Our freeway interlude also gave us the chance to test Active Fuel Management. With a manual-transmission Stingray, this cylinder-deactivation system is only enabled when the Driver Mode Selector (DMS), the rotary knob located just behind the shifter, is placed in its Eco setting. (With automatic-transmission-equipped cars, it remains enabled unless the transmission has been placed in its manual mode.) Other than a very mild shunt that is felt through the driveline the moment the 455-horsepower 6.2-liter V8 becomes a 126-hp 3.1-liter V4, AFM is all but imperceptible. The engine doesn’t sound markedly different—mostly because it’s hardly making any noise at all.
While it’s nice to know that AFM helps the Stingray achieve an EPA-rated 30 mpg on the highway, few customers are going to buy a 2014 Corvette based solely on its green credentials. The majority are expecting high performance, and the new LT1 delivers. This V8 is an absolute torque monster. Fitted with the optional Dual-Mode Exhaust System, as was our tester, it develops 465 lb-ft of the stuff at 4,600 rpm. But the more revealing statistic is that below 4,000 rpm it is generating as much twist as the 7.0-liter LS7 V8 that powers the mighty C6 Z06. The torque band is so broad as to be omnipresent. The combination of variable-valve timing, direct fuel injection and high compression makes the LT1 feel larger than its 376 cubic inches. Indeed, there’s a big-block quality to this V8, so ample is its low-end grunt and mid-range punch.
In the same vein, but on the negative side of the ledger, the LT1 doesn’t seem to rev with the same urgency as its LS3 predecessor, and certainly not with the same manic zing of the race-tuned LS7. Even when accelerating hard, we found ourselves shifting at around 5,500 rpm, about 1,000 rpm short of redline. It’s not that the LT1 ran out of breath or became coarse—it will bounce off its rev limiter without protest—but there just didn’t seem to be much gained from winding it all the way out. For the record, the LT1’s peak output of 460 horsepower is reached at 6,000 rpm.
No matter your shift points, though, this is a fast car. Any amount of forceful throttle application is met with immediate, strong acceleration. The Stingray feels every bit the 3.8-second 0-60-mph machine that Chevrolet claims it to be. Getting hard on the gas also unleashes a gloriously powerful blast of noise from the four massive tips of the Dual-Mode Exhaust. As before, a bypass valve allows the raucous music to exit the vehicle unmuffled. No 30-mpg car ever sounded like this.
Despite all its throaty exhalations, prodigious torque and fuel-sipping sophistication, the LT1 is not the star of the Stingray show. That spot is taken by the car’s handling. Perhaps more so than with any Corvette since the early C4s, the C7 is defined by the way it goes around corners. And by that we mean the driving experience it delivers on a twisty two-lane, as well as how it performs on track.
At the heart of the Stingray’s handling prowess is its all-new aluminum frame, which is a whopping 57-percent stiffer than the steel one it replaces, yet 99 pounds lighter. Such increased torsional rigidity inherently improves a car’s responsiveness, and Chevy engineers further capitalized on it by fitting the suspension with higher-rate transverse composite springs; the added rigidity allowed this change to be made without a corresponding degradation in ride quality.
Building upon this solid foundation, Corvette engineers were able to massively improve the robustness of the steering system compared to a C6, with steering-column stiffness increased 150 percent and intermediate-shaft stiffness up an incredible 600 percent. According to Corvette Chief Engineer Tadge Juechter, these improvements were made due to the change from hydraulic to electric power assist. Juechter wanted to maintain as much steering feel as possible while greatly enhancing precision.