It’s a ‘Vette, But Not As You Know It

The new C8 generation of the Chevrolet Corvette is the first in the 68-year history of a mid-engined, not front-engined car. It is also the first ‘vette to have a folding metal roof, the first not to be offered with a manual gearbox, and the first to be available on the right-hand wheel.

Normally such drastic changes to a decades old bloodline would be carried out slowly, the recipe gradually changing over several generations. But not. Chevrolet has done everything, rolled the dice and completely changed the foundation of the Corvette. As a result, the Corvette can be considered a global car for the first time – and because of that it competes with European race cars like Porsche.

For now we only have the entry-level Stingray variant of the C8, available with a folding hard top or a detachable targa top; Chevrolet says all the power is in the floor and the car has been designed to be roofless from the start, with no fixed roof models available at this stage. We can expect to see hotter versions of the next-generation Corvette C8 Z06 and ZR1, but with a 6.2-liter, naturally-aspirated V8 engine producing 482 horsepower and 452lb ft (613 Nm) of torque, this is still a promising sports car.

Note: When I submitted this piece, Chevrolet revealed the C8 Z06, which replaced the Stingray’s 6.2-liter motor completely for the new, bespoke 5.5-liter V8. Naturally sucked and with a flat-plane crankshaft, the Z06 produces 670 horsepower, 460 lb ft of torque and has a rev limiter of 8,600 rpm. Now, back to Stingrays…

Is the Stingray a supercar? I’ve been wrestling with this question for a few weeks now and I still haven’t come to a decision. The mid-engine layout, aggressive styling and driving position, complete with the fighter jet-style look from the wide windshield and short hood, ticked all the supercar boxes. But with prices starting at $59,995 in the US and £74,200 in the UK, it costs like a sports car, with the entire theater load thrown in for free.

Toys too. The C8 aimed at the British coast will come as a 2LT package as standard, which includes heated and ventilated seats, navigation with an 8.0-inch screen, 14-speaker Bose sound system, 12-inch driver screen, cruise control, head-up display, glass rear view mirror, front and rear parking camera, and wireless phone charging. It’s pretty much fully loaded, in other words. Even by European standards.

I’ll park the sports car/supercar semantic argument for now and take the C8 separately. Leaving the Sheraton hotel at Frankfurt airport, I had a sparkling red coupe to myself for the day. Creeping out into the morning traffic, I left the car in its default settings and let the gearbox take care of itself. The big engine went silent and I concentrated on navigating my way to the Autobahn. So far everything has been very civilized, but the stares, smiles, and waving hands from the passing traffic serve as constant reminders that I’m driving something special.

I wonder how many people know what a car is; who, in a European city, recognized the Corvette badge, or knew this was an example of a mid-range engine? It doesn’t seem like a problem. I serve as mobile entertainment for their driving suit to their desk in town. It seems unlikely that a similarly priced Porsche 911 or Jaguar F-Type would attract such attention.

As I sailed out of Frankfurt, the Corvette felt comfortable and smooth, with a cabin that was perfect for its German rival. There’s leather everywhere, suede on the rectangular steering wheel, and the infotainment system is easy to use.

So, surprisingly, is climate control. I say surprising because at first the long row of buttons on the ridge that divides the cabin in two seems disconcerting. But once you realize the top is for the driver, and essentials like temperature and fan speed are textured or recessed to aid in invisible interactions, it all makes sense. It’s a very driver-focused cabin, with the infotainment display just slightly on the side of the steering wheel, and tilting toward the driver. The C8’s interior is comfortable, functional, and of high quality, but also with great drama and visual appeal. It’s a small detail, but the wireless charging slot for your phone, which sits between two chairs, holds my iPhone securely and charges its battery reliably. You’d be surprised how many new cars still don’t fit.

I quickly cleared Frankfurt and reached the off-limits section of the Autobahn. I pulled the left paddle to drop a few gears and accelerate hard. The V8 wakes up from four-cylinder cruise mode in an instant and fills the cabin with a brutal, muscular soundtrack. It’s a loud car, it should also be styled, and sounds even more impressive because it doesn’t use a turbocharger like most of its rivals.

It’s a busy Friday morning so no Autobahn heroics today, which is a shame given the Corvette’s claimed top speed of 184mph in its European configuration. Chevrolet UK says the C8 Stingray sprints to 62mph in 3.5 seconds, while US testers have seen a 0-60mph time of just 2.7 seconds. The ‘my’ C8 certainly feels fast off the track, but once it’s up and down it doesn’t feel like a car in under three seconds. Very fast, but the impression I get is that the quietness of the chassis and general firmness of the legs suggest that there is still a lot of performance to be extracted from the platform.

I left the highway in search of a more challenging road, and the Corvette immediately felt like a wide car. At 76.1in (1,933mm) the C8 is 2.2 inches wider than the C7 and 3.2 inches narrower than the current 992-generation Porsche 911. On a narrow country road it literally occupies the entire lane.

This isn’t surprising – mid-engined supercars are always wide – but I would be wary of using the C8 as my everyday car, which I suspect will be driven by the relatively low price. Can you drive a C8 every day the same way many people do with the 911? I think I’m finally getting used to it, but in the narrow streets of European cities, the Corvette is unlikely to feel completely at home.

After the road widened a bit, I switched the Corvette to Sport mode and I was really impressed. There’s real maturity and composure here, the chassis tells you it’s on your side and the engine won’t suddenly turn into a giant pendulum in the center corner. This sophistication feels a bit at odds with the old school, large-capacity V8, but the rumbling soundtrack and instant throttle pick-up is something to enjoy. The steering is light but precise and fast but not on the same hypersensitive scale as the Ferrari, while the brakes are impressive, with solid pedals and a comfortable feel.

If you don’t like all the changes that the Sport mode makes, then Chevrolet has the answer in the form of a Z button. On the steering wheel for easy access, it allows the mode to be customized by the driver; You could start the engine and exhaust, but with a lighter steering and softer suspension, for example. Or any other combination. It’s a neat system that works like the M button on a BMW M car wheel; one-tap shortcuts to set the car exactly the way you want it on your favorite roads, then return to comfortable highway cruising with a single tap.

This quickly shows how extensive the Stingray’s abilities are. Leaving the occasional wide issue to one side, after just a day at the wheel it starts to feel like a car you can drive more easily than supercar style would allow. It’s comfortable and relatively civilized when you want it, then transforms into a snarling sports car with a majestic soundtrack when you want to have fun – and delivers a level of performance that most drivers think will suffice without scaring themselves.

In other words, it’s an affordable and accessible sports car in supercar style – all while marrying Americana character with the maturity and determination needed to succeed in Europe and the UK. I welcome Corvettes to this beach and I wish them the best.

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