5 0 5
Plus & Minus
Huge performance; impressive practicality; set to come here!
Ergonomic niggles; low-feel steering; bargain US pricing won't translate
The Wheels Verdict: The new eighth-generation Corvette’s mid-mounted engine marks the most radical change since the first one appeared in 1953. Even the basic version blurs the lines between sportscar and supercar – the prospect of a Holden-badged version is an exciting one.
WHAT IS THE CHEVROLET CORVETTE?
The C8 Chevrolet Corvette is the eighth generation of this fabled marque since Chevrolet started turning them out in 1953, and the first mid-engined Corvette. The 6.2-litre LT2 V8 is a new unit but keeps the pushrod and two-valves-per cylinder design of its predecessor, the LT1, as well as the same 6600 rev limit. The atmo bent eight is good for 369kW and 637Nm and a claimed sub-3.0sec 0-60mph time (97km/h).
WHY WE'RE TESTING IT
Because it’s coming to Australia! We’re still pinching ourselves to make sure it’s not a dream. For the first time in 66 years of production, the big Chev is heading our way in an official capacity – which means it’s already right-hand drive. Obviously, the chance to check out the ground-breaking ’Vette in its top spec on the streets of Michigan was too hard to resist.
CHEVROLET CORVETTE C8 REVIEW
Hunger is the best sauce, so those waiting for a mid-engined Corvette have had plenty of time to build a serious appetite. Chevrolet built the first concept in the 1960s and has dropped hints about reversing the order of passengers and powertrain several times since. The previous-generation C7 got closest, having been partially developed with a motor in the middle until GM’s bankruptcy forced a rethink.
We’ll have to wait a while longer. The C8 is about to go on sale in the States but the right-hook Holden version we told you about in our September issue is still a way off. But the basic car is good – really good.
Sitting on an aluminium structure with fibreglass bodywork, the C8 is heavier, 137mm longer and 57mm wider than its predecessor. Indeed, its overall length of 4630mm makes it one of the longest mid-engined cars full stop. Yet while the V8 now sits behind the rear bulkhead and the car’s proportions changed to match, much is familiar.
The C8’s shark-nosed styling is clearly related to that of the C7, as is its raised rear end and tail-lamp graphic. The engine is also an old friend, a lightly developed LT2 version of GM’s small block with 6.2-litres of displacement and a claimed 369kW and 637Nm of torque. This works with a standard eight-speed dual-clutch transmission driving the rear wheels. GM confirms there’ll be no manual.
Despite its lack of technical sophistication, the blue-collar engine suits the car perfectly. It’s sonorous, muscular from the basement to the penthouse, and has throttle response to put even the snappiest turbocharged alternatives to shame. It doesn’t rev as high as exotic rivals, but it still sounds great when closing in on its 6600rpm limiter. The higher of the transmission’s eight ratios are tall – cruising economy has long been a Corvette strength – but the lower ones are geared intelligently so the redline never feels too low.
It’s brutally quick, too – somehow faster than its power output and 1530kg dry weight suggest it should be. Chevrolet claims a sub 2.9-second 0-60mph (0-97km/h) time, which feels entirely feasible. Without launch control and on cold tyres, the C8’s in-built performance monitor reported I ran a 3.5-second time by the simple expedient of jumping on the throttle in Drive. Acceleration stays strong well beyond the benchmark figure. The dual-clutch ’box doesn’t add the torque bump to upshifts which most junior supercars do but changes are lightning fast, even in the more relaxed ‘Tour’ mode.
The most obvious dynamic change over the C7 is the chassis’ ability to find traction for the huge urge. The brawniest front-engined ’Vettes always felt edgy and on the brink of big slides under full power, even when travelling in straight lines. The C8 has a lot more adhesion and feels much more stable; even getting close to the limits of lateral grip is hard to do on-road. In tighter turns there is a hint of understeer plus the unsurprising ability to move the handling balance rearwards with a big dose of throttle. But in faster stuff the Corvette just sticks, especially on the mighty Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres of the car I drove, part of the optional Z51 performance pack. The regular Corvette comes on less grippy all-season rubber in the States.
The high limits are probably a large part of the reason the steering never really wakes up on-road, with ultra-fast reactions but little sense of loadings on the front axle getting as far as the strangely square-shaped steering wheel. Ride quality is impressive, the optional adaptive dampers keeping body motions under tight control over some of Michigan’s bouncier backroads in both ‘Tour’ and ‘Sport’ modes, even ‘Track’ feeling viable for road use.
Like its predecessors, the C8 has been designed to work as well as play; GM reckons most buyers will use their cars as regular transport and not just weekend toys. Cabin refinement has improved over the C7 and cruising refinement is impressively good, with much less low-frequency noise at constant revs. The engine sits much closer to occupants’ ears but is no louder at everyday speeds.
Read next: The Aussie origins of the Corvette C8
While not exactly spacious, the cabin feels roomier than would be normal in a junior supercar, and trim quality is up several notches. The resin-heavy smell that filled the cabin of previous gens – a manly eau de Corvette – is almost entirely gone. The full-spec 3LT trim car I drove in the US had leather and Alcantara on most touchable surfaces with hard plastics relegated to hard-to-reach places.
There are some ergonomic grumbles. The long row of ventilation buttons on the ridge that separates the two seats are hard to see. The driver’s seat is strangely set higher than the passenger’s, and rearward visibility is poor despite a glass screen above the engine compartment. My test car had an optional camera-based rear-view system, but the display screen was too dim in bright sunshine. The long dash also throws up lots of distracting reflections in the shallow windscreen.
Yet this Corvette is also impressively practical, with 356 litres of luggage space split between a small frunk and a larger compartment behind the engine which can swallow a set of golf clubs. It also still has a targa roof, which can be removed to turn it into a breezy convertible, although storing the lid under the rear deck precludes carrying anything else. (A full convertible will also be offered.)
In the US, the Corvette is something close to an outrageous bargain, GM having delivered on its pledge of bringing in the entry-level car at just below US$60,000 – less than a basic four-cylinder Porsche 718 Boxster. Even with the plushest available 3LT trim, the Z51 performance pack (which adds an LSD and bigger brakes to the summer tyres) and the switchable dampers, the Corvette barely breaks US$80,000; less than half what McLaren charges for a 570S in the States. But that’s the greenback. Expect an entry price around A$170,000 when the right-hook C8 hits Oz, possibly before the end of 2020.
The good news is that the C8 is of a standard that suggests it will travel well, and it can be fairly compared with far posher alternatives.
Read next: Why the Chevrolet C8 is good value for money
Porsche 911, McLaren GT
PRICE AND SPECS
Model: Chevrolet Corvette
Engine: 6162cc V8 (90°), ohv, 16v
Max power: 369kW @ 6450rpm
Max torque: 637Nm @ 5150rpm
Transmission: 8-speed dual-clutch
0-100km/h: 2.9-sec (estimated)
Weight: 1530kg (dry)
Price: $170,000 (estimated)
On sale: Late 2020 (estimated)