2020 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray first drive: American Revolution
Mike Petrucci radiates the calm, quiet, competence of an Apollo 11 astronaut. The lead development engineer of the new midengine 2020 Chevrolet Corvette C8 is so low-key he probably drifts the supercar around the Nürburgring without breaking a sweat. Me? I’m not so collected.
My heart is racing as I slide into the seat of the new Corvette. Like the rest of the mechanized world, I’ve been obsessing over the C8’s specs since the covers were finally pulled back in July. Today, I have 45 minutes to experience what is perhaps the most important machine in Corvette history, with Petrucci riding shotgun. The weight of the moment is not lost on me.
But I soon find out there’s no reason to be tense. Like Petrucci himself, the new Corvette is easygoing and accessible. Unlike just about every other midengine supercar, the C8 is downright welcoming. And that will be the key to this car’s success. Because along with that low base price and that golf bag-swallowing trunk behind the engine, the C8 must be an accommodating daily driver.
I run my finger around the rim of that funky squared-off steering wheel, admire the fighter jet-style digital instrument cluster and pull up on the transmission shifter toggle marked “D” for Drive. They all add theater to the experience. I raise my eyes slightly from those gauges and the short front end creates an expansive view over the road ahead. You can see everything. No Corvette has ever provided the driver with outward vision like the C8.
The standard Stingray is a serious machine before checking any option boxes. But ours was equipped with the Z51 package ($5,000), which ratchets up the Corvette’s capability with tech like MR dampers, an electronic limited-slip differential and larger brakes. But even with that hardcore hardware, I’m surprised at just how well the C8 behaves on real-world roads. In the tamest tour mode, the Stingray is smooth. We hit a nasty field of potholes outside Ann Arbor, Mich. and the C8 gently soaks them up without a quiver in the structure. Toe into the throttle, and the torque is plentiful enough to zip through traffic without raising the V8’s voice. The new dual-clutch transmission quietly goes about its work just like a traditional GM automatic. In the first 10 minutes, it’s clear: I could live with this as my only car.
There are six drive modes to choose from: weather, tour, sport and track, plus My Mode and Z Mode, which both allow some program customization. The metal knob that controls all this selection is weighty and covered in a beautiful leather wrist rest. It feels expensive. In fact, the Corvette’s whole interior is modern and swank.
Petrucci suggests we click over to sport mode. Instantly the suspension tightens and the steering becomes weighty. The whole car wakes up. From around 35 mph, I squeeze the throttle. The transmission drops a few gears and then clicks off rapid-fire shifts to build speed. The C8 is very quick. It’s only now, once I really dig into the powerband, that it feels like a Corvette. That 495-hp V8 behind my head is the crucial piece of DNA in the C8’s makeup. It reminds me and everyone else on the road around us — that this is a Corvette. The soundtrack is pure American glory.
The new Stingray is 2 inches wider than the old car, but from the driver’s seat, it feels like more. Yet that doesn’t dampen the fun as we bend the ‘Vette into some twisty asphalt ribbons. It’s not just that overall grip is likely higher than the C7, although that’s probably part of it. No, I’m picking up a newfound delicacy and precision to the Corvette’s moves. There’s a maybe dash of Lotus or a hint of McLaren in the way it behaves. Credit the steering, midengine weight balance or the suspension itself, but the C8 is light on its tires and athletic.
I spend a few minutes in track mode too, which really locks down the suspension and puts some heft into the steering. It’s a good match for a smooth, snaky blacktop, but a little much for rougher roads. Interestingly, Petrucci says that stability and traction control remain active in track mode. To dial them back, you must engage the Performance Traction Management system. Or you can take a shortcut and do a quick double press on the traction control button.
The track transmission setting responds in a way that recalls Porsche’s PDK in Sport Plus mode. It has the ability to predict the right gear for a corner and execute a crisp, clean downshift every time. Would I opt for a manual transmission if I could? Maybe. But the point is moot anyway. Petrucci says the pedal box doesn’t have room for a clutch. They couldn’t offer a manual transmission even if they wanted to.
A parade of slow-moving crossovers cuts our fun short. That’s OK because the street is no place to find the limits of the C8. However, I briefly test the car’s Launch Control system on a deserted side road. And oh man, the C8 is built for Grudge Night at the local drag strip. When I lift the brake pedal with the throttle pinned, the ‘Vette squats slightly and thrusts forward so violently I’m nearly nauseous. It reminds me of a full-throttle launch I once experienced in a Bugatti Chiron. Petrucci says the C8’s MR dampers have specific tuning for Launch Control. Chevrolet says the car will hit 60 under 3 seconds. If you ask me, that’s probably well under 3 seconds.
The fun is over, but I’m certainly not ready for it to end. The C8 is just as thrilling as it is civilized. The new midengine design moves America’s Sportscar into the modern performance age and does so at a bargain price. It will completely upend the supercar market, and I can’t wait to find more time behind the wheel.
On sale: Early 2020
Base price: $59,995
As-tested price: $85,710 (Z51)
Drivetrain: 6.2-liter V8, RWD, 8-speed dual-clutch automatic
Output: 495 hp @ 6,450 rpm, 470 lb-ft of torque @ 5,150 rpm
Curb weight: 3,366 lbs
Pros: Smooth ride, deft moves, solid value
Cons: Design lacks finesse; it’s lost some traditional “Corvetteness”