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First Drive

Chevrolet Corvette Z06 review: a fitting final hurrah to natural aspiration

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Published: 01 Mar 2023
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Ah, the Corvette Z06, the home of the world’s most powerful naturally aspirated V8.

You’ve done your homework. The only other word we should probably insert is ‘production’. Oh, and the one we should definitely add is ‘EVER’. Because there has never been a road car with a more powerful naturally aspirated V8 than this. Not even from Ferrari.

Let’s have the numbers then.

The headlines are as follows: 670bhp at 8,400rpm and 460lb ft at 6,300rpm. And yep, that makes it more potent than the fabled 6.1-litre V12 that underpinned the McLaren F1. The 5.5-litre dry-sumped, flat plane crank LT6 has nothing in common with the 6.2-litre V8 in the back of the regular C8 Corvette – in fact it’s derived from the engine in the C8.R GTLM racer. It’s exotic in a way we’re not used to from American brands: it boasts titanium intake valves and conrods, sodium filled exhaust valves, revs to 8,600rpm – it’s the single most impressive facet of the new Corvette Z06.

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Is this just a regular C8 Corvette with a strong motor then?

Emphatically not. 2023 marks 60 years of the Z06 badge – it’s reserved for the hardcore version of the iconic American sports car. So besides the engine, a load of other changes have been made, the most immediately obvious of which is the fact it’s 90mm wider overall. That means new wing panels front and rear to cover wider tyres, and new suspension geometry.

Bigger wheels and brakes are fitted, the usually optional e-diff and magnetorheological dampers are standard here, the springs are stiffer and there’s a new transaxle with a shorter final drive in the eight-speed dual clutch gearbox for better sprinting. The rear tyres are gargantuan 345-width road rollers, the brakes are from Brembo and there’s 165kg of downforce at 186mph (and if you’re thinking that isn’t actually very much, you’re right). If you want more tech stuff, click these words.

Quite a comprehensive overhaul then. Is it lighter, too?

It’s actually a little heavier: 1,561kg plays 1,530kg. Those are both dry kerbweights though, so reckon on about 1,700kg with fluids. And that’s for the coupe. The convertible version will be heavier. Ask yourself if you need it though, seeing as all Corvette coupes have a lift out roof panel. The convertible (the car you see in these pictures) does have the benefit of being able to keep the roof up and drop the rear window to better hear the screaming V8.

Sound good, does it?

Oh yeah. Properly, genuinely exciting. It doesn’t yelp with the scalding intensity of a Ferrari 458 (the last supercar to be equipped with a naturally aspirated V8), nor have quite the mechanical thrash of the flat six in a Porsche 911 GT3 (we’ve made a film on the Z06 that also features both of those cars), but this is a big-lunged, hard-charging, rampaging motor. It bellows its way around the second half of the rev counter, revs piling on hard and fast, response crisp and immediate. It’s such a pleasure to remind yourself of how special a good naturally aspirated engine is.

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Corvette is open in admitting they reverse engineered a Ferrari 458’s 4.5-litre nat-asp V8 to find out what made it so special. That’s a remarkable engine, one for the ages, a 562bhp screamer that won the international engine of the year award four times. Even today, 14 years on, Corvette hasn’t quite managed to match the 458’s 125bhp per litre specific output. Still, 122bhp per litre is worth celebrating.

And the figures that underpin it are equally impressive. 0-60mph takes 2.7 seconds, top speed stands at 195mph. Once you get used to the force and the noise and start to think about other aspects of the engine, what really surprises is how well mannered it is.

What? I don’t want my 8,600rpm V8 to have good manners, I want it to be raw and downright furious!

All the same, this is a smooth and very compliant engine. It burbles about town without any issue whatsoever. The gearbox is silky and shuffles between ratios quietly and competently, you can quite happily forget that you’re driving an engine with real racing pedigree.

But you’re right, the polish does rob it of an edge that makes spikier engines arguably more exciting. But I’m nit-picking. I’d rather drive this than any turbocharged V8 and the manners make it viceless and mean the intimidating headline figures are actually nothing of the sort.

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Does the driving experience follow in this vein?

You’re one step ahead of me. The finessed feel of the engine, the carefully managed volume, the lack of vibration, the progressive delivery… it all speaks of a very, very well developed machine. And the way it drives is the same. Now, I do have some issues with the Z06 – particularly with the daft hexagonal steering wheel and the fact it’s so squidgy to hold. That’s not right in a hardcore sports car. Initially it means the Z06 feels a bit distant, like it doesn’t want to fully engage despite the bombastic engine.

That ends at the first corner. Because when you turn in the Corvette is right there with you. The steering weights up, there’s a bit of roll – very well controlled – the suspension loads up and the tyre carves a clean, crisp line around the corner. There’s no fuss, just a sensation that there’s a very clear line of communication between wheel and the outer edge of the front tyre. It’s just what you want because it gives you confidence. And again it comes across as a thoroughly engineered machine.

How is it on track?

It’s worth bearing in mind that the Z06 I drove, being a convertible, is the softest available. For track work you really want a coupe equipped with the Z07 pack. That optional extra brings you 15 per cent stiffer suspension, bigger 398mm carbon ceramic brakes, a raised carbon rear wing that doubles downforce to 333kg (still not that much when the latest 911 GT3 RS develops 860kg) and Michelin Cup 2R rubber. And the option to spend yet more on carbon wheels, saving 18.6kg.

But this was a drop-top wearing Pilot Sport 4Ss, and all things considered it still did bloody well. And given I was pounding it round back-to-back with a Cup2-equipped 911 GT3, that’s high praise. In this trim it’s less grippy and nimble than the Porsche, but it’s still very well balanced and playful. It’s easily caught and controlled when you overstep the limits, the brakes hold up and all the time you’re playing with that awesome engine.

Which, to be clear, mullered the GT3 in a straight line. The heavier Z06 still rocks a power-to-weight ratio of about 395bhp/tonne, against 360 for the latest 503bhp 911 GT3 and that was enough to give it significantly greater shove down the straights. Meanwhile 30mm wider tyres mean grip wasn’t far adrift in the corners.

Which would you rather do a lap in, though?

For me it would be the GT3, as it’s the more involving, nuanced, tactile and rewarding car to drive. But I think many people would find the Corvette friendlier. And on road I genuinely believe it’s the better car.

For starters it rides beautifully. The magnetorheological dampers provide a plushness absent from the more motorsporty 911, which is always firm and has a raucous edge. The Z06 is better insulated and the various modes (including a configurable ‘Z’ button on the steering wheel) have real bandwidth, so there are big, noticeable changes in response, comfort and so on, giving the Z06 more bandwidth.

Good car for a roadtrip, then?

Absolutely. Not massively economical obviously: over the course of 450 miles I averaged 15.4mpg (against 21.0 in the Porsche) although this did include that afternoon on track. It's a comfortable car to drive, the seats are supportive (if mounted too high in the car) and there are usefully sized and shaped load bays at either end. The cockpit design takes a bit of getting used to and doesn’t go down well with passengers since they’re made to feel second class the other side of a dividing wall of heating controls.

It comes across as well built though. There’s no structural shake or shimmy in the convertible, the roof can be easily lowered and raised on the move, there’s more than enough kit to make life easy. You can motor around contentedly in what feels more like a GT car, then ramp up the modes, awaken the V8 and howl into the distance. It’s a wonderfully capable dual purpose car.

Does it feel like a premium product though?

I’ll say this first – it’s very well built. No squeaks or rattles, good material choices, robust. But the looks… it simply doesn’t have the sophistication of a Porsche or Ferrari. The bodywork is clumsy, simple as that. And that undermines it as a premium product and makes it hard sell – in Europe at least – against those brands.

It must undermine them on cost though?

Of course it does. In America the Z06 starts at $106,695 (currently £88,295), with the convertible roughly $8,000 more. There are three spec levels (1LZ, 2LZ and 3LZ) with the top spec convertible pictured here retailing at $125,850 (£104,148).

Corvette has made noises about the car coming to Europe – even to the UK in right-hand drive, but as yet no timescales have been announced. However, if and when it does appear, don’t be sniffy and dismissive of this one. God knows what Corvette will have to do to get it through noise regs (rumour has it the centre exit exhausts might have to go), but otherwise this is a very progressive, well rounded, able and engaging supercar. And a fitting final hurrah to natural aspiration.

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