Review 2014 Chevrolet Corvette C7 Stingray
By Jim Kenzie, Toronto Star
MONTEREY, CALIF. – In certain circles, the Chevrolet Corvette still can’t get any respect.
Never mind that it has almost always been faster, in a straight line or on a race track, than most entries from more exalted marques.
Never mind that, for at least two generations, it has not been a big heavy car – in fact, it is among the lightest cars anywhere near its performance potential.
Yes, it has been flamboyant, to the limit of garishness. And yes, the interior has left a lot to be desired.
But bang for the buck? Unbeatable!
Now comes the seventh-generation Corvette. C7 to almost everybody but formally dubbed Stingray (one word this time, not two), commemorating great Corvettes of the past.
There is so much to say about this car that I can barely scratch the surface in the space allotted to me.
So I will focus on what GM’s website can’t tell you and on what it’s like to drive.
In a nutshell, then:
Yes, it is still fast – zero to 100 km/h in about four seconds.
Yes, it is still light. Virtually every part was examined with a view to reducing mass – even the thickness of the dashboard covering.
Yes, it will still smoke most competitors on a race track, not just from raw brute power, but through a very sophisticated suspension and massive braking potential.
And, yes, it is still a screaming bargain, starting at just $52,745 (deliveries start in late August).
The interior is now as nicely laid out and technologically advanced as any in the industry.
Comfort, convenience, drivability and day-to-day usability have also all been greatly improved in the new car.
The exterior is more functional than ever before – every piece has been aerodynamically optimized for improved performance.
I can also tell you that this is one of those cars that looks much better on the road than in static display at an auto show.
Great ride and handling, not to mention safety and durability, have always stemmed from great structure. It has taken some car makers longer to learn this universal truth than others, but this was key to the Corvette’s make-over.
The all-aluminum chassis is 45 kg lighter than the C6, yet 57-per-cent stiffer. The same chassis is used for the coupe and the convertible, which hits showrooms near the end of this year.
You feel this structure in the first three metres of driving. There’s a tightness, a solidity, that is almost Porsche-like.
The video game steering is gone. Yes, the steering is electrically-assisted – you will hardly find a new car these days that isn’t. But working with their supplier ZF, GM engineers have dialled in excellent feel and feedback.
That steering feel is also one of 12 attributes you can modify, in a couple of ways.
The Drive Selector – a rotary knob on the centre console – gives you Weather, Eco, Touring, Sport or Track settings, which select various values on these attributes, each with successively more entertainment value for the sporting driver.
Plus, you can modify and store individual values within these palettes to your own preference. You’ll spend the first month with your C7 playing with all this.
The interior borders on spectacular, especially considering where Corvette is coming from.
The Lear-supplied seats are very comfortable and supportive; and a more aggressive competition seat will join the option list later this year.
The interior contains two 8-inch screens, one in front of the driver, the other in the centre stack. They are reconfigurable about a jillion ways. That’ll be your second month in the car.
The heart of any sports car – any car, really – is the engine. Again, some nose-in-the-air types sniff at Corvette’s single camshaft and pushrod operated valves, even if the designers of competitive cars envy the low hood line this compact engine configuration enables.
But project engineer Tadge Juechter points out the Corvette has more, sometimes way more, power than comparable cars from Porsche or BMW, and it gets better fuel economy, too.
One sad note for Canadian Corvette fans – the engines are no longer assembled in St. Catharines. This work has been transferred to Tonawanda, N.Y.
A seven-speed Tremec manual transmission will find its way into roughly half of all C7s. It features rev-matching – a series of sensors detect which direction and how quickly the shift lever is being moved, and automatically signal the engine to rev up or down, so when the clutch re-engages, the shift is seamless.
A six-speed automatic transmission is a no-cost option.
Corvette has an unrivalled racing history, and lessons learned there really do find their way into the road-going cars.
For example, the radiator slants forward under the hood, with the air coming up from under, through the rad, and exiting from a vent in the hood. This not only provides excellent cooling, but also reduces front-end lift.
We had about three hours on some fabulous roads in central California in a variety of C7s, plus as many laps on an Autocross course as we wanted.
I’ve already mentioned the stiffness and the steering.
Ride quality? Some of these roads would have been nearly impossible in previous Corvettes; the dips and potholes would have sent the car into the puckerbrush.
The C7 swallowed it all whole.
As always, the small block Chevy provides prodigious waves of torque, being especially strong in the mid ranges where even sporty drivers do most of their work.
The gearbox with four gates means the slots are pretty close together; you need to take care to get the one you want. Seventh requires a very deliberate shove, but you’ll only use that when cruising.
The dreaded first-to-fourth skip-shift feature, required to squeeze a couple more counts out of the EPA fuel economy ratings, can be overcome by rocketing away from all stops. Counter-productive, you might say, but you gotta do what you gotta do.
On the Autocross course, the car responds brilliantly. These cars all had the Z51 performance package, with dry-sump oiling, larger brakes, wheels and tires, revised gear ratios and an electronic limited-slip differential among a host of other stuff – a stunning bargain at $3,775.
Dialling back the DSC systems, the car rotates beautifully. Sideways is fun, but smooth is fast.
The most impressive feature here was the brakes. Fantastic!
We also tried a base-level car on the road. The brakes were still pretty good, but without the initial bite of the high-performance kit. I can’t imagine too many people not checking the Z51 box on the order form.
Not many. My usual beefs on all new cars: daytime running lights still don’t light up the taillights; GM won’t let you disable the dumb automatic door locks; push-button start is equally dumb.
Unique to the C7: that skip shift. And visibility to the rear and rear three-quarters is restrictive – not that many people are likely to be gaining on you.
Some tester drivers found that the centre console got in the way of their elbow when shifting. Maybe I sit a bit higher than they do, but this wasn’t an issue for me.
A final note about that price: our Canadian price is a mere $750 more than Americans pay.
The new car will be very well-received by existing customers, judging from the reaction the C7 got when GM Canada manager George Saratlic drove one last Sunday to a Corvette Club barbeque, attended by hundreds of current Corvette owners.
But the entire design team knows that success will be measured by how many new customers the car will attract.
Can a Corvette – or any car – really lever Porsche freaks out of their cars?
And Jaguar is going after the same customers with its also-brilliant, but considerably more expensive, F-Type.
Is there room for everyone in this field?
I can tell you this: Park your anti-Corvette prejudices at the door.
Preview: 2014 Chevrolet Corvette
Engine: 6.2 litre V8 with direct fuel injection
Power/torque: 455 hp (460 with performance exhaust system)/460 lb.-ft. (465)
Fuel consumption L/100 km: 12.2 city, 6.9 hwy. (manual transmission) 13.3, 7.1 (auto)
Competition: Audi R8, BMW Z4, Jaguar F-Type, Porsche 911, Mercedes-Benz SL
What’s best: Vastly improved interior, brilliant performance in a straight line and in corners, strong braking, incredible price
What’s worst: Rearward visibility not great, gearshift may take some acclimatization, some people will still have an image issue with any Corvette
What’s interesting: During the bankruptcy negotiations, U.S. treasury officials told GM not to focus only on small, fuel-efficient cars, but on cars that make a profit, like Corvette