It is a rough job but someone has to travel to Willow Springs Raceway in the Antelope Valley, CA each year and drive the newest vehicles around a track and report on them. I am blessed to be that person- along with journalists from all over the world. Speaking of the world; international enthusiasts have taken notice of an all-new Chevrolet Corvette (C-7) that now ranks among the world’s best supercars. After a couple of laps around the Streets of Willow racetrack, I would agree! I think, with the active exhaust system which adjusts the timing of the electronically controlled exhaust valves, the new C7 sounds even better than those exotic super cars costing north of $100k.
The newest Corvette (dubbed the Stingray) is not the Sting Ray of 1963. This is a high performance sports coupe with the feel of Europe’s best two-seaters. Corners were controlled just enough to feel safe and yet, the C7 stays on the envelope just enough to pump some adrenaline through the driver and through the right amount of power to the rear wheels. The steering response is much improved over the C6 and the C7 steering input keeps the oversteer in check. GM claims that their Performance Traction Management system is smarter than even professional drivers in monitoring the torque to the rear wheels. Even if that is not true, the five settings of torque reduction and brake intervention for track driving made a fair driver like me feel like Mario Andretti. Well done!
The Driver Mode Selector is easy enough to set with a knob near the shifter. The preset electronic settings of the Z51 Performance Package vary from “Tour” mode for daily commutes; to “Eco” for better mileage; to “Sport and Track” for the aggressive urges on mountain roads or an actual track for those fortunate enough to get onto the paddock. The new “Weather” mode depowers torque for driving in rain and snow. There are twelve performance parameters adjusted with these settings which include gauge cluster configurations (including a race car display with lap timer); ETC (Electronic Throttle Control) which controls the throttle input curve; Active Fuel Management that controls the V-8 or V-4 modes of the LT1 engine; steering boost effort for the correct driving condition; and Magnetic Ride Control which adjusts shock damping based on road conditions and driver’s input.
Much has been touted about the new electronic limited-slip differential in the Z51 suspension system and it is as good as advertised. This variable system adjusts the rate at which the limited slip engages which is felt in the front of the car when attempting to give the right steering angle under high speed turns in the Sport and Track modes. However, it also provides excellent traction when trying to keep the Corvette from sliding off the road when one runs out of pavement, talent, and/or luck.
The 2014 Corvette Stingray is blisteringly fast with 455 horsepower and 460 lb.-ft. of torque under the new sloping hood. This all-new 6.2-liter LT1 V-8 engine is still a push-rod small block V8 but it is a completely new motor. With the use of direct fuel injection and continuously variable valve timing, this powerplant moves the new Stingray (Z51-equipped models) from 0-60 in 3.8 seconds! GM’s Active Fuel Management system also turns the 6.2 liters into a 4-cylinder engine while cruising down the road. Like other GM products with this proven system, the Corvette seamlessly uses only the power that is needed. Most of the pre-ordered Corvette’s include the Z51 performance package for just under $3k, however this powerplant comes standard with a starting price of only $51,995 for the Coupe (including destination).
What is even more amazing is the new Vette can get an EPA-estimated 29 mpg on the highway using the all-new seven-speed manual transmission. No other car in the world even gets close to these numbers. The EPA estimates a respectable 17-mpg in the city. With a potential 29 miles per gallon on the highway, owners are welcome to travel long distances with the Corvette in the Touring mode like a GT cruiser with a range of 530 miles per tank.
Some of the early design cues for the first Corvettes in the 1950’s came from aerospace engineers and artists in the Antelope Valley. The new Corvette looks right at home on that same tarmac. The body is tight and aerodynamic and built with lightweight materials such as an aluminum frame, carbon fiber hood and removable roof panel, and composite fenders, doors and rear quarter panels. The new aluminum frame shifts weight rearward for an optimal 50/50 weight balance. I could feel this balance around every corner and in my emergency maneuvers.
Those aeronautical designers at Edwards Air Force Base, just 23 miles from Willow Springs Race Way, where jet aircrafts were born, would be impressed. They would be proud of the efficiency of this new Stingray’s aerodynamics. All the body vents and ducts are functional for cooling brakes and the rear transmission coolers (optional). They would be even prouder that this is an American-designed and built sports car right off the assembly line in Bowling Green, Kentucky.
Also unlike the “Sting Ray” of 1963 or any Corvette since, the new interior is beautifully stitched together and the materials are first-class. Helen Emsley, (Interior Design Director) states, “Every feature and detail in the interior is designed to enhance the driver’s connection to the Corvette. It starts with the fighter jet-inspired wraparound cockpit; continues to build with the smaller steering wheel, more supportive seats, and high-definition, configurable screens, and is finished in gorgeous materials.” Emsley is not really exaggerating here. The interior has a handcrafted quality feel that matches cars three times the price. Furthermore, my 6’3” frame was comfortable in the new cockpit layout.
The included 1LT interior includes frontal and side-impact airbags with driver and passenger “Sensing System” for proper deployment, dual-zone automatic climate control, air filtration system, cruise control, audio system with 8" diagonal color touch screen display with Chevrolet MyLink, Bluetooth and streaming audio and Bose premium 9-speaker system, and SiriusXM Satellite Radio. Also standard is a keyless entry and push button start, OnStar with all the options like Turn-by-Turn Navigation, rear view camera, comfortable and supportive GT bucket seats with power, power tilt and telescopic steering wheel, intuitive steering wheel controls, and better storage space in the electronic locking glove box and center console. The rear cargo space is also something that no other car in this class offers- for people who like to play golf or even change clothes when they arrive at their destination.
Standard high intensity discharge (HID), Xenon, LED park and turn signals and Daytime Running Lamps illuminate the road well while the optional clear sky roof panel lets in too much light and heat. I would stick with the included carbon fiber painted body-color or black roof panel that is, of course, removable. The Corvette comes with P245/40ZR18 tires up front and P285/35ZR19 run flat tires in the rear. These are great for all-around driving, as is the Stingray’s suspension without the Z51 package. With the performance package comes the stickier and much more expensive P245/35ZR19 (front) and P285/30ZR20 (rear) run flat tires.
The standard Brembo brakes supply good stopping power. I would like to have the gas and brake pedals to be more parallel so that heel-and-toe driving is easier. Unfortunately, there is probably some attorney quoting some safety statistic about the concerns of “pedal confusion” or “unexpected acceleration” in the age group of those who will actually own the new Stingray. These brakes do come with four-pistons, 12.6-inch front rotors and 13.3-inch rear rotors as standard. The Z51 Performance Package come with the stouter dual-cast, slotted 13.6-inch front rotors and 13.3-inch slotted rear rotors.
My test drive was in the coupe with this Z51 set up and the new seven-speed manual transmission. The shifts are precise and the gear lever travel is shorter than previous generation Vettes but still not as crisp as shifts could be. Chevrolet has brought a rev-matching technology to this gearbox that blips the throttle up to match the transmission’s speed during shifts. On a tight track, I was only able to use the first 4 gears but daily driving would encourage a first, third, fifth, and seventh pattern. GM powertrain technicians have made this cheating possible.
Others have complained about the squared-off dual-element taillamps with the three-dimensional lenses. Chevrolet wanted to integrate indirect LED lighting here and these lights also match the craft-style air outlets for the optional differential and transmission coolers. To the critics out there I say, “Get a life!” This is the best Corvette to come along - ever. It represents state-of-the-art automotive engineering, American innovation, and a whole lot of exciting drives. Even without the Z51 extra performance goodies, the 2014 Chevrolet Corvette is a world-class sports car for half the price of any competitor. If only I could have found the gateway off the track, I would have driven this machine to Las Vegas and back… without any back issues.
2014 Chevrolet Corvette
Engine: LT1 6.2L V-8
Displacement (cu in / cc):376 / 6162
Bore & stroke (in / mm):4.06 x 3.62 / 103.25 x 92
Block material: cast aluminum
Cylinder head material: cast aluminum
Valvetrain:overhead valve, two valves per cylinder
Fuel delivery:direct injection
Lubrication system:wet sump (Stingray)
dry sump (Stingray with Z51)
Horsepower L hp / kW @ rpm:455 / 339 @ 6000 (SAE-certified)
460 / 343 (with available performance exhaust)
(lb-ft / Nm @ rpm):460 / 624 @ 4600 (SAE-certified)
465 / 630 (with available performance exhaust)
Max. engine speed (rpm):6,600
Recommended fuel: premium recommended, not required
EPA-estimated fuel economy (city / hwy):17/29 (manual)