Readers over the age of 40 will likely remember the GMC Syclone, a short-lived high-performance pickup truck that hit the automotive world like, well, a severely disruptive meteorological event in the early 1990s. Equipped with a turbocharged and intercooled version of GM’s stalwart 4.3-liter V-6, this psycho Sonoma was capable of squirting from zero to 60 mph in just 4.6 seconds, a feat few automobiles at any price could match at the time.
While the Syclone’s blown six made a healthy (for the era) 280 horsepower, the key to the truck’s accelerative prowess lay in its incorporation of both a standard all-wheel-drive system and the same four-speed automatic transmission employed in the L98 Corvette. Consequently, there was no clutch to slip, no tire spin to manage—just a big, fat wallop of torque (350 pound-feet, to be precise) that punted the 3,600-pound pickup out of the hole like a tasered cheetah.
Which brings us, in roundabout fashion, the matter of the 2024 Corvette E-Ray, the latest and arguably the most technologically ambitious automobile in the marque’s 70-year history. The car, which will go on sale later this year, weighs a couple hundred pounds more than GMC’s little pickup that could but musters more than twice as much engine output—655 hp, to be precise—allying it with Corvette’s first AWD system and the C8’s excellent dual-clutch trans.
As one might expect, this shotgun marriage of grunt and grip yields eye-opening results, most notably a claimed 2.5-second 0-60 sprint that confers upon the E-Ray the title of quickest-accelerating production Corvette ever made. Stay in it, and a quarter-mile dash of 10.5 seconds at 130 mph proves there’s plenty more juice in the tank once traction ceases to be a factor.
Impressive stuff, but Corvettes have steadily been getting speedier for years, and even the RWD C8 Stingray is a hard-launching car, thanks to its roughly 40/60 weight distribution. What really sets the E-Ray apart is its powertrain, which comprises both a 495-hp LT2 V-8 from the base Stingray and a permanent-magnetic-drive electric motor channeling an additional 160 horses and 125 pound-feet of torque to the front wheels. Chevrolet calls this arrangement “eAWD” and describes the E-Ray as the “first-ever electrified Corvette,” presumably to avoid any negative connotations associated with the “hybrid” label.
But whatever the nomenclature, the E-Ray is a groundbreaking addition to the Corvette family, and the first step in what we expect to be the gradual electrification of the entire model line in the years ahead. As such, it deserves a closer look here.
A Different Kind of Hybrid
Unlike the racy Z06, with its exotic, flat-plane-crank engine, the E-Ray is very much a “Stingray Plus,” inasmuch as it takes the basic C8 platform and augments it with technologies that meaningfully improve the car’s performance and usability.
When it comes to punching up engine output, the star of the show is a 1.9-kWh LG battery pack located in the central tunnel, between the seats. This supplies the aforementioned power boost via a compact electric drive motor mounted over the front axle, where it doles out extra torque to the front wheels as conditions and driver demands warrant. (When not scrabbling for traction on slippery pavement or dicing it up on a road course, the car relies solely on its conventional V-8, powering the rear wheels, for propulsion.)
Though it features a magnesium-and-aluminum housing, the motor and its associated shock-tower brace do add more than 250 pounds to the nose of the car, shifting the E-Ray’s weight balance forward by around two percentage points. Helping to offset the increased poundage are standard carbon-ceramic brakes and a lithium-ion battery for the LT2. Also on the upside, the extra suspension bracing is claimed to improve steering feel over the un-braced C8 Stingray.
In contrast to most hybrid—er, electrified—vehicles, the E-Ray does not count improved fuel economy as a primary selling point over its exclusively gas-powered counterpart. Instead, Chevrolet is relying on the car’s superior speed and enhanced usability to set it apart from its C8 line mates.
“We have not tested EPA numbers yet for E-Ray,” GM’s Trevor Thompkins told us, “but ultimately the performance and the expansion of scenarios where you can drive a Corvette, with all-wheel drive and also a standard all-season tire, are the real selling point.”
Still, it’s likely that the E-Ray will evince some benefit in the realm of operational efficiency, even if that benefit is only modestly reflected in the EPA’s standardized test cycle. As Thompkins explains, “The front axle motor will allow for scenarios where Active Fuel Management in the V-8 has an extended operational range because the front axle can fill in torque to meet the driver’s needs.”
Another area in which the latest C8 diverges from E-car orthodoxy is the manner in which it recharges its battery. This is not, Chevy stresses, a plug-in hybrid. Instead the E-Ray uses its conventional V-8 engine, along with regenerative coasting and braking, to keep the pouch-type LG unit topped off.
As for the eAWD system, “intelligent” operation allows it to deploy varying amounts of torque to the front wheels as needed, whether to maintain purchase on a slippery surface or to maximize performance on a racetrack. Combined with standard Magnetic Ride Control, it should make the E-Ray even easier and more predictable to drive at or near the limit than the (already quite forgiving) Stingray.
Spotting an E-Ray in the wild should be a cinch. Just look for the wider (by 3.6 inches) bodywork from the Z06, but with body-color, instead of black, trim. The car also shares its wheel sizes (20×10-inch front, 21×13-inch rear) with the Z, but foregoes that model’s racy Michelin Pilot Sport Cup tires in favor of Pilot Sport all-season rubber. The standard aluminum wheels use an understated, twisted-five-spoke design that’s specific to the E-Ray.
That the E-Ray not only performs on par with the line-topping Z06 but looks like it as well would seem to pose a dilemma for Chevy’s marketing department, since the two cars will likely vie for dollars among the same relatively small customer demographic. Who, then, represents the target buyer for each of these uplevel C8 models?
As Chevy representatives explained to us (see accompanying piece), the E-Ray is positioned as a friendly, approachable supercar, one capable of operating year-round, regardless of weather conditions. That it offers the potential to increase cruising range in certain driving environments (chiefly urban use) is icing on what is already a pretty appealing cake.
The Z06 requires a more devoted partner, one willing to endure its flintier ride, summer-only rubber, and hairier handling dynamics in exchange for several tenths on a racetrack and the most glorious-sounding V-8 engine this side of Maranello. This Bowling Green Bolide makes no excuses but gives no quarter.
Whether that difference is enough to sell both Corvette models in the desired volumes remains to be seen, but we wouldn’t underestimate the brand’s devotees when it comes to their appetite for the latest and greatest hardware. It’s even conceivable that a sufficiently well-heeled enthusiast might own one of each, to be deployed as climate and mood dictate.
Regardless of what it represents, and to whom, it’s clear that the latest C8 model marks a watershed moment in the Corvette’s 70-year evolution. As we speed toward an all-electric future, the E-Ray is a vehicle that proudly stands on its merits while heralding a new chapter in the story of America’s Sports Car.