Nobody likes to wait - especially for one of the most highly anticipated all-new sports cars on the planet.
But the world waited five years for the details.
It was back in 2008 when rumors about a future all-new C7 Corvette first started swirling. However, it wasn't until early 2012 when the first heavily cloaked test mules were spotted in the wild. But even with physical prototypes running in the public eye, Chevy was able to keep its upcoming flagship under impressively tight wrap. Finally, at the 2013 Detroit Auto Show in January of this year, the automaker officially lifted the covers off the 2014 Chevrolet C7 Corvette Stingray and revealed its inner workings.
And then everyone waited half-a-year to drive it.
Yet all of that pent-up frustration, mental anguish and years of misguided speculation immediately vanished this week when I climbed behind the wheel and laid two fat strips of molten rubber down on the asphalt. The agonizing was so worth it.
There is no need to embellish or sugar coat its past. The Corvette, America's iconic sports car for the past 60 years, has always fallen short of perfection. While late model versions have generated plenty of horsepower and delivered impressive cornering grip, the Corvette as a complete sports car package – styling, performance and passenger appointments equally weighed – has never left enthusiasts speechlessly impressed. That is, until now.
But before I get ahead of myself with driving impressions, let's take a brief refresher course on the all-new seventh-generation C7. (For an excellent in-depth look, check out "2014 Chevrolet Corvette C7 Stingray: Everything There is to Know" that we published earlier this year.)
The all-new model has abandoned much of its heavy steel construction in favor of a lightweight aluminum frame.
Like its ancestors, and despite endless rumors of a mid-engine successor, the new 2014 Corvette continues to use a front-engine, rear-wheel drive architecture. But in contrast to its predecessors, the all-new model has abandoned much of its heavy steel construction in favor of a lightweight aluminum frame. Thanks to innovative build techniques, including plenty of structural adhesive bonding, the new chassis is 99 pounds lighter than last year's model and 57 percent stiffer. Continuing that trend, there are new featherweight body panels, including a standard carbon-fiber hood and carbon-nano composite underbody panels, which assist in keeping weight to a minimum. The new bodywork is sleek (Cd of just .29), stylish, distinctive and light, boasting a curb weight of just 3,298 pounds.
The Corvette's eight-cylinder tradition continues, but with an all-new, and thoroughly modern, naturally aspirated 6.2-liter V8. The all-aluminum LT1 small block features direct injection and continuously variable valve timing to generate 455 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque. As such, it is strong enough to be called the most powerful standard engine Chevrolet has ever offered on a Corvette.
Thankfully, and despite the recent trend of dropping manual transmissions, Corvette buyers are again offered the choice of whether or not to row their own gears. Gone is last year's six-speed gearbox, replaced by a new seven-speed manual gearbox (Tremec TR6070) with Active Rev Matching (ARM) as standard equipment. Those who choose only two pedals in the footwell will receive a carryover six-speed automatic (Hydra-Matic 6L80) with standard wheel-mounted paddle shifters. In both cases, the gearbox is incorporated into a rear transaxle that helps to improve overall vehicle balance, and models equipped with the optional Z51 Performance package also receive a three-mode electronic limited-slip differential.
Gone is last year's six-speed gearbox, replaced by a new seven-speed manual gearbox with Active Rev Matching.
The suspension has also been significantly overhauled. Even though the short/long-arm configuration returns, its componentry is all new with hollow lower control arms and new aluminum rear tow links that combined save nearly 11 pounds compared to the previous design. Standard models arrive with 35-millimeter piston Bilstein monotube shocks, while the aforementioned Z51 upgrade includes 45-mm dampers. GM's third-generation Magnetic Ride Control (MRC), now reportedly reacting 40-percent quicker than its predecessor, is offered as an option.
Power steering is now electric to save weight, improve packaging and increase fuel economy, and the system provides variable effort and different ratios based on driving conditions. Chevy increased steering column stiffness by 150 percent, and torsional stiffness by 600 percent, which makes the system five times more rigid than its predecessor. Overall, the new steering was engineered to provide greater on-center sensitivity, more linearity and better feedback during high-performance driving.
The standard wheels are staggered cast aluminum measuring 18 x 8.5 inches front and 19 x 10 inches rear, wrapped in new Michelin Pilot Super Sport run-flat tires (245/40R18 and 285/35R19) designed specifically for the Corvette. Models with the Z51 package will wear even larger forged aluminum wheels (19 x 8.5 inches front and 20 x 10 inches rear). The tire width is the same, but the sidewalls are shorter and the dual-compound rubber is more aggressive. Even though some will note the tire width is narrower than many of last year's models, Chevy claims the reduced footprint improves steering response and fuel economy while still delivering more than 1g in cornering forces.
Chevy claims the reduced footprint improves steering response while still delivering more than 1g in cornering forces.
Braking is accomplished through standard Brembo brakes, with four-piston fixed calipers at each corner. Front rotors are 12.6 inches in diameter, while the rear rotors are 13.3 inches in diameter. The new system offers 35-percent more swept area, and Chevy says stopping distances are improved by nine percent. All Z51 models will feature slotted rotors with larger diameters front and rear (13.6 and 13.3 inches, respectively), and brake ducts to improve cooling under severe use.
Mechanically speaking, the new C7 looks impressive on paper – but so did its predecessor. As most will attest, the Corvette's Achilles' heel has always been its lackluster interior. But to its credit, Chevy has addressed this as well.
All models of the new C7 feature an interior devoid of the hard plastic surfaces that sabotaged its forebears. While it still won't keep the craftsmen at Rolls-Royce up at night, everything within the C7 Corvette's cabin is now covered in premium materials, whether they are rubberized, wrapped in Napa leather or molded in genuine carbon fiber. The seats, an oft-mentioned embarrassment in the past, have also been redesigned. Buyers may opt for either a standard GT bucket, or a Competition Sport seat (late availability). Both are constructed with a lightweight magnesium frame to improve rigidity and decrease weight.
Everything within the C7 Corvette's cabin is now covered in premium materials.
Rather than write another 5,000 words, and only cover a sliver of what's new with the C7, this space is better utilized discussing what really matters – the Corvette's driving dynamics.
Presented with nearly a dozen sparkling clean examples in a large parking lot, all with unique transmissions and options, I bolted towards a Z51-equipped model (tip: look for its full-width rear spoiler) with a seven-speed manual transmission and MRC suspension.
After a quick walk-around to inspect and admire the new styling (sharp, edgy and distinctive) and take in its size (the new Corvette is nearly identical to the size of a Porsche 911, but larger than the SRT Viper), I opened the servo-operated door and dropped into the two-place cockpit. My six-foot two-inch frame felt snug, so I moved the power-operated seat rearward to its full stop. With my legs comfortably extended, I had about an inch or two of headroom and my thighs and back were firmly supported by the new GT seats. In terms of comfort and bolstering, they are a full two letter grades better than the chairs they replace. What an improvement.
The all-new cockpit is every bit as pleasing as the new seats, even in base configuration. I scanned every visible surface and was unable to find any "old GM" carryover components. The new steering wheel, slightly smaller in diameter, is thick and felt great in my hands. I also noticed there are paddle shifters on all models, regardless of transmission choice (more on that in a moment).
There are paddle shifters on all models, regardless of transmission choice.
A press of the square start/stop button to the right of the steering wheel fired the V8 up instantly. The instrument cluster went through its light show and needle dance, and the engine settled to a quiet idle. By default, the exhaust note was muted and timid. That was to be easily changed.
Chevy has gone to great lengths to ensure its new Corvette is driver-focused, and a large part of its effort went into the new Driver Mode Selector. This cockpit-mounted rotary knob, located just aft of the transmission shifter, allows the operator to choose between five different pre-configured settings – weather, eco, touring, sport and track – that alter 12 different performance parameters, things like throttle response, the gauge cluster display, steering effort, traction control, active fuel management, etc. Each completely change the personality of the new C7.
I toggled out of touring, the standard start-up mode, and selected sport. The tachometer graphics reconfigured, and the four-cannon audio track from the center-mounted exhaust in the rear immediately became more menacing.
The new seven-speed manual transmission has a mechanical feel, tacitly reassuring in a good way, with a clutch that only grabs during the last couple inches of travel. It took some getting used to its particular launch preferences (I'll admit to stalling the C7 more than once), but underway it was silky smooth. As mentioned, Active Rev Matching is standard on the 7MT versions. The wheel-mounted paddles, which are used to select gears on the 6AT cars, are tasked with switching the ARM system on and off with manual gearboxes (the digital gear indicator on the instrument panel goes from white to yellow when ARM is active). Unlike similar systems from other automakers, which must wait until the gear is fully selected, the GM system uses advanced sensors to predict the next gear. In practice, it works much better than any other system that I have interacted with.
Chevy is claiming 0-60 happens in 3.8 seconds, with a quarter mile accomplished in 12.0 seconds at 119 mph.
Don't try to deny the power under the vented front hood. Pound the accelerator pedal and the new C7 Stingray launches violently off the line – there is nothing discreet about it. Chevy is claiming 0-60 miles per hour happens in 3.8 seconds with a quarter mile accomplished in 12.0 seconds at 119 mph. In real-world driving, it felt every bit that quick, with a delicious V8 soundtrack to accompany the head-snapping acceleration forces. Burnouts were a no-brainer (traction and stability control may be completely defeated), but the sticky Michelin tire compound didn't produce clouds of eye-candy white smoke. Maybe it was the asphalt surface?
Chevy is really proud that its Corvette earns 29 miles per gallon on the highway cycle. It accomplishes this through an annoyingly tall seventh gear and Active Fuel Management (the 455-hp V8 literally becomes a 126-hp V4 during steady-state cruising under certain conditions). During one highway segment, I brought the Stingray to 60 mph and put it into its tallest gear. Then I floored it. The acceleration was one click above non-existent, meaning it took about 10 seconds by my wristwatch to hit 70 mph – I am betting the Chevrolet Cruze Eco can beat it in this configuration. Sixth gear is only marginally better, so I spent my three hours behind the wheel only using first through fifth gear. Of course, I wasn't paying for fuel.
The new chassis drives with a very light feel – you will be surprised.
The C7 is very stable at speeds far above those posted on government-issued reflective roadside signs, but I found it equally competent in the twisty sections. Tire grip was excellent, and the MRC (still my personal favorite among the active systems on the market) was unflappable. The new chassis drives with a very light feel – you will be surprised – with quick transitions easily provoked through the nicely weighted steering. Braking was a strong point too. If asked to grade the Stingray, it earned straight As in the major performance categories (acceleration, braking, cornering and high speed stability).
But I was less impressed with the automatic model, which I drove later in the day, that lacked the Z51 and MRC options. The traditional six-speed automatic seemed to extinguish the C7's performance edge. I found it softer, slower and more lethargic (even paddle-initiated shifts had annoying lag). Even though it was every bit as quick in terms of outright acceleration, the gearbox took much of the excitement out of the driving experience. Don't place your bets on my long-term theories, but I am speculating that a future Z06 model will introduce a proper dual-clutch automated gearbox that will put the tired slushbox to pasture.
To simulate a track experience, Chevrolet coned-off a large skidpad at a local airport and allowed journalists to run endless laps in 7MT models equipped with the Z51 and MRC options. With Drive Select in track mode, the Stingray was impressively competent with a well-balanced chassis that was easy to place right on the base of each orange marker. Braking was strong, and pedal modulation was good. Mid-corner balance was excellent, but I did note moderate understeer when braking late into several tight corners – this was unexpected, and it really slowed me down. We cannot wait to run it on a proper track to explore its handling further.
As far as disappointments go, the C7's list is rather short.
As far as disappointments go, the C7's list is rather short. The new Driver Mode Selector is brilliant in design, but the electronics seemed slow to transition between settings and its click-by-click toggle made it hard to get the proper mode down on the first try (why not use a small wheel interface with physical detents as each mode is passed?). The stylish exterior mirrors look cool, but they are too small to provide a comfortable view to the rear and sides of the sports car. I also found that the tinted acrylic roof panel (one of three available choices) allowed too much heat into the cabin, causing the climate control system to work much harder compared to the opaque options. Lastly, I'd like two or three quick sequential presses on the door release to open the door, regardless of lock setting (having to hunt for the unlock switch each time makes exiting the Stingray a multi-step process).
Overall, I was really impressed by the all-new C7 – it is the best Corvette I have ever driven. But the elephant in the room remains obvious comparisons to the SRT Viper and Porsche 911. Lacking the three cars to drive back-to-back but having driven all three separately, my take is that the Viper remains the most engaging, exciting and visceral of the three. Despite SRT's attempt to tame it, it is an exotic that has a raw edge purposely engineered to increase heart rates when its V10 roars to life. The Porsche 911 remains the gentleman of the pack, with the best build quality and a rear-mounted flat-six demeanor that gives up some overall performance in exchange for impressive refinement, poise and class.
It is the best Corvette I have ever driven.
The all-new C7 Stingray emerges as the most versatile sports car of the trio, and a technological masterpiece. It is a performance bargain – by a large margin – and it offers the best balance between daily driver civility and track-ready capability. Unlike each of its six predecessors, which have always seemed to fall short of a complete package, Chevy has finally delivered a Corvette that raises the bar without any excuses.