You might say the Corvette team has a thing for anniversaries. Whether it is building badass anniversary edition Corvettes with R-compound race tires and such, or resurrecting the Stingray name 30 years after it was introduced. But don’t let that lead you to believe that the 2014 Chevy Corvette Stingray is nostalgic. While it is in touch with its heritage, the C7 Vette is about technology and innovation–from the advanced aerodynamics to the use of lightweight materials, on-board electronics, and magnificent Gen V engine.
To discuss the new 2014 corvette, I was invited to Miami for a local press launch, in which I met with Corvette Marketing Manager John Fitzpatrick. During his presentation, Fitzpatrick stated that the best Corvettes, like the ’63 Stingray, delivered: “breathtaking design, new technologies, awe-inspiring driving experience.” This was accomplished with designs that replaced the previous iteration with purpose. The new aluminum frame increases stiffness by 57% and decreases weight by 100 pounds. The carbon fiber hood and removable roof panel shave another 18 pounds. The use of lighter density composite panels account for 11 pounds and carbon-nano composite structural elements save 9 pounds. The aerodynamics are another huge advancement, benefitting from the Corvette Racing program significantly–using a hood vent to reduce front-end lift on all models. Plus the Z51 gets a unique front air dam and rear spoiler to increase downforce, cooling ducts for the brakes and the transmission and differential coolers.
Moving on to the rest of the Corvette Stingray, the interior was another huge focus for the Corvette team–determined to bring world-class craftsmanship. A 360mm steering wheel gives scale to the feel of the car; meanwhile premium materials from carbon fiber, aluminum, and a fully wrapped leather interior make the coupe feel luxurious. At last the Corvette has a seat that can compete with Porsche and Recaro, using a magnesium frame to cut weight. The Competition GT seat will be available in the fourth quarter of this year. This fitting captain’s chair puts the driver at command central to an array of electronic choices.
The Driver Mode Selector helps dial in the three configurable display themes and make chances to the Weather, Eco, Tour, Sport or Track mode. The coolest aspect of the electronics upgrade is that the ABS and electronic limited slip differential are optimized based on tire temperature. According to GM, this helps improve 60-0mph braking by 1.5 meters over a calibration for cold tires only. Tread temperature is modeled on tire-valve temperature, wheel speeds, cornering force, and engine torque. These calculations predict that a cold tire (under 45-degrees) exerts only 70-percent of maximum grip, and a very abrupt breakaway in traction. A warm tire (45-115) is capable of 90-percent grip with normal breakaway. And a hot tire (above 115) achieves maximum grip with progressive breakaway. Presumably this is all modeled after the tire of choice, the Michelin Pilot Super Sport.
While all 2014 Corvettes boast a really impressive set of Brembo brakes, particularly on the Z51 models (13.6-in., 6-piston front and 13.3-in., 4-piston rear), the new set of Michelin Pilot rubber is an important aspect to the C7 that is not to be overlooked. Despite using a smaller set of tires (245/35R19 front, 285/30R20 rear), the Z51 model manages to exceed the grip of the outgoing Grand Sport and Z06 models–1.03 g-forces according to GM’s tests (Motor Trend managed 1.11). And despite the C6 Z06’s weight advantage and a set of brakes that is equally as impressive (14-in., 6-piston front and 13.4-in., 4-piston rear), the C7 also manages to out-brake the Z06. Though GM’s estimate of 107-feet from 60-0mph is on the conservative side, many including MT have managed 104-feet or less while the standard Z06 was around 108-feet (Motor Trend, Dec ’06). Though, no doubt, the new electronics and improved brake design surely have a considerable effect, Chevrolet Communication Manager Monte Doran was quick to give credit to Michelin. The new Pilot Super Sport is a leap forward from the PS2 used on the ZR1 (not to mention the Goodyears used on the base, Grand Sport and Z06 models). Years of development clearly paid off on the C7.
Another interesting bit of information I gleaned from Monte Doran was that the chassis design is not only 57% stronger than the base C6’s steel frame, but also just as stiff as the C6 Z06 with the removable top in place. I pestered Monte and John Fitzpatrick with the quintessential frame question–how does the weight compare to the C6 Z06’s aluminum frame–both of whom stated that the C7 frame is a bit heavier, but it is an unfair comparison since the C6 Z06 and ZR1 frame was designed for a hardtop. The C7’s frame required considerable reinforcement to account for the removable top.
Before I headed out onto the streets of Miami with an Artic White Z51, Monte gave me the rundown of the displays and features, and also demonstrated the top removal that is nearly identical to the C6. Being the yahoo that I am, I went right for Track mode and listened to the dual-mode exhaust change tone instantly. Game on, I thought. As I sped away in the Corvette search of open road, what would turn out to be a fool’s errand in Miami Beach, it was immediately apparent that the LT1 lives up to the hype. From stoplight to stoplight, the torque is instant just like an LS7. The top end isn’t nearly as potent as an LS7, but it doesn’t necessarily leave you wanting for more. The C7 is plenty of car for the average driver. The overall feel to the C7 is refined, balanced, and fluid. Despite all of the electronics, there are no quirks or clumsiness as millions of little systems integrate in microseconds to adjust the limited slip differential, steering ratio, or throttle progression. And, yes, the active rev matching works perfectly on the 7-speed manual transmission.
Much like the previous two generations, the C7 remains a very easy car to get in and drive. The locations for all the controls as well as their method for manipulation are fairly intuitive. Despite the electronics, it is not nearly as intimidating as you might think. It is easy to find comfort. As someone who has jumped in and out of many Corvette models over the years, perhaps what I love about the C7 the most, as well as the C5 and C6, is that there is very little adjustment period when you first buckle in. Between the design and layout of certain cars to the ever-growing list of features to manipulate, it seems lately you need an instruction manual and a weekend to figure some cars out. The Corvette should be the model of how to build a car with plenty of high-tech features without overwhelming the driver.
During the presentation the Corvette team focused on the Porsche 911 as the closest basis for comparison. In years past that may have seemed like a stretch, but when you break down the numbers–besides loyalty to the brand–there is little reason to choose the once-unbeatable German coupe. While the size (176.9 x 73.7 x 48.8-in.) and weight (3,298-lbs) is nearly identical, the Stingray is capable of 29mpg with its 460hp engine while the Carrera S manages only 400hp and 27mpg with its 3.8L 6-cylinder. The winning combination for the LT1, as you probably know, includes direct injection, variable valve timing and active fuel management to turn the 6.2L V-8 into a 3.1L V-4 that can achieve up to 100mph (rated at 126hp and 221 lb-ft of torque). In pretty much every area, including price, the Stingray is superior to the 911 Carrera S.
For those purists who still can’t believe the Corvette can handle better than a Porsche (who have apparently never heard of ALMS or any factory based professional racing), the C7 is 7-seconds a lap faster on Virginia International Raceway’s Grand Course, according to GM’s internal testing and the fastest known lap by a 911 Carrera S (Car and Driver). At 2:51.8, the C7 is also 7-seconds faster than the outgoing C6 Grand Sport and Z06, 2011 Shelby GT500, 2013 Camaro 1LE, Mercedes SLS and C63 Coupe Black Series. There are plenty of other casualties on the list that present more of a challenge to the C7, but I’ll skip ahead to the few that are ahead of it–Ferrari 458 Italia, Mosler MT900S, 2009 Dodge Viper SRT-10 ACR, and the outgoing C6 ZR1. That is some exclusive company.
While we have yet to push the 2014 Corvette Stingray to its limits to see why and how it has accomplished such an impressive feat, there is always next time. Perhaps the best measure of a car is in how much you look forward to driving it again. If so, the C7 definitely measures up since I’d trade my cirrhotic liver for a few hot laps on VIR. Though my time with it was brief, it was worth 9-10 hours of travel time and I can’t wait to do it again.