A highly civilized track weapon | 2022 Corvette C8 Z51 review

By J.G. Pasterjak
Jul 14, 2022 | Chevrolet, Corvette, C8 Corvette, Z51 | Posted in Features | From the June 2022 issue | Never miss an article

Photography by J.G. Pasterjak and Chris Tropea

If you read back through our history of high-performance automobile reviews, you’ll see a recurring trope: Cars are becoming more and more suited for track use all the time.

And it’s true. As race tracks have become more accessible–and in the 36 years this magazine has existed, it hasn’t been easier to get on track–manufacturers have leaned in to track life. 

Sure, high-end models from the likes of Porsche and Ferrari have always catered to track culture, offering option packages and accessories to owners who enjoy the occasional rip between the apexes. But look around showrooms in 2022, and you’ll find honest-to-God Hyundais and Hondas with selectable track modes built right into the driver control systems. 

And the 2022 Chevrolet Corvette with the Z51 package you see here has a track mode as well. That should come as no surprise, as Corvettes have had selectable track functions since the C5 model back in 1997. But with the eighth generation of the model, things are beginning to get ridiculous when it comes to just how competent these cars are off the showroom floor.

[2022 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray 2LT w/ Z51 Performance Package new car review]

Let’s start with the specs: 495 horsepower–with the optional exhaust in sport mode–from a dry-sumped pushrod V8 placed behind the driver, right near the car’s center of mass. Corvette purists may argue that “real” Corvettes are front-engine machines, but the creator of the Corvette–Zora Arkus-Duntov–longed for a mid-engine platform to exploit the superior handling dynamics and power delivery characteristics of the layout. If the father of the marque says a Corvette can be mid-engine, we’ll take that over the opinion of BlueBoyVette69 on vettechat dot whatever any day.

No matter the options, the C8 Corvette basics are already well known: mid-engine layout plus that funky yet oddly satisfying square steering wheel. The Z51 package, though, turns the C8 into a formidable track star.  

As with previous Corvette generations, double wishbones support each corner, but now coil-over shocks finally replace the traditional transverse leaf springs that Corvettes have employed for decades. Those shocks are electronically controlled, and the Z51 package features more aggressive shock tuning in the more track-focused drive modes than the base model, but the comfort settings are also surprisingly civilized. 

Also like earlier C5, C6 and C7 generation Corvettes, the C8’s camber is easily adjustable through the use of eccentric bolts in the front and rear lower control arm mounts. Although our test cars came with factory settings–only a fraction of a degree of negative camber up front–C8 owners have reported that up to 2.8 degrees of negative camber is attainable on the front end, with slightly less available in the rear. 

The result of all this solid design is solid response–and some of the best on-track steering we’ve felt in a mass-produced car off the showroom floor ever. The C8 follows your inputs through the squared-off steering wheel–that’s a little weird, but you get used to it–as well as a Lotus Elise or Porsche GT3, which is high praise for a car coming out of Central Kentucky. 

The area we thought was most dramatically lacking in the base-model C8 was the brakes, which we felt weren’t entirely up to Corvette standards. The Z51 package solves that issue with larger floating rotors, fixed multi-piston calipers and world-class pedal feel. We were able to get a bit of pad fade from the street-compound pads, but a more aggressive pad and a brake fluid change are all this package needs to be fully track-capable.

Speaking of track-capable, the Z51 proved its mettle by not only outrunning the base-model C8 on the Florida International Rally & Motorsport Park’s road course, where we do all of our official track testing, but by hanging 3 full seconds on its sibling.

Admittedly, much of this time could be due to the Z51 package’s superior tires–Michelin Pilot Super Sports versus all-season Pilots–but our data traces showed some other interesting discrepancies. The Z51’s superior brakes were producing more consistent brake applications, with more pronounced peaks and no gradual rollovers as with the fade-prone base brakes. And the Z51’s more aggressive final drive gearing produced better acceleration out of slower corners, which led to higher top speeds down the ensuing straights than the base model and its lazier rear-end gear.

And not only did the C8 Z51 top its more pedestrian stablemate, but it also topped every other factory test car we’ve ever lapped at The FIRM. In fact, it performed more like our in-house project cars, including our C5 Corvette Z06 and V8-powered Nissan 350Z, than anything else off a showroom floor. 

But unlike those project cars, the C8 also features climate control, comfortable seats, and in-car electronics that can take charge of your entire life. Oh, and a factory warranty.

The bad news is that the newness of the C8, and the state of the new car world in general, means that current prices are jacked to the moon by greedy dealers or flippers. In a perfect world, you should be able to get a nicely equipped Z51 for under $75,000. The Z51 package officially includes brake, suspension, diff and axle ratio upgrades, along with additional cooling capacity and a spoiler and splitter. 

That package adds $6345 to the C8’s $64,000 base price. Throw in another $1000 for the good seats and $600 for the microfiber-wrapped steering wheel (you’ll never find a leather steering wheel on a dealer showroom anyway), and you have a darn nice track car. 

Now add 10, 15 or even 20 grand to that price, and that’s what you’d be considered fortunate to buy one for in today’s sales climate. When the crazy goes away, however, these are going to be a bargain. And when they start hitting the used car market, look out.

For now, though, the C8, and the Z51 in particular, carries on the Corvette mission in spectacular fashion. Regardless of where you stand on the front- versus mid-engine layout debate, you have to agree that part of the Corvette ethos has always been taking on–and in many cases, bettering–world-class, limited-production sports cars with a lower-cost, mass-produced machine. The C8 waves that flag high, providing the performance of cars that venture deep into six-figure territory for a fraction of the price.

Yes, we got the wheels dirty. That means the brakes are working.

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View comments on the GRM forums
Tom1200 UltraDork
5/16/22 2:24 p.m.

My friends who work at the school at SMMR have said that these are the easiest car to drive fast they've ever driven.

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