The C7 Corvette Stingray is worthy of its legendary name
by Kirk Bell
Ask a Porsche engineer or public relations representative about the Chevrolet Corvette and they’ll complain that it lacks the quality of the 911 and the media gives it too much credit for its more reasonable pricing. Ask a Corvette rep about the 911 and they’ll say it’s too antiseptic , too expensive and not as powerful as the ‘Vette. They both think their car should win all the head-to-head comparisons, and the other car just doesn’t measure up. The truth is both cars are great. Why do we need to fight about it? Can’t we all just get along?
With the release of the 2014 Corvette, the Chevrolet guys have an even better argument these days. The Corvette is completely redesigned for 2014. Seemingly perturbed by any criticism, Corvette engineers set out to correct its notable flaws and make the car better in every imaginable way. The result is the best Corvette yet.
Now in its seventh generation, the Corvette revives the Stingray name that first appeared in 1963, but the design is all new, inspired by the aerodynamic and purposeful look of fighter jets and the stingray animal. The new body is 37 pounds lighter than the outgoing model, thanks to the use of carbon fiber for the hood and roof panel and carbon-nano composite underbody panels.
Under that sensuous hood, the Corvette gets a new all-aluminum 6.2-liter V8, which takes on the familiar LT1 moniker last used for GM’s 1997 small-block V8. It adds direct injection, continuously variable valve timing, and cylinder deactivation, and power is up to 455 horses and 460 lb-ft of torque (460/465 with the sport exhaust).
The new engine is a dream. Around town it emits a healthy but subdued burble, making the Corvette rather civilized when driven conservatively. Floor the throttle, though, and the V8 growls, rumbles and roars, which is music to a car guy’s ears. Chevrolet says 0 to 60 mph arrives in less 3.8 seconds, and that feels right to me. It pins you back in your seat, and the power just keeps building into the triple digits. The power is intoxicating.
Buyers have a choice of a 6-speed automatic transmission or a 7-speed manual. The manual features a natural clutch feel and a tidy little shifter with short, precise throws. Anyone coming out of a C5 Corvette will wonder where this shifter has been all their lives. The transmission also features active rev matching that works quite well and alleviates the need to heel-and-toe during performance driving. Drivers can turn the rev matching on and off via a pair of steering wheel paddles that seem odd in a manual transmission car–why not simply use a button? The automatic is less engaging, but it shifts responsively during aggressive driving and is smooth and docile around town.
Like the powertrain performance, ride and handling are also improved. The C6 Corvette was an agile, track ready car, but Corvette engineers set out to make the C7 even better. A new aluminum frame is 57 percent stiffer. It saves another 99 pounds but the car weighs 90 pounds more overall. However, Chevrolet engineers have saved weight where it counts, up high and down low. Those aforementioned carbon fiber panels cut weight up high, while hollow lower control arms and aluminum rear toe links save unsprung weight. The available Magnetic Ride Control suspension also returns, but this time it responds to road surfaces 40 percent faster. A new electric-assist power steering system has both variable ratios and variable effort.
New Michelin Pilot Super Sport run-flat tires are standard on all models. The Z51 package has the same 245 mm front and 285 mm rear tread widths as the base model, but with lower profiles and 19- and 20-inch diameters versus 18s and 19s for the base car. That’s 30 and 40 mm thinner than the last sport model, the 2013 Corvette Grand Sport. Chevrolet says this reduced “footprint” makes the new Corvette Z51 more agile yet maintains equal grip, citing that the Z51 is capable of gripping the pavement to the tune of 1.03 lateral g’s, just shy of the outgoing Z06 performance model’s 1.04 g’s.
All that suspension work has paid off. On the road or track, the Corvette is an outstanding performer, especially the Z51. The steering is quick and crisp, with some nice heft, and a natural feel. The car feels lighter and more agile, but still substantial. It turns in quickly, carves through corners, and responds well to driver inputs. A dab of throttle will kick the tail out, but it’s easy to catch and less prone to spin out. The brakes are all-day strong, and, according to Chevrolet, they stop the car from 60 mph in a short 107 feet.
Buyers can personalize the ride and handling through a new Driver Mode Selector with Weather, Eco, Tour, Sport and Track settings. The system controls 12 different parameters, including steering, throttle response, electronic stability control, and transmission performance. The Sport and Track settings make the responses quicker, and the ride becomes more jiggly than harsh. In fact, the ride is quite smooth for a sports car. The Magnetic Ride Control suspension makes the car even more nimble while maintaining a smooth ride.
The most noticeable parameter the Drive Mode selector changes is the new digital gauge cluster. It has different displays for Touring, Sport and Track modes. Most drivers will probably prefer the Sport graphics, which are dominated by a radial tachometer. The Track graphics were inspired by the C6.R race car and they show a hockey stick style tachometer and prominent shift lights. This provides the information you need at a glance when flogging the car at extra-legal speeds, but most drivers won’t be used to the layout.
These graphics are part of a new, much improved interior. To Chevrolet’s credit, it listened the media and customer complaints about the crummy seats and plasticky interior materials and turned those weaknesses into strengths. I tested only the GT seats, but found them to very supportive, and while they hug the body, they aren’t too narrow to pinch wider backsides. Competition seats will also be offered. They should be more supportive, but tighter. The interior materials are also quite impressive. The dashboard is completely wrapped in soft-touch materials, and accented with carbon fiber and aluminum trim. I also like the steering wheel, which is smaller this year and imparts a sportier feel.
The cockpit is very driver-centric, so much so that the passenger settings for the dual-zone automatic climate control system are located below a vent on the far right side of the dash. The design makes all the controls very easy to use. The driver has good head and legroom, but shoulder space gets tight with a pair of big guys in the car. The coupe’s removable roof allows for open-air driving, and the hatchback design creates a 15 cubic foot storage area, which is about as much space as a sedan’s trunk.
I have very few complaints about the new ‘Vette. I’d prefer a mechanical parking brake with a lever to of the switch for the electronic parking brake. Interior space is a little tight, and steering wheel paddles feel out of place in manual transmission cars. Those issues are so minor they are almost not worth mentioning.
The positives, however, stand out. Power is exhilarating, handling is phenomenal, and value is unmatched. The 2014 Corvette may not be the precision instrument that the Porsche 911 is, but it’s no slouch on the track, easy to drive on the road, and it offers more power than its German rival for tens of thousands of dollars less. Not only is it a better value than the Porsche, it’s the best performance value on the market.