Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: May 31, 2021
Possibly the most anticipated sports car of the year, the eight-generation Chevrolet Corvette (C8) has been hyped up to the moon, but we’re genuinely curious if it can live up to those high standards. Much has changed since the outgoing C7 Corvette but let’s start with the most important and controversial bit, the engine location. When Chevrolet announced it was transforming their prized sports car into a mid-engined format, the crowd went wild. That’s like if Porsche suddenly announced that the next 911 would be front-engined. Wait, that did happen. But why is engine location so important, and why are people so excited about it? That is because it affects all aspects of performance, from acceleration and braking, to handling and traction.
With the Corvette’s V8 now situated behind the driver’s seat, its core balance is inherently improved. The bulk of the weight is no longer situated far away on the front axle, and is now centralized in the middle, meaning it can rotate and change directions exponentially quicker. The handling becomes more predictable and consistent, and with more weight shifted rearwards, the Corvette can put power down better to the rear tires, and brake better too. The end result is more stability, more grip, and faster lap times. There’s a reason why it’s the preferred layout for Ferraris and Lamborghinis.
The engine in question is a 6.2-litre naturally aspirated V8 that produces 490 hp and 465 lb-ft, with an additional 5 hp and 5 lb-ft when equipped with the performance exhaust like our test vehicle was. The V8 is nothing new - it’s still a traditional small-block V8, though the upcoming Z06 will use a flat-plane crank V8 instead, which should amplify its sports car credentials. Mated to an 8-speed dual-clutch automatic with rear-wheel drive, the C8 will scoot from 0-100 km/h in around 3 seconds, the Convertible slightly slower. That’s as quick as a Nissan GT-R, and significantly faster than the Jaguar F-Type R and Porsche 911 Carrera.
And you can feel its newfound athleticism whenever you slam on the throttle. The rear tires no longer light up in a cloud of smoke. Those sticky Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires just hook up and launch like a Saturn V rocket. The best part? The C8 matches that wicked acceleration with surefootedness and a level of grip that I have never experienced with a Corvette. Seems like you can throw those old stereotypes out the window because this Vette not only goes in a straight line, but it corners as well.
If McLaren made a $100,000 entry-level model, it would drive something like this C8. Faithful steering coupled with an exceptionally rigid chassis and a well-tuned suspension only serves to solidify its place amongst the Porsche Boxster GTS, Jaguar F-Type R, and BMW M2 CS. There’s a sense of grandeur and poise that the others just don’t have. That said, the moment you lose the rear, the mid-engined layout is much less forgiving, delivering a snappier response that is more difficult to recover from. Good thing that the traction and stability control systems work flawlessly here, and there are a few levels of brake and torque intervention you can choose from, should you want things to get a bit lairy.
The steering is surgical and well-weighted, light without being overboosted, and quick without being twitchy, but only when it’s set to Track mode. In Normal mode, it’s terribly overboosted and oversensitive, and while it requires little steering effort, it becomes difficult to drive smoothly. As such, we kept the steering on Track the entire time. In addition, the 8-speed dual clutch could be more refined at low speeds, displaying that typical DCT lunging and roughness during rolling stops, but that’s the unfortunate, inherent weakness of these gearbox designs. However, it more than makes up for it when the speeds begin to climb, with lightning quick shifts and decently stacked ratios for both road and track use.
Bolted down and tightly strung, the ride quality in the Corvette Stingray is sensational, neutralizing small suspension movements as ably as as a McLaren 570S. For a convertible, there is hardly any chassis flex and feels as rigid as a rock, even with its 46 kg penalty over the coupe. It soaks up bumps beautifully thanks to the Magnetic Ride Control system that reads the road every millisecond, and feels like a usable road trip companion should you ever need to show up on the other side of the country, in style. The only drawback would be the limited storage inside the relatively cramped cabin, but at least it’s got a somewhat sizable front and rear trunk, both of which are unaffected no matter which body style you choose.
The Stingray needs an aftermarket exhaust, ASAP. Yes it sounds like a Mclaren V8 on start up but even with the optional performance exhaust, it’s painfully choked up at wide open throttle, lacking any distinctive sounds that a sports car should provide. We also expected more dramatic downshifts from the dual-clutch, and that rev limiter should clearly be a few thousand RPMs higher. We know the potential of this naturally aspirated V8, which is perhaps the reason for our sharp criticisms, and we know it can play a more characterful anthem. It’s just way too muted in this application. Have a listen to our Exhaust Notes video here to hear it yourself.
Performance benefits aside, the Corvette’s new mid-engined layout also provides a wonderfully clean and exotic shape with its tapered front hood and visual weight shifted rearwards. Aggressive quad exhausts and a fixed spoiler add even more street cred. Many have even mistaken this Corvette as a Ferrari or Lamborghini and it’s easy to see why with these bold proportions - doesn’t that already justify the C8 as the value proposition of the year? The garish shade of Accelerate Yellow doesn’t help it fly under the radar either, and the staggered tire setup with 19-inch in the front and 20-inch in the rear are quite diminutive in appearance, and are similar to what the AMG GT R uses. Otherwise, the C8 sits low to the ground and there’s an optional front-axle lift feature ($2,495), but ground clearance is already quite decent, and you really only need the axle lift for cresting larger-than-normal bumps or when descending steep ramps.
The Convertible’s styling is slightly different from the Coupe’s in the engine bay area, with a flatter decklid, but because it was designed from the ground up to be a convertible, it’s just as visually striking. You don’t receive the glass engine cover that allows you to peer into the V8 engine bay, and this is also the case with the Audi R8 Spyder and Lamborghini Huracan Spyder, but the tradeoff is a cleaner look and one neat advantage: a lowerable rear window. It’s one of our favourite features of mid-engined droptops like the McLaren 720S Spider, and offers unfiltered access to the rear exhaust, and a clever way to get fresh air without causing too much wind turbulence in the cabin.
If there was ever a downside to a mid-engined setup, it would be interior packaging. Many front-engined sports cars also have room for two rear seats like the Porsche 911, or a cavernous trunk like the Mercedes-AMG GT. The Corvette carries neither of those benefits, but the cockpit is incredibly driver-focused as a result. In fact, there’s a massive partition that separates the passenger side compartment and also houses all the HVAC controls. It’s a clever way of integrating hard buttons without all the clutter, and I’m glad GM didn’t resort to mashing all the controls into the touchscreen instead. Speaking of which, the touchscreen will be familiar to anyone that has experienced a modern GM product. Placed at the perfect distance within arm’s reach, the system is intuitive, boasting high-definition graphics and a bright screen. No complaints here in terms of connectivity or functionality. Those uncomfortable with the interface can just plug in their smartphone to trigger Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, both of which are also available wirelessly via Bluetooth.
We are genuinely surprised by the craftsmanship in the Corvette. We understand it’s supposed to be the value competitor amongst the giants but this C8 truly feels like a six-figure car, from the heaps of leather mounted all over the door panel, even the lower areas, and the dashboard, to the drive mode panel and airbag cover. These are areas that Chevrolet could have easily cheaped out on with black plastics, but have instead put all their marbles on the table, and have successfully brought their sports car upscale.
The steering wheel is a work of art, a two-spoke design wrapped in suede and with a flat top and bottom rim. It’s a controversial shape, but we love its audacity in a market filled with lookalikes and overly safe designs. The wheel telescopes far enough to accommodate taller drivers, and you feel like you’re sitting in and with the car, rather than on top of it. That said, it will feel snug for larger folks. The driving position is excellent though, with clear sightlines up front, typical of a mid-engined vehicle with a short and low hood. The blind spots are atrocious, even with the roof down, but the blind spot monitoring system remedies that issue.
The new Chevrolet Corvette Stingray has blown our expectations away with surprising performance, gorgeous styling, and an upscale interior worthy of its six-figure price tag. The mid-engined layout has done wonders for its dynamic acuity, and while there are still areas that need improvement, from the muted exhaust to the rough gear shifts at low speeds, we are confident that Chevrolet is simply leaving breathing room for the upcoming Z06 and ZR1. If that’s true, then America’s quintessential sports car is about to get even better.
Model: 2021 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Convertible 3LT Z51
Paint Type: Accelerate Yellow Metallic
Base Price: $93,898
Price as Tested: $111,363
Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,630 / 1,933 / 1,234
Dry weight (kg): 1,530
Engine: 6.2-litre V8
Horsepower: 495 hp @ 6,450 rpm
Torque: 470 lb-ft @ 5,150 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed dual-clutch
Engine & Drive Configuration: Mid engine, RWD
Fuel Consumption ( City / Highway ) L/100km: 15.4 / 8.7
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 14.4
Tires: 245/35ZR19 front; 305/30ZR20 rear; Michelin Pilot Sport 4S