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Souped-up, latest-gen American sporting icon braves the Autocar timing gear

Going global is proving a tricky challenge for the Chevrolet Corvette. The latest, eighth-generation (C8) version was launched in Europe in 2021, and in 2022 – as the first factory-built, right-hand-drive examples ever made arrived in the UK – it won an Autocar Award for Best Dream Car.

Chevrolet’s European distributors couldn’t have hoped for a better reception for the all-new, mid-engined ‘Stingray’. And yet, as the demand for the C8 has rolled in, so General Motors’ commitment to the car’s supply in Europe, including the UK, has started to waver. GM has, say insiders, become more interested in Europe’s EV market, and less in selling anything with a combustion engine.

Now, with an all-electric Corvette in the wings, Chevrolet Europe is reviewing how the Corvette is to be sold throughout this continent. All UK and mainland Europe dealers have had their supply contracts ended and the expanded European sales plans for the Corvette, which Chevrolet talked up so ambitiously two years ago, are in limbo.

Against this backdrop arrives the extra-special Chevrolet Corvette Z06 for road testing. The Z06 was unveiled towards the end of 2021 for 2022 production in North America and Chevrolet has confirmed that it will definitely be offered in the UK, in right-hand-drive form, once its new sales and distribution arrangements are finalised. Its commitment even extended as far as bringing an early left-hand-drive car to the UK for us to fully assess.

The Range at a glance

Engines Power From
C8 Coupé 2LT 475bhp £93,785
C8 Convertible 2LT 475bhp £98,785
Z06 Coupé 637bhp tbc

The UK range for the Corvette Z06 has yet to be set, but if it follows the template of the standard C8, it will be available in both coupé and convertible bodystyles (although even the coupé still comes with a removable Targa-style roof panel).

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We are unlikely to get North America’s base model but instead will probably have a choice between 2LZ and 3LZ derivative lines (3LZ getting a higher-grade interior and upgraded seat design).

The Z07 package adds carbon brakes and uprated springs, and you can have carbon wheels and carbon aero addenda at further cost.

DESIGN & STYLING

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It was for the sake of this Z06 model, Chevrolet’s designers and engineers now admit, that the controversial decision to move the engine of America’s favourite sports car rearwards was really taken. Those experts knew that you couldn’t go hunting Ferraris, Lamborghini, hot Aston Martins and Porsche GT cars in 2023 with a car of the necessary 600bhp or more if it had the Corvette’s traditional front-engined, rear-drive mechanical layout. It simply wouldn’t have the traction or the dynamic composure for the job.

The C8 Z06, then, comes properly armed for a headline clash with the best driver’s cars that Europe has to offer. It builds on the technical construction and mechanical spec of the standard C8 in some eye-catching ways – not least in getting what Chevrolet has hailed as the most powerful atmospheric V8 performance engine in the world.

Not sure I’d pay the extra when the time came to replace the run-flat tyres on my Z06. Regular Cup 2 Rs would be cheaper, and no doubt improve so much about the ride and handling. Quite why Chevrolet fitted them – beyond the very prosaic obvious explanation – is a bit of a mystery to me.

The Corvette’s aluminium and carbonfibre backbone spaceframe chassis is kept standard for the Z06, but its axles and lightweight composite wing panels have been widened, its coil suspension springs and anti-roll bars uprated, and its wheels and brakes upgraded. As standard, the car gets enlarged steel brakes with six-piston front calipers. But the optional Z07 package brings even firmer coil springs, even larger carbon-ceramic brakes and even wider wheels with Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 R tyres, and you can also add the lightweight carbonfibre wheels of our test car for extra cost.

Meanwhile, in place of the standard C8’s 2LT 475bhp 6.2-litre cross-plane-cranked V8 comes a new 5.5-litre all-aluminium atmospheric V8 called the LT6. Thanks to markedly oversquare cylinders and a lightweight forged flat-plane crankshaft, it revs to 8600rpm and officially makes 661bhp at 8400rpm along the way, as well as 460lb ft at 6300rpm. 

Or rather, it does for Z06 buyers Stateside. In the EU and UK, due to tougher emissions tuning and the fitment of a mandatory particulate trap, the V8’s pegged back to 637bhp at 8550rpm and 439lb ft at 6400rpm, which is how we tested it.

The Z06 upgrades add a great deal of performance purpose to the C8 but, even with the Z07 pack fitted, they don’t save much weight. Our test car weighed 1670kg in running order, with a two-thirds fill of fuel on board – only 9kg less than the equivalent for the regular C8 that we tested in 2022. Ferrari’s 488 Pista was 1465kg on the scales when we tested one in 2019 and the current Porsche 911 GT3 PDK was 1430kg.

INTERIOR

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The Chevrolet Corvette remains unusual among modern sports cars in that it’s a roadster by default – whether you order a ‘coupé’ or a convertible. So, while we tested a coupé, it had a removable Targa-style panel that stows simply and neatly in the boot (a one-person, two-minute job just about).

Roof off or in place, access to the cabin is not troublesome. It’s a strict two-seater, with no usable cargo space behind the seats, although, between a rear boot wide enough for golf clubs and the decently large ‘frunk’, the Z06 offers a level of carrying and touring practicality that plenty of rivals can’t approach.

Most C8 buyers in the UK go for the convertible. You wouldn’t expect that with the Z06, though, if only because the cloth-top loses the coupé’s glass-covered engine bay, and because this is a V8 to be admired.

The Z06 inherits the standard C8’s starkly driver-focused fascia layout and, for the driver at least, it’s an effective layout of primary instrument displays and secondary controls. The infotainment touchscreen is within a comfortable stretch of your wrist, and the gear selection and driver mode toggles are easy to reach too.

Being a higher-grade 3LZ model, our test car had plenty of decorative carbonfibre interior trim, some of which (on the steering wheel rim especially) we’d rather have done without. But with the help of plenty of Alcantara, it did make for quite a rich and expensive cabin ambience. 

Our car also had Chevrolet’s GT2-style seats: fairly comfortable and adjustable, if a little short in the backrest for taller drivers. 

Our criticisms of the C8’s slightly high driving position seem still to be addressed, though. You feel slightly perched at the Z06’s controls, with the steering column sprouting a little low between your knees, and head room is in short enough supply to disappoint taller drivers, especially on track days, when helmet wearing is necessary.

A more laterally supportive, fixed-backrest bucket that positions you just an inch or two lower seems a conspicuous omission.

Corvette z06 road test 2023 24 screen

Multimedia system

Chevrolet’s infotainment system for the Corvette has an 8.0in screen, which proves to be as large as it really needs to be. It’s well placed and easy to reach, just adjacent to the steering wheel, so you can operate it without leaning forwards from your seat. And while it’s mostly operated via the screen, a physical volume knob and home button are useful aids to usability. (The car’s physical climate controls are found elsewhere.)

The menu layout and general navigability are both good. The system now offers wireless smartphone mirroring for Apple and Android handsets, with wireless device charging at all but the cheapest 1LZ trim level (which UK buyers probably won’t be offered anyway).

Chevrolet’s factory navigation system is displayed clearly, easy to adjust and easy to follow. Audio system power in the case of the 14-speaker Bose Performance Series hi-fi (2LZ and 3LZ grades) is good but not spectacular.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

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You can’t help but expect to hear the mellifluous woofle of a conventional ‘small-block’ V8 in a Corvette, but the new Z06’s engine greets you differently. In place of all that typical burbling soul, it has that industrious, smooth but tonally homogenous idle that all flat-plane-crank V8s seem to adopt. After listening for a second, blip the accelerator to see what awaits you, though, and you’ll unearth the whip-crack response and crisp, manic appetite for revs that instantly justify the LT6’s place.

Let it pull from lowish revs with a mid-pack intermediate ratio locked in and you’ll find that little very dramatic happens below 4000rpm. But from that point, the Z06’s noise and potency start to really gather.

This engine has a pretty linear and progressive style of delivery. If you’re somewhere suited to bigger speeds and can let it spin to 6000rpm and beyond, though, you’ll notice the V8 suddenly finding some extra legs (the effect of which you can see in our in-gear acceleration figures). It’s not quite dramatic enough to feel like a Honda VTEC kick, but it’s a noticeable characteristic even so. 

Until that point, the V8 sounds a little like some gigantic, extraterrestrial trombone, but over the last 2500rpm to the 8600rpm redline, it reveals a howling metallic effervescence to rival anything from Maranello or Weissach – and the all-out fury to go with it, too.

If outright pace is the measure of the Z06’s success, then it’s made real strides. The car’s launch control system was a little dependent on warm Cup 2 R tyres on our test day, and dry asphalt with plenty of grip to yield. But given both, it sent the car to 60mph from rest in just 3.1sec, to 100mph in 6.8sec and over a standing quarter mile in 11.2sec – figures that a current 911 GT3 PDK couldn’t live with, although, among rivals with forced induction and/or hybrid assistance, a 911 Turbo S would monster, as would a McLaren 720S or Ferrari 296 GTB.

In normal driving, the Z06’s wide selection of driving modes adds complication to the driving experience that some testers would have preferred to be without. Although it has ‘custom’ settings, it doesn’t quite let you tailor and refine the ride, steering and powertrain calibrations as finely as you’d like to, so you find yourself switching settings frequently. It’s a bit of a distraction, but nothing irksome.

Although they can squeal after hard use, the carbon brakes have manageable bite and progression, and the dual-clutch gearbox’s shifts are mostly fast and positive when you want them to be. But it’s the V8 you come back for – and its blend of potency, urgency, razor-sharp edge and buzzing mechanical charm would be endlessly captivating.

Track Notes (Hill Route, Millbrook Proving Ground)

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The Corvette Z06 would be much better suited to a wide, fast, flowing circuit like Silverstone or Laguna Seca than the tightish confines of the Millbrook Alpine Hill Route. Even so, it showed really distinguishing pace and handling precision around tighter bends, huge grip and uncompromising body control.

The stiffly held chassis feels like an ideal platform for fast circuit work on smooth surfaces. After a usefully progressive turn-in, it maintains great adhesion and tenacious steering, allowing you to carry lots of speed without running wide. The dampers work the tyres very evenly, and the electronic stability aids allow you to accelerate away from apices with total confidence.

Switch those aids off and the car’s heavily weighted rear axle, with its 13in-wide rear tyres, can break away predictably quickly if you provoke it. It can take fast hands to quell oversteer, though the car remains controllable and predictable enough on the limit.

RIDE & HANDLING

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While it benefited a great deal from its new chassis, the regular Corvette C8 still sits at the softer, milder-mannered end of the dynamic spectrum for mid-engined sports cars, but Chevrolet set out for a very different positioning with the Z06. 

With the Z07-packaged car especially, it says, it wanted much higher mechanical grip levels and a markedly more adhesive-feeling front axle than the regular car, which would allow the driver to attack faster corners harder and take far more confidence in the car’s handling precision and ultimate mid-corner stability. 

The GT1 seats (2LZ spec) look a little more comfortable for taller drivers. Have the Z07 pack by all means, but it will be wasted if you don’t plan to do circuit driving – and a Z06 without it might well be a better road car.

Such things are, after all, what tend to characterise special-series, RS-branded Porsches and their equivalents. And, with the Z07 performance pack fitted, the Z06 is comfortably in the same bracket as those cars – for its remarkable high-speed lateral grip and its tautly checked and composed lateral body control. Compared with the regular C8, it’s not so much a car enhanced as transformed.

When those tyres are warm, the sheer grip and bite of the car’s front axle is amazing, and plumbing its depths takes some commitment. The car doesn’t have the rapier-fast steering of a Ferrari 296 and doesn’t quite dive in to tighter bends with a mere roll of the wrists. But as you keep turning the wheel and committing, so the front wheels continue gripping, while the suspension keeps the body supremely level and reined in, and the rear axle remains stable and under control, at least until you goad it to move around.

In adopting a really fast conventional line through a corner, the Z06 disguises its mass incredibly well. Its Track and Race mode damping is necessarily uncompromising, though. So over less than perfectly flat asphalt, the weighty, communicative steering can pick up and follow camber, and react to bumps, quite a bit, while its suspension bristles and snatches over vertical inputs. 

In these respects, the stiff sidewalls of the car’s run-flat tyres (the standard C8 has run-flats too) probably exacerbate the situation, but it’s the car’s weight that’s no doubt the real problem. Properly tying down something so heavy – and with Porsche GT-car sophistication and deftness – was a tall ask and, while it’s done well under the circumstances, Chevrolet hasn’t quite mastered it.

Comfrot & Isolation

The Z06’s stiffly set axles, its stiff-sidewalled tyres and its fizzing engine sound like a recipe for noise, so it’s actually a pleasant surprise how well the car settles down to a fairly gentlemanly cruise when you use Tour drive mode. 

The magnetorheological dampers allow much greater compliance in the suspension than is permitted during the car’s wilder moments, and while there is a faintly course roar from the axles and plenty of wind ingress as well, long-distance driving can be done without too much wear on the senses. 

When the Z06 is at its comfiest, it’s certainly a comfier and better-mannered car than so many special-series track derivatives. Smoother motorways suit the car better than cross-country roads (where you need to keep a closer watching brief on the chatter coming back through the steering),  but either can be covered without too much concentration. 

The dual-clutch gearbox is smooth in its gentler calibrations too, as it keeps the engine turning at fairly sociable crank speeds.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

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It’s a little difficult to award a rating in this section to a car whose UK price is some way from being fixed. According to Autocar’s sources, it could either start at the £130,000 you might otherwise spend on a Porsche 911 GT3 or be closer to the £170,000 of a McLaren or Lamborghini. 

So influential are the potential European sales and distribution wranglings going on with General Motors Europe at the moment that it isn’t yet clear which is more likely. However, according to one source, the 911 GT3-rivalling starting price is looking less likely by the week.

But even if we assume a £150,000 starting price, this remains a car that just about over-delivers on performance and track purpose for the money, even if it doesn’t on the outright desirability and ultimate track-day cachet of some rivals.

At that departure point, fully fitted 3LZ-trim cars with Z07-pack modifications are likely to be £175,000 purchases, which may be judged a little too close to established Italian supercar territory. If the Z06 is only expected to sell in handfuls, it’s unlikely to be so high a price as to discourage the truly devoted, but it would certainly erode the expected performance bargain appeal that this car has in other markets.

VERDICT

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With a high-revving firecracker of a V8 engine and a really ambitious chassis that takes on the leading powers of the track-ready supercar niche head on, the Corvette Z06 feels like it explores every shred of potential that the C8’smid-engined chassis has brought, and then some.

It’s dynamically capable enough to take absolutely no prisoners and it’s as captivating and special to drive as any fast Corvette there has ever been. But it does remain heavy compared with its European supercar equivalents, and while it can escape that penalty in some ways, it catches up with the car on tougher surfaces and in limit-handling moments. The Z06 is certainly better suited to track driving than to some UK roads, although given that non-Z07-pack cars would ride more mildly, that in itself shouldn’t put anyone off.

For a car this immersive, fast and purposeful, you might expect to pay a high price, but it will still need to represent relative performance value to give the Corvette Z06 a chance in the UK – and not just compared with genuine mid-engined supercars. So long as Chevrolet remembers that, this car should find its target market easily.

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.