A Star is Born

Also from Issue 87

  • Supercharged C6 Convertible
  • 1981 Coupe/Late-Model C3 Buying Tips
  • Larry Shinoda
  • 1988 Coupe
  • 1999 Hardtop
  • Tech: Stingray Seats
  • 1964 Small-Block Coupe
  • Racing: C6.R Retrospective
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Perhaps the most lasting impression the Stingray made was its speed; the car is just so unrelentingly fast. The 6.2-liter LT1 V8 is ever at the ready with a big, thick wedge of torque. While its powerband may be linear to a fault—something that I mentioned in our first drive report—this 21st-century small block spins just fine, and has loads of power at high revs. On paper, the C7 has only 24 more horsepower than its C6 predecessor, but it feels much faster in the real world, with a near-Z06 sense of urgency when driven hard. Given this impression, I was surprised by the number of Corvette enthusiasts I met who loved the C7, but were going to wait to buy one until a higher-output version becomes available. Really?

As for the 7-speed manual gearbox, the slight notchiness I experienced with the first stick-shift Stingray I drove back in August was not present in this higher-mileage test car. I wouldn’t quite call the shift action slick—swapping cogs requires some effort—but I generally found the gearbox satisfying to use. Part of this can be explained by the shift lever’s ideal placement in the cockpit; it just falls easily to hand. Though I had told myself at the outset that I would spend time heel-and-toe downshifting—something I’m accustomed to doing—I quickly surrendered to Active Rev Match. The system simply works too well not to enlist its services.

Though the 2014 Corvette’s acceleration impressed me more than it had during my first test last summer, the car’s handling remains the star of the Stingray show. This point was really driven home on the morning of our Mount Tamalpais photo shoot. The car had been a joy to drive on the rural roads outside of Maxwell, but I was eager to subject it to some of my favorite Marin County backroads. Ultra-narrow, bumpy and littered with abrupt elevation changes, these twisty bands of pavement present a severe test for a sports car—and, frankly, the various C6s I have piloted on them barely earned passing grades. The C7 fared considerably better.

Though a bit wide in such tight confines, the Corvette felt both wieldy and unflappable. The quick and accurate steering, combined with the phenomenal amount of front-end grip, made it easy to slice through the corners. Understeer never impeded my rapid progress. The electronic limited-slip differential plays a big role in the car’s eagerness to turn in, as it can open up on corner entry. However, when it’s time to exit and put down the power, the eLSD quickly clamps down on slip, greatly boosting traction. Even though some of the corners were still slick with morning dew, and leaf-strewn in patches, I was able to get on the throttle fairly aggressively without fear of swapping ends.

There was also no drama when it came to hitting bumps. Even when loaded with cornering forces, this car’s Z51/Magnetic Selective Ride Control suspension (referred to internally as FE4) ate Marin County bumps for breakfast, allowing me to maintain speed with confidence. As was true most of the time I was behind the wheel of the Stingray, I had the Driver Mode Selector in the Sport setting. In addition to increasing steering weight, quickening throttle response and paying out longer electronic leashes on the traction- and stability-control fronts, this mode places the MSRC shocks into a stiffer parameter, allowing for higher damping rates.

In addition to having less composure on these backroads, previous-generation Corvettes had the annoying habit of frequently scraping their air dams. This didn’t hurt the rubber flaps, but the sound was nevertheless a buzz kill. Since the new Stingray’s radiator is fed cooling air from the forward-facing front grille instead of from underneath, the air dam is no longer needed to perform its wind-deflecting duties. This means no more scraping—hallelujah.

The C7’s greatly improved cockpit also contributed to my driving enjoyment. The seat provided a snug embrace, allowing me to use the steering wheel solely as a turning device and not as an additional means of support. For several generations now, the Corvette has had its instruments arranged in an ergonomically sound manner. The same is true with the C7; the difference is that the instruments are now easier to read. I found that the configurable digital dash was simply spot-on in its sport setting, with a large circular tachometer and a numerical speedometer readout. Finally, the C7’s improved forward sight lines, which come courtesy of the scalloped hood, make it easier to place the nose—something that was very much appreciated on these narrow roads.