Numbers, other than the flambéed accounting variety, don't lie. Neither do they offer full disclosure.
Tadge Juechter knows this perhaps more than most, for better and worse.
There was always bitching -- sometimes significant, sometimes trivial. It's part of Corvette culture, and as chief engineer, Juechter for years endured histrionics, whispers and everything in between from loyalists and naysayers. No matter how fast America's Sports Car rocked the stop-light strip, no matter how great its overall ability, or how strong its performance-per-dollar value made higher-cachet sports cars look like thieves … there have been various-size elephants in the room.
Thus, on a sunny June morning inside General Motors' Milford, Mich., proving ground, Juechter stands at the head of a small room and bangs quickly through a presentation highlighting the all-new C7 Corvette Stingray's attributes (“Stingray is Back,” Jan. 21). Considering this is Juechter and Co.'s most important vehicle since he took over the program from Dave Hill in 2006, he seems more low-key than you might expect. Today there's something different about Juechter. He's always engaging, a fine and brutally honest conversationalist, but today there's a lightness, an anxious confidence. He does not appear concerned about selling the C7 to his audience. It seems odd; but 20 years into his Corvette run he knows his words will make no difference. People will say what they are going to say. He's been there, done that.
The C7 must do its own talking.
Drop behind the wheel and the car feels completely different immediately, even before you light the new LT1 direct-injection 6.2-liter aluminum V8. It fires smoothly, with a boom. Stand next to the Corvette, now with variable intake- and exhaust-valve timing, and its relatively sedate idle and inoffensive exhaling is a surprise given the optional, four-valve performance exhaust installed on the cars Chevy has here.
The calmness is no revelation compared to the … seats? For decades, Corvette engineers and marketers have logged complaints about this laughable inadequacy, and they've finally done something about it. The base touring buckets are comparable to those in Corvette competitors such as Porsche's911 Carrera, with firm padding, a low driving position and yes, at last, comfortable and functional side bolstering. When the C7 approaches its 1.03-g cornering limit, you feel one with the car -- not like it's attempting to eject you through the driver's door. Optional competition-like seats will debut when the Stingray convertible arrives in the fourth quarter of this year and will strengthen the driver-machine connection further; but we're happy already.
The electrically assisted, variable-ratio steering hardware is also better. The structure is five times stiffer overall and connected to a smaller, 14.1-inch-diameter, thick-rimmed triple-spoke wheel -- exactly what you want. A power-telescoping adjustment is now a welcome standard item as well.
Right out of the box, arm the C7's launch-control via the center-console-mounted Drive Mode Selector, disengage the clutch and hold the throttle wide open. Depending on conditions, revs hold somewhere north of 4,000 rpm as the LT1 lets out that familiar small-block roar; adding direct injection does not seem to have tarnished its tone. Release the clutch, and the C7 spins its Michelin Super Sport tires, then bombards you with a serious powerband. You feel as though the torque will never end on its way to the 6,500-rpm redline, gunning for 0-60 mph in Chevy's claimed 3.8 seconds, and the quarter-mile in 12.0 seconds at 119 mph.
First gear is good for 51 mph, but we didn't match those quoted acceleration figures on this day, recording 0-60 in 4.1 and the quarter in 12.4 at 115.3 mph. Still, there's no reason to suspect Chevy's figures aren't there for the taking. Corvette test drivers say best times are achieved without using launch control and by power-shifting the new seven-speed Tremec-built manual gearbox. The transmission is another example of improved involvement, with better shift feel and action; the short throws are precise, positive and quicker -- no sledgehammer engagement of Corvettes past.
With this test car's optional performance exhaust, the reworked LT1's peak output rises from 455 hp at 6,000 rpm and 460-lb-ft of torque at 4,600 to 460 hp and 465 lb-ft at the same revs. Impressively, at 2,500 rpm it produces 415 lb-ft, or 50 lb-ft more than the 2013 Corvette's LS3 V8 at the same point in the powerband.
Yet as quick and outright fast (there's no official top speed, but expect it to push 180 mph) as the Stingray is, that's certainly not what it's all about. No, as performance cars' raw numbers rise and driver engagement falls, today the unquantifiable holy grail is “the experience,” and that is the big takeaway here. Raw power and speed aren't new for modern Corvettes; true, the C5 and C6 were capable corner dicers, as well as drag racers, but could leave even the most experienced drivers' hairs standing on end near the limit, exhibiting a frightful tendency toward trailing-throttle oversteer. Little visibility over their long, high hoods didn't help, but rather contributed to the sensation you were driving something much larger than many similar-size rivals.
The C7? It feels small despite this double-take reality: Its wheelbase is 2.4 inches longer (106.7), overall length grows 2.4 inches (177.0) and width 1.3 inches (73.9). The lower hood improves the view ahead, bringing the road seemingly closer. As one former factory Corvette Racing driver remarked to us, you can “finally see out of the #$@&*&! thing,” another huge factor in the perception that it has shrunk appreciably.
Charge into a corner and … pardon? This is a Corvette?
Along with the steering upgrade, a 57 percent stiffer, 99-pound lighter redesigned aluminum chassis and Magnetic Ride Control suspension introduce sharp, immediate response or “a more intimate and connected driving experience.” That predictable quote comes straight from the press kit, but we can't recall many instances of such hyperbole translating so well to the road.
The C7 turns in with hungry front-end bite and corners almost flat, even more so with the Z51 Performance Package and Magnetic Ride Control driven here. A Corvette with Z51 starts at $54,795 and includes an electronic limited-slip differential; dry-sump oiling system; extra cooling for brakes, diff and gearbox; and some aerodynamic trim pieces. At $2,800 for the package, it's a track-day bargain. Throw in another $1,795 for General Motors' newest, long-applauded adjustable suspension—it should help much with that snap oversteer, as it did with the ZR1 -- plus $1,195 for the exhaust and you have one lethal Stingray for $57,785.
Handling appears superb on an autocross and briefly around GM's road course; with 50/50 weight distribution, the car rotates eagerly on entry. It feels adjustable on the throttle like many European performance cars; give it too much right foot and the rear end will come around quick, but this is the fun -- not terrifying -- and controllable type of oversteer enthusiast drivers covet.
Cycle the Drive Mode Selector to “track” and you get various pre-settings for the e-diff, steering, throttle, suspension, traction/stability control, etc. It adds up to aggressive thrills, and the diff comes into play smoothly and quickly, predicting and altering its lock-up almost constantly to maximize braking efficiency and traction into and out of bends. Indeed, the C7 feels downright tossable and confidence inspiring. Yes, we just used the word “tossable” to describe a Corvette. Cue the Apocalypse.
Additionally, there are some fun features to play with, including automatic rev-matching downshifts and a digital tacho-meter similar to the upcoming C7.R race car's. It illuminates a row of rev-counter lights, transitioning from green to yellow then flashing blue at redline when it's time to shift.
C7s will spend most time on public roads, though, and it's a comfortable cruiser as well as a killer. Other than somewhat confounding and frustrating menus and interfaces, at least for new users, there's little to distract from the experience.
Interior appointment has been, in recent history, the fattest elephant, but with various panel wraps and low-gloss carbon-fiber dash treatment available, it fits the car. There's nothing revolutionary, and we expect opinions will vary widely. We'll wait for much more seat time to render a final verdict, but it's by far the most promising Corvette cockpit yet.
Revised Brembo brakes with more swept area and good, but not overly firm, pedal feel brought us to a stop from 60 mph in just 102 feet, a world-class distance. And as the C7 can run on just four cylinders up to 90 mph, the EPA rates its mileage as 17 city, 29 highway; it should be better than any other 450-hp-plus series production car available now.
Speaking of the real world, GM's latest, BWI Group-supplied Magnetic Ride Control delivers good isolation from bumps and shoddy surfaces, though in the firmest settings you feel some harshness and hear a rattle or two. Tour mode smoothes things out.
Also improving the ride is a smaller and lighter wheel/tire package compared to the C6 Gran Sport's while allegedly providing as much grip. With ever larger, ridiculous rubber assaulting the industry, the Corvette team took the opposite approach, demanding, as it says, “less rolling resistance, steering effort and road noise, contributing to a more nimble feel, more immediate steering response and greater touring comfort and efficiency.”
Michelin spent two years developing the custom run-flats, now measuring 245/35R-19 front and 285/30R-20 (with the Z51 package) rear, a decrease in tread width of 30 and 40 millimeters, respectively. It's a significant difference appearing to have paid off with little performance compromise -- just one more area where the Corvette Stingray bears little resemblance to its progenitors.
Mention to Juechter the C7 represents a new archetype, and indeed he knows it makes the point for him.
“I've been telling people the best thing about this new Corvette is the way it drives,” he says with a smile. “It doesn't take you very far down the road before you realize this thing is all new, it's truly a 21st century sports car in the detail execution and in the driving experience.”