(Bloomberg) -- Here’s a fun litmus I often apply to the vehicles I test: I arrange to meet a friend at Sunset Tower, that art deco bastion of Old Hollywood, then watch to see where the valets park the car.
In LA, prime position matters. There’s perhaps no other city in the country where the kind of car you drive, and by extension where it is parked, so closely reflects your prima facie values and status, authentic or fabricated. Everyone notices. So as you can imagine, it takes more than just an expensive new car to get the prime spot at the Tower. Here in the land of sun and shallowness, those are a dime a dozen. It’s got to be interesting.
Old Rolls-Royce, new Mercedes tank—they get parked in the single parking spot located right out in front of the hotel in view of everyone passing by on Sunset Boulevard. BMW X5s and Porsche 911 Carreras, not so much. They lack the je ne sais quoi required to earn the same positioning.
Most unfortunately, I’ve found my powder blue 1977 Chevrolet Corvette lacks the respect for the coveted spot, too. So I was delighted to discover the other night that a new Corvette—the 2023 Z06 I had driven around all day—earned the place of honor. Apparently, the enhanced styling cues on this track-suitable version of the standard Corvette (or was it the braggadocious new engine note?) did the trick.
Bigger, Better, Brasher
When the new Corvette made its debut in 2020, it received rave reviews, both critical and popular, for its fresh design, explosive performance and fair pricing. Most notable was that its new mid-engine configuration improved the center of gravity and balance and gave drivers a better perspective from the front seat.
At the time, I wrote that from behind the steering wheel the Corvette stuck to the asphalt with an unfaltering grip and insistent, urgent speed. I felt it was enough to earn it the right of consideration from buyers previously predisposed to favor more expensive models from Aston Martin, Lamborghini and McLaren.
The Z06 version has taken those attributes and turned the dial up to 10. It’s so desirable as the apex Corvette that last month at a Mecum auction in Florida, one with 15 miles on it sold for $275,000–far more than the car’s $106,000 entry price (the one I drove was $144,910). This expensive hardtop is far from the good-value or budget-minded sports car Chevrolet is marketing it as, but its power and precision will reward those who can afford it.
While its two-seat interior is largely the same as before, you’d know the Z06 from a regular, entry-level Corvette Stingray just by looking at it: The thing takes up more space. Its chiseled body literally sits wider on bigger 20- and 21-inch aluminum wheels, its Z06-unique brakes are bigger, its rear wing that flares on each end is bigger. Air intakes on each side are angled to look fiercer: The hood is more arched and lower at front, hinting at a snarl. (Thank God for the $2,595 lift system, which raises it enough to avoid chinning it, so to speak, on poorly angled driveways.)
More than a quarter of a million dollars feels excessive to pay for one like at the auction in Florida, but if you can find one close to MSRP, the Z06 is a refreshing and compelling consideration in a market where highly tuned Porsche 911s and Lamborghini Huracans are almost ubiquitous.
I drove one with around Los Angeles with the power retractable top away and hidden (it retracts at the push of a button); it was painted “red mist metallic,” which, while categorically too obvious a color for any sports car, succeeded in earning hearty thumbs-up from lots of truckers on the 101. I appreciated the respect.
I did like the rest of the spec: spider black wheels ($495) and performance exhaust and carbon fiber trim ($3,995) from the top of the front splitter to the tail of the spoiler. The interior, clad in jet black with carbon fiber weave on its cabin-splitting console, is a step up from the notoriously shoddy and cheaply done Corvette interiors we’ve unfortunately come to expect but must still improve before it’s in true luxury territory. (Uneven white stitching along the seats in the car I drove, for instance, isn’t a good look.)
You’d also know the Z06 is “the special one” from hearing it a mile away. The car has a completely new engine, with a sharp barking voice and high-revving attitude to match.
While the standard Corvette has a 495 horsepower V8 engine and 470 pound-feet of torque, the Z06 offers 670 hp and 460 pound-feet of torque on its 5.5-liter V8. Combined with the car’s eight-speed transmission and rear-wheel drive, pressing the gas had me feeling like I had strapped myself onto a stick of American-made dynamite and lit the fuse. BOOM, this thing is fast. (Zero to 60mph is 2.6 seconds—faster than an entry-level Lamborghini Aventador.)
It’s the most powerful naturally aspirated (rather than turbo-powered) production car available today, from anyone. Chevrolet is so proud of it, they sent me a 93-page document just focusing on how it’s made.
They’re right to be proud. Driving someone to dinner in Hollywood resulted in a request to “slow down” and “stop revving so much.” Maybe I was gunning it a little bit. The gobs of torque available at low speeds was fun. The car was rowdy. I hadn’t even been trying! In straight highway driving the Z06 cruises loudly, with uber-precise steering and confidence-inspiring, immediate-grab brakes.
Less satisfying is fuel efficiency. Despite promises on the spec sheet I received to achieve 12mpg in the city and up to 21mpg on the highway, the best guzzling number I saw during my three days behind the wheel was 13mpg, and most of the time the average hovered around 7mpg.
Those numbers are embarrassing, but the car itself is just the opposite. This Corvette rightfully earns plenty of respect, both from rabid ’Vette fans and from laypeople simply attracted to its bad-attitude design. With the Z06, Chevrolet has created a sports car American muscle-car enthusiasts and aesthetes alike can be proud of—if you don’t look too closely at that interior stitching. It’s special. Just ask the guys parking cars at the Sunset Tower.
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