The Chevrolet Corvette has long been America’s almost-great sports car.
In the 60 years since it first appeared, fans have eternally hoped that this time, this generation, the makers would get it right. It’s our beloved underachiever.
And so comes the launch of the seventh generation, when the asterisks are smeared away and qualifiers become unnecessary. The brand-new C7 coupe is not only a great sports car; it’s a great car — full stop.
I too was holding my breath, expecting the Red Sox of the automotive world to choke again at the last moment, acquiescing to corporate penny pinchers and allowing substandard seats, ugly plastic and cheap knobs on the interior. As usual, potential buyers would look into the cockpit, shake their heads sadly, and go buy a Porsche or BMW.
Pricing starts at $53,000 for the base and $63,800 for the top-line model with a sports performance package. With 455 horsepower, 460 pound-feet of torque and many standard performance and interior amenities, the Corvette far undercuts its European competitors.
First off, the interior is nice. The seats are not only comfortable, but they keep you from slipping around while cornering. (The previous generation’s was like sitting on ice in a wind storm, sliding wildly from side to side.)
The leather no longer looks like it made a stop in the vinyl factory.
The setup is crafted around the driver, creating an intimate, uncluttered cockpit that leaves you in control and cosseted.
You also get a heck of a view of the road, the result of an incredibly low hood (lower even than a Porsche 911’s, says Chevy), and a similarly low dashboard. The designers say they took pains not to simply stack electronic screens and airbags on top of one another until the dashboard took on a mountainous slope. I hadn’t even noticed how high most dashboards have become until I got in the new Vette and felt as if my vision had cleared.
So the Corvette’s lousy interior is lousy no more. Let’s move on to the thing I’ve always liked: The way it drives.
The Vette is an ultra-competitive player on the racetrack and is far wieldier than many give it credit for. A tail-happy, high-horsepower beast, it’s never had a light touch exactly, but you could do wonderful things with it.
The C7, available with a seven-speed manual or six-speed automatic, gambols down straights with mad abandon and performs smoky burnouts on command. Standard stuff. But I took it on an autocross — a tight track on a parking lot bounded by safety cones — and it showed a surprising delicacy. It was able to hopscotch through tight, tricky curves with total control.
Then I took off the traction control and performed four-wheel drifts around the same corners, handling it like a hooligan. In either driving style, the car is commanding. The $2,800 Z51 performance package is an absolute must. (An optional exhaust system also brings the horsepower to 460 and pound-feet of torque to 465.)
Want to know how thoughtful the Vette has become? Even with all that oomph, it gets 29 miles per gallon on the open road. That’s better than a Honda Odyssey minivan.
This is partly because the small block, 6.2-liter, naturally-aspirated and direct-injected V-8 can shut off four cylinders when they’re not needed. Your insane sports car runs around like a four-cylinder gas sipper when you’re not ripping rubber.
The small block, LT1 push-rod engine, by the way, is one of those vestigial pieces of engineering that other carmakers have long since given up. Chevy has hung on, improving it incrementally until it’s something special. Its lack of height is one of the reasons that the hood is able to be so low.
The C7 looks radically different from any Corvette before it. While the mid-1960s C2 generation was drop-dead gorgeous, the Vette gradually became cheesier and cheesier, iconic for all the wrong reasons. The total re-work makes it modern, with new angularities.
The rear has lost the round tail lamps, a detail that raised an uproar among traditionalists who were strangling the car with their love. Progress must be made, and the new rear is arch and attitudinal, with four mean tailpipes. It should appeal to younger buyers.
Speaking of the 1960s C2, it was called the “Sting Ray,” a moniker that has taken on legendary status. By the time Chevy abandoned the name in the 1970s, the aura of Corvette cool had already disappeared.
After the prototypes of the new car were driven, Chevy executives had a long internal discussion. It was ultimately decided that the new car was worthy — and so the seventh generation car is officially the Corvette Stingray.
2014 CHEVROLET CORVETTE STINGRAY Z51
Engine: 6.2-liter V-8 with 455 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque.
Transmission: Seven-speed manual or six-speed automatic.
Speed: 0 to 60 mph in 3.8 seconds.
Gas mileage per gallon: 17 city, 29 highway.
Price as tested: $66,000 (estimated).
Best features: The interior is pretty great, but the drive is even better.
Worst feature: Why did it take Chevy so long to get the details right?
Target buyer: The long-suffering Corvette lover.