General Motors is on a roll, and while Cadillac might steal most of the limelight when it comes to new products, Chevrolet has managed to introduce close to a baker’s dozen of fresh models over the course of the past few years. Of these, none has generated the same fevered anticipation as the 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray. The seventh-generation version of America’s emblematic sports car has been under the microscope since it broke cover in Detroit this past January, and its styling, drivetrain, and – especially – its interior appointments having been scrutinized in excruciating detail.
What awaited us all was perhaps the most important question of all: how does it drive? I made my way to Monterey, California last week to get behind the wheel of the 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray, and what I discovered was not only the most potent performance coupe to ever wear the Corvette badge, but also perhaps the most complete automobile that Chevrolet has ever built.
It shouldn’t be a secret, but to many people it is: Chevrolet had already put together an edge-of-your-seat version of the Corvette called the C6 and has had it on sale for years. The only trouble is, while the automaker’s engineering team had dramatically advanced the car’s capabilities past the limitations of earlier chassis and engine designs, the attitudes of the public in general and sports car aficionados in particular were still stuck around the era of the Corvette’s early-80’s nadir. A classic case of image overpowering experience, the C6 was also held back by Chevrolet’s seemingly passing interest in assembling an interior that didn’t look like it came from the bargain bin at the dollar store.
The C7 changes all of that. Think of the 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray as the car’s second coming out party, a re-shoot of that scene in Carrie where the titular character locks the doors to the gym and exacts sweet, sweet revenge on the local bumpkins who made her adolescence a living hell. Only in this version, the Carrie’s pushing 60 and it’s not a gang of adolescents in ill-fitting tuxedos being immolated but rather the current crop of high powered, sharp-handling pretenders to the sports car crown.
The key to the 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray’s transformation is the fact that it finally presents performance fans with the complete package. It goes without saying that the C7 is incredibly fast - more on that later – but more importantly it’s now also the kind of car whose passenger compartment won’t embarrass you when handing the keys to a valet who has spent the day handling Porsches and BMWs. While it might not be the lap of luxury, the Corvette Stingray’s 3LT model offers nicely-stitched leather, seats that finally grip the body rather than punish it for daring to take the coupe on the track, a well-organized dashboard presentation (with Chevrolet’s MyLink touchscreen interface present and accounted for), and the kind of attention to detail that was almost completely lacking in previous versions of the car. Even the base Corvette Stingray delivers a pleasant cockpit despite the subtraction of a few premium features and materials. All versions of the Chevrolet, regardless of trim, are also remarkably free from wind noise at speed – a fact made even more impressive when considering the car’s standard removable roof panel.
That roof panel – which, like the car’s hood, is available in carbon fiber – is one of the 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray’s several nods to its styling past. Joining it is the long snout, sloped rear hatch glass, and wide mouth that have all come to indelibly associated with the two-door coupe. These elements happily co-exist with several of the Stingray’s new design conceits which have drawn significant fire from brand loyalists upset by the evolution of their beloved automobile. The C7’s adoption of aggressive vents at the top of its hood (to reduce lift at speed) and rear quarter panels (to feed both transmission and differential coolers) as well as the slits, slats, and sizzling side lines cut into its sheet metal have polarized some of the more vocal elements in the Corvette community. Combined with the shift away from the car’s round tail lights to square units, the reaction is enough to make one think that the Stingray has set the crossed-flags on fire and danced on top of the ashes. It’s a storm in a teacup – the Corvette Stingray’s body work is more alive and attention-grabbing than ever, and it’s an evolution to its form that is crucial to staying relevant in the world of high horsepower machines.
At its heart, the 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray is more than just another pretty face vying for the attentions of thrill-seeking sports car shoppers with an empty space in their collective garages. It’s also an incredibly precise performance instrument with which one can easily write out chapter and verse from the book of speed with surprising confidence.
Under the hood of the car, Chevrolet has installed a direct-injection version of its 6.2-liter V-8 engine, dubbed the LT1, which spits out 455 horsepower and 460 lb-ft in base form (plus an additional five ponies and lb-ft of twist when the car’s performance exhaust is installed). A new seven-speed manual transmission is standard, while a six-speed automatic can be ordered as an option, and with the former installed the entry-level Stingray can surge to 60-mph in just a few ticks over four seconds. This makes it quicker than any other base Corvette in the annals of Chevrolet’s storied past.
It’s truly hard to fault such spunk – especially for the very nice price of $51,995 (including destination) - but if you are truly interested in getting the most out of your Corvette Stingray experience then might I strongly suggest you shell out the additional $2,800 for the Z51 Performance Package. Simply put, this option transforms the car into a legitimate track-ready threat and hones the car to such a degree that no serious Corvette fan should purchase the coupe without it.
Z51-equipped cars come with performance gear ratios for manual models (or a higher final drive ratio for automatics), an electronic limited-slip differential, up-rated shocks, dual cast slotted 13.6-inch brake rotors (one inch wider than the base Vette), a dry-sump oiling system, and wheels that are one-inch larger front and rear. That’s a mouthful, but it makes such an enormous difference in the attitude and behavior of the car in high speed situations that I almost want to start a petition for Chevrolet to include it with every single Corvette Stingray sold.
Where does the Z51 Performance Package most improve the car? I would have to say that drivers will immediately notice a difference between the braking power of the standard Corvette Stingray and that of the Z51-equipped model, as the larger rotors take a bigger bite out of the coupe’s velocity. When navigating the small airfield course that Chevrolet set up for me in the Stingray I also noticed how elegantly the car’s electronic limited-slip differential was able to shift traction at key moments in the cornering process, leading to faster acceleration away from the apex and a generally more planted feel when on-power. Chevrolet claims that the Z51 cars are quicker to 60-mph (3.8 seconds when using launch control) than entry-level Corvettes, and I can vouch for the fact that at speeds nearing 140 miles per hour the Performance Package combined with the Stingray’s available Magnetic Ride Control adaptive suspension makes the base car actually feel a bit soft around the edges.
Please don’t take that as a criticism. The 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray is an extremely fast and nimble machine right out of the box, and its stock suspension tuning makes it well suited to the daily grind as well as the drag strip or local milk run. Those who are looking for a huge helping of additional performance for not a lot of cash would be remiss, however, if they ignored the Z51 box on the order sheet.
There are a lot of other unique and laudable aspects of the 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray that push it past the previous generation of the car. The Stingray’s Driver Mode Selector can be set to Weather, Eco (which adds more aggressive cylinder deactivation – did I mention that the Corvette gets 29-mpg highway?), Tour, Sport, and Track, with the latter adding the wrinkle of fine-tuning the car’s electronic aides via the Performance Traction Management system. Moving from Tour to Sport to Track also changes up the car’s dashboard display to present the most relevant information for a given driving situation in the clearest possible fashion, a design decision that also extends to the car’s head-up display. Finally, Chevrolet has given the Corvette Stingray an automatic rev-matching feature (manual transmissions), which when engaged blips the throttle on downshifts for smoother gear changes.
It’s incredible that General Motors has been able to produce a car – and a profitable one, at that – like the 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray while maintaining such an aggressive price point. A common theme throughout the course of my day with the Vette was the refrain that Chevrolet had specifically targeted the Porsche 911 as not just its performance bogey, but also its target in terms of comfort and style. To my surprise, and to the undoubted amazement of Kraut-rocket fans across the country, they’ve managed to meet their goal. The 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray finally brings a level of refinement to the table that has eluded it until now, matched up with simply blazing performance. Look out, Stuttgart - that $30,000 price gap between the Vette and the 911 is suddenly starting to look a lot less palatable than it did yesterday.