The 2023 Chevrolet Corvette Z06: A Modern Take on the Traditional Exotic Formula

By Sevan Shahijanian | November 1st, 2021
2023 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 Front Three Quarter View
Chevrolet

An icon done right

What makes an exotic car so special? Is it the speed? Neck-breaking aggressive styling? How about a price tag hovering in the same league as a single family home in the United States (or a shed in Los Angeles)? Whether they’re purchased for vanity and exclusivity or the thrill of owning a childhood dream, the exotic car formula has largely remained the same since their inception in the mid-1960s. While the thought of an exotic likely conjures up images of curvaceous Italian design, GM’s latest Corvette may soon occupy a seat at the VIP table… and at a fraction of the price (a really small shed in LA). 

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2023 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 Rear Three Quarter View
Chevrolet

It’s taken me some time to understand Chevy’s mindset with the C8 Corvette. On one hand, you have the decision to stick with a naturally aspirated power plant. A bold move for a market that prioritizes performance metrics over all. Squeezing out every ounce of power from a naturally aspirated engine is no easy feat, nor is it cheap – but more on this later.

On the other hand, you have the controversial move to a mid-engine layout. While logical from a performance standpoint, it’s rare to see a classic nameplate make such a drastic metamorphosis nearly 70 years into production. Chevy clearly took to revolutionizing the C8 Corvette over evolving the existing platform. Corvette chief engineer, Tadge Juechter, famously stated that they were reaching the limits of the C7’s front-engine rear-wheel drive architecture. With acceleration being paramount to performance (and sales), the shift to a mid-engine platform helped GM engineers achieve the performance targets they were after – and subsequently shot the American icon into traditional exotic territory. “Traditional” being the key word here – let me explain.

In a world where manufacturers have largely transitioned to turbos, hybrids, and electric technologies, the visceral and immediate nature of naturally aspirated engines has mostly been lost. Lamborghini has long challenged the trend away from NA engines, having only recently ceded with the Urus SUV, their first production car offering forced induction – but they’re more of an exception these days. Although Ferrari still makes the oh-so-sweet 6.5-liter V12 in their 812 Superfast, it’s now the only naturally aspirated engine offered in their lineup. Porsche assured enthusiasts back in 2019 that naturally aspirated engines would be around for another decade or so, but also added that they would likely be hybridized in the near future.

So with all this going on, the C8 Corvette and its latest Z06 trim are a bit of an anomaly in the modern sports car realm. Mid-engine, rear-wheel drive, and equipped with a hand-made, high-revving naturally aspirated V8… sounds like a formula traditionally used in exotics of old. Call us intrigued. 

That engine

Oh boy, that engine. If you blindfolded anyone and played them a clip of how the 2023 Corvette Z06 sounds, they’d no doubt think it was an Italian exotic. The 5.5-liter flat-plane crank V8, dubbed the LT6, diverges quite a bit from Chevy’s long-established line of pushrod engines. It uses an all-new aluminum cylinder block and dual-overhead camshaft cylinder head with CNC-machined combustion chambers and intake ports. The new active intake manifold has a split design with two 87mm throttle bodies, modulating the gobs of air flowing into the engine and effectively improving the power band throughout the rev range. A new six-stage ten-quart dry-sump oiling system with individual crank bay scavenging insures the car stays well lubricated in high-G corners and never experiences any oil starvation issues.

With a redline of 8,600 rpm, moving such large internal components at high rotations required quite a bit of engineering wizardy; and so, forged aluminum pistons and forged titanium connecting rods were needed for both reduced weight and increased strength. 4-2-1 stainless steel exhaust headers smoothly flow exhaust gasses out the engine and help create that delicious Formula 1-esque exhaust note.

The LT6 is not only the largest displacement flat plane crank engine that’s ever been made, it’s also the most powerful naturally aspirated production V8 of all time – pushing out 670 hp at 8,400 rpm and 460 lb-ft of torque at 6,300 rpm. The Ferrari 458 (God bless its soul), employed a similar approach to powering the rear wheels. It, however, only made 562 hp at 9,000 rpm and 398 lb-ft of torque at 6,000 rpm out of it’s 4.5-liter flat-plane crank V8. This wasn’t done on accident though – GM engineers actually benchmarked the C8 Z06 against the cherished Italian stallion. Even at 12 years old at the time of this article, the 458 is still as good a benchmark as any.

The LT6 is mated to the same 8-speed dual-clutch transmission found in the Stingray, this time with a shorter final drive ratio. Considering most cars in the upper-echelons of performance have dropped manual transmissions entirely, we can’t fault Chevy for doing so as well. Paired with a track mode launch control, wider staggered tires (275/30ZR20 front and 345/25ZR21 rear!), and computational magic of the magnetic ride suspension, the 2023 Z06 rockets from a standstill to 60 mph in a neck-snapping 2.6 seconds. The mid-engine layout helps put weight over the rear axle, increasing traction of the rear wheels and helping the rear brakes work harder. Speaking of brakes, the Z06 gets revised massive 6-piston Brembos on all four corners. Something this fast has to stop fast too, right?

The engine placement is actually what allowed GM to develop the LT6 in the first place, as it simply wouldn’t work with a low-slung hood. Seeing as how concept designs and sketches of a mid-engine Corvette date back decades, I guess we shouldn’t be surprised at the idea of technology and materials design (and budget) catching up with the latent dreams of this American icon. 

2023 Chevrolet Corvette Z06s in Different Trim Configurations
Chevrolet

Aero and design

As we covered in our pre-launch look at the 2023 Z06, the upgraded Corvette gets a slew of visual changes that differentiate it from the standard Stingray. New front and rear bumpers add aggression while serving to increase the car’s ability to cut through the air. Revised front air dams better feed air to the front radiators (there are three radiators, or heat exchangers, up front and two in the rear). The rear quad exhaust is now center-exit and surrounded by a new diffuser to accommodate the layout change. An available carbon fiber aero package adds a larger front splitter, canards in the front corners, a larger rear wing (as opposed to the standard wickerbill spoiler), and aero strakes on the underside for maximum downforce.

The Z06 is about 3.6 inches wider than the standard Stingray – all to accommodate the massive 10-inch wheels up front and 13-inch wheels out back. The side intake ducts have also been redesigned to be larger and more aggressive. As is fitting for a performance trim of an already high-performance sports car, every design change has been made with a functional purpose.

For those who want more, Chevy is offering a plethora of options, including forged aluminum or carbon wheels, various paint choices for both the body and brakes, and many (many) more. A Z07 package sits at the top and comes with the aforementioned carbon fiber package, carbon fiber wheels, carbon-ceramic Brembos (carbon everything!), an improved FE7 suspension with Magnetic Ride 4.0, and bespoke Michelin Sport Cup 2 R ZP tires.

The interior looks largely the same as the C8 Stingray, with a few options for trim materials: carbon fiber, aluminum, or a fully red interior (spicy!). There are also three seat choices, topping out with the performance-oriented competition seats.

Cue the quintessential Corvette owner who touts having “1-of-X cars delivered with red paint and this package and that wheel option in this year.”
I’m only joking! … sort of. 

2023 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 Parked Next to C8.R Racecar
Chevrolet

So how much does it cost, bub?

Somewhere between a C8 Stingray and a Porsche 911 GT3 RS!

In all seriousness, Chevy hasn’t yet released any pricing figures for the 2023 C8 Z06. The Z06 trim has traditionally been about $25,000 more than the standard Corvette, so it’s probably safe to assume the new model will come in at a base price around $85,000 to $90,000.

Seeing as how most dealerships have been charging ridiculous markups on the C8 Stingray, as well as the availability of countless options and packages, I’d expect real world costs to be north of $100,000. We’ll just to have wait and see – especially with the chip shortages continuing to plague the industry.

The entire act of developing the C8 Stingray and Z06 was clearly a display of Chevrolet’s engineering prowess and commitment to upholding an icon. Although shifting the Corvette’s engine layout was a massive risk, it seems to have paid dividends in escalating both the car’s performance and Chevy’s standing in the sports car world.

In an era where every new iteration of a car tends to take the safe and proven evolutionary approach, it’s refreshing to see a domestic manufacturer buck the trend and release something marvelous into the wild. An amalgamation of passion, performance, and design. A modern take on the traditional exotic formula.

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