Tom Ford18 February 2014

Driven: new Corvette in the UK

It’s on its way to Britain, but can the 460bhp C7 Stingray handle our roads? Tom Ford reports

It's a new Corvette! Yee, and indeed, haw...

Delve through the specification and at first glance it's business as usual for the C7 ‘Vette, this time tagged with the ‘Stingray' badge once again: big 6.2-litre pushrod V8, rear-drive, manual ‘box and transverse leaf sprung rear axle. It's left-hand drive only, but sold in the UK in ‘Z51' spec - more on that later - and weighs in at a very attractive £61,495 for the performance on offer.

In the USA, you can pick up a more basic version for $51,000 - though once you've added in taxes and the ‘drive away' extras, it's not quite as cheap as that figure suggests. All of this information proves to be both relevant and utterly misleading.

So it's just another muscle car that's a fast ‘for the cash'?

That's the misleading bit. Shelve the preconceptions, release the pigeons from their holes, stop thinking this is what your prejudice would have you believe. American tests have rated this new C7 ‘Vette extremely highly - and it turns out this one doesn't need much translation for Europe. It's brilliant.

Beg your pardon?

Flat out, no caveats. The new Corvette can hold its head up with anything on the market. Yes, that's on UK roads, and on the inside, too.

You're going to have to explain.

First, the engine. Yes, a pushrod OHV may be old-school, but this is a small-block V8 game that Chevrolet has been playing for a very long time. Since about 1955, in fact. The new engine is equipped with direct-injection and active fuel management and features cylinder shutdown tech that allows the motor to run as a more frugal V4 when cruising and off-throttle.

It works for mpg - we managed a very surprising 34.3mpg on a haul up the M6, mainly in seventh gear at 70mph and 1400rpm - and it works for power and torque: the C7 rips through its 460bhp and 465lb ft with relish. All the figures are perfectly believable, and the overtaking punch in virtually any of the gears bar seventh is eye-widening. And this is the standard engine. There are faster versions on the way.

So the engine's mighty, but it still doesn't handle, right?

Wrong. Very wrong. Yep, left-hand drive can still be a bit of a hassle in the UK, but the C7 isn't actually very big - similar to the Porsche 911 in most respects - you just have to get used to looking out over a plain of bonnet.

That double-wishbone, transverse leaf rear suspension works exceptionally well, and it has the magnetorheological damping that means you can switch from track-tight to cruising at a flick of the Drive Mode Selector (Weather, Eco, Tour, Sport and Track), which ‘optimises' no less than eleven of the car's systems from the information displayed on the digital dials to the throttle and through exhaust, diff, steering, damping, traction, launch, fuel management, as well as Performance Traction Management which subsequently offers five further stages of torque reduction and brake intervention for track attack.

We found the best mode to be either Touring or Sport in the UK, and the compliance was fantastic. Add 50/50 weight distribution and a manual Tremec ‘box, and you've got a car that reminds you what a sports car should feel like. Little body roll - just enough to let you settle the car on its tyres - great grip unless provoked, linear reactions when it starts to do the oversteer thing...

And when it does, the brakes are top-notch, the stability control useful (if you have it switched on, but it's not scary if you switch it off - seriously), and the reactions faithful. It's a great car to play in, and the noise is just sublime - pure V8 fire and brimstone from the four centrally mounted exhausts. It's lovely to bounce it off bits of the UK.

The interior's going to be rubbish, surely?

Again, no. So it's a bit shouty, with lots of buttons and red leather in our test car, but it feels nicely made. And the double-scoop of the dash makes it feel special. It's also still Corvette-practical with that hatchback and luggage space. Not quite Porsche quality, but getting there.

Plus, the car we get in Europe is that ‘Z51' specification, which includes good stuff like an electronic limited-slip differential, dry sump, better brake, diff and transmission cooling, specific dampers and springs and anti-roll bars, different gear ratios, bigger wheels, brakes and better tyres as well as the aero package that offers extra stability at speed.

Is there anything about it you don't like?

Well, the styling is polarising - people seem to either love it or hate it in the UK, but you sure as hell can't ignore it. There's also a slightly fuzzy dead-centre to the electric steering - which gets better the harder you work it - and all the various modes do feel a bit like twiddling the parameters simply because you can, rather than because it's essential to the experience.

The ‘box can be a bit long, as can the clutch, and I slotted fourth instead of sixth a couple of times on my way down from the orbital seventh gear, but generally I just came away impressed.

The Corvette has come of age. It's a damn fine sportscar.


Corvette Stingray Z51

Price: £61,495 in UK (£69,525 as tested)
Engine: 6162cc, V8
Power: 460bhp@6,000rpm, 465lb ft@4,600rpm
Performance: 0-62mph in 4.2 seconds, 190mph top speed
23mpg (combined), n/a Co2
Transmission: Rear-wheel drive, seven-speed manual
Weight: 1,499kg

Competitors:

Jaguar V6S Coupe: £60,235
Nissan GT-R: £76,765
Porsche 911 Carrera S: £83,848

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