Chevrolet Corvette C8: The Bargain Mid-Engined Performance Car
A new platform deviates from tradition, but does it please purists as much as new enthusiasts?
For seven decades, Chevrolet's iconic Corvette was based on a front-engined, rear-wheel-drive platform. Knowing its performance capabilities on the street and track could only go so far with this layout, the performance minds at General Motors went back to the drawing board. Spending billions in development, and throwing caution to the wind, it delivered a new performance car with the engine behind its occupants.
Polarizing exterior lines and a radically different interior demonstrate how the new Corvette deviates from its American heritage while expressing a fighter jet-inspired design. With this new package, several questions emerge. Can this new 'Vette captivate its core while engaging new buyers? Would the performance be that much better? Was the massive gamble worth the risk? Is still a true Corvette?
The Vital Stats
This eighth generation Corvette has a mid-engined rear-drive layout, powered by Chevrolet's 6.2-liter LT2 V8 which--with the optional performance exhaust my tester had equipped--pushes out 495 horsepower and 470 lb-ft (637 Nm) of torque. To show off the new engine placement, Chevrolet gave the Corvette's engine bay a cool glass panel. Mated to an 8-speed dual clutch transmission, the Corvette Stingray can rocket from 0-60 MPH in the low 3-second range (Under 3 seconds with the Z51 package!), and hit a top track speed of over 190 MPH. When you consider that the base price of the C8 'Vette is a hair under $60,000, that's wicked performance for your dollar.
My tester rang up options including the must-have LT2 package that adds an updated infotainment and navigation system, Bose audio, heads-up display, rear camera mirror, performance data recorder, heated and ventilated seats, and wireless phone charging. Also optioned were the GT2 bucket seats, styled optional 19" wheels, performance exhaust, and red-painted brake calipers, which brought the sticker up to $72,075.
At 182 inches long, 76 wide, and 48 tall while sporting a 107-inch wheelbase with 64-inch front and 62-inch rear tracks, the new Stingray is slightly bigger than a new Porsche 992 Carrera S. Packing an 18.5 gallon fuel tank, the Covrette's 15/27/19 (city/highway/combined) EPA estimates give it decent cruising range. With its standard targa top, the C8 weighs around 3,500 pounds. Chevrolet offers a $7,500 convertible option for the new C8 if you crave more wind in your hair.
Retaining Its Blue Collar Cruiser Status
Like previous generations, the C8 excels at daily driving, offering a comfortable ride around town, perfectly supportive seats, and good fuel economy when you consider you've got a powerful V8 mounted behind you. You'll appreciate that the 6.2-liter powerplant is tame when you're putting around town, but when you put your foot into the gas, the optional exhaust will roar to life.
If you're taking the 'Vette on a road trip or for quick errands, its electronically assisted steering makes it easy to maneuver, the standard suspension is supple over bumps, and the ride quality on the highway is fantastic due to dampers that are just firm enough to be responsive and reasonable enough to keep you happy. This standard suspension setup is more than capable for the average driver, with a smooth feel for cruising boulevards on the weekend, while being capable of letting loose on the back roads. For firmer ride quality and tighter handling, there is an optional Z51 suspension and performance package that my tester didn't have.
Chevrolet provides enough storage space to pack a pair of roller bags in the back while sticking a weekender up front. The C8 Stingray easily handles a road trip's luggage, so long as you don't take the targa top off. GM says the eighth generation 'Vette will also hold two golf bags in the trunk, but expect to only tote your smaller carry bags if you're headed to the links with a friend.
The GT2--middle option--seats look cool, offer great lateral support, and the perforations allow good ventilation without getting stuck to the leather on a hot day. GM's updated infotainment setup has a nice touchscreen, easy to use apps, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto on-board. The new digital instrument cluster is fantastic too, with as much or as little info surrounding the tach and speedometer as you demand.
Does The Performance Meet Expectations?
The Stingray's base setup can be fun, but there are some obvious characteristics to demonstrate that it's the lesser model versus the upcoming Z06 and ZR1 models. That's not to say that the C8 Corvette isn't fun on your favorite back road. When you slip into the low seats, you'll be pleased to have greater visibility versus the older front-engined Corvettes, and being positioned further forward also provides improved handling sensations.
Steering feel is precise, not overly-boosted from the electronic assist, and the feedback from the all-season Michelin rubber is suprisingly positive. The standard "Tour" setup isn't too tight, but I did set up my custom Z mode to have the heavier steering feedback from the track setting, and still found the C8 to be comfortable in its more hardcore setups. GM's engineers did a great job dialing in the steering and suspension feel to give you splendid daily driving capability with great response when you want to have fun.
If you're going to push the Stingray to its limits, you'll quickly notice the all-season rubber isn't going to appreciate longer thrashing sessions, and that the alignment could use a bit more aggressive setup. My guess is that most C8 buyers will be diving into their first mid-engined performance car, and that GM dialed in a bit more understeer to keep them from switching ends too easily in a fast corner. The standard brakes have good feel, and didn't get too soft after a long session on a fun route.
Several driving modes are selected with a quick toggle of the knob next to the shifter buttons, and there's also a "Z" mode you can customize for a quick engagement via the steering wheel-mounted button. Engine volume, steering sharpness, and suspension firmness are all easy to tweak. The C8 carries high speeds nicely, with that long wheelbase and smoothly tuned suspension, you can easily trick yourself into thinking you're traveling at more reasonable speeds. Fast sweepers are dealt with comfortably, and even in sharper corners the big coupe carves with ease. Since the initial launch, GM's team did a great job sorting out the 8-speed dual clutch transmission, which now does a brilliant job shifting smoothly and quickly no matter which drive mode you've chosen.
Once you're in track mode, you can--with a strange sequence of button presses--unlock the Performance Traction Management system, which gives you numerous options for the traction control setup. More advanced drivers will want to exploit this system to allow the right amount of slip and best response as you smash the throttle. Make good use of the Cosworth-developed Performance Data Recorder, which employs cameras and several data overlays that record to an SD card to make the most of your track driving capabilities. There's also a companion software package you can run on your laptop to review dozens of data points. This system is probably the best one you can get in any car currently sold.
Chevrolet offers a $5,000 Z51 package with bigger Brembo brakes, performance-tuned magnetic ride suspension, tighter rear axle ratio, an electronic limited-slip differential, front splitter and rear spoiler, upgraded cooling systems, and stickier Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires, and you'll want to select it if you do more hardcore driving on twisty roads and tracks. If you don't go nuts on the options to personalize the interior and exterior with a bunch of trim and stickers, with a Z51 Corvette, you're still spending under $80,000.
Weighing Some Pros And Cons
Chevrolet took big risks with the C8's styling, and in my opinion not the best when you work your way around from front to back. Everywhere I drove the 'Vette, I got plenty of attention. More thumbs up than down, and overall people dig GM's halo car's new looks. To me, it's almost as if two different styling teams tackled each end of the car. The long wheelbase and door setup does make it easy to get in and out of the Corvette, with tons of space for taller (or wider American) occupants. Opt for a darker shade of paint to conceal the black-painted side intake trim piece, which looks like it was tacked on as an afterthought. Gear selection is done with a strange combination of buttons and levers, and I don't know why a more simple setup wasn't employed.
There are several cool details and interior touches I like, that give the Corvette a more upscale feel. The seat designs, center speaker grill, and hand rest for the drive mode selector all have an embossed Corvette logo, as if you needed any reminder what car you're in. Leather trim throughout the cabin is definitely an upgrade over the past generations of Corvette, and there's plenty of hand-wrapped, cut-and-sew leather with quality stitching. It's not up to Porsche levels of refinement, but GM made good strides to improve the C8's cabin.
Peel back the layers of that striking appearance, and you'll find that the quality and usability aren't exceptional. In a rush to bring the C8 Corvette to market, some corners were cut, and some interfaces and features were not fully fleshed out. Panel gaps aren't fantastic, with the interior and exterior showing a few inconsistencies. I'll cut the Corvette some slack on this front, because the performance is massive for the price point, but in going up-market with the C8. Sure, any fast C8 variant will still win on price, but stealing those German car buyers carries expectations for quality.
The new climate control blade running down the center of the cabin looks cool as it separates the occupants, but you have to take your eyes off the road to make adjustments. The buttons are also all similarly sized and marked, which complicates their use. Cupholders are next to the climate controls, and if you toss a drink in them, you'll block access to the A/C buttons. There's also no good place to stick your iPhone, as it has to be plugged in to use Apple CarPlay. The center armrest pocket is small, and the wireless charging point is stuck against the rear panel behind you, between the seats. That's great if you want to charge your phone wirelessly and never pay attention to it, but because I had to be plugged in, the phone was awkwardly and insecurely stored.
If you take the targa top off, you've eliminated the car storage compartment. If you're on a trip with anyone else, you're going to have to keep the roof on or pack into a tiny weekender bag that gets stowed up front in the smaller storage area. Going topless also creates a ton of turbulent cabin air once you're going faster than 45 MPH, and I found my ears hurting from the pressure after an hour of the top off.
A Performance Car On A Budget
For seven generations, the Corvette has been an iconic sports car with its engine up front and its driven wheels out back, while offering huge performance for your buck. You'll have no trouble slicing around a fun farm-to-market road or circuit. It's as comfortable cruising along the street in any neighborhood, by a driver of any age. It's cool, potent, and respected by many.
This eighth generation Corvette's switch to a mid-engine layout is competent enough to push it into competition with all sorts of performance cars, but I feel like it needs a new identity. Corvette definitely has brand equity that can't be touched, but this C8 isn't that car anymore. It's something new, fresh, and better. The name plate should reflect that too. Whether or not you agree with me on this point, the Corvette is still a blast to drive, and I can't wait to see how much more fun the Z06 and ZR1 variants are once they arrive.