PAHRUMP, NEVADA—In a relatively small country that has an inordinately high number of supercars, it is easy to dismiss the Corvette—especially if you’re looking through the low-slung windows of your Lamborghini or Ferrari. But how many people actually own any of those Italian thoroughbreds?
The Chevrolet Corvette, on the other hand, has always stood for one thing: power to the masses. And isn’t that what always captures the imagination? Here’s a Clark Kent car brand that suddenly gets Superman powers.
Sure it’s not exactly affordable, but it does offer firepower that’s equal or even more than what supercars costing two, three, or even four times more offer. Which makes for one heck of a value proposition.
How does the Corvette pull that off? With a seemingly low-tech lump of metal that’s commonly called a “small block.” But the Bowtie boys have done wonders with their venerable LT1 block in the current seventh-generation Corvette (C7). It’s now evolved into a multiple award-winning, high-performance, technology-packed, beautifully cast 6.2-liter lump of aluminum with eight cylinders. Consider this: While previous small-block Corvette V8’s had a simple pushrod (non-overhead cam) design with two valves per cylinder, the LTI has direct injection, Active Fuel Management, and variable valve timing.
It’s enough technology to give the C7 Stingray its prodigious power while enabling it to achieve highway fuel economy (29mpg) that’s better, according to the U.S. EPA, than not just the Porsche 911 (28mpg), Audi R8 (20mpg), and Nissan GT-R (23mpg), but much less powerful everyday cars like the six-cylinder Subaru Outback (27mpg), Volkswagen Passat (28mpg), and Mercedes-Benz C350 (28mpg).
This motor’s technologies contribute to making the Corvette the quickest, most powerful, and most fuel-efficient standard Corvette ever. The LT1 delivers 460 horsepower and is nothing less than the heart of soul of every Corvette—helping propel the car from 0-100 in just over 3.7 seconds and a quarter mile in 12 seconds.
It is this crown jewel of an engine that was the star of our drive in the 2.2-mile Spring Mountain Raceway just outside Las Vegas. We had a chance to experience the formidable performance of the Vette with professional race instructors from the Ron Fellows Performance Driving School (Ron Fellows is one of America’s most successful Corvette race drivers), who had us doing some acceleration, handling, and braking exercises on a straightaway, before letting us loose on pretty much the rest of the track.
And the track is precisely where the Corvette feels right at home. (I’m fortunate to have driven the C5 in GM’s Milford Proving Ground in Michigan way back in 2003 and the C6 in our very own Batangas Racing Circuit seven years ago.) In Spring Mountain, we had several follow-the-leader sessions where we got progressively faster and faster, the instructor telling us when to brake and where to apex. The best part was that they never kept us from using our favorite Corvette feature—the gas pedal—as much and as often as we liked (given the track’s and our skills’ limitations, of course).
The small block’s sonorous wail was absolutely music to the ears. And flicking through all eight gears via paddles as I mashed the throttle and felt that almighty push on my back was pure bliss. All drivers will drive better with the Stingray’s Driver Mode Selector, Active Rev Match, electronic limited-slip differential, and other high-tech high-performance driving aids.
The greater performance and efficiency enabled by GM’s Hydra-Matic 8L90 eight-speed auto is due primarily to its 7.0 overall gear ratio spread, which enhances off-the-line performance with a more aggressive first gear ratio. It also delivers world-class shift times that rival the best dual-clutch designs.
Advanced composite materials in the body structure and a lightweight aluminum frame, as well as aluminum and magnesium suspension components, support the Corvette’s efficiency with a low curb weight of only 1,499kg. They also enhance performance by giving the Stingray an excellent power-to-weight ratio of 7.25—or one horsepower for every 7.25 pounds of car. That’s better than the Porsche 911’s 8.7 ratio and Audi R8 V-8’s 8.3.
Thankfully, the beauty of the Corvette’s cutting-edge chassis and body materials is that this beauty also goes skin deep. The C5 and C6 Stingrays were arguably the first Corvettes that could stand shoulder to shoulder with the best from Europe—styling-wise—without looking like a supercar wannabe. The C7, on the other hand, looks every bit like it’s ready to give its snooty high-priced rivals a butt-whipping, not just in performance but also in looks.
It takes the wedge-shaped silhouette of its immediate predecessors and takes it to a razor-sharp visual tour de force. It looks aggressive in a purposeful but not arrogant way. Low and wide, especially when viewed from the rear and the side, the Stingray is one of the very few cars that looks sensational from any angle. The C7 is one heck of a styling homerun.
As much as the Corvette’s styling and performance are highly acclaimed, the interior of the latest model is equally celebrated. The cabin is a recipient of the prestigious Ward’s 10 Best Interiors award. Unlike previous Vettes that had mass market-quality interior materials and fit and finish, the C7 boasts premium materials, integrated connected and intuitive technologies, high craftsmanship, and precision execution.
Ward’s called out the Stingray’s carbon-fiber trim, microfiber headliner, and contrast stitching on the bucket seats, as well as the high-visibility reconfigurable digital graphics in the instrument panel, saying the features were highly competitive with more expensive competitors in the segment.
Corvette engineers developed a steel-reinforced grab bar on the center console for the passenger and soft-touch materials on the edge of the console, where the driver naturally braces during high-load cornering, a direct result of engineers taking the car to GM’s Milford Proving Ground during development.
A blend of hand craftsmanship and machined precision ensure the fit, finish, and ambience of the cabin is first-rate. The leather-wrapped instrument panel features hand-selected and hand-stretched materials for better grain matching with stitching performed by robots that deliver perfect seams.
World-beating performance, true supercar looks, and a finely crafted interior—all for a price that’s a fraction of its European rivals. The Chevrolet Corvette Stingray can singlehandedly make America great again.