2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray

The last time your humble narrator found himself driving a Corvette, someone saluted. It happened last fall in a 2013 427 Collector Edition Convertible, white with silver stripes, and the unexpected gesture of respect came courtesy of one of America's finest servicemen in khaki fatigues: a UPS driver. He stood up in the open doorway of his step van while opposing the sixth-generation Corvette at a stoplight, spontaneously presenting the stern-faced, clipped salutation of a veteran. Icons demand respect, and the C6 earned it. God Bless America, this new Corvette has a lot to live up to.

Despite having only been on sale for mere weeks, we're guessing you – and our favorite parcel delivery driver – have read and committed to memory all of the pertinent details surrounding the 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray. You've gazed in wide-eyed wonder over the all-new fifth-generation 6.2-liter LT1 small-block V8 and its salient specs (455 horsepower, 460 pound-feet of torque) and its attendant feats of wonder (0-60 in 3.8 seconds, quarter-mile in 12 seconds at 119 miles per hour), and you know its bargain-basement pricing – $51,995 to start. Good on ya – we do, too.

But metrics and pretty pictures only go so far – not unlike most first drive impressions, which occur on ideal manufacturer-prescribed roads and circuits in tight time frames. As the Corvette's heritage is that of one of the world's best everyday sports cars, we knew we had to secure a week with one on our home turf to see how it acquits itself in daily driving. After all, we owe it to our parcel-packing patriots.

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It looks fresh, modern and habitually aggressive.

This Chevrolet may be a freshly minted product of Bowling Green, KY, but here in the Motor City, we've been seeing examples running around undisguised for the better part of a year (since shortly after it debuted at the 2013 Detroit Auto Show). Pre-production test cars have positively carpeted the area's roadways – if you live here and haven't been seeing at least two or three a day, it's either because you're too busy texting while driving or you're a shut-in. Even so, we can't help but gawk each and every time we see one.

Recent Corvette generations have been notable more for their bulbous, smooth fiberglass bodywork than for their intricate surfacing, but this generation is different – and not just in the details. Self-appointed purists may bemoan new developments like the squared-off taillamps and the lack of a rounded glass backlight, but there's no denying the C7 has major-league presence, even without our test car's optional Z51 specification, which adds all manner of vents and a prouder rear spoiler. With its sinewy sheetmetal creases, it looks fresh, modern and habitually aggressive – far more so than even the last generation's range-topping ZR1.

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Everything that hangs on this architecture has been weighed and measured to imbue it with perfect 50/50 weight distribution.

In fact, the C7's inherently outrageous design may eventually be its downfall, as there's so much going on that one can't help but wonder if it will age well. Can it grow old as gracefully as its predecessors have? Or will it become a victim of its extensive catalog of surface jewelry – its showy contrast-painted vents and intakes, its look-at-me lighting and its Howitzer-like exhaust outlets (incongruously, the only round elements on its rump)? Even if they lacked this generation's visual impact, Corvettes C4 through C6 possess a rounded, organic purity that this car simply doesn't even attempt to muster. We're not sure whether that's a bad thing or not and will let time be the judge. A more pressing question is asking what Chevrolet can do to make the C7's inevitable higher-performance derivatives stand out without becoming overwrought caricatures. For the moment, though, we're just happy that the new model isn't a rote rehash, a lazy designer's greatest hits compendium of past Corvette styling cues; this generation adds something new to the conversation.

The exterior's philosophy of fundamental change is far from just skin-deep. This Corvette is an all-new piece, having moved from steel to a hydroformed aluminum chassis that's 57-percent stiffer than that of the C6 while being 99 pounds lighter. Everything that hangs on this architecture has been weighed and measured to imbue it with perfect 50/50 weight distribution. For example, the Stingray uses carbon fiber for its hood and removable roof panel, the latter to lower the car's center of gravity and the former to preserve the chassis' fore-aft balance. Engineers could have also used carbon fiber for the rear quarter panels instead of fiberglass, but that would've shifted the weight balance forward, effectively undoing the purposeful mass redistribution brought about by the lighter hood (it would have cost more, too).

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The C7's cockpit is finally worthy of the rest of the package.

Modern Corvettes have long been unassailable bargains in terms of performance-for-the-dollar, but their interiors have resolutely stood in the way of converting buyers otherwise preoccupied with high-end European sports cars. Even when spanking new, recent Corvette cabins haven't been particularly compelling, being let down by substandard materials and comically bad seats and steering wheels. Mercifully, the designers and cost-cutters associated with past failures have been taken out to the woodshed and the C7's cockpit is finally worthy of the rest of the package.

The dashboard has an appropriately pronounced driver bias thanks to the central passenger grab handle, while a smaller, more purposeful 14.1-inch steering wheel faces the pilot and well-spaced pedals fall underfoot. The gauge cluster is dominated by an eight-inch screen flanked by analog speedometer, oil temperature and gas gauges. That reconfigurable display is crisp and legible even with polarized sunglasses on. Most importantly, the standard seats are much improved. Framed in magnesium and equipped with eight-way power adjustability, they're worlds more supportive than the outgoing lumps. They're not yet perfect – we'd prefer a bit more lateral support from the bottom squab – but they're still very good, and they're permissive of both more indulgent waistlines and drives. Besides, a set of optional Competition Sport seats with racing harness pass-throughs ($2,495) promise to cinch-up any shortcomings. Then there's the very nice optional full Nappa leather and carbon fiber package that cocoons the entire cabin in dead cow and weave, but it's part of the $8,005 3LT package that also includes navigation and a matching interior-color instrument panel. Even in base 1LT form of our test car, though, the Stingray feels well equipped, with power leather seats, power tilt/telescope wheel, head-up display, Bose touchscreen audio with SiriusXM, MyLink connectivity and OnStar turn-by-turn directions, backup camera and keyless entry/start.

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Interior demerits? Rear visibility isn't as expansive as it was in the C6.

Interior demerits? Rear visibility isn't as expansive as it was in the C6 – the B-pillars taper noticeably toward the spine of the car as they extend rearward, pinching the rearview mirror's sightlines. The side mirrors aren't much better – they're smaller for the sake of style and aerodynamics, but they're too restrictive in view. This a growing sin at General Motors – we've noticed the same issue on cars like the Camaro and the 2014 Cadillac CTS. More worrisome is that the cabin of our test car (not the red car shown here in our California photos) smelled of offgassing plastics and adhesives – not a pleasant aroma when premium sports car buyers expect a heady hit of tanned leather. We're hoping that's due to our car's low mileage and perhaps its early build status. Other niggles include a startup button that looks like it came off a '90s Dell PC (surely the new fifth-generation small block is worthy of a greater sense of occasion) and a Corvette-traditional high liftover height into the cargo area (along with a hatch that requires a good shove to close).

But all of these are just incidental quibbles that don't distract from the Corvette's main mission: obliterative performance, which it has in spades – and in diamonds, hearts and clubs. Really big clubs. That's even true in base form, but it's spectacularly, inviolably true if one checks the Z51 option box. For a measly $2,800, the Z51 package nets you – *deep breath* – track-friendly dry-sump lubrication; an electronically controlled limited-slip differential; upsized slotted front brake rotors (13.6 inches vs 12.6); differential and transmission coolers; shorter gear ratios; stiffer shocks, springs and anti-roll bars; upsized wheels (19-inch front, 20-inch rear) wrapped in Michelin Pilot Super Sport ZP summer tires and a few aero tweaks. All that for twenty eight hundred dollars. We'll let Porsche's options list put that in perspective for you. On a standard 911 Carrera, 2,800 simoleons won't even get you GT Silver Metallic paint or the Sportdesign front fascia, let alone the $2,950 sports exhaust (add an extra $950 if you want the exhaust tips rendered in polished, chrome-plated stainless steel). With the Germans, even the options have options.

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The Z51's grip is wall-to-wall and its thrust absolute.

The previously highlighted 0-60 time of 3.8 seconds (with Z51) and the 12-second quarter mile time tell a lot about the new Corvette's performance envelope, but they don't tell you how confidently this car achieves them. With its supercar rubber, the Z51's grip is wall-to-wall and its thrust absolute. Chevy's all-new-for-2014 small block architecture benefits from direct injection and variable valve timing, as well as Active Fuel Management (GM-speak for cylinder deactivation). This free-revving powerplant will spin to 6,600 rpm, and on the way it will match the outgoing Corvette Z06's 7.0-liter LS7 engine pound-foot for pound-foot between 1,000 and 4,000 rpm. There will be no lollygagging.

Likewise, steering is appreciably slop-free, as well as accurate and communicative, loading up nicely in corners. Transient response is excellent and throttle-steer is but a toe-tickle away. The brakes are linear and easily modulated, delivering consistent, drama-free performance, even after being heated up doing sorties around the winding and often indifferently surfaced roads surrounding Hell, Michigan. Inputs are admittedly a bit heavier and somewhat less finessed than in the aforementioned Porsche – in particular, the clutch and the seven-speed gearshift require a bit more effort. Yet they are far from recalcitrant, and besides, their action is in keeping with the Corvette's muscular personality.

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If you're long of hair, be prepared for a bold new look after even short freeway trips with the roof off.

We conducted multiple hour-plus freeway commuter schleps in the C7 without complaint, and would happily do so again. And that was riding atop the Z51's stiffer, non-adjustable performance suspension on greater Detroit's less-than-smooth freeways and any number of bombed-out surface streets. Even astride the Z51's larger wheels and watchstrap rubber, the ride was firm but not punishingly so, and the stiffer structure and better screwed-together interior refused to shudder or howl in protest. Having said all that, we'd still happily splurge for the $1,975 Magnetic Ride Control suspension, as it delivers a wider bandwidth between weekday comfort and trackday stiffness. We had the chance to test the system on our first drive and pronounced it as effective here as it has been in other offerings like Cadillac's glorious CTS-V.

Being open-air lovers, we took advantage of some mild autumnal days and the region's changing foliage by frequently stowing the Stingray's standard removable roof panel. It's light enough to be manipulated by one person and stows in a recess in the generous 15 cubic-foot cargo hold, yet one can still pivot the panel out of the way to pack a mess of groceries in plastic bags underneath. It's nice to have this top as a standard feature, but it's best reserved for around-town cruising – at freeway velocities, the cockpit borders on deafening, with that gaping rear cargo cavity gobbling air, resulting in a maelstrom. If you're long of hair, be prepared for a bold new look after even short freeway trips with the roof off. If you plan on going topless frequently, we suggest waiting for the Stingray Convertible, which is due shortly. It's more money (starting at $56,995), but it also promises more uninterrupted sky and, counterintuitively, more serenity. Yet even with just the coupe's lift-off panel, it's at least easier to repeat the sounding joy of the small block's soundtrack – music made all the more vital by the freer-flowing $1,195 multi-mode exhaust, which also nets an extra five horsepower and five pound-feet of torque.

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Our manual-transmission model is rated at 17 mpg in the city and 29 highway.

It's not just the exhaust that's user configurable – the C7 is more driver adjustable than any Corvette in history, from its rev-matching paddles (turn them on to blip the throttle on downshifts and execute preternaturally perfect gearchanges) to its Driver Mode Selector jog dial, which scrolls through five different modes: Touring (default), Weather, Eco, Sport and Track. Toggling between settings alters everything from fundamentals like throttle response, steering weight and cylinder deactivation to traction and stability control intervention, not to mention what information is shown on the gauge cluster and head-up display. On models equipped with the optional adjustable suspension, DMS holds sway over that, too (MR-equipped cars also get five-mode traction control). This all-in-one total systems control approach is a welcome one. Consider it the on-road equivalent of Land Rover's Terrain Response Control – not only does it minimize the time spent fiddling (and thus, maximize time spent ass kicking), it makes the C7 a better, more comfortable and efficient partner when you're not working it hard, too.

Speaking of efficient, the Stingray is. Our manual-transmission model is rated at 17 miles per gallon in the city and 29 highway, with a combined EPA cycle of 21 mpg. We saw under 19 mpg in a spirited, rev-happy mix of driving, but we also saw easy moments of 31 mpg in eco mode on the freeway – the engine loafs at just 1,450 revs doing 70 mph. Everyday fuel economy in the mid-20s feels very doable, and switching between V4 and V8 model occurs seamlessly. You might imagine that great fuel economy isn't terribly important to Corvette buyers, but we've known our fair share, and they're oddly preoccupied with talking about it like Prius people – it's like the world's least-sexy form of bench racing.

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It's capable of giving class-above players like the 911 S and Nissan GT-R absolute fits on a roadcourse.

Our lightly optioned Motor City special totaled just $57,180 delivered – and that includes all the Z51 go-faster bits, the dynamic exhaust, as well as $1,190 in painted trim and brake calipers not seen on our photo car. That's substantially cheaper than the far less powerful, far less equipped Porsche Cayman S ($63,800), one of our very favorite cars, yet it's capable of giving class-above players like the 911 S and Nissan GT-R absolute fits on a roadcourse – models with MSRPs nearly double that of this Kentucky wildcat.

If you're checking the scorecard, that's modern looks, killer performance, up-to-snuff interior, everyday usability, excellent fuel economy and peerless value all squarely in this Chevrolet's win column. Will that be enough to cajole the naysayers out of their pricier rivals from Stuttgart and Tochigi (not to mention Munich, Ingolstadt and Affalterbach)? It should be adequate ammunition to give them all pause and convert more than a few, but in reality, marque loyalty runs pretty deep in these waters – 911 types are 911 types, GT-R guys are GT-R guys, and Corvette loyalists are definitely Corvette loyalists. So it was, and so it always will be.

No matter – even if not everyone will appreciate it, the 2014 Corvette Stingray is the indisputable high-performance deal of our still-young century. It's positively salute-worthy. Hooah!