The hottest topic in automotive these days is vehicle automation. In that regard, the Chevrolet Corvette is hardly novel – it’s a car that still has to be driven. It doesn’t have parking sensors, because if you can’t park it you sure as hell shouldn’t be piloting it. The Corvette does have a camera in the windshield, but it’s there to record your track performance, not tell you when you’re veering out of your lane while sipping on a latte. No, this car is one of the few still left for those who love to drive and it plays the part well.
Before diving into the C7, let’s reflect on how it got here. This is the Corvette that was developed during General Motors’ darkest hour. While the lawyers were vetting through a Chapter 11 filing, GM engineering and design were churning out the seventh generation company flagship. On top of that, the chassis was heavily redesigned and the engine under the hood evolved to the Gen V Small Block V-8. The conditions and resulting car successfully nullify arguments that this car is unworthy of the Stingray badge on the side.
The Corvette has always been an icon. It’s also always been a fun-to-drive car, largely because of its form. Where the Corvette has always fallen short is in its ability to holistically be a great performance car. There’s always been excuses that tarnished its ability to fully compete on the world’s stage – not unlike most GM products of subsequent eras.
Just a glance at the C7 tells you the attention to detail on this ‘Vette is superior to those of the past. The design theme is clearly Corvette, but has enough modern touches to keep it fresh in today’s dizzying array of automotive design. Overlooking the dash passengers are treated with a view of the massive, sculpted front fenders that could almost be construed as retro to the second and third generation ‘Vette. Conversely, certain angles along the side panels are sharp, providing a nice contrast to the heritage cues. The car has an insane amount of road presence; vindicated by the number of stares, thumbs-up and remarks our tester got from random people.
The road presence isn’t all show with this car, however. Jumping into the driver’s seat you quickly notice that the gear selector has seven gears with a clutch pedal. Pushing the start button greets you with familiar and equally intoxicating growl of a Small Block V-8. That growl, we’ll note, makes you do funny things, such as revving the engine inside the airport parking garage to the point some may have thought a plane was being stored in the wrong area. But there’s more senses to this car than noise.
Any self-respecting driver is first going to take note of the Stingray’s steering. GM isn’t exactly noted for stellar steering tuning, but this car breaks the unfortunate trend. The electric system is nicely tuned with just enough weight behind it to make the car easy to control under aggressive driving. Additionally, it isn’t over-assisted (a more common problem with today’s performance cars), if you lock the wheel left or right, it’s going to stay put for the most part unless you guide it back on-center. While insignificant to most drivers, this is a valuable trait for track driving and a small testament to the Stingray’s pedigree and detail.
The track attributes are not exclusive to the steering rack. Stringray’s Tremec TR7070 seven-speed manual is also a highlight of driving this car aggressively, but it takes some getting used to before it can be fully mastered. This is a gearbox that does not like to be controlled; the driver really has to just trust it, not try to over-power the throws and all will be well with it. It’s well synchronized and the throws are reasonably short with a “thug-thug” feel that ultimately lets the driver know exactly where things stand in the gate. It’s one of those gearboxes that performs best when the engine is being pushed to its limit; at redline the throws are swift and require no thought on the part of the driver to execute. The driver simply needs to guide the shifter in the general direction of the upshift and the Tremec reads their mind to execute the rest.
Of course, this manual has the infamous 1-4 “economy” shift that proves beyond annoying. Like every other GM product, it can be overridden, but the driver literally has to battle the gearbox to get it back to second gear versus fourth. We don’t fully understand why this isn’t disabled when the car is in “sport” or “track” modes, but it most certainly isn’t.
Though the five drive modes on the Stingray do give the car many personalities. Daily drivers will find “tour” mode to be most useful, which softens the car’s Magnetic Ride Control suspension enough to keep the car livable on the eroding infrastructure of most cities. Sport mode firms the suspension and steering tuning a bit, while letting the exhaust note out a little more. The highlight of the five modes is undoubtedly referred to as “track” mode. Track sets the dampers to their firmest setting, tightens up the rack a little more and opens up the exhaust’s butterfly valves so the full chorus of the LT1 can bellow out the quad tips.
The drive modes ultimately play a key role in perpetuating a legacy associated with GM performance cars. They make the Stingray remarkably livable for daily use without softening to the point that track days are soured. Commuting to work in this car is no problem, even with the manual gearbox. Though when you want to go play at the local road course, this car is unequivocally prepared.
During our time with the car it became readily clear that this Corvette has no excuses when it comes to driving dynamics. Straight-line performance is absolutely stunning with the LT1’s 460 horsepower and 465 foot-pounds of torque and a noticeably more aggressive throttle response than the previous versions. When the bends hit, the car takes them with virtually no body sway. This chassis is so balanced that the car is difficult to push to its handling limit unless the weather yields the Michelin Pilot Sports grip-free, which some purists may take issue with.
This Corvette is so good from a handling perspective that it manages to make just about any adequate driver come across very talented. There is a right mix of authentic handling attributes, such as a lightweight chassis, sticky rubber, linear steering and software to boost the confidence of just about any driver. The novelty of having to work to keep the Corvette stable on the road course is, frankly, gone. While this means the Stingray is in a whole new league of world-class supercars, it also means it is a different kind of fun to drive.
Another Corvette trait has vanished with the Stingray: a shoddy interior. Jumping into the driver’s seat of this car and you’ll instantly notice there’s leather everywhere. GM got trashed so much over the C5 and C6 interiors that they corrected it, in part, with simply wrapping everything in hand-stitched leather. When paired with real aluminum and our tester’s Euro-flare Kalahari color…the interior proves to be a nice place to reside. Though the more important trait is the ergonomics.
In typical GT car fashion, everything is tilted toward the driver and is within reach, making fiddling with the touchscreen a breeze. And tech-minded drivers will find solace in that touchscreen as it includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration for 2016. Though we did note that the screen is oddly difficult to touch (uncharacteristic for a GM product) and the infotainment system was buggy at times, but livable by today’s standards. Hell, it even has 4G LTE wifi, though we can’t fathom why anyone would care about that in this car.
There were some other sketchy components inside the Stingray. The dead-pedal cover actually fell off during our time with the car. Fortunately, it snapped right back into place, but it was not an impressive symptom from a $70,000 car. Our tester had also already developed some interior rattles, despite only having about 6,000 miles on the clock. Nit-picks aside, the interior of this car has been taken up a level, which continues the trend.
Really it’s as if the Corvette is at an inflection point. The legacy and culture the nameplate has generated over seven generations does not have to justify the C7 – it’s a great car besides the nameplate on the side. Essentially it has finally caught up to its supercar competition and ironically it’s just at a time when we’re entering into a world of electrification and automation. In that sense, we’re really glad the Stingray is here.