Handling, performance, refinement, Z06 version with 670bhp natasp V8
Clunky styling, arguably too quiet on the inside, switchgear rail compromises passenger compartment
What is it?
Chevrolet had been talking about building a mid-engined Corvette for years – decades even – but we had to wait until 2020 for the idea, the dream, the concept, to become a production reality. You might think this landmark centre-engined model’s arrival would herald a whole new naming strategy, but no. It’s simply the next-generation Corvette, so it’s simply the C8. The base car is the Stingray, the performance pack is the Z51. The hot one is the Z06. Just as it has been for decades.
But don’t for one moment think this car bears any relation whatsoever to the C7 it replaces in anything other than name. The C8 is to the C7 what Champagne is to Mountain Dew – a completely different product with a totally different performance offering.
Where the C7 rips and snorts its way down the road, the C8 is a pool of quiet – almost silent – calm. When you speed up, the C7’s brutish, sometimes wayward, mix of under and oversteer is replaced in the C8 by a delicate mix of clear, swift and linear responses which make the 'Vette's behaviour far more accurate. It’s a better car, no question.
But does that make it a better Corvette?
That is one of the questions we have to answer here. If a Corvette is supposed to have muscle car manners and noise yet offer supercar performance, then perhaps not. Something has been lost. But then there’s the Z06 version: still very polished, but with a mighty edge thanks to a bespoke 5.5-litre engine shared with the C8.R race car.
But look, everything needs to progress and will always – well nearly always – lose some of the original charm. Look at the uproar that happened when Porsche had the nerve to water-cool its engines in the ‘hated’ 996. By the numbers that was a better, more capable car than the 993 it replaced. But just look at which ones are worth more today to find out how the market voted. Clue: it ends in 3.
So, should I rush out and buy a C7?
Actually, no. Because we’ve only just started with the C8 and there is plenty more to come from this model – not just the Z06, but the first ever hybrid Corvette, the 655bhp e-Ray. The quality is already on another level. So give it a moment and let’s see how the C8 develops. Plus, remember, this one will be available in Europe and the UK in right-hand drive for the first time.
Has the standard car still got a V8 in it?
Obviously. A 6.2-litre developing 490bhp and 465lb ft. It’s called the LT2 and it drives the rear wheels through an eight speed twin clutch gearbox. There’s no manual option. Still, that means it’s quick: Chevy claims 0-60mph in 2.9 seconds and a 194mph maximum. Take that with a slight pinch of salt – US testing allows a one foot rollout, so call it about 3.4s to allow for that and to get the extra couple of mph that Euro marques like to quote (0-62mph/100kmh).
Can I have it as a convertible?
You certainly can – although whether you need to is another matter, given that the coupe comes with lift-out roof panels. But yes, you can also have it with a full drop top that folds away on top of the engine, yet retains a load bay at the back. That adds useful extra storage to the front boot and, combined, they make this a surprisingly practical car. Main drawback of the convertible is that you can’t see the engine.
How’s the interior?
Well made – really – but flawed in a couple of notable regards. The squidgy hexagonal steering wheel is the main irritant, closely followed by the tall beam that sweeps back from the dash, bisecting the cabin, effectively separating driver from passenger and making the latter feel like a second class citizen.
Lots to play with in here and the Corvette comes in a choice of three trim levels (1LT, 2LT and, yes you guessed it, 3LT). Prices start at $65,895 (£54,800) in the US. The Z06 on the other hand, starts at $106,695 (£88,295).
Tell me more about the Z06.
It’s the hard core version. So besides the engine, a load of other changes have been made. It’s 90mm wider overall, chiefly thanks to fatter rubber, which has necessitated new wing panels front and rear, and retuned suspension geometry. It delivers actual downforce (165kg at 186mph) but actually weighs a little more (1,561kg against 1,530 for the regular car).
But really the engine is the star here. This is no heavy-breathing, deep down, stump puller. It’s a screamer. 670bhp at 8,400rpm and 460lb ft at 6,300rpm. It’s a dry-sumped, flat plane crank motor boasting titanium intake valves and conrods, forged aluminium pistons and sodium filled exhaust valves. And it’s the world’s most powerful naturally aspirated production V8, ever. Not even Ferrari has built a natasp V8 this powerful.
What's the verdict?
We might have had to wait for decades for the Corvette to go mid-engined but, this is a car transformed. It has all the performance we were promised but also has a presence and character that was unexpected but very welcome. It’s very smooth and capable, arguably less feisty (apart from the Z06) than the previous Corvette, but at the price point also unlike any other sports car you can buy today. It costs muscle car money and gives you supercar performance. But now it doesn’t make you work quite so hard to access it. And it’s all the better for that, whatever the diehards might say.
Comparisons are often drawn with the Ford Mustang GT500. But you should ignore those. The GT500 is the finest muscle car you can buy today, and an extraordinary track weapon. But, while the performance numbers might look similar, the C8 is a completely different type of car with a unique character and responses. Both are equally impressive, just in their own ways. It’s like arguing over whether Indian or Chinese food is better.
The one major area the C8 has over the GT500 is global availability. While the big Mustang is a US-only model, the C8 is sold in right-hand drive form around the world. Although when is another matter. Taking on the world’s best in their home markets will be the true acid test. Will it win? We’re looking forward to finding out.