MONTEREY, CA – Few cars are as deeply steeped in lore as the Chevrolet Corvette, where generational changes are greeted with the fanfare and scrutiny surpassed perhaps only by the birth of a prince.
For good reason, too, because when a new Corvette comes to market it historically has brought with it emerging technology never seen before by most car buyers, except perhaps the wealthiest consumers.
Over the years, the Corvette has introduced the fiberglass body, a breakthrough in reducing vehicle weight; a central controller combining multiple vehicle functions into a single unit to save development money and make the car smarter; selectable ride and handling controls to enhance the everyday driving experience; traction control to make high-performance driving safer; and that otherworldly combination of beauty and beast known as the small-block V-8 engine.
So as a product of plastic, rubber and metal goes, the Corvette has been nothing short of magical, and the latest iteration, arriving at U.S. dealers in the coming weeks with its historic “Stingray” subtitle, easily stands as the most bewitching yet.
It is hardly surprising, then, thatspared no effort for the seventh-generation Corvette, starting with the new LT1 6.2L V-8 engine.
At 460 hp and 465 lb.-ft. (610 Nm) of torque, the C7 engine unquestionably extends the 60-year-old nameplate’s legacy of delivering big power from a compact, lightweight package. But goodness sakes, does this engine enjoy the upper range of the rpm band.
Testing a $71,000, early production model here with the optional Z51 package mated to GM’s new 7-speed manual transmission, the Corvette devours meandering blacktop circling America’s salad bowl. For a good stretch, it rarely leaves third gear, leaping out of the sweepers and sprinting down straights spinning anywhere between 4,000 and 6,000 rpm at speeds fast enough for anyone.
Heavy doses of power kick in with just the tickle of the throttle, making the driving experience so addictive it takes a 5-step plan to pry your hands from the steering wheel.
Along the tighter stretches, where gear changes come more often, the Corvette’s new active rev-matching feature makes the technical rather elementary.
Active rev matching automatically blips the throttle to imitate an old-fashioned heel-toe maneuver to smoothly engage a shift, up or down, and keep the car in the optimal rpm range. It’s good enough to make an F1 driver out of a New York cabbie.
However, Corvette enthusiasts know too well the car isn’t all whirling dervish. Out on the highway in seventh gear, it purrs at a downright slumberous 1,300 rpm, raising our test model’s average fuel economy to more than 17 mpg (14.9 L/100 km) after a good thrashing sends readings to near single digits.
Expect 30 mpg (8.5 L/100 km) or better on lengthy highway cruises, say GM engineers, who were a bit deflated when U.S. government estimates pegged peak fuel economy at 29 mpg (8.1 L/100 km).
Several additions to the small-block architecture aid in the engine’s greater efficiency. The engine line for the first time receives gasoline direct injection, which also marks the industry’s first overhead-valve execution of the technology. It optimizes fuel combustion to give the engine a boost in power over its predecessor without sacrificing fuel economy.
Cylinder deactivation, or Active Fuel Management as GM calls it, also bows for the first time in a Corvette, and this generation of the small-block makes wider use of 4-cyl. mode than previous iterations.
Plucking around Monterey County in Eco mode, one of five selectable driving conditions available on the car, it’s impressive how often the engine idles four of its eight cylinders.
However, there’s an occasional driveline shunt when the engine enters AFM mode, likely owing to the fact that unlike GM’s large trucks using the technology, there’s very little real estate in the Corvette between driver and powertrain.
The new small-block also takes advantage of an advanced combustion system, which provides the engine with a lofty compression ratio to boost efficiency.
Another new mechanical piece is an electronic limited-slip differential. Offered only with the $2,500 Z51 package, the ESL essentially balances the Corvette’s brute strength with its nimble handling to make driving the car a safer, more gratifying experience.
As for the 7-speed manual transmission, we’re all in on every gear. At first blush, a shifter with seven speeds, plus reverse, seems like a lot to fit inside the few square inches of a transmission column. But as much as this engine likes to rev, shifts are relatively few during aggressive driving and the fuel economy bump makes the extra gear worthwhile.
Unfortunately, the same praise cannot be heaped on the 6-speed automatic with its disturbingly slow paddle shifters. Upshifts exhibited particular reluctance.
In fact, the $67,000 Z51 automatic we test here lacks the overall “buttoned-up” drivability of the 7-speed, suggesting perhaps some unevenness synchronizing all the whiz-bang technology on the car.
Dropping down to the $51,000 base model with a 7-speed manual for the final leg of the test drive reconfirms initial impressions that mechanically speaking the C7 indeed is a great leap forward. Running the base car through its paces knowing it costs more than half of what a Porsche 911 commands also confirms that the Corvette retains its crown as best bang for the buck.
Speaking of the Porsche 911, how does the new Corvette stack up?
Compared with a ’13 Carrera 911 S, it’s hard not to give the Porsche the nod on clutch feel and noise and vibration.
The Corvette’s clutch isn’t necessarily lacking in any department, especially take-up, but a heavier pedal more like that of the Porsche would be ideal. Also, the Corvette’s tire roar floods the cabin on some road surfaces. That’s not the case with the Porsche.
One of the Corvettes in the mix here also picks up an annoying rattle somewhere in the center console, and weather stripping on two of the testers is pulling away from the window frame. Wind noise in the passenger seat is excessive.
Sightlines from inside the Porsche are better, too, and fit-and-finish is superior. However, the Porsche stickers for north of $125,000.
But the Corvette’s redesigned interior is hardly the also-ran it used to be.
GM can confidently stack the C7 seats with their breakthrough magnesium frames up against any competitor, sports segment or otherwise, and the 14.1-in. (35.8-cm) steering wheel unique to the Corvette for the first time finally feels appropriately sized.
Interior materials include Napa leather, which in addition to the seats and certain interior components, wraps the dashboard of high-trim-level models. Base versions get a soft-touch material for the dash that’s appealing. Aluminum, carbon fiber and microsuede materials also grace the cabin of pricier models.
A bright, 8-in. (20.3-cm) touchscreen housing the Chevy MyLink infotainment system with 3-dimensional navigation sits atop the center stack in easy view of the driver. It’s a colorful, easy-to-use system and would be the highlight of any mainstream car interior. But on the new Corvette, its configurable gauge cluster steals the show. (See related video: Chevy Corvette Stingray IP Cluster.)
Also bright and colorful, the cluster features three different themes and packs each with a smorgasbord of useful data navigable by steering- wheel controls.
The IP theme for Weather, Eco and Tour drive modes provides trip data, audio and navigation, while Sport shifts the display to straight forward sports car gauges.
Track mode borrows a design from the Corvette Racing C6.R race car display and delivers racing-essential information such as a large front-and-center tachometer, a big gear-position indicator and a series of lights that progressively illuminate outside-in and green to yellow to blue as a shift approaches.
Drivers also can dial up inside cluster items such as a G-force indicator, tire temperature gauge, acceleration timer and lap timer. This is exactly what we’d expect from a sports car in an information-driven age, but the little things aren’t lost on us, either.
For example, GM bends the human-machine interface toward the driver, but thoughtfully adds climate control and heated-seat functions to the outboard vents of the passenger’s side so it’s just as comfortable riding shotgun.
The rearview mirror resembles an Apple personal device with its capacitive touchscreen for OnStar buttons. It’s also frameless and matches the look of the sideview mirrors. Nicely done, GM.
A new frame structure underpins all these goodies and is itself a technical wonder. Lighter, yet also stiffer, the redesigned chassis allows engineers to precisely tune the suspension for a nimble, responsive driving experience, the auto maker says.
Excluding the oddly composed model we tested with the 6-speed automatic, the new Corvette feels as connected as ever to the roadway with sharp, direct steering response imparting an agile ride certain to alarm pricier competitors. A stiff brake pedal gives a boot-full of stopping power.
The C7 weighs a few more pounds than its predecessor, due mostly to the new engine technology, and despite more carbon-fiber panel material than ever before and the industry’s first use of GM’s new “smart material.”
The lightweight shape memory alloy wire replaces a heavier motorized actuator that eases opening and closing of the hatch. It only saves a few grams, but look for more widespread use in future years and on other GM products where mass saving will grow to kilograms worth.
The C7 stretches more than 2 in. (5.1 cm) longer than the C6, the wheelbase grows and the car is wider. Yet, overall, the ’Vette is smaller than the 911. The low, lean proportions and long dash-to-axle ratio hint at the power under its hood, while those wickedly creased body panels recall the Corvette’s original jet-fighter design.
That edginess, along with a heaping dose of emerging technology and a sumptuous interior, should help lure to Corvette a new buyer yet to fall entirely under Porsche’s spell.
|Vehicle type||2-passenger, RWD sport coupe|
|Engine||6.2L direct injection V-8|
|Power (SAE net)||460 @ 6,000 rpm|
|Torque||465 lb.-ft. (630 Nm) @ 4,600 rpm|
|Bore x stroke||4.06 X 3.62 in. (103.25 X 92 mm)|
|Wheelbase||106.7 in. (271 cm)|
|Overall length||176.9 in. (449.3 cm)|
|Overall width||73.9 in. (187.7 cm)|
|Overall height||48.6 in. (123.4 cm)|
|Curb weight||3,298 lbs. (1,499 kg)|
|Fuel economy (7-speed manual)||17-29 mpg city/hwy est. (13.8-8.1 L/100 km)|
|Big power of small-block V-8||AFM a bit clunky|
|Outstanding interior||Early fit, finish needs work|
|7-speed manual delightful||6-speed auto weak link|