With the fall introduction of the 2002 Chevrolet Corvette Z06, General Motors Corp. engineers show that they're hardly done fettling with either the Corvette or its trademark small-block V-8's performance.

Last year's reinstatement of the fabled Z06 high-performance badge made the 'Vette, in the eyes of many critics, for the first time ever a genuine world-class sports car.

Most of the goodness was achieved via the wonderful upgrade to the longstanding 5.7L OHV V-8, coded LS6 in Corvette Z06 trim. Last year's LS6 engine — 385 hp, 385 lb.-ft. (522 Nm) of torque — was no shrinking violet, but the '02 improvements bring the Corvette Z06 into a truly rarified strata of production vehicles that offer 400 hp or better.

Improvements to the high-output LS6 for the '02 Z06 include new, lighter valves, a higher-flow mass-airflow sensor, a low-restriction air cleaner and a higher-lift camshaft. Standard Corvettes continue for 2002 with the LS1 version of the 5.7L V-8 that doesn't include the LS6 upgrades.

John Juriga, Corvette's laid-back but deadly serious assistant chief engineer, also managed to make a positive out of the engine changes by specifying the standard LS1 engine's camshafts for fitment in all of GM's truck/SUV applications, which use many of the same small-block components and are built on the same assembly lines. That way, the manufacturing “proliferation” of adding the bespoke Z06 engine parts, he says, are offset by using the LS1 cams across the “regular” V-8 engine family. Okay by us.

The '02 LS6 now packs 405 hp at 6,000 rpm and 400 lb.-ft. (542 Nm) of torque. That's a solid 50 hp increase over the standard Corvette LS1 V-8 that delivers 350 hp and 375 lb.-ft. (508 Nm) with a manual transmission and 350 hp and 360 lb.-ft. (489 Nm) with an automatic. As with last year's inaugural C5-based Z06 model, the only Z06 transmission offered is the 6-speed manual.

All I can say: Get intimate with that traction-control button, friend, because the Z06 will, with precious little provocation, put down serious rubber in at least the first three gears. The fact is, though, there's not much need to fool around with the traction control, because it comes as part of the standard — and wholly excellent — second-generation “Active Handling” that is so delicate of tune, so subtle of execution, that it'll actually allow you to wag the tail wide in deliberate juvenile oversteer, or engage in a decidedly decent burnout, then jab the brakes just enough to keep it all from getting out of hand. Active Handling is the benchmark for traction/stability control systems, surpassing even Porsche's outstanding effort.

The 2002 Z06 Corvettes also feature newly upgraded front brake pads, a standard head-up display (HUD) and lighter-weight cast-aluminum wheels to replace last year's Z06 forged-aluminum wheels.

The Z06's power enhancement, says GM, comes at a modest price increase: last year's base Z06 started at $47,855 and the 2002 model will carry a sticker of $49,505. GM sources say about one-third of 2002-model Corvette production will be Z06s.