Caraganza First Drive Review 2021 Chevy Corvette C8: The people’s supercar
It's all that and a bag of chips...
I saw it in person for the first time in January of 2020. It was only weeks before COVID shutdown the world and though I didn’t know at the time, I was working what would turn out to be my only IMSA race of the year, the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona.
Chevrolet invited a group of us automotive journalists to visit their “Customer Experience Center” a permanent building near Daytona International Speedway’s victory lane, to see the 2020 Corvettes on display (by the way, when it involves sports car races, we are called “automotive journalists”, when it’s NASCAR we’re called “reporters”).
Since I wasn’t at the Corvette launch the previous July and had only seen the car in-person clad its race livery, I was eager to see the customer version of the new mid-engine Corvette. It looked as good as I hoped it would. First laying eyes on it I saw it really is a thing of beauty on four wheels. An American Ferrari in the front, and all business in the back. Sadly, since a lot of “automotive journalists” cover the Rolex, and since this was still the “before-times” when crowds could still gather and fans in the infield were also herding around, I didn’t quite get to see as much as I wanted much less get even close to driving such a thing of rolling magnificence.
That all changed last week.
Chevy delivered a 2021 Corvette C8 convertible last Monday. Knowing I only had it for a week, when I first saw it, I immediately began to formulate a plan to run away with it; elope and live happily ever after. It was just as gorgeous in person and looked even better in my driveway.
Unlike my first in-person experience with it, this time there were no crowds except for the neighbors who kept stopping by, and people gathering around it whenever I parked somewhere. This time not only was I able to actually sit in it and drink in the smell of that Napa leather, I actually got to drive it.
And I was not disappointed.
My tester for the week was the top-of-the-line 3LT (the base Is the LT1 followed by the LT2). Inside the 3LT had Competition Sport buckets with extra bolstering in the seats trimmed in that lovely Napa leather that’s also on much of the dash, door panels and center console cover, along with carbon fiber trim. Being the top of the line my 3LT had all the fun stuff, nav, a premium Bose sound system, heated and ventilated seats, a HUD and all the safety gadgets.
Much of the rest of the interior is covered in faux suede. With a high center console and a row of climate controls lined up on one side. The 12.0-inch reconfigurable gauge sits behind a quirky squared-off steering wheel with a large infotainment touchscreen angled toward the driver in plain view. With the walled off configuration, it’s more like getting into the cockpit of a fighter jet. And that seems very appropriate indeed. As always with the Corvette, it’s all about the driver. With the engine now in the back the legroom measures an impressive 42.8 inches, while headroom is 37.9 inches with the roof on, or in the case of my tester, in convertible mode.
And owing to the nod that the Corvette can be somewhat of a daily driver, this new Corvette offers two trunk areas, one where the engine used to be and one behind the engine, for a total of 12.6 cubic feet of storage space.
Speaking of convertibles, there are some differences between the top-down version and standard Vette: This is the first power hardtop convertible, previous Vettes used soft tops. The convertible is also 77 pounds heavier, but the suspension is calibrated differently to make up for that. The standard Stingray has a glass engine cover, the convertible has a solid panel over the engine, so you can't see the powerplant underneath. But instead of that glass engine cover, you get a roll-down rear window that lets air and exhaust sound into the cabin. And no cargo volume is lost to the convertible top—it remains 12.6 cubic feet, just like the standard Vette. There are also fairings behind the convertibles’ headrests that can be colored the same as the rest of the body, or a contrasting dark gray.
The view out the front is fine, and any problem with looking out the rear is solved by the electronic rearview mirror camera that's standard on 2LT and 3LT trims.
The 6.2-liter V-8 under the C8's hood, um under, well, behind the driver, makes 495 horsepower with the LT3’s performance exhaust (490 without) and delivers 470-foot pounds of torque to the road. By the way this is the first Chevy with an engine behind the driver since the Corvair, a car I went on my first date in back in high school.
My tester also had the track capable Z51 Performance, and Premium packages as well as optional FE4 magnetorheological dampers (more about the pricing for these later). And it also had a lift system that raises the car by 2 inches; useful when you have a steep driveway like mine and cringe at the thought of trying to roll up that driveway and park.
The joy found sitting still was only amplified on the road.
Feeling the rumble of the V8 through the seats and hearing the growl from the performance exhaust out the back adds to a near perfect driving experience. 0-60 in 2.7 seconds and doing a quarter mile run in 11.2 seconds at 124 mph shows what this new Corvette can do. And yes, to make sure I had to do those more than once (insert smiley face emoji here).
While I didn’t have a chance to get to a track, and Florida isn’t exactly known for its twisty mountain roads, there were a few places that demonstrated that the wide tires, perfectly tuned suspension and magnetic dampers can handle anything thrown at it. The system has dampers filled with a magnetorheological fluid whose viscosity can be changed on the fly with a magnetic current. As the car zips along, the central ECU reads road inputs a thousand times a second and adjusts the current as needed to thicken or loosen the fluid, which in turn firms up or softens the bumps through the wheels. I just call It what it is, magic. The ride is so smooth as to be almost ridiculous.
For purists who might scoff at the lack of a manual transmission, and the term “automatic” transmission, fear not. The only transmission available, isn’t like a traditional automatic; there’s no sort of torque converter. It’s a dual clutch eight speed that is so good I actually thought it was clairvoyant. Trying to keep up with the power and the torque of the Vette while underway was made so much easier without having to worrying about shifting. I was so impressed with the shifting that I have a hard time believing manual shifting by a human could have done much better.
Alas my week with the C8 was of course too short. I never got a chance to really run through all six driving modes nor fool around much with the FE4 damper package with its Performance Traction Management system that can fine tune the C8. I did get some time with the top stowed away and the performance exhaust opened up. Overall, it was everything I hoped it would be and more. A few miles on the open highway effortlessly cruising at 90 while the Bose sound system worked its magic topped off what will be a week I will remember for some time to come.
Moving forward, when talk of supercars comes up, this new C8 can be included in the conversation. The best part is, however, that unlike a Ferrari, McLaren or Lamborghini, the C8 is actually affordable to more people.
And that’s just what Chevy wanted. Being an affordable sports car is something the Corvette is known for, and that tradition continues.
The base Corvette, which according to Chevy will be the one bought by 50% of its customers, starts at $59,995. My top-of-the-line tester with the added 3LT Premium package ($11,950), carbon fiber trim ($1500), the magnetic ride control ($1895), the lift system ($1495), the carbon fiber painted nacelles ($1295) and the Z51 performance package ($5000) topped this car out at $90,775. Try to get a new Ferrari, Lambo, or McLaren for that price. Go ahead I dare you.
What we Americans now have then is a supercar that many of us can actually afford. Something we can be proud of. A supercar for the people.
Flashing back to that January day at Daytona, a few hours after the GM visit when the sun went down, I was invited to another event; this one the debut of the Ferrari 488 Challenge EVO. Unlike the Customer Experience Center, the Ferrari reveal took place near the first corner of the infield road course just outside a large two-story suite while the race itself was going. It was much different experience involving gourmet food, fine Italian wine, cigars, celebrities milling about, and models dressed in skin-tight firesuits. After the reveal I tried to interview Ferrari North America president Matteo Torre but mostly failed as we both had to shout over the sounds of racecars zooming by and loud music thumping in the background.
When it comes to the “Customer Experience Center” GM might have not been as successful as Ferrari, but when it comes to the new C8 Corvette they have a winner. Monday isn’t here as I write this so I’m not sure if you’ll ever here from me again. I might just ride off into the sunset with the C8 never to be found again. In the end I’ll probably be home, and wave as it leaves. At least I know that someday I might be able to actually afford a C8, though I’ll have to spend the extra $1295 to make sure it doesn’t scrape my driveway.
2022 Update: In December of 2021, Chevy sent me a 2022 of the Corvette Stingray Convertible. At first I couldn’t tell the difference from the 2021, and that of course had to do with two things: 1. The 2022 model was the same exact color as the 2021 I had, and 2. Chevy really didn’t do much in the way of updates, and who could blame them?
For 2022, Chevrolet is offering a limited-edition appearance package on the Corvette which was inspired by the IMSA GTLM championship-winning competition version to celebrate the C8.R race car's inaugural season. Only 1000 will be built, and the package adds $6595 to the base price of the 3LT trim. The package combines Accelerate Yellow or Hypersonic Gray exterior paint with Carbon Flash colored mirror caps and rear spoiler. The Corvette racing logo appears throughout the design and the cabin is done up in a yellow and gray scheme to match.
Other changes for 2022 include a new optional low-profile rear spoiler, three new colors, and a few changes to the Corvette's mechanicals including a new fuel pump and fuel injectors and the deletion of the staggered, 5-spoke Performance Pewter-painted aluminum wheels (RPO code 5DG), which were a dealer-installed (LPO-level) option. There are also some additional LPO items that can now be added. On the inside, the 2022 Stingray sees a single change: the addition of illuminated door sill plates, which are a dealer-installed option and under the hood there were some slight modifications to the 6.2L V8 LT2 engine. These include updates to the fuel delivery and Active Fuel Management systems along with some minor alterations to the engine calibration.
All in all, there were no major differences which is a very good thing. The 2022 Stingray was just as much fun to spend a week with as the 2021.
For the specs and more pics, see the full review at www.Caraganza.com.