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C7 Forecast: Sunny, With A Chance Of Supercharging - Idle Chatter

Editor's Letter

Jay Heath Feb 6, 2014
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As I’ve noted before, forecasting the specifics of upcoming car models before they’re released is a bit like picking college-football bowl matchups before the season gets underway: endlessly enjoyable for the prognosticators, but unlikely to produce anything resembling accurate results. The enjoyable part explains the popularity of all those late-night gabble-fests on ESPN, as well as the ubiquity of automotive blogs and forums where every rumor, spy shot, and scrap of leaked information is parsed, analyzed, and debated ad infinitum (and occasionally ad nauseam) by knowledgeable brand adherents and self-appointed experts alike.

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Now that the long-awaited ’14 Stingray is officially a known commodity, those of us in the Corvette camp are left to train our predictive powers on sussing out the details of future editions of the car. In this column, I’ll address a couple of C7 rumors that have been percolating of late -- one possessing tangible evidence of its legitimacy, the other a bit of pure speculative fancy.

Z06/Z07/ZR1 Model

It’s a virtual certainty that a speed-tuned Stingray variant will bow at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in early January, exactly one year after the debut of the base model. What’s slightly less clear at this point (and keep in mind that I’m writing this in early October) is what the car will be called, and whether there’s an even more potent version in the offing.

When spy shots of a heavily camouflaged C7 hit the Internet in August, most observers posited that the car would represent a midlevel offering and carry a Z06 or Z07 badge. But based on what we’re hearing, it now appears that Team Corvette is planning to skip the intermediate model altogether and instead coronate the next ZR1.

In keeping with Chevy’s newfound affinity for forced induction, the car will use a supercharged version of the LT1 engine dubbed, appropriately enough, the LT5. (The decision to revive that questionable LT designation is starting to make more sense now, no?) Beyond that, the usual performance-boosting alterations -- bigger wheels and brakes, aero-enhanced bodywork, and a track-oriented suspension -- will further distinguish the car from the base ’ray.

With the LS7 having made the transition to Camaro duty, and in the absence of any evidence that a larger-displacement LT1 is on the way, the Z06 model looks to have laid its last patch of rubber. Let’s hope we’re mistaken.

Hybrid Powertrain Technology

GM president Mark Reuss raised eyebrows recently when he opined in the LA Times that a hybrid Corvette was “a very attractive idea.”

Certainly you’ll hear no snickering from us. In fact, regular visitors to this space will recall that I’ve been stumping for a hybrid Corvette for several years now, not for reasons of fuel economy, but because augmenting gas engines with battery power allows for terrific increases in output (and low-end torque, in particular) without a corresponding penalty in efficiency or driveability.

For an example of performance hybrid technology refined to the nth degree, one need look no further than Porsche’s jaw-slackening 918, which makes 887 hp and 940 lb-ft of torque using a 4.6-liter V-8 gas engine teamed with a pair of electric motors. Despite a hefty (for a sports car) curb weight of 3,715 pounds, the 918 set a new production-car record at the Nürburgring with a lap time of 6:57 -- nearly 23 seconds quicker than a C6 ZR1.

Of course, it also costs $845,000, thanks in part to the considerable R&D expenses Porsche incurred on the project. A Corvette hybrid would necessarily be less ambitious in nature, the better to preserve the marque’s well-earned reputation as the world’s only affordable supercar. Moreover, since the best hybrids are typically designed ab initio to carry both gas and electric drivetrain hardware, we may have to wait until the C8 shows up for this particular “attractive idea” to become a reality.

In the meantime, let the speculation rage on.

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