2014 Corvette Stingray: America's classic car reborn
To drive a high-powered sports car, you used to need the strength to wrestle bears, the mettle to sleep on an iron girder, and the appetite to chew broken glass. The 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray officially puts an end to that era. This car makes driving fast feel like getting ice cream in the park on Sunday.
And it drives really, really fast.
The new Stingray made its debut to huge fanfare at the Detroit auto show, where Chevrolet showed off a virtual landslide of performance technology. At the show, I could see the modernized elements, but after taking it for a drive at a press event hosted by Chevrolet, I got to feel how successfully the whole thing came together.
For the 2014 model, Chevrolet rebuilt the Corvette from the ground up. Tadge Juechter, chief engineer on the Corvette, said that only two parts were carried over from the previous generation to this new, C7 version. He didn't specify which parts, and I couldn't guess from a look around the car.
Along with the standard Corvette Stingray model, buyers can add the Z51 package, adding a multitude of performance tech for a steal at $2,800.
Power power power
Corvettes are supposed to have V-8s, and the 2014 Stingray doesn't break with tradition. Under the curvy, carbon fiber hood sits a new 6.2-liter V-8. Unlike many performance car competitors, Chevrolet left forced induction off the table, opting for the linear thrust of a naturally aspirated engine.
However, the Stingray's engine does take advantage of direct injection, putting its output at 460 horsepower and 465 pound-feet of torque.
With quad pipes lined up at the center rear of the car, the exhaust note was everything I would want it to be. From a quiet rumble at idle, it went to a snorting roar at maximum acceleration.
Chevrolet says the Stingray hits 60 mph in 3.8 seconds and, remarkably, that is with either the seven-speed manual or the six-speed automatic.
Now for a little heresy. I liked driving the automatic version as much as I enjoyed the manual.
The automatic transmission, in manual mode, gave crisp gear changes when I hit the paddle shifters and let me hold low gears for as long as I wanted. In stop-and-go traffic, and other tedious driving situations, I would prefer the automatic.
Driving the Stingray was the first time I got to try a seven-speed manual, and I remain skeptical that we mere humans can handle the extra slot in the gate. With four forward slots -- first, third, fifth, and seventh -- I found myself getting a bit confused when choosing among the higher gears for freeway cruising.
Of course, in any kind of sport driving you're going to be down in second and third. Actually, given the amount of power, second can handle quite a bit of speed. On a cone course full of tight turns where I could really test the Stingray's handling, I was able to leave it in second the entire time and the engine sounded perfectly fine at the high revs.
The shifting action with the manual was a little clumsy. I would have preferred a more precise feel as the shifter moved through the gate.
Light and stiff
Taking advantage of racecar engineering, Chevrolet built the new Corvette with an aluminum frame, reducing weight and gaining stiffness. Composite materials make up body panels and fenders, while the roof and hood are made from carbon fiber.
Curb weight comes in at under 3,300 pounds.
One quick way to test the weight of a car is to open and close the doors. I could swing the Corvette's doors on their hinges with one finger. They feel constructed for lightness, a theme that runs throughout the car. In recent Corvette style, hidden buttons underneath the skin unlatch the doors.
The stiffness and lightness of the car was evident as I piloted it through turns on public roads and on a cone course. The body moved as a single piece, with no detectable flex. On a winding country road, the nose pointed precisely when in response to my turn input. On the cone course, the car rotated neatly on the turn apexes as I cranked the wheel around.
On the Stingray's console sits a mode selector, a simple dial that takes the car through five settings: Weather, Eco, Touring, Sport, and Track. Each mode can set up to 12 performance parameters, everything from throttle sensitivity and the stability program to exhaust note and the look of the instrument cluster. And you can customize how the parameters are set for each mode.
The brilliant thing here is that, instead of putting a row of buttons down the console, Chevrolet made it possible to engage Sport mode with a single dial move.
In these modes, I could set the steering sensitivity between Comfort, Sport, and Track, thanks to the electric power steering system. Some enthusiasts might be disappointed to hear that the Stingray relies on electric boost for the power steering, but the car will allay any apprehension once you get behind the wheel. The car is tuned so well that I couldn't tell whether it was electric or hydraulic power steering, and had to ask one of the Chevrolet engineers.
That said, I would have liked a little more heft on the steering in Sport mode. It only tightened up a little between Comfort and Sport, remaining almost too easy to turn. Ripping around the cone course, the wheel also felt light, although you don't want to be fighting the wheel while trying to pull the perfect, tire squealing line through a turn.
The mode selector can also affect the Stingray's suspension, as long as it has the Z51 performance package and the magnetic ride control option. Magnetic ride control is the best adaptive suspension technology in general production, as it selectively stiffens dampers at each wheel depending on the road surface and how the car is being driven. In everything from SUVs to sports cars, I have felt how that technology maintains flatness and stability in hard cornering.
However, most of the models I drove lacked this option, and just had the fixed suspension, which felt surprisingly soft. Given the stiff body, the suspension tuning made the ride feel like a down-filled mattress top strapped over an airplane wing. Chevrolet encouraged me to drive the Stingray over some very roughly paved roads, and I was impressed with the level of comfort. However, I felt cornering suffered a little, as the car leaned a little in each turn.
Taking up any cornering slack from the suspension, Chevrolet fits the Stingray Z51 with an electronic limited slip differential, a bit of technology that improves on the mechanical limited slip diff used in the standard Stingray. Where the mechanical diff maintains some torque at the inside drive wheel on a turn, rather than letting it run free, the electronic version can apply different amounts of torque depending on the drive mode and sensor data.
The result of suspension, steering, and differential technologies, along with the stiff construction of the Stingray was a car that handled cornering effortlessly. Whenever I glanced down at the speedometer, I was often going much faster than I had thought, as the car remained unruffled by even really tight turns.
Pushing it hard on the cone course, I was thrilled at how easy the Stingray was to control. Even at the edge of grip, I had no fear, as the car conveyed a feeling that I could easily get it back in shape.
In big nod to new technologies, Chevrolet gave the Stingray an LCD tachometer. The instrument cluster features three analog gauges--speed, fuel, and temperature--but the literal centerpiece is a large, color LCD that changes configuration depending on your drive mode.
With the car in Weather, Eco, or Touring mode, the display shows a simplified tachometer, while Sport mode makes it look more like an analog gauge. Track mode turns it into what one Chevy engineer called the hockey stick, a race-style display that shows the engine speed on something that looks like the Nike swoop logo.
Along with engine speed, I could select from a number of interior displays, showing useful information such as trip data or just a big vehicle speed readout. That last was very useful, as the analog speedometer is off to the left of the instrument panel and not particularly easy to read at a glance.
There was about a second delay between switching drive modes and the new screen coming up, an odd little bit of lag.
That instrument cluster LCD comes standard in the Stingray, as does a sizable center touchscreen LCD for cabin tech features. The center screen features what looks like another iteration of Chevrolet's MyLink system, other versions of which I previously saw on the Sonic, Cruze, and Impala models.
The interface seemed a little confusing, with a menu button on the end of a center dial along with a button bearing a home icon below the LCD. It took me a little while to figure out that the home button called up a main screen with touch icons for navigation, media, radio, phone, and apps, while the menu button called up context sensitive menus, such as destination entry when the navigation system was up.
During this drive, I didn't get to test the system thoroughly, but it looked like a substantial step forward from the antiquated system in the old Corvette. A press photo showing the map screen shows buildings rendered in 3D detail. I peeked under the console cover, and noticed two USB ports.
Bose developed a new stereo for the Stingray, which struggled to overcome some of the general car noise as I drove country roads at speed with the windows down. But with the cabin buttoned up it produced well-balanced sound. At a stop light, I noticed it produced impressive bass that complemented the low rumble of the engine.
One tradition that Chevrolet broke with the new Stingray was the homely interior quality of previous generations. Rather than ugly plastics and thin leather, the new Stingray wraps the driver in a tastefully appointed cabin full of aluminum and carbon fiber panels. A Ferrari driver would not feel let down getting into the Stingray.
And while many sports car makers talk about a driver-oriented cockpit, Chevrolet took that notion to almost a ridiculous degree in the Stingray. From the cabin design, it is extremely clear who controls the car, and who is just along for the ride. Even the center touchscreen is so canted towards the driver that the passenger will have to ask for permission to choose music or program the navigation.
Putting the super in supercar
Even with its immense power and performance specs, the 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray feels like a car that can be driven comfortably every day. The throttle and steering aren't so sensitive that you feel like its going to get away from you. The automatic transmission option seems to be every bit as performance-worthy as the manual, while the ride quality is actually comfortable.
Driving the Stingray on the cone course, I was reminded of my recent spin in the Jaguar F-type. The car let me have a huge amount of fun taking the corners and hanging the tail out, but helped me maintain enough control to avoid spinning out.
The substantial amount of tech Chevrolet put into the Stingray succeeds in making it a better car, without getting in the way of the driving experience. In fact, the tech, cabin appointments, and body design make it as desirable models from Ferrari and Lamborghini, at the considerably lower price point of just over 50 grand.