The C8 Corvette is the Latest Iteration of an American Icon
The new Corvette has been with us almost a year now, and it's been both polarizing with fans and loved by reviewers. Naturally, I had to have a go.
Over the past nearly seven decades, the Corvette has become an icon of Americana and a national institution. Sure we may make jokes about most Corvette owners being older guys in jorts and socks and sandals that wash their cars more than drive them, but here in America we all know one of those guys whether it’s a neighbor or a relative and they’re always old school car guys that grew up in the era of big V8s and rock and roll, and they’re almost always good guys. With the C7 though, things began to change. The C6 was known for being plastic fantastic on the interior, but its successor really brought a younger crowd in by being a properly good sports car – so good in Z06 and ZR1 variants in fact that Chevrolet decided that they’d finally reached the point where there was nothing more they could do to improve the Corvette without a major change decades in the making. Now we have the C8 and for the first time the Corvette’s engine isn’t up front, but right in the middle.
Before I dive any further in, I’d like to address that engine placement. As there always is when tradition is broken, there are vocal naysayers decrying the change as the end. Thankfully though, true Corvette enthusiasts remember something that many don’t – the Corvette was always intended to be mid-engined. While the concept of the Corvette came from Harley Earle, Zora Arkus-Duntov has become known as the “father” or “godfather” of the Corvette for his work as an engineer on the project. Duntov was a racing driver in the 1950s and because of his experience he had a lifelong crusade to see the Corvette with its engine in the middle. Sadly, he hasn’t been with us for decades, but his dream has finally become a reality. Typically, this is where I would pose the question of whether that dream has turned out to be a nightmare, but with all the awards and praise the C8 has received from reviewers it really isn’t much of a question. The real question I had when I picked up a C8 for 24 hours was if the Corvette could possibly be that good. Spoiler alert – it is.
With the transition to a mid-mounted engine, the Corvette has undergone some major styling changes. Early on the styling changed much more radically with each new generation – the original, C1, C2, and C3 were all distinctive and unique designs, but from the C4 through to the C7, the design changes were much more evolutionary than revolutionary and the lineage was much more visible. The C8 does carry the angular and aggressive styling of the C7 as well as the updated flag logos, but with the new layout the Corvette no longer has a long hood leading into the cockpit and a sloping rear window, now wearing much more traditional supercar styling with a short nose and a long sloping rear end. From most angles, the new Corvette looks fantastic, but in my opinion the rear end is just a bit too long, though there is good reason for that. Since the C5, hard top Corvettes have actually had removable targa tops, and in order to have a place to store the top in the vehicle, the C8 has both a front trunk and a rear trunk behind the engine. The rear trunk is the only one that could fit the roof, which gives the C8 a rear end that seems just a bit too long. That said, after taking off the top and going for a little blast down the coast with Don Henley blasting, I’m more than willing to forgive that single poor angle because of the experience it allows one to have while driving.
On the interior, things have also changed drastically. Every bit of the interior is new and driver focused -even the climate controls are only convenient for the driver. While the interior isn’t as nice as say a similarly priced Porsche, it is the nicest as Corvette’s interior has been since the early C3s. Yes the steering wheel has become square and the seats are a bit tight for us Americans, but the leather wrapping them is nicer than it has been in the past. The gauge cluster has now gone digital, and the infotainment system is the latest from GM. I’d like to give commentary on the efficacy of the system and the quality of the sound from the Bose speakers in the example I drove, but in the 24 hours I had the C8 the system worked properly for roughly 10 minutes. I did some research online to see if there was a fix for the issues, but I didn’t come across anything referencing a similar issue. As far as I could tell, the system was constantly power cycling and resetting, as if it was crashing every 30 seconds or so. The example I had ticked over to 8800 miles while I was driving it, and had recently been back to the dealer for what I was told was an unknown check engine light. I suspect the issues came from a related issue, and as I said I couldn’t find any reports of a similar problem from anyone else so it very well may have been a one-off problem for that particular car, so I’ll refrain from holding that against the C8 as a whole.
Finally, there’s the driving experience. In a word, it’s incredible. As I’ve said in my articles and videos in the past, I have a particular winding road near my home that I’ve taken many fast cars through over the years, and I think with the C8 I’ve found a new king of the hill. Yes, the M3 and 348 are more fun as they’re more engaging in terms of steering feel and being able to row through the gears, but the C8 was so planted and so capable that even when I was trying to take it easy I was going faster than either of those two cars, though I was always well within the speed limit obviously. With every corner and every straight I could feel the Corvette begging me to push it harder and put my foot further down, and never once did I feel the back end getting unsettled or like I was running out of grip from the front end. Up there the square steering wheel and the lack of a proper manual finally made sense – the steering wheel for keeping your hands right where they should be through hard corners and the transmission in order to fully experience what the C8 is capable of. Yes, I still prefer a true manual transmission, but with a traditional manual it just wouldn’t be possible.
Some have said that now it’s midengined and as fast as it is that the Corvette has graduate from sports car to supercar. In terms of performance, they’re certainly correct. It accelerates as fast as supercars and it certainly is as planted through the corners as they are. But to call the Corvette a supercar isn’t really fair. The Corvette has always been a working man’s car – the kind of car that if you worked hard you could afford. A supercar by it’s nature is something that most of us just get to fantasize about and maybe if we’re lucky we can snag one one day. Yes, the Corvette has gotten more expensive and yes, they’re trading over sticker because of demand excess and supply shortage, but with a base price under $60,000, it is still doable for the average working man, as it should be.
I said at the start of this article that the Corvette was an American icon – one of the cars that here in the US, everybody knows or knew somebody that loves it. Now it’s changed, but it’s changed for the better. It may not have been the car on my wall growing up, but after driving the C8 I certainly respect the hell out of it and can see why someone would choose it over a Porsche or an older Ferrari or Audi R8. It’s a shame that with production delays it’ll be 2022 or 2023 before orders placed today will be delivered, but if you are one of the people considering it, it’ll definitely be worth the wait.