamic downforce and tire grip. The goal with the Z07 was to ensure the car’s driver experiences zero wasted motion, zero slop. Turns happen right now. Revs build right now. Stops occur virtually immediately. This should engender a sense of “oneness” for drivers of the 2023 Chevrolet Corvette Z06—a feeling we have always lauded Porsches for. Watch this space for a 911 GT3/Z06-Z07 face-off to see how close Chevy came to hitting its lofty goals.
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