Sports Car Reborn

One stretch of horribly rough Monterey, California backroad was all it took to become convinced of the Stingray’s greatness. We’d already traveled over what we thought was some pretty bumpy pavement, and were impressed with our Z51 coupe’s ability to soak up the punishment, even with the Magnetic Selective Ride Control shocks in their stiffer Sport setting. Then the road got worse, much worse. We maintained our fast pace, however, reveling in the sharpness with which the new Corvette turned into corners and how planted the rear remained out of them.

Then, after cresting a rise, a huge dip suddenly appeared before us. With no time to brake, we did our best to hit it square—the pinpoint accuracy of the steering helping us take aim—and held our breath, waiting for impact. It didn’t come. The Stingray absorbed the sharp compression with no drama—no front-end scrape, no rebound bobble, no straying from our intended path. A C6 would not have fared so well, and it’s hard to imagine any sports cars handling such a nasty bit of road with more aplomb.

To be honest, we were smitten the moment we slipped into the cockpit of the 2014 coupe, which was fitted with the Z51 Performance Package and a manual transmission. The new steering wheel is fantastic. Our hands immediately found a comfortable perch, thanks to the perfect contouring and placement of the thumb rests and the ideal thickness of the rim. The wheel’s slightly smaller 14.1-inch diameter feels right, too. The Corvette team within Chevrolet decided early on that the C7 needed to have its own steering wheel, a Corvette first. They got their way—a seemingly small victory, but one that speaks volumes about the extent to which the Corvette has been transformed for the better.
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The next thing we noticed was the supportive embrace of the standard seats. Finally, the Corvette has seats that hug the shoulders, a quality we could appreciate even while the car was stationary, as that added support allows the rest of your body to relax. Finding a comfortable seating position was a snap; the basic ergonomics of this vehicle are so good that very little fiddling is required.

Initially, we didn’t play around much with the new configurable, digital instrument cluster, as we were content with the default setting. Suffice it to say the various screens allow an incredible amount of adjustability and are all highly legible; in no way is the Stingray’s high-tech instrumentation a second coming of the ’84 Corvette’s disappointing digital dash. A cursory sampling of the touch-screen navigation system on our loaded 3LT tester was enough to tell us that it represents a huge advancement over the previous one. Though the C7 has more systems integration than its sixth-generation predecessor, we were glad to see a bevy of dedicated buttons and dials still in service, allowing us to quickly adjust the climate control to our needs and get on the road; we just couldn’t wait any longer.

We summoned some revs from the LT1, eased out the clutch and were off. Initially, the twin-disc clutch felt a little springy, but we quickly grew accustomed to it. The new seven-speed manual transmission is a pleasure to operate, with nice, short throws and a solid mechanical feel. We noticed a bit of notichiness, particularly in the shift from second to third, but that’s to be expected from a car with only 500 miles on the odometer; the cog swaps will no doubt become smoother over time.
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With some freeway miles to cover before we reached the twisty stuff, we had the opportunity to get the transmission into seventh. It really isn’t all that weird to have the extra gear. In a way, seventh is the new fifth; once again having top gear up and away quickly felt normal. Despite the gearing being so tall—the top three cogs are all overdriven—the engine still pulls in seventh, needing no downshifts to keep up with the flow of traffic or compensate for hills.

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.
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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.
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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.

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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
Corvette magazine 85 cover

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
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