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While impressive that the Corvette model has been in continuous production for over 60 years, more astounding is the lack of a slacker in its seven generations. You might decry the crippled power output of some mid-70s models, or sniff a little at the C4's design. But none of these could really be called bad. So Chevy faced an uphill battle designing the 2014 Corvette, the C7, for seventh generation.
The company felt it did so well with the C7 that it is called the 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray; the Stingray name having only been applied to two previous generations.
In looks, the Stingray certainly seems worthy of its title. I could walk around and around it, appreciating the clever mix of curves and angles, the long nose and sharp front fenders, the vents fore and aft, the way the cab rises and rakes back. I could call out the taillights for their Camaro-ish look, but then my eye was drawn to the center-mounted quad exhaust tips.
Wherever I drove the Stingray, I got envious looks. Whenever I parked it I was forced to stop and chat with passerbys who came over to ogle it. The Velocity Yellow paint job may have elicited the first look, but the design of the car was the hook.
Corvettes of recent past, while they looked good on the outside, relied on GM's parts bin for cabin appointments. But the new Stingray looks and feels much improved, with a tastefully appointed cockpit with high-tech flourishes, such as a head-up display and an LCD instrument cluster. One thing that survived the redesign was a faint hint of epoxy mixing with the new car smell.
As before, the body panels are made of a composite material, although the hood and roof are carbon fiber. Chevy designed the new Corvette Stingray on an aluminum frame, which combines lightness and incredible rigidity. Weight comes in at a mere 3,300 pounds.
Five flavors of drive
On the Stingray's console sits a mode selector, a simple dial that takes the car through five settings: Weather, Eco, Touring, Sport, and Track. Each mode can set up to 12 performance parameters, everything from throttle sensitivity and the stability program, to exhaust note and the look of the instrument cluster. And you can customize some of the parameters for each mode, choosing, for example, how the mode will affect the steering.
When cruising down the freeway, Eco and Touring felt very similar. However, Eco engages cylinder deactivation, which runs the Stingray's 6.2-liter V-8 on just four cylinders, and reverting to all eight when I hit the gas. As another means of helping fuel economy, the seven-speed manual transmission shunts the shifter from second to fifth in a casual upshift, a trick Chevy has used before. These tricks earn the Stingray an EPA-rated 17 mpg city and 29 mpg highway, the latter remarkable for a car of its power. In a mix of driving modes, I turned in 20.2 mpg.
The Stingray I was driving came with Chevy's Magnetic Selective Ride Control technology, an optional adaptive suspension that changes the damper response based on sensor information and the driver-selected program. Both Eco and Touring modes use the suspension's most comfortable setting, which I wouldn't call soft. The car always felt sports-car stiff, but the ride was just a tad compliant in these modes. Likewise, the throttle was easier to modulate when slogging through stop-and-go traffic, and the electric power steering assumed a light feel.
Twisting the dial to Sport, the Stingray felt like it was coming into its own. The exhaust assumed a more thunderous note, while the ride and steering stiffened up. The throttle mapping change was subtle, and not so sensitive that I couldn't keep a steady speed crawling along behind a truck going uphill. If I didn't feel a need to test out the other drive modes, and give the fuel economy a fair shake, I would have left it in Sport all the time.
Track mode stiffened the suspension so much as to be uncomfortable. This level of rigidity doesn't work so well on public roads, where little bumps and imperfections can bounce the car off-course. Track mode was designed for well-maintained race courses, where the Stingray won't have to deal with five years worth of county paving crew neglect.
Weather mode detunes the torque, good for preventing the tires from spinning at every start on a wet road.
I had far too much time driving the Stingray in heavy traffic. Like any car with a lot of power and manual transmission, it wasn't fun under these circumstances. I wouldn't want to use this car as a commuter. There was also quite a bit of road noise, making me question how enjoyable it would be on a road trip. And the steering rack felt like it was binding when I had the wheels cranked at maximum for parking lot maneuvers, resulting in an uncomfortable rolling thump-thump.
The fun came when hitting the gas for a fast take-off, and on winding mountain roads.
From the driver's seat, the nose, marked by the fender ridges, looked wide. But the steering wheel guided the front with perfection. I could feel the rigidity of the frame and how it aided turn-in. It only took a little steering wheel input to guide the car around, and then it followed with precision. Going around a sweeper, I could feel the electronic limited slip differential do its thing, maintaining power from the rear at each vector of turn.
There's a ton of grip here, especially with the Z51 Performance Package, which ups the wheel size by an inch, putting 19-inch wheels in front and 20-inch wheels in back, wrapped in Michelin Pilot Super Sports. At $2,800, the Z51 package is a bargain, as it also brings in upgraded brakes, a dry sump oil system, and the aforementioned limited slip differential. The adaptive suspension is an additional option, but well worth it.
The manual shifter has a mechanical feel and takes a little arm strength to work, but the throws are nice and short. I found the seven speed gets a little confusing in the upper reaches, where it was easy to end up downshifting to five when looking for an upshift to seven. But that only happened when seeking high gears for freeway cruising. Getting through the twisty bits, second and third were the only gears I needed, and those came easily.
This manual transmission includes a rev-matching feature, which automatically blips the throttle for downshifts. Going into a corner, I popped the shifter from third to second, and the throttle blip eliminated any sudden torque bump to the wheels. Power delivery remained completely smooth. Plus, when merely cruising down a street, the sudden revs make everyone aware of your presence. Rev matching is off by default, with steering wheel-mounted paddles to turn it on.
At a previous event, I had driven the automatic transmission version, and it proved quite good. Chevy claims the same 3.8 second, zero to 60 mph time for each transmission. You might suffer some derision from people for having the automatic version, until you blow everyone away on track day.