2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Z51
From the September 2013 Issue of Car and DriverTESTED
That whiff of smoked Michelin you smell and the bawl of tortured rear tires you hear confirm that we’ve popped the clutch on the Corvette’s seventh generation. We uncorked it at GM’s Milford, Michigan, proving grounds, where we strapped our testing gear to the thing and came away feeling sorry for almost any car that meets it at a stoplight, the track, or a winding road.
But before we tell you about what it can do, here’s a primer on what makes the C7 worthy of bearing the Corvette flame and the Stingray name. The new LT1 V-8 carries over a 6.2-liter displacement and pushrod architecture but nothing else. Direct injection and optimized combustion hike the power to 460 horses while fluffing the torque curve by 50 pound-feet between 2000 and 3500 rpm. Cylinder shutdown and a mega-tall seventh gear in the Tremec manual transmission push EPA highway mileage to 30 mpg (in eco mode). A stout aluminum frame and Michelin tires are now standard for all Corvettes. The C7’s tech arsenal includes an electronically controlled limited-slip differential, aerodynamic lessons learned from racing, manual-transmission rev matching, and a patented means of sensing tire temperature to fine-tune the chassis. Inside, the cockpit is comprehensively upgraded, and the sorry C6 buckets have been replaced with world-class, eight-way-adjustable driver and passenger thrones.
Modeled after Porsche 911 buckets, these seats don’t hinder your slide into a cockpit that’s aggressively driver oriented. An instrument cluster to make Nintendo jealous, an eight-inch central touch screen, and a sensible mix of control knobs and buttons reside on the action side of a vertical partition. The passenger gets a comfy place to sit, a couple of grab handles, and temperature-control buttons by the right-side vent. While you can splurge for an $8005 full-leather interior package, the $51,995 base Stingray’s dashtop is wrapped with a stitched and grained “protein” vinyl (a blend of vinyl and silk) good enough to fool a cowhide inspector. Real carbon-fiber accents and a stitched-suede dash-wrap are available options, each of which adds $995 to the sticker. The center half of the instrument cluster is a reconfigurable screen offering a choice of three tach motifs, navigation pointers, g reports, and other essential information. Even the cheapest surface material inside, a sort of powder-coat black paint, feels upscale.
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Our test day’s biggest surprise was a curb weight higher than expected. The Z51 Stingray we weighed at Milford crossed the scales at 3444 pounds, about 100 heavier than a C6 Grand Sport (steel space frame, 436 horsepower, Z06 chassis hardware). Offsetting its comprehensive weight-saving measures, the new Corvette is slightly larger, structurally stiffer, and better equipped than its predecessor. The harsh reality is that every feature and function—heated and vented seats, for instance—adds pounds. The saving grace is that this is the first Corvette with a rearward weight bias (49.4 percent front, 50.6 percent rear).
Triggering the clutch at 3700 rpm drops a torque bomb on the rear tires. It produces beneficial wheelspin as the clairvoyant e-differential balances left- and right-side thrust. Without exploiting launch control, which is handy but beatable, we clocked a best sprint to 60 mph of 3.9 seconds and 12.2 seconds at 117 mph in the quarter-mile. In case you’ve fallen behind on your stat-keeping, this is elite territory: about the same as the outgoing Corvette 427 convertible, a few tenths quicker than the Grand Sport, and faster than any Porsche Boxster or Cayman we’ve tested. The foes to avoid at stoplights are the new Jag F-type packing a supercharged V-8 and the Porsche 911S, both of which smoke the Stingray to 60 and through the quarter-mile by 0.2 to 0.3 second.
Direct fuel injection and new combustion chambers not only give new life to the small block, they also make the thing sound like the Battle of Gettysburg. With the two-way mufflers in low-restriction mode and the tach needle crowding the 6500-rpm redline, the new Stingray V-8 blasts out shock and awe. One flat-out run through the gears will convince the Corvette faithful that American-engineered V-8s are still the way and the truth.
Thanks to the move to Michelin Pilot Super Sport radials, the Stingray is world-class in terms of braking and cornering. Stopping from 70 mph in 146 feet without fade matches the Grand Sport as well as recent Cayman and 911 performances. Brembo calipers and grooved rotors provide decisive bite, linear response, and easy modulation. But where the Stingray really excels is in cornering tests. Posting a 1.08-g score on GM’s black-lake circle puts the C7 in league with the Z06 and ZR1 on track tires and well beyond the reach of the current Porsche crowd.
The Michelins don’t deserve all the credit for the Corvette’s superhero grip, though. The rear weight bias, twist-resistant structure, and 19- and 20-inch forged-aluminum wheels (an inch larger in diameter and part of the Z51 package) also help. Add to that a secret weapon: coordinated chassis controls. Turning the center-console mode selector to the track setting arms the chassis militia—stability control, limited-slip diff, magnetic dampers, and traction management—for combat. After sensing inflation pressure, wheel speeds, lateral g, and engine torque, a new tire-temperature algorithm tells the troops that the tires are hot and ready. The limited-slip differential decouples the rear wheels to enhance steering response and stability while minimizing understeer. With the application of throttle at a corner’s apex, the differential progressively locks as the demand for lateral traction diminishes and forward thrust surges.
The traction-management system’s role is to astutely trim engine output with micro ignition-timing and fuel-delivery adjustments that ensure that the rear tires receive all the torque they can handle—but not so much that they slip and allow the tail to scurry wide. Most of this work is intangible and inaudible. All the driver knows is that the Stingray sticks and the exhaust note flattens when the powertrain and the chassis collaborate.
Lapping a black-lake gymkhana and the Milford road course provided the opportunity to test this cross-car coordination. What the new electrically assisted steering lacks in feedback from the pavement, it makes up with crisp response and reassuring, progressive effort. A five-fold increase in rigidity between the smaller (14.1-inch) wheel rim and the steering rack eliminates any chance of lost motion between your fingertips and the front wheels. The shift knob is a short hand-flight from the small wheel, and no gear-change grunting is required this time around thanks to improved synchros, a dual-mass flywheel, and a new rev-matching system. Resisting the urge to heel-and-toe your way into a tight bend is the toughest part of letting this technology help you attack a track or two-lane.
Out here on the Milford road course, driven hard, there’s a bit of body roll, but, thanks to authoritative damping, the chassis always plays nice, never disrupting the mission with feints or funny business. The Z06 tail twitch that challenged even seasoned racers has left this building.
Those with track aspirations should definitely wait for the competition seat—which will be available by the end of the year—because the touring bucket’s outside bolster delegates the job of restraining the driver’s left leg to the door panel, an unfriendly surface that’s ill-suited to the task. One long lapping day will wear out that trim, your knee, or both of those vital components.
Every new Corvette proffers ever-more illustrious performance figures to keep pace with competitors and customer expectations. What the C7 adds is accessibility. There’s no demon hiding under the dash waiting to bite a driver interested in dialing up race mode and mashing the pedals, no penalties for attempting to explore the car’s colossal performance envelope. The $2800 Z51 package (dry sump, larger-diameter wheels, bigger front brakes, lubricant coolers, more-aggressive gear ratios, and electronic differential) and the $1795 magnetic-ride control with performance traction management are all you need to turn a Stingray cruiser into a track-master.
On the road, the car is just as predictable and friendly. The 60-percent-stiffer structure provides an excellent foundation for more-supple damper settings, eliminating the C6’s trash-can comportment over broken pavement. Tread noise still penetrates the thin composite skin, and the ride is firm even in touring mode, but there is nothing to complain about in the comfort category.
In fact there’s little at all to complain about. The steering-spoke mouse commanding the reconfigurable cluster demands more patience than mature Corvette fans will muster, but anyone not in need of a Jitterbug phone should enjoy the half hour of driveway time required to tour the Stingray’s electronic-display menu. Also, the hockey-stick-format tachometer, a major C4 annoyance, is back in track mode, allegedly because the Corvette C6.R competition crew wanted an expanded near-redline zone. Last, we’d prefer a base seat with firmer bolsters; let the portly eat more cake.
Earlier this year, when we took a shot at predicting C7 details before they were revealed, chief engineer Tadge Juechter gave our paper a B–. Reciprocating is only fair. Considering the performance strides, the splendid interior, the Stingray’s screaming value, and its fun-to-drive vibe, here’s our Corvette report card: A+ for effort, straight As for execution.
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By DON SHERMAN