What constitutes a thorough new-car review these days? Browsing the typical online “magazine” (quotes intentionally used) might lead one to conclude that it’s all about knee-jerk first impressions, stilted comparisons with half-million- dollar supercars, and arch commentary on what does and does not constitute a modern suspension configuration.
But while such criteria may serve the needs of the average Joe Internet, here at VETTE we strive to provide our readership with a more profound level of analysis, one that incorporates instrumented testing as well as driving impressions not formed while traversing a strip-mall parking lot at 15 mph.
In the case of the new Corvette Stingray, we fulfilled the latter requirement a few months back, when we sampled Chevy’s latest two-seater in the mountains and valleys south of San Francisco (“Monterey Jacked,” Jan. ’14). That left only the objective half of the equation, fulfillment of which relied upon GM’s ability to provide us with a suitable test subject.
That frabjous day arrived late last fall, when a freshly minted Velocity Yellow ‘ray materialized at VETTE HQ. And while our excitement was initially tempered by the realization that the car lacked both the Z51 Performance Package and the new seven-speed manual transmission, the included 3LT trim package and NPP Dual Mode Exhaust promised to supply reasonable consolation.
Prior experience tells us that the creased-and-chiseled Stingray is an attention magnet of the highest order out on the street, but does it have the objective performance to back up that rock-star persona on the track? Let’s find out.
At the Dragstrip
Our official testing facility, Palm Beach International Raceway (www.racepbir.com), boasts both a dragstrip and an 11-turn, two-mile road-course circuit, making it possible to subject cars to a full battery of dynamic evaluations over the course of a single day. That said, these sessions sometimes run into the evening hours, owing to the difficulty of finding the optimum launch method for each vehicle, cooling it down between runs, and tending to any mechanical maladies that happen to arise.
Happily the Stingray would require no such extensions. In fact our best pass of 11.736 seconds at 118.76 took place near the start of the session, and the car displayed precisely zero inclination to slow down as the morning wore on.
“Very consistent,” noted this author’s logbook entry. “The best 60-foot times were achieved by simply leaving the car in Drive and stomping the throttle. Shifting manually with the paddles added a tenth or two to the e.t.’s.”
The car was so consistent, in fact, that we spent the latter half of the morning devising novel ways to try to squeeze a few extra hundredths out of it. But whether it ran hot or cool, with or without the plastic engine covers, and regardless of driver, our Stingray stuck resolutely in the 11.7- to 11.8-second range at 117-118 mph. Bracket racers, your Corvette has arrived.
Sub-12-second quarter-mile blasts in a 460-horsepower sports car are never boring, but the automatic Stingray makes them routine.
On the Road Course
PBIR’s moderately sized circuit is perfect for evaluating the fundamental handling characteristics of a street car without setting the brake pads ablaze or pulverizing the suspension bushings into little rubber pellets.
While we didn’t expect our base-model automatic to set any speed records here, we were a little surprised at how poorly the revised 6L80E slushbox acquitted itself on track, particularly given its previous strong showings on the street and ’strip.
Again, a peek at the logbook proves illuminating: “In short, the automatic clearly isn’t designed for [road-course] use. It forced shifts early at times, wouldn’t shift when requested at others, and proved generally intractable. Eventually the ECM started cutting the throttle altogether, most likely as a result of soaring ATF temps. We’ll need to try a Z51 manual in order to get representative numbers.”
But while the automatic was clearly out of its element, the Stingray’s suspension easily lived up to its advance billing. Our test driver, Grand Am racing vet (and GM High-Tech Performance associate editor) DJ Randall, described the car as “very manageable,” noting that “Handling was well behaved on turn-in, and the car’s initial body-roll was limited, allowing for accurate car placement. Directional changes were sharp, [particularly noticeable] through Turns 2 and 7. The car’s low-speed cornering behavior…around Turns 4 and 10, had spots of minimal understeer, quickly transitioning to power-oversteer on track out.
“With that being said, modulating the throttle was somewhat challenging, due to the computer-controlled application, but the overall experience was pleasing nonetheless. Also, drivers who are planning to attend an open-track day in a C7 would benefit from a brake-pad swap, as the higher heat tolerance would eliminate the fade experienced with the stock pads.”
Based on these results, we’d have a hard time recommending a non-Z51 automatic car for anything more demanding than street, ’strip, or light autocross duty. Still, considering that those driving environments account for the vast majority of new-Corvette usage, the base model’s “bang for the buck” proposition is difficult to dispute.
On the Dyno
Following its disjointed performance at PBIR, we were hopeful that the Stingray would achieve a measure of redemption on the chassis dyno, where its lack of race-spec suspension, brake, and cooling hardware would be less of an impediment. And indeed, the car recorded 410.88 hp and 419.71 lb-ft of torque at the rear wheels on its first pull, accompanied by a horripilation-inducing war whoop from the NPP exhaust. Follow-up runs netted virtually identical figures, another testament to the consistent nature of the Stingray’s powertrain performance.
How does that compare with the factory ratings? Applying a conservative 15 percent correction factor yields “at the crank” numbers of 483 and 494 respectively, once again demonstrating that GM isn’t afraid to underrate the output of its flagship performer.
The Stingray Blows Its Top
No sooner had the tires stopped smoking on our screaming-yellow coupe, than we were afforded the chance to sample the new Stingray convertible in an around tony Palm Springs, California. While the car proved perfectly content to potter around this onetime Hollywood exurb (Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, and Gene Autry all maintained residences here at one point or another), its huge grip and feline reflexes were most appreciated during the trip’s main event: a 9⁄10 blast along an approximately 150-mile portion of State Route 74. This consistently thrilling, occasionally terrifying assemblage of banked curves and lunch-launching moguls climbs some 4,000 feet into the San Jacinto Mountains before plunging pell-mell down the other side.
In addition to a bracing rush of adrenaline, the drive furnished us with an opportunity to sample the Stingray’s newly available Competition Sport seats for the first time. We’re happy to report that these aggressively bolstered buckets pinched the editorial love handles no more aggressively than did the base GT seats in our coupe tester, and were arguably more comfortable all around. (Certainly they inspired added confidence during our three-hour SR 74 strafing run.)
While the Stingray sacrifices little in its conversion to open-air status, it does give up the pair of cooling vents mounted atop the rear fenders. Chevy reps assured us that the drop-top’s relocated ducts—now mounted beneath the bodywork—do a perfectly fine job of keeping trans and differential temps down, but even they eventually conceded that a Z51 coupe is probably the better choice for HPDE duty. (Given our experience with our base-coupe test car, we’re inclined to agree.)
Still, for anything short of open-track work, the Stingray ‘vert is a perfectly viable alternative to its hardtop stable mate. It’s available now, at a base price of $56,000.