The brief for the new LS3 was more power, good fuel economy, and improved NVH and emissions ratings. To do that, Chevy did things like increased the bore, redesigned the manifold to be 6% more efficient than the LS2 even as it handles more air, changed the profile of the pistons to make them quieter and then coated them in magnesium disulfite, and swiped tech bits from the L92 truck engine (the 400-hp Cadillac Escalade engine). The result is the most powerful base Corvette ever with an engine that is bigger yet 2 DB quieter than the LS2. Get this, though: due to its bigger bore, the LS3 was developing unpleasant resonances at certain rpm, so Chevy engineers installed a tuning box to counteract the effect.
The two particulars about the car that most often brought up the word "Porsche" were the steering system and the interior. Concerning the steering, "we took out a lot of the slop" recounted the engineers, through such measures as improving the bearings and tightening tolerances. Some of the other journos couldn't feel any difference (including Autoblog), and were told that some people feel a difference while some people don't. However, if you took the column apart and looked at it, you could see the differences immediately. It still isn't as direct as a 911, but it's not supposed to be. However, if you were one of those wishing that they'd remove a hint of play from the steering, then your pleas have been answered.
The transmission also came in for revision. Changes include double synchros for reverse gear, and machined teeth so "you don't get the lockout condition in first and reverse." On the automatic, shifts happen 30% faster, and the gearchange action has been made sportier in response to owners saying it was too refined. This means that the 6-speed paddle shift automatic is now quicker than the manual, which, frankly, we find a regrettable state of affairs.
Inside, there's been plenty of action. First and foremost is the availability of a stitched-leather-wrapped interior package. This is the other improvement that evoked the word "Porsche." It looks good, though we don't understand why they limited the colors to sienna ("brick," as one GM-er put it) and linen ("off-white," as another GM-er put it). A black, or at least a dark gray option, would have made sense. Regardless, while it looks good, it feels, well, less good. The leather covers the stock dashboard, and while we were told there was a hint of foam underneath, it doesn't exactly feel like it. That means that the leather dash is still is quite hard. An iron fist in a velvet glove, at the end of the day, still feels like an iron fist. In the flesh it doesn't look or feel cheap, but it doesn't feel like a Porsche dashboard either. However, it doesn't cost nearly as much as a Porsche dashboard, which is one of the raisons d'etre of Corvettes. In the final analysis, it is a leap (not just a step) in the right direction, and it's about time. But it is only the opening salvo -- it will certainly be refined. There will also be a leather piece on the door armrest, which the pre-production models we photographed didn't have. Those pieces, however, will be colored like the door panels, not sienna or linen. That upgraded interior will also feature a center trim plate with a bias pattern, not the base carbon fiber pattern.
Other interior upgrades include the chrome trim around the gearshift knob and cupholder, which don't impress until you see them next to the previous model, which all of a sudden looks unspeakably bland. The tunnel cover fabrication has also been changed. Previously, those who didn't order the magnetic ride option had to look at a blank cover called the "tombstone" where the button would have been. In the '08, if you don't have the magnetic ride, you won't have to see the cut line where the button would have been.
The keyless access fob is a nice piece of kit: slender, well-designed, and weighted just right. A valet key is hidden in the assembly, which is removed by pressing a little button at the top, near the chrome trim. The versions we saw took the might of Hercules -- and sore thumbs -- to pull apart, but that will be fixed by production time. If there were a complaint -- and there isn't, more like a "Hmmm," -- it's that you have to press the single Start/Stop button on the console in two different places to perform each function.
Back outside, the '08 model will come with a split-spoke rim in sparkle silver and competition gray finishes. We didn't see the polished split-spoke, but the competition finishes, expected to be a hit among the track set, are very nice. The pics of the competition split-spoke in the gallery also have the competition brake package, which is also a treat to behold.
How does it drive? You won't be disappointed. More torque down low and more horsepower up high means you never lack for the giddy-up. But it's not like Corvette owners usually do. There's just more of it. We didn't get a chance to drive the manual, but the six-speed paddle-shift automatic was frighteningly easy to use once we got used to having upshift and downshift on the same controller.
Cars will go into production later this year. Prices haven't been set.
And now to that Blue Devil: there was an X Files episode called "Deceive, Inveigle, Obfuscate." That was the recurring theme when we asked about the Blue Devil -- and we asked everyone with a white shirt and a GM logo to say something about it (and we weren't the only ones). The first time, we got a long, well rehearsed answer about "we always have exciting things in the pipeline, but we can't say anything right now," etc. Another GM guy said "People keep asking me about this car that doesn't exist." One other GM-er said "Don't believe everything you read. And Bob Lutz doesn't have it quite right, either." Yet at the end of the press briefing, we were told, "When is the last time we didn't have something more in the pipeline? But we will say: if we invite you to a show, you'll want to come." And finally, there was an LS3 engineer who, when asked about the current Gen 4 LS3 engine, said "You've probably gone about as far as you can go with a naturally aspirated engine, so that tells you something." He then smiled, shrugged, and walked off. Whether that means something artificially enhanced for another Gen 4 iteration, or whether he means that a Gen 5 is the only possible successor, we don't know. But everyone was so keyed up about it that, whatever it is, it is probably going to be very, very good.