First Drive Review: 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray

 

It’s the moment we’ve all been waiting for, a RawAutos.com drive of the new 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray. Well, folks, sit back and enjoy this one, because it’s a must-read.

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Is it finally legit by any parameter for any country? Or does it still scream “American chest hair only!!”

The Chevrolet Corvette and I have a long and tortured relationship. From the original in 1953 through the C6 generation whose sun is just now setting, I have only really loved the first Stingrays in the early 1960s, that hot C3 Indy 500 pacecar edition that defined the 1970s, and the C6 Gran Sport. Every single other one meant for street use has, for me, been a bag of bolts that didn’t represent American ingenuity very well, and which drove and felt like an overhyped Craigslist special resting on some laurels earned decades ago and left to wilt. If this is America’s greatest sports car, then we’ve been in serious trouble for a while.

In a sense then, the C7 Corvette Stingray could only be better and pretty much without even trying so hard. But if it was just scooched forward a little bit to satisfy the old farts who always buy one anyway within the first two years of each generation, then I’d still be beside myself with anger at Chevrolet’s short-sightedness once again wasting a golden opportunity. The C7 Stingray is decidedly much more than that, however. This thing just kicked my ass up, down, and sideways on about 200 miles of rural California two-lanes and then also through several laps of a set-up autocross circuit.

The age-old verdict for the recent struggling Corvette saga of “Can’t beat this sort of power at that price” holds true here more than ever at $51,995, but finally once again in a way that is 100 percent true. If Chevy cannot support and communicate to the wide world all that is remarkable about this Vette, and finally convince Europe and Asia that they should buy a lot of these, it will be a huge failure that once again makes me angry at this American company that I adore.

When I was first staring down the C7 Corvette Stingray in photos and at shows – particularly in the flaming orange-red with black trim details – it looked overcompensatingly and self-consciously busy even though I had to admit I really liked it. The proportions on the car are excellent. I was, however, incessantly likening the C7 to another talked-about car that tries way too hard and looks as though it took its visual cues from a massive Korean boombox, the Nissan GT-R. The Nissan is a great and powerful GT car, just overpopulated with juvenile solutions and materials inside and out.

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Now as I look at and drive the C7 Corvette Stingray, my criticisms in these ways have calmed down a lot and the overall package, though still a tad busy, is lightyears better than any Corvette since that C3 Indy 500 edition. That sounds weird, I know, but it’s true.

Out on one of the great rural California roads we were driving, I saw another C7 in yellow coming toward us in the distance and I thought for a while that it was a Ferrari 458 Italia. High praise indeed for the C7 design squad.

Does it walk the walk, though? Yes, it do. The LT1 fifth-generation small block V8 engine is only the tip of the performance iceberg here; Chevrolet has thrown in a long-overdue kitchen sink of features that succeed almost completely in bringing the Corvette finally shoulder-to-shoulder with cars like the Porsche 991 911 Carrera and Carrera S, various Astons, various Jags, AMGs, and M cars. Beginning with the engine, there is finally direct injection and fully variable valve timing, allowing the 6.2-liter naturally aspirated V8 to return a realistic 29 mpg average between city and highway driving while accelerating to 60 mph in an estimated 3.8 seconds. Amazing what 455 horses and 460 pound-feet of torque can get you.

Then there is a multi-mode chassis setup dial (Weather-Eco-Tour-Sport-Track) with a center button for choosing what level of stability/traction control you want. I explored everything available while driving out there in the sun and the C7 can be several different types of car and convincingly so. From full-on Eco or Tour mode while obeying all sensible speed limits and laws, to Track mode with the stability and traction nannies cancelled in Race calibration, this Corvette really shows me that it is absolutely ready to shock the foreign brands frequently costing at least double the price.

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Available magneto-rheological dampers are now in their third generation and much improved over what were already good GM tech. There are now two magnetic coils inside each damper and a range between the most rigid and softest setups that is 40 percent greater than before. In each of the Driver Mode positions, each aspect from steering to exhaust sound can be individually calibrated to your liking once you learn the ropes of the standard onboard computer and its interface.

The steering mechanism is five times stiffer in its action and I very much felt this directness from the 3,444-pound C7. For the first time, the Corvette gets its very own dedicated steering wheel that is smaller at 14.1 inches in diameter. The wheel feel itself in my hands is better than ever before and together with this very direct action coming to me via the optional 19-inch Michelin Pilot Super Sports of the $2,800 Z51 performance package I was grinning all day over these perfectly demanding sports car roads. In the harder curves the Corvette still will never quite rival a well driven Porsche 911, but it is now so damned close that I could care less. Between this Corvette and the Jaguar F-Type V8S, things should be neck-and-neck. Weight distribution, for the first time ever, is rear-biased at 49.4 percent front and 50.6 percent rear.

Not only is the rear end now finally the champion, but the electronically actuated limited-slip differential back there is excellent work. I felt it sometimes consciously doing things, so it could get smoother about its transitions, but better to live with it than without. With the Z51 package, one gets these larger wheels – 19 front and 20 rear – larger diameter Brembo performance brakes, special cooling strategies for all lubricants, this electronically commanded diff, dry-sump oil flow for the engine, aero bits, and more aggressive rear ratio of 2.73 versus the stock 2.56 (manual versions have a 3.42 rear ratio).

Manual or automatic? In this case, absolutely go with the seven-speed Tremec manual. Versus how I feel about the clumsy ZF seven manny solution in the new 911s, this gearbox is sensational. I can feel the gears really engaging clearly and strong, and sixth and seventh are true overdrive hyper-miler ratios. There is the opportunity to activate rev matching via the repurposed shift paddles of the automatic gearbox at the steering wheel, but heel-and-toe-ing is fantastic fun here as the engine blips and roars immediately. The rev-match up and down the scale is quicker and efficient and subtle, but I do not want these moments to be subtle affairs. That four-barreled exhaust system is beauteous looking and sounding, and I want me some orchestral accompaniment.

2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray

The fastest I was able to stretch the C7 Z51-equipped unit on these roads was 152 mph – middle of nowhere on a long straight and with zero traffic, promise. At these speeds, the C7 feels like a mighty piece of work to contend with. There are times I would like the V8 to be positioned even further back in the car, or for the perceptible feeling of lift versus down forces to give me more stability over these slightly imperfect roads at these high velocities. But I was pleased withal as it stands. I cannot wait to get this thing on a long piece of smooth race track just to see top speed.

Then for the autocross circuit, I did five laps. I was right away in Track mode of the chassis, I felt that confident with this new tight architecture. What I played with was the variety of stability and traction help and it was really satisfying playtime. I only spun-out once while in Sport 2 level which is DSC completely off, but that was my overexcited right foot to blame mid-curve as I sought oversteer for glory, God, and country. Then I was ready to plunge into Track+Race (possible with the Performance Traction Management option at $1,795) with my manually equipped car.

The burnout from the gate had the Corvette team applauding and there was no stench from the dual-mass flywheel. Then the slalom was easy. What happened through the rest of the cone-course was legendary for me in my relationship with Corvettes. The oversteer was magical and beautiful, the revs from the LT1 and its four-barrel guns equally so, all imperfections were reeled in just by tweaking the steering angle and throttle, and the C7 stayed on its line. Second gear was good for all of this tightness at the airport tarmac. This is a dream car with only a couple of debatable points.

Those points are that, first, the automatic transmission is not well programmed at this point. The Tremec manual is the only one to get at launch, but the product marketing team tells me that at start of deliveries the projections are for 45% manual and 55% automatic. Then after the first year or so, the percentage of automatics will rise steadily. This is too bad, because the upshifts especially from the automatic while in Sport mode are really terrible and long-winded.

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The other point is that the onboard interface functionality and intuitiveness is a bit overly complex to grasp in a day of living with it. I would need a week or two of constant experimentation to really get it. But then…that’d be kind of fun, wouldn’t it?

But this Corvette is easily overall the finest Chevrolet sports car ever built for mass consumption. And it will stand squarely up to all Porsches and Astons and Mercs et al., be it when talking of powertrains or cabin interiors (YES!!) or fit and finish, steering, and the list goes on. Some side-to-side dynamics can use refinement as time marches on for the C7 family, but Chevy has a silver bullet now bar none.

The goal for the C7 base version – this targa-top “coupe” and the later convertible – is to shift 30,000 units annually. Again, if Chevy marketing gets ducks in a row so that the C7 becomes at last an international icon that sells lots, that annual goal is doable for the whole seven-year life cycle of the car and not just for the first two. This is also great to feel, since the dealers already placing $10k to $20k gouges onto the sticker price need to cease and desist. This car is not for just today’s thrill but for the long haul and for new younger customers who will dig what they see. It’s that damned good.

VITAL STATS

2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Coupe

Engine: 6.2L V8

Power: 455 bhp / 460 lb-ft

Transmission: 7-speed manual

0-60 mph Time: 3.8 Seconds (est.)

Top Speed: 196 mph

Drivetrain: Rear-Wheel Drive

Curb Weight: 3,444 LBS

Seating: 2

Fuel mpg: 17 City, 29 HWY

Base Price: $51,995

Price as tested: $59,500 (est.)

SIX GENERATIONS OF CORVETTE AMERICAS GREATEST SPORTS CAR

                            1954 (C1)           1966 (C2)          1972 (C3)          1987 (C4)         2001 (C5)           2013 (C6)

WHEELBASE 102 inches 98 inches 98 inches 96.2 inches 104.5 inches 105.7 inches
OVERALL LENGTH 167 inches 175.2 inches 182.5 inches 176.5 inches 179.7 inches 174.6 inches
CURB WEIGHT 2,850 pounds 3,230 pounds 3,096 pounds 3,279 pounds 3,126 pounds 3,208 pounds
ENGINE “Blue Flame” 3.85L (235 cu.in.) inline-six “L72” 7.0L(427 cu. in.) OHV V-8 “LT1” 5.7L(350 cu. in.) OHV V-8 “L98” 5.7L(350 cu.in.) OHV V-8 “LS6” 5.7L(346 cu. in.) OHV V-8 “LS3” 6.2L(376 cu. in.) OHV V-8
HORSEPOWER 150 @ 4200 rpm 425 @ 5600 rpm 255 @ 5600 rpm 240 @ 4000 rpm 385 @ 6000 rpm 436 @ 5900 rpm
TORQUE (LB.-FT.) 223 @ 2400 rpm 460 @ 4000 rpm 280 @ 4000 rpm 345 @ 3200 rpm 385 @ 4800 rpm 424 @ 4500 rpm
TRANSMISSION two-speed automatic four-speed manual four-speed manual four-speed automatic six-speed manual six-speed automatic
FRONT SUSPENSION independent; upper/lower A-arms, coil springs independent; upper/lower A-arms, coil springs independent; upper/lower A-arms, coil springs independent with transverse fiberglass leaf spring independent with single transverse composite leaf spring independent with single transverse composite leaf spring
REAR SUSPENSION live axle on semi-elliptic leaf springs, tubular shocks independent with single transverse leaf spring independent with single transverse leaf spring independent with single  transverse fiberglass spring independent with single transverse composite spring independent with single transverse composite spring
AXLE RATIO 3.55:1 4.11:1 3.70:1 2.73:1 3.42:1 2.56:1
WHEELS 15×5-inch 15×6-inch 15×8-inch 16×8.5-inch 17×9.5-inch (front) 18×10.5-inch (rear) 18×8.5-inch (front) 19×10-inch (rear)
TIRES 6.70×15-inch 7.50×15-inch F7015 P255/50VR16 P265/40ZR17 (front) P295/35ZR18 (rear) P245/40ZR18 (front) P285/35ZR19 (rear)
BRAKES four-wheel drums four-wheel discs (11.75-in. rotors) four-wheel discs (11.75-in. rotors) four-wheel discs (11.5-in. rotors) four-wheel discs (12.6-in. front rotors / 11.8-in. rear rotors) four-wheel discs(12.8-in. front rotors / 12-in. rear rotors)
PERFORMANCE 0-60 in 11 seconds 0-60 in 4.8 seconds 0-60 in 6.9 seconds 0-60 in 6.3 seconds 0-60 in 4.1 seconds 0-60 in 4 seconds
PRODUCTION 3,640 27,720 (5,528 w/ L72) 27,004 (1,741 w/ LT1) 30,632 35,627 (5,773 Z06) 13,466
BASE PRICE $2,774 $4,295 $5,296 $33,172 $47,500 $49,600

[Snap – text, photos / driving photos, extra photos by Chevy]

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