Used Chevrolet Corvette Z06 Showdown: $25K C5 vs. $40K C6

Used C5 vs. C6 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 comparison highlights:

  • Although an evolution of the earlier C5, the C6 Corvette Z06 handles and accelerates better, and is easier to live with on a daily basis
  • The C5 Z06 is a rawer sports car, with fewer potential mechanical and electronic issues
  • Though it’s more expensive, the C6 Z06’s advantages over the C5 justify the former’s higher price

While the upcoming Chevrolet C8 Corvette Z06 will basically be a bargain supercar, it still won’t be cheap. And while the mid-engine layout earns handling dividends, as one snow-bound Corvette Z06 owner showed, the front-engine cars aren’t exactly pushovers. What they are, though, is affordable, especially the C5 and C6 Corvette Z06 models. But which should get: the older OG modern Z06 or its more expensive but newer successor?

C5 vs. C6 Corvette Z06: Horsepower, 0-60, and performance specs

2001-2005 C5 Chevrolet Corvette Z062006-2013 C6 Chevrolet Corvette Z06
Engine5.7-liter ‘LS6’ V87.0-liter ‘LS7’ V8
Horsepower385 hp (2001)
405 hp (2002-2005)
505 hp
Torque385 lb-ft (2001)
400 lb-ft (2002-2005)
470 lb-ft
TransmissionSix-speed manualSix-speed manual
Curb weight3118 lbs3130 lbs
0-60 mph times3.9 seconds (2002)3.5 seconds

Although Chevrolet created the Z06 in the C2 era, the C5 Corvette made it a regular production model. And while its 405-hp engine might seem tame in today’s turbocharged times, its performance isn’t. That even applies to the 385-hp 2001 models; a 4.3-second 0-60 mph time is nothing to sneeze at. Plus, as we’ll cover shortly, before the C8, “the C5 was the most revolutionary Corvette,” MotorTrend says.

But in terms of raw performance, the C5 must bow to the C6 Corvette Z06. Its handbuilt LS7 V8 puts out more power and torque—and revs to 7000 rpm. So, even though it’s slightly heavier, a used C6 Corvette Z06 can out-race a C5 Z06 in a straight line. And not just to 60 mph, either. In MT’s hands, the C6 finished the ¼-mile roughly one second and 8 mph faster than the C5. However, the lighter C5 tied the C6 in 60-0 mph braking, despite the latter’s larger cross-drilled and ventilated brakes.

Chevrolet didn’t just build the Corvette Z06 for straight-line antics, though. Both the C5 and C6 can easily take to the track with little more than some fresh tires, brake pads, and fluids. Yet as on the dragstrip, the C6 Corvette Z06 is the better track tool where the stopwatch is concerned. Though both can manage sub-8-minute Nürburgring lap times, the C6 Z06’s 7:22.68 time is over 30 seconds faster than the C5’s time.

Is a used C5 Corvette Z06 as fun to drive as a C6 Corvette Z06?

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The C6 Corvette Z06’s faster Nürburgring time isn’t just because it has a more powerful engine. It’s also thanks to the improvements GM made when it evolved the C5 into the C6.

As noted earlier, the C5 Corvette was a huge step forward for America’s iconic sports car. For example, not only does it have a hydroformed steel-tube perimeter frame, but GM put balsa wood in the floor for improved NVH and stiffness. Also, to improve weight balance, the C5 has a transaxle layout. In addition, while the C4 ZR1’s LT5 V8 was something special, the C5 introduced the iconic all-aluminum LS V8 to the world.

Compared to the C5, the C6 Corvette was more evolution than revolution. However, those evolutionary steps created a shorter, stiffer, and lighter chassis. Furthermore, Chevrolet overhauled the car’s suspension, increasing suspension travel and rigidity as well as decreasing twitchiness. Even without the Z06 upgrades, the C6 Corvette handles better than the C5, MT says.

Speaking of those Z06 upgrades, the C6 and C5 have some similarities. Both have stiffer springs and shocks than their base versions, for example, as well as lighter wheels and bigger brakes. The C5 Z06 also has a titanium exhaust, less sound-deadening material, and starting in 2002, stiffer and lighter valvetrain components and optional thinner glass. The C6 Corvette Z06, though, trumps that with an all-aluminum frame, magnesium subframe, carbon-fiber roof and front fenders, and in later models, optional magnetorheological shocks.

Admittedly, a used C5 Corvette Z06 is a rawer, purer sports car than the C6 model. Also, Chevrolet had to revise the C6 Corvette’s steering in 2008 to improve feedback. But while a C5 Z06 remains a solid sports car, the C6 is sharper still.

Which is the better sports car for daily driving?

The black-leather sports seats and black dashboard of a 2011 C6 Chevrolet Corvette Z06
2011 C6 Chevrolet Corvette Z06 interior | Don Kelsen/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

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The C5 Corvette’s other major revolution was in interior quality. Although it’s by no means perfect, the C5’s cabin is built to a higher standard than the C4’s interior. Admittedly, the C5 Z06 is now less a used Corvette than a near-classic one, so it’s not exactly lavishly equipped by modern standards. Plus, while better than the C4, the C5 is prone to interior rattles, worn plastics, and cracked leather seats. However, it offers something no C6 can—pop-up headlights.

Interestingly, the C5 also wins out over the C6 Corvette Z06 in another area: ride quality. Early C6s without the trick magnetic shocks were criticized for a harsh ride, Road & Track says. It doesn’t help matters that the C6’s bigger brakes and wider tires required larger wheels, which also wreck comfort. Swapping in newer coilovers and suspension components might solve the problem, as can buying a magnetic-equipped Z06. But as we’ll cover shortly, the latter option has some downsides.

Still, harsher ride aside, a used C6 Corvette Z06 will likely be easier to live with on a daily basis than a C5. For one, it has an even better interior, especially the 2012-2013 model, though it’s still “sub-par” compared to contemporary rivals, MT reports. Secondly, the C6 has more comfort and safety features, including more airbags, keyless entry, Bluetooth, auto-dimming mirrors, a larger glovebox, and optional navigation.

In short, if you can live with a stiffer ride, a used C6 Corvette Z06 is a more refined daily than a C5.

Are used C5 Corvette Z06s as reliable as C6 Corvette Z06s?

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Although the C6 Corvette Z06’s extra luxuries and electronics aren’t unwelcome, they’re also additional sources of failure. For sure, the C5 Corvette also has a few notable problems. But the C6 Corvette’s problems are just as worrisome, if not more so, especially for your wallet. And it’s here where the C5’s older, simpler nature becomes a boon.

Firstly, some C5 issues, such as loose weather-stripping, burnt-out pop-up headlight motors, and interior wear, stem from simple age. Others, such as weak electrical connections and oil-sucking PCV valves, can be remedied with upgraded replacement parts. Ditto the 2002-and-later Z06’s oft-broken valve springs. And GM recalled the C5 to address the finicky steering wheel lockout. So, that only leaves the 2001 and early 2002 models’ oil consumption issues, which, while annoying, can be monitored.

As for the C6 Corvette Z06, problems like gas tank leaks, failing alternators, wobbling harmonic balancers, and airbag lights are fixable. In addition, the LS7 valve guide issues aren’t nearly as widespread as some think. Also, rod bearing failure can be caught and remedied before it becomes a problem.

However, if you don’t catch it, you might be out an engine; ditto with the valve guides. Furthermore, while repairing a used Corvette Z06’s composite body panels isn’t cheap, the C6 has more carbon fiber parts than the C5. Plus, remember those magnetorheological shocks? Well, they cost $300-$400 each, not including additional wiring and components.

Now, not every C5 and C6 Z06 has all these issues. For the most part, they’re mechanically stout sports cars with healthy communities and aftermarkets. So, if something does go wrong, owners have plenty of support. And keep in mind that used C6s will likely have fewer miles than secondhand C5s, meaning less wear and tear.

But if you prefer saving cash by doing your own wrenching, the C5 might be easier to work on.

Used C5 vs. C6 Corvette Z06: Price guide

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Speaking of cash, a used C6 Corvette Z06 is noticeably more expensive than a C5. Although they can crest into the mid-$30,000 range, you can still find good-condition C5s for around $25,000. And it’s worth paying extra for a well-maintained example, particularly if the seller has recall and service records handy. Also, don’t discount track-driven C5 Z06s, as they often already have reliability-focused modifications.

Meanwhile, the average used C6 Corvette Z06 typically costs around $40,000-$45,000. Some are slightly cheaper, but $40,000 is a solid budget estimate. But because the LS7 didn’t get a horsepower bump like the LS6, model year isn’t as important. Also, due to their age, C6s tend to have fewer miles than C5s.

Which Z06 should you buy?

In an interesting twist of fate, the gap between C5 and C6 Corvette Z06 prices hasn’t changed much since both were new. In 2006, the C6 Z06 cost roughly $13,000 more than the C5 Z06. However, its extra power, features, and handling capabilities made that upcharge “an outstanding value,” MT says. And today, that sentiment still applies.

This doesn’t mean you should discount the C5 Z06, though. It’s still a fun sports car, especially for the money. Having fewer electronics also makes it more approachable for the weekend wrench. And if you value raw sensations over outright performance, it places above the C6. But if you want the faster, sharper, more refined sports car, the C6 Z06 is worth paying extra for.

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