On a cold day at Pittsburgh International Raceway, the new Corvette Z06’s standard Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires take a while to warm up. I dial back through the first lap of the 2.78-mile road circuit, hoping to soak up a bit more heat and grip despite the incessant wail of a flat-plane-crank V-8 desperate to unleash all 670 hp through every single foot of each straightaway. Soon, though, the car delivers an unfettered display of its unrivaled performance.
When I say “unrivaled,” I mean that finding a comparable car on the market today is essentially impossible. When Chevrolet debuted a mid-engined layout for the eighth-generation Corvette in 2019, even its original 495 hp LT2 engine managed to put the world on notice. Now, with the installation of a screaming mill capable of an 8,600 rpm redline, the Z06 variant receives a mid-mounted V-8 engine that revs into realms previously reserved for European automotive royalty only.
Chevrolet began development of the Z06’s new LT6 engine alongside that of the C8.R endurance race car, but the production process quickly forked due to rules that restrict a competition engine’s air-inlet diameter. As a result, the road-going engine actually produces more than an additional 150 hp compared to the racer. Over-square cylinders with a short stroke help, but the flat-plane crank dictates an even firing order that increases vibrations, so nearly every component of the engine needs isolation from the rotating assembly—including the new dry-sump oil tank, coil packs and heat shields. Chevy engineers even ramped up the oiling system’s vacuum pressure, which reduces not only oil aeration but also minimizes wind resistance for moving parts inside the crankcase. The result? Simply the highest-output naturally aspirated V-8 ever fitted to a production vehicle.
Pittsburgh International Raceway provides a perfect setting to test on-track performance of the Z06 and its new power unit. The course is highlighted by a steep drop after turn three that plummets a gut-wrenching 80 feet, seemingly straight down, into a hard right that tries to dispense every single bit of G force that the Corvette chassis can take. After cresting back out of from the dip under full power, you next come to a series of long sweepers that require little to no braking—some even requiring zero throttle lift—before the circuit presents a blind corner followed by a long full-throttle blast back towards the start-finish line.
Throughout each lap, finding the right line requires the steadiest of hands and a complete focus on each apex. Luckily, the new Corvette Z06 pairs scorching acceleration with impressive balance, allowing for a measured exploration of tire-slip angles before transitioning into a controlled four-wheel slide, one that’s easily corrected with a light flick of the steering wheel. With the tail planted once more, mashing the throttle brings the LT6 back up into the revs and I pop the paddle shifters through two quick shifts, then another, and another, exhaust howling and shift lights blinking red before I hammer the brakes to set the nose headed into the next corner.
Much like the “base” C8 Stingray, the Z06 still offers no manual option. But here, even more than in the lower-spec car, the eight-speed dual-clutch gearbox feels almost necessary for keeping the 5.5-liter V-8 perfectly in its power band. To help cope with the additional output of nearly 200 hp routed to larger tire-contact patches, Chevy significantly revised the transaxle with an additional clutch disc, a deeper hydraulic oil sump, internal baffles, beefed-up output shafts and a higher 5.56 final drive ratio. And much like the engine itself, the trans must also cope with harsh vibrations, so higher durometer rubber used in the mounts matches firmer suspension components throughout the rest of the chassis.
Revised Sport, Track, and traction-control settings also contribute to improved performance at, and past, the limits of tire traction. And magnetorheological suspension smooths out all but the roughest roads when set to Tour mode.
The widened tires do result in additional road noise, however, and Chevrolet’s team on hand did admit they decided against installing any additional sound deadening—after all, you can just roll down the windows and let the banshee’s wail drown out any such concerns. For buyers who want less pop-and-bang (or who care what their neighbors think), selecting Tour mode also tones down the raucous exhaust note to a more reasonable decibel level.
Chevy readily admits that the Z06 arrived late due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but claims that early pre-orders are already off the production line and only need final quality-control inspections before shipping out for customer deliveries. Good luck finding one, though. Order rolls have already closed and it has been widely reported that dealer markups are into the six figures. Still, it’s hard to find competition for a Z06, as even a fully optioned example comes in at $167,204.
Even taking into consideration massive markups, Chevrolet believes the Z06 now offers performance that matches the model’s exotic design, and intends this Corvette to be a legitimate challenger to European superstars from Lamborghini, Porsche and Ferrari. In that regard, America’s supercar may be trying to punch above its weight, but it’s still quite the contender.
Click here to see more images of the 2023 Chevrolet Corvette Z06.