Sports Car Reborn

Also from Issue 85

  • Tech: C7 Drivetrain
  • Buyer’s Guide: C1/C2
  • 1987 Callaway B2K
  • 1999 Hardtop
  • Profile: Tadge Juechter
  • 2008 coupe
  • Corvette Racing: Engines
Buy Corvette-magazine-85-cover
Sports Car Reborn 1
Sports Car Reborn 2
Sports Car Reborn 3
Sports Car Reborn 4
Sports Car Reborn 5
Sports Car Reborn 6
Sports Car Reborn 7
Sports Car Reborn 8

Mission accomplished. The C7’s steering is a revelation. While it may not deliver as much road feel as a traditional hydraulic unit, it more than makes up for it with accuracy. The steering provides an uncannily intimate connection to the front tires; we always felt they were going exactly where we were pointing them.

And believe us, you can point them. We were blown away by how hard we could turn the Z51 coupe into corners, especially with the DMS set to Sport, which places the MSRC shocks into a stiffer parameter, increases the weighting of the steering and sharpens throttle response. The nose simply goes where you want it, even if you’ve overloaded the front tires with excessive entry speed; it’s as if understeer is no longer part of the Stingray’s vocabulary. Sudden oversteer seems to have been purged, as well. Even when it is forced to handle mid-corner bumps or an overly eager right foot—things that would unstick a C6’s butt—this C7’s rear end remains stuck to the pavement. Not worrying about the tail coming around gave us so much more confidence to push hard on our backroad route.

Adding to that confidence factor is a full complement of electronic driver-aid systems. While the standard C7 benefits from traction and stability control, systems that are carried over in improved form from the C5 and C6, the Z51 version of the Stingray has a new trick up its sleeve: an electronic limited-slip differential, or eLSD is Chevy parlance. We go into detail about the system in the drivetrain tech piece that follows this article, but to describe it in a nutshell, the eLSD combines the strengths of a mechanical limited-slip differential with the advantages of an open diff.

The Brembo brakes that come with the Z51 Performance Package are also definitely confidence-inspiring. Both the 13.6-inch front and 13.3-inch rear ventilated rotors feature curved slots just like those found on the C6.R race car, and are fed cooling air from dedicated ducts. Brake-pedal feel is solid while still remaining progressive—just the right balance for the street. We simulated a panic stop from triple-digit speed, and the Brembos effortlessly brought the Stingray to a halt.

Speaking of effortless, the new Active Rev Matching system makes downshifting a seamlessly smooth affair. Activated by the steering wheel-mounted paddles, ARM prevents unwanted weight transfer during downshifts.

The new Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires are certainly an important part of the handling puzzle, with the Z51-spec version benefiting from an even stickier compound than the standard tires. Fortunately, tire noise is subdued at highway speeds, so this track-ready rubber isn’t noticeably compromised for the street. The fact that the rear tires measure a reasonable 285/30ZR20 compared to the 325/30ZR19s on the C6 Grand Sport—the model that the Stingray Z51 most closely resembles—no doubt helps in this regard. As with most ultra-high-performance tires, the only way to truly test the limits of the Michelin Pilot Super Sports is to drive them on track. Fortunately, Chevrolet provided one for us: an autocross course set up at Monterey’s Marina Municipal Airport.

Add cone slayer to the 2014 Stingray’s list of attributes. All the handling traits that make the C7 such a joy to drive on the road—its lack of understeer, buttoned-down rear end and absence of body roll—become amplified on the track. We couldn’t believe how late we could brake, how hard we could crank the wheel into corners and how early we could get back on the gas. The Stingray made us, rank autocross amateurs, feel positively heroic.

Performance Traction Management deserves some credit in this regard. First available on the C6 ZR1, PTM allows the electronic traction and stability control systems, as well as the MSRC shocks, to be tailored to both the track conditions at hand and a driver’s skill level. To access PTM, which is only available on Z51/MSRC-equipped cars, the DMS must be placed in Track mode. At that point, the driver can select one of five PTM levels, from most intrusive to least intrusive; the top level offers no stability control and only mild traction control. We chose the third level, Sport 1. PTM lent us a helping hand, but its ministrations went hardly noticed.

By the seat of our pants, the eLSD had far more to do with not only making the Stingray easy to drive—that is, making us look good—but making it fast. The system works seamlessly, but its effects were obvious around the autocross course. Having an open, or nearly open, differential clearly enhanced the car’s turn-in ability. Then, as we trailed off the brakes and got on the gas, the eLSD began clamping down on slip, greatly boosting traction. It also made it easier to control oversteer—a quick flick of opposite lock was all it took—as we learned after a few laps when we began to push the Stingray harder and got the the back end out a little.

Despite the abrupt steering inputs demanded by the tight corners of the autocross course, the standard seats did an exemplary job of holding us in place; we weren’t left wishing for more bolstering. The driver, by the way, sits closer to the car’s center of gravity than in previous Corvettes. On the Z51 model, the Stingray has a slightly rearward weight distribution, with about 51 percent of the car’s mass over the rear wheels. This shift, combined with the increased chassis rigidity and steering precision, makes the Stingray feel smaller from behind the wheel than its C6 predecessor, despite actually being physically larger—2.4 inches longer overall, with a inch-longer wheelbase. A slightly lower hood line, and the improved outward vision it affords, helps magnify this subjective change.

Back in January at the Stingray reveal, Jeuchter said, “The first time you get behind the wheel, you’re going to know that Corvettes have changed forever.” At the time this claim seemed a little hyperbolic, but now we know it’s true. Given the way handling dominates its performance portfolio, the 2014 Stingray is more of a true sports car than any Corvette in history. Yet, at the same time, it is an even better GT machine, with the ride quality, comfort and technology to go head-to-head with six-figure luxury craft. You don’t just want to drive it on your favorite backroad, you want to drive it across the country. Chevrolet has delivered a Corvette that is a world-class machine for its breadth of character, not simply its outright performance or its high bang-for-the-buck quotient.