First Drive: the new Corvette Stingray
"What the Vette team has managed to achieve with the C7 is nothing short of astonishing..."
Is that the new Corvette?
Yep, but it's not called the Corvette anymore. For 2014 it's now the Corvette Stingray.
What, so it's got two names?
Yes again. But that's not an entirely new thing. Chevrolet has used the Stingray name before on previous versions of the ‘Vette. If you want to win the pub quiz with this one, it was known as the Corvette Sting Ray from '63-67 - the C2 version - and as the Corvette Stingray from '69-'76 - the middle of the C3 version - and now again in 2014.
What's all this C2 and C3 business about?
The C denotes the generation of the Corvette. A bit like Dr Who (without the Daleks and Cybermen), the car has been through six rebirths since it was launched in 1953, so there are six generations. The launch of this new car is the seventh iteration of the Vette, so it's known as the C7.
OK, so you're telling me that it's old enough to be the Viper's dad?
I am. But let's not dwell on any other comparisons between the two cars yet. Well, maybe just a couple to give you the picture. Sales of the Viper total under 2,000 a year. Sales of the 'Vette regularly top 12,000, so the big SRT is a much more limited-run car. There will be pricier versions of the 'Vette later, but for now it's really not worth comparing the two.
What versions are going to be available from launch then?
There are going to be two available from day one: the base car, which isn't really base as it's so loaded with tech and spec; and the Z51, which adds a pack of go-faster goodies that you should consider an essential option as all of them make the car even better. There are a number of optional extras that need to be considered, too.
So what's new about the C7 Corvette?
It's probably easier to talk about what isn't new than what is, as the new car only shares two parts with the previous generation: the cabin air filter and the rear latch for the removable roof panel. But let's jump in and give you a quick rundown of the highlights.
First up is the all-new interior. This is probably the biggest improvement to the car. Instead of feeling like you are sitting in something made down to a price, it now looks, feels and operates like it's been built to a modern standard. Replacing the previous nasty plastics, it's now all soft touch, good looking stuff accented with real leather, aluminium and carbon fibre.
Tell me about some of the new tech on offer.
Nothing short of mind-bending. But the good news is it's all relatively simple to access. There are two eight-inch hi-def screens to access all the info plus a single rotary drive mode selector that allows you to change between the 'Vette's five modes - Weather, Eco, Tour (the default), Sport and Track - and the car's set up in an instant. You don't have to mess around with sub menus, the car just adjusts 12 of its parameters to suit the conditions.
What, it thinks for you?
Kind of, yeah. The new 'Vette has tyre temperature monitors which feed this key information into the car's central brain, which adjusts everything from traction control to the electronic rear diff (on the Z51) according to the grip available. If you also spec the active damping system there aren't switches to change its mode, it just adapts to whatever driving conditions you happen to be doing at that instant. Likewise, the gauges adapt, too. When the engine is new or the oil is cold, the tacho will lower the redline until the engine warms up, to stop you over revving it.
Cool. What else is new?
Loads. We have only just scratched the surface so far. So I'm going to be brief or we'll be here all day. We are going to be doing stacks more in-depth coverage of this car online and in the magazine, so we'll get it all to you soon. But for now, deep breath, here we go.
Mechanically, the highlights include an active rev match feature on the seven speed manual gearbox that spookily predicts which gear you are going to select next - using a sensor in the base of the gearlever - and then matching the engine revs to the road speed. You can turn it on and off using one of two steering wheel mounted paddles and, once you get used to not doing it yourself, it works. There's also a six-speed automatic (in the US only) if you can't be bothered.
And the engine?
The new 455bhp/624Nm LT1 V8 motor is still a pushrod design - to keep the height of the engine down and preserve the low bonnet height for better vision - but it's loaded with new tech to make it more flexible and efficient. When Eco mode is selected and the car is cruising it shuts down four of the cylinders to save fuel. It makes the engine sound a bit funny but it allows the Vette to hit almost 10kpl.
Both the bonnet and removable roof panel are now made of carbon fibre on all models, the frame is wrought from aluminium, and the doors and rear quarter panels are made of composite. Together they help give the 1,499kg C7 a 50:50 front/rear weight balance. The Z51 package adds a dry sump, electronic limited slip diff, brake, diff and transmission cooling, plus larger wheels, better brakes and some design changes, such as the taller rear lid spoiler to aid high-speed stability.
Is there going be a convertible version?
Yes, one is on the way. It has a latchless fabric hood and an ability to put it up while travelling at up to 48kph. But why you'd want that when the standard car has a removable and easily stowable roof panel is questionable.
The design looks different - what's happened to the trademark round rear taillights?
Good spot. The C7 has evolved the 'Vette design in many ways, giving it echoes of 500 series Ferraris - around the nose and roof - and the Nissan GT-R thanks to the diagonal wing vents, depending on where you are standing and the colour schemes chosen. But the single biggest change is the switch from round rear lights to the slashes on the new car. The added angularity of the body and lighting works to make the car feel more modern, but it's going to be a personal thing whether you like it or not.
The big question - what's it like to drive?
In a word: stunning. What the 'Vette team has managed to achieve with the C7 is nothing short of astonishing. You basically get three cars in one. It will comfortably cruise all day, mopping up bumps, sipping fuel and generally letting you go about your business without getting in the way. You'd be happy commuting in it. Equally it has the performance - and luggage space under the rear hatch - to handle long journeys with ease. But the really special bit is, without touching anything more than the chassis set up dial, you can take it to a track and have hours of fun, too.
There's stacks of grip at both ends, the adjustable steering communicates really well when you want it to and fades away when you don't, the chassis absorbs changes of input from the road and driver without issue. And, best of all, it's all massively entertaining in the process. Unlike a lot of high performance cars which don't give you much feedback until the limit, you really feel like you can thrash the C7 and get all the value out of it at all speeds.
So should I buy one then?
If you've ever thought about a 'Vette, now is the time. By thoroughly updating the car the C7 team have vaulted to the front of the wave of modern two-seater sportscars. There really isn't anything else on the market that does as much as this car can do for even twice the price.
6,162cc, 8cyl, RWD, 455bhp, 624Nm, 8.14kpl, 0-100kph 3.8secs, 305kph, 1499kg