We give a fresh take on one of the most important sports cars of this century.
The mid-engined Chevrolet Corvette has been with us for a few years, but it has somehow eluded this reviewer until now. That means you're getting a fresh view of one of the most important sports cars to hit the road this century. Chevrolet has built a mid-engined sports car without compromising on using traditional Corvette V8 power for a starting price of $64,200. If the performance were only middling for a mid-engined car while being reliable and relatively inexpensive to maintain, that would still be one hell of a feat of cost-based engineering. Except the Corvette Stingray isn't middling in performance, and we know GM LT engines are solid and reliable performers. In one package, you have the looks of a European supercar, the sound and reliability of iconic Chevy muscle, and performance to match both facets, all at the price of a luxury midsize sedan.
The debate is still ongoing on whether the current Corvette fits into the supercar or sports car bracket. We'll leave that for the commenters, but there's no denying the Corvette's supercar looks owing to the center-positioned engine. The front is all classic Corvette, if a little shorter than usual, while the back shuns having a short rear deck to create extra storage behind the engine. Some say it throws the proportions off, but the counter to that is that form should follow function, and the added space is a worthwhile function. Our 2LT trimmed model arrived on the 19-inch front and 20-inch rear wheels upgraded to the $995 gloss-black forged aluminum items and with the optional raised rear spoiler. The bright red painted calipers are also an option ($595), as are the black exhaust tips ($200).
It's menacing. And it looks fast even when standing still. Which is exactly what it's supposed to look like.
The Corvette's 6.2-liter naturally aspirated V8 makes 495 horsepower and 470 lb-ft of torque on our Z51-packaged tester. On all models, that's delivered to the rear axle by an eight-speed dual-clutch transmission (DCT). The Z51 package gives the axle a "performance ratio," adds an electronically controlled limited slip diff, and a performance exhaust system worth an extra five hp and five lb-ft. Other Z51 items include high-performance tires, brakes, suspension, and a heavy-duty cooling system.
Even with the extra bit of power, the Corvette in Z51 doesn't feel spectacular off the line, but it's fast as hell. We recorded a 3.6-second zero to 60 time, but not in the ideal conditions for the 2.8-second times previously recorded. That number isn't important, though, as the V8 just keeps on pushing and is linear in its acceleration. That comes into play when you start pushing the car on a back road. You can exit a corner and feed in power with certainty that the engine isn't going to bite you in the ass but is going to give you all the power you need. It also provides, at least with the performance exhaust system, a riotous soundtrack.
Our Coupe tester didn't come with the magnetic damping system, but you can read about that in our review of the Corvette Convertible. Instead, our coupe came with the performance suspension and surprised us with the ride quality around town, on the freeway, and some of California's more unkempt back roads. In Touring mode, the DCT does its job quickly and smoothly and sets the steering weight to the middle of three settings, along with the brake feel. It's all adjustable, but the settings were a nice balance. The My Mode came pre-set with the steering and braking at their lightest settings, with the exhaust set at four - the loudest setting. We toned down the exhaust for around town and left it like that as there is also a Sport and a Z setting.
Starting out on our favorite local back road, which is comparable to a British B-road, it immediately became apparent the V8 is a linear beast as it goes up the rev range and how fast and accurate the DCT is. The Corvette's steering is wonderfully direct, and the turn-in is confidence-inspiring. What got us grinning was the lateral grip and the balance of the chassis.
The grip is plentiful, and the chassis precise enough for us to trot out the word "surgical." It's the kind of setup that can make an average driver look heroic and an advanced driver looks like a superhero. The power is there to push too hard on a public road, but unlike the days of old, trying to carry too much speed results in some understeer rather than oversteer. If the back is going to break loose, it needs to be provoked to get there and isn't inclined to snap away.
It shouldn't have been a revelation, but the Corvette behaves exactly as a mid-engined car should in how it carves corners. Through a long set of varyingly tight S bends at passenger-frightening speed, the chassis still takes everything in its stride.
Agile isn't quite the word we're looking for, but a severe change of direction and back again does not find any fault in the balance. It just makes you want to find a track and let it loose of the confines of speed limits and trees at the side of the road. Sport, then Z mode, crank everything up, including the throttle response, and gives you a focused set of digital dials and gauges for sustained hard driving. A lateral G-meter shows itself in the top left of the display, and rather than engine temperature, the oil temperature is displayed boldly underneath.
Frankly, we're tired of the trope of a supercar interior being modeled after a fighter jet cockpit. It was cool in the 1980s and 1990s as adolescents, but it's tired and lazy now, and we're thankful that Chevy didn't go as far as having a flip-up cover over the start button as Lamborghini still does.
The squared-off steering wheel is wholly unnecessary but not as annoying to use as we expected. Cabin space is limited by the over-large transmission tunnel down the middle. That's a constraint inside the Corvette as the tunnel was built to be part of the chassis stiffening. However, it is roomy enough width-wise to not frustrate the driver. The passenger, though, instantly realizes they are an afterthought as everything is geared towards the driver. It's cramped in the passenger seat, and legroom isn't ideal for taller people.
Part of the feeling like you're in a cockpit is how the driver and passenger are separated by the high tunnel and the ridge on the center console with its long single line of buttons you would typically find on a car's dashboard. Finding the button you want can be annoying, and you have to look a long way from the windscreen to see what button you're pushing. Another annoyance, albeit a good-looking one, is the cover over the mode shift selector. Obviously, it's designed so the wheel won't get jogged accidentally, but it feels unnecessary and makes it fiddly to use.
Our test vehicle was fitted with upgraded sports seats, and they have become a benchmark for us. They're available heated and ventilated, have just the right amount of bolstering for a sports car, but are not at all fatiguing to spend a day driving in.
Make no mistake, the fact that a mid-engined Corvette exists at the price points it does is a testament to the engineering team behind the car. It's a staggering achievement. The closest mid-engined model you'll get for the same base model money is a Porsche Cayman or Boxster with a four-cylinder engine. Option out a Corvette or go full Z06 spec, and it makes entry-level supercars like the Acura NSX and Audi R8 look like terrible value propositions. However, some areas of the Corvette aren't ideal. The interior's ergonomics don't follow the simplicity of previous generations, and it's worse off for it. The buttons up the middle are annoying to use, and the cover over the mode selector is unnecessary and frustrating to use.
The removable roof is nicely engineered, but we suspect Corvette drivers will rarely use it. At 55 mph, it's fine, but by the time you get to 70 mph, the wind noise is loud, with the buffeting reverberating in your chest. It's a nice idea, but it makes little sense with a real convertible on offer. Money could have been saved there and spent on using thin aluminum instead plastic venting next to the rear window for the engine. Heat and plastic together, particularly plastic that thin, is not ideal, and we wonder how long it will be before it starts to crack.
Subjectively, this writer doesn't like the interior of the Corvette with its cliche jet fighter-inspired styling. However, the performance and the way the Corvette drives trumps that dislike a hundred times over. If the Corvette is a sports car and not a supercar, it's the best sports car on the market right now by the metrics of speed, grip, and handling for the money. You might prefer the more easygoing nature of the MX-5 and enjoy dancing with it on a country road, and we certainly do.
However, we're talking about going as fast as possible down that road. You might enjoy the unique driving experience and luxury interior of a Porsche, but you're looking at over $100,000 just to get into one, and then you're going to play the Porsche options game.
We wish the Corvette's cockpit had a little more class and a little less cliche, but it only takes an empty backroad and Sport mode to forget about that completely.