We test the famed, hardcore version of the new mid-engined Corvette ahead of Australian deliveries expected later this year.
Chevrolet clearly likes a challenge. The last Chevrolet Corvette Z06 used a supercharged version of GM’s long-lived pushrod ‘small block’ V8, and there’s no obvious reason to an outsider why the track-focused version of the current, C8 generation couldn’t have taken the same route to increased performance. Instead, the new Z06 gets an all-new, naturally aspirated 5.5-litre V8, one that uses both a flat-plane crank and twin-cam cylinder heads to produce a very impressive peak of 500kW.
While there are plenty of other changes over the regular Chevrolet Corvette C8, the new engine is the transformational one, radically altering the character of the Chevrolet Corvette Z06. Unlike the ‘basic’ Corvette already on sale in Australia, which has a burbling idle and is curtailed by a lowly 6500rpm redline, the Z06 fires up like a race car and snarls its way to 8500rpm before the limiter calls time, sounding more like a Ferrari than a traditional ’Vette as it does so.
Low-down torque is limited but the new engine is tractable at low speeds, and the same eight-speed dual-clutch transmission as the regular C8 can be both smooth and punchy according to which dynamic mode the car is in. Beyond 4000rpm, it starts to come alive, and well before it gets to the red part of the digital rev counter, it is pulling with a vigour that seems more supercar than sports car. Chevrolet claims a 2.9sec 0-100km/h time, a figure that feels, if anything, pessimistic.
Z06 buyers have further choices to make. The biggest is between the standard Targa-style roof, with a single lift-out panel, or the cleverer but 45kg-heavier convertible, which uses a power-retractable hard-top. Both cars have the same torsional rigidity, although the convertible also lacks its sibling’s glass engine cover.
Details for the Australian-delivered cars, which are expected around Q4 this year, are yet to be confirmed. On the list in the US is the hardcore Z07 pack that brings stiffer suspension settings – the standard Z06 is already 30 per cent firmer than the basic Corvette – plus carbon-ceramic brakes and track-spec Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres. American buyers can also choose an aero package, which brings a raised rear wing and takes peak downforce to 330kg, plus the stand-alone option of carbonfibre wheels to save an other 5kg per corner.
Although the Z06 is firmer than the regular C8, it isn’t too firm. Granted, my test route in Michigan consisted of some of the roads the car was developed on – a point made to me by a Vanishing Point encounter with a disguised Z06 prototype going the other way. But in the gentlest Tour dynamic setting, it is still compliant enough for road use, and even moving up to Sport didn’t turn it excessively harsh.
Steering is high geared and very direct, with only minimal inputs required in all but the tightest corners. Which is probably just as well, given the awkward shape of the squared-off steering wheel, and the fact that the top and bottom of the rim are made from slippery carbonfibre. While I didn’t get to experience the Z06 on a track, the steering felt set up for high-load circuit work.
Similarly, real-world loadings gave no chance to push beyond the massive adhesion generated by the tyres. The car I drove was on the road-friendly Pilot Sport 4S tyres rather than the Cups, but on dry Tarmac, grip was huge.
A full 61 per cent of the Z06’s static mass sits over the rear wheels and this imbalance is obvious in the way the car aggressively tightens its cornering line when the throttle is eased, but the near impossibility of engendering understeer at road speeds means there isn’t really any need to do this. With limits so high, though, I suspect that when the Z06 does let go, it will do so suddenly.
But it doesn’t feel snappy or skittish, and even at road speeds, the chance to listen to the engine’s zinging soundtrack feels properly special. With the exhaust in its loudest switchable mode, it seems effectively unsilenced.
As for habitability, the Z06 benefits from the same impressively spacious cabin as the basic Corvette, certainly by sports car standards. Unlike many track-focused specials, it doesn’t feel harsh or compromised on the road.
Note also that in addition to selectable settings for the adaptive dampers, engine map, exhaust note and steering feel, the Z06 has adjustable ‘brake feel’, which alters the weight and level of resistance of the pedal. I struggle to imagine anyone wanting anything but the firmest setting in a car so potent.
The Z06 is also a performance bargain compared with the wider supercar market. The most basic version is expected to be available in Australia in late 2023, if all things go to plan, at a price tag we expect to start around $250,000. For perspective, that’s going to be around $250,000 less than the starting price for the new Porsche 911 GT3 RS.