The Chevrolet Corvette is no longer just a car, it’s three cars. And soon it will be more.
General Motors is expected to launch a new Corvette brand in 2025 that could include a family of vehicles that will reach a larger and more diverse customer base, from hardcore racers to fans of high-performance sedans and crossovers.
Already the ’24 lineup includes three distinctly different coupes and convertibles, from the base $68,000 Stingray to the new Z06 based at $112,700 featuring the world’s most-powerful naturally aspirated V-8 – and the even newer $105,000 all-wheel-drive E-Ray Corvette hybrid.
Fortunately for me, I was able to evaluate the Z06 as a juror for the 2023 Wards 10 Best Engines and Propulsion Systems awards and test drive the E-Ray as a judge for the 2024 North American Car and Truck of the Year awards.
Both cars are major leaps in technology, performance, and brand direction from the standard 495-hp Stingray.
The Z06 features an LT6 small-block engine that makes 670 hp at 8,400 rpm and 460 lb.-ft (624 Nm) of torque at 6,300 rpm without the benefit of supercharging or turbocharging. Instead it makes its power by taking rpms into a universe where only supercar engines live.
Among its many options, our loaded $168,000 Z06 test car was equipped with racing tires and an optional carbon-fiber splitter up front that improves aerodynamics enough to achieve 195 mph (314 km/h).
Only supercars costing twice as much or more can compete with the Z06 in speed and power. It’s thrilling to drive and generates tons of respect and envy from enthusiasts everywhere, including my driveway.
Simply starting the car creates shock and awe from performance-car aficionados. One such person lives across the street from me. He stopped mowing his lawn to yell out: “Hey is that the new Z06?” When I told him yes, he replied: “I thought so!”
The good news is the Z06 is a profoundly serious track car for the money and it’s great for your ego as you smile at all your track friends who overspent on Ferraris and McLarens. But that’s also the bad news; if you don’t have an SCCA license you can develop imposter syndrome.
It’s also not the car you’d want for a daily driver or even for spending much time on public roads – especially in rain or snow. I had more than a few white-knuckle moments in my weekend with the Z06 and most of them had nothing to do with law enforcement. I was worrying about cracking the low-hanging carbon-fiber splitter on a pothole and the track tires losing grip on wet pavement.
The Z06 wins a 2023 Wards 10 Best Engines Award because of the technical achievements that made the incredibly power-dense V-8 possible. It makes 122 hp per liter without the help of a turbocharger or supercharger, making it the most powerful naturally aspirated engine ever in a production car.
Such power density requires an extensive list of advanced technologies and materials including a lightweight, low-inertia flat-plane, forged-steel crankshaft to maximize volumetric efficiency; a racing-inspired 7-stage dry sump system; and an all-new precision sand-cast aluminum block and lower crankcase.
While the engine is efficient at generating power, there are consequences for making record amounts, and it shows up in fuel economy stats: 12/21 mpg (19.6-11.2 L/100 km).
If only GM could add another superfast Corvette model to the lineup that can be used as a daily driver, even in slippery weather, that would appeal to an entirely different, more mainstream audience and wouldn’t even have a gas-guzzler tax. Aha!
E-Ray Even Faster Than Z06
The loaded $112,000 E-Ray I evaluated a few weeks later for NACTOY is the opposite of the Z06, meaning it doesn’t scare the neighbors, is a gentleman about town and is even quicker than the Z06 – although not by much.
Thanks to AWD, the fattest all-weather tires ever made and an electric motor providing an additional 160 hp and 125 lb.-ft. (170 Nm) of torque to the front axle in addition to the 495-hp V-8 powering the rear wheels (for a total of 655 hp), the E-Ray is the most user-friendly and slippery commute-friendly Corvette ever.
Its monochromatic exterior paint scheme makes the E-Ray look a bit different from its siblings, but still has a beautiful small block on display in the back (pictured, below) that has a healthy growl, not steroidal rage like the Z06.
The E-Ray’s breathtaking 2.5-second 0-60 mph (97 km/h) acceleration feels more like being sucked through a vacuum tube rather than being shot out of a cannon, ala Z06, which has a slightly slower 2.6-second trip to 60 mph.
The E-Ray also is a smidge faster than the Z06 in the quarter mile, but a GM spokesperson says the Z06 wins the day if the race goes any longer, and the Z06 also has a higher top speed (up to 195 mph depending on optional aero package) compared with the E-Ray’s 183 mph (295 km/h).
The E-Ray interior is like the base Stingray and the Z06, with the same shifter buttons. But the seats are cushier and the overall interior ambiance, vibe, or whatever you want to call it, is closer to an exotic hybrid than a traditional Corvette. You can briefly drive up to 45 mph (64 km/h) in EV mode. Fuel economy is 16/24 mpg (14.7-9.8 L/100 km).
While being similar in many ways, these two siblings certainly are not identical twins.
They are both Stingrays at heart, but their souls are hugely different. This may sound obvious, but in the Z06 you feel like you’re piloting a racecar, and in the E-Ray you feel like you’re driving an electrified European supercar.
Both are monumental steps that promise to move the burgeoning Corvette brand forward.
The E-Ray is the first move to electrification that will no doubt lead to a battery-electric Corvette coupe and sedan down the road, and the Z06 is the next step to an internal combustion engine that will someday produce 1,000 hp or more.
This new “family” is going to give us a lot to look forward to.