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2020 Chevy C8 Corvette second drive review: Testing its trackability

Moving the engine to the middle of the new Corvette was supposed to make it a better track-day performer. Does it?

Accelerate Yellow sure is something.

Chevrolet

It's go time for the 2020 Corvette. After years of rumors and months of production delays, the fabled mid-engine revolution for one of America's most iconic sports cars is finally rolling out of the factory in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

But, before it shows up at your local Chevrolet dealership, the C8 has one final stop to make: Pahrump, Nevada. Home to Spring Mountain, rapidly becoming one of America's largest motorsports complexes, this desert oasis an hour outside of Sin City is actually where Chevrolet did some early testing of the new Corvette before its unveiling, and it was on the 2.2-mile flavor of that circuit that I would finally get my taste of the thing on the track.

We got an early drive of the 2020 C8 Corvette last year, Roadshow's Executive Editor Chris Paukert taking it for a spin around the streets to gauge its daily drivability. I spent some time on the street as well and was genuinely impressed at how well the thing handles the daily grind. My ride was a fully loaded, LT3- and Z51-configured Corvette dipped in the searing color of Accelerate Yellow. It had nearly all the boxes ticked, including GM's digital rear-view mirror (a near-necessity given the extremely limited rearward visibility), plus ultra narrow Competition seats and a swath of optional carbon-fiber bits inside and out.

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For an as-configured price of $87,505 including destination, it's not quite the value that the base $58,900 car offers, but it proved a capable companion in Las Vegas traffic and an engaging drive on the far more engaging roads out past Lake Mead. The controversial eight-speed dual-clutch transmission was nearly as smooth as any automatic when idling between lights, yet snappy and responsive when I wanted it to be -- once the Strip finally faded from that digital rear-view.

So, this thing is indeed about as good a daily driver as ever, compromised only slightly by a decidedly cramped trunk and an interior layout that rivals the Ferrari 488 for passenger unfriendliness. However, my true quest was to hit the track, and so that's exactly what I did.

First, a bit of a refresher on the most relevant specs. The new Corvette is powered by the new, 6.2-liter LT2 offering 490 horsepower and 465 pound-feet of torque in base trim. Step up to the performance exhaust (standard on the Z51) and those numbers jump by 5 each. That's a substantial boost over the outgoing car's 455 hp and 455 lb.-ft. figures, somewhat necessitated by the near-200-pound increase in weight over the last generation.

But, like most things in life, only looking at the numbers means missing some key nuances, enhancements crucial to the track-day life. First is boosted cooling, especially on the Z51, which Chevrolet engineers say can run for an effectively indefinite period of time at full chat on the racetrack with the air-con blasting -- even on a 100-degree day.

The other important factoid is an improved dry-sump lubrication system. Your average car lets its oil slosh around in the oil pan, where it's sucked up by one or more oil pickups and carried back up to the business parts of the machine. On lengthy corners, it's not only possible but likely that the oil will move away from the pickup, depriving the engine of its fluids in a very expensive condition called starvation. According to Chevrolet engineers, the improved dry-sump system on the LT2, which relies on a pressurized system, can hold a sustained 1.25 Gs in the corners without any fear of starvation. That's ideal for the configuration we ran at Spring Mountain. A series of lengthy corners going in each direction provides an effective test of an engine's lubrication system -- and of your neck muscles.

And so, reassured that the motor behind me wouldn't go pop at any point during my day in the desert, I pulled onto the track and, after just a lap of familiarization, got on it hard. Chevrolet unfortunately restricted us to lead-follow laps, so I wasn't able to really open the car up on my own, but we were certainly moving quick enough for me to get a feel for the machine's most important points.

2020 Chevrolet Corvette

Showing off your LT is easier than ever in the new Corvette. 

Tim Stevens/Roadshow

I'll start with the transmission, because that's probably the biggest change here. No longer do you need to choose between the comfort of an auto and the performance of a manual. The DCT does better on both ends. Yes, it lacks the physical engagement of a true manual, meaning my lizard brain felt somewhat underutilized, but the sound of the V8 roaring behind my head was doing a pretty good job stimulating the rest of me, so I was more than happy to let that third pedal go.

When put in manual the transmission is properly at your control. You can bang off the rev-limiter for as long as you like and it'll happily let you drop way down out of the power band if you're so inclined, too, only dropping you back to first if you come to a complete stop. Left to its own devices, the transmission does a reasonably good job of picking the right gears, showing not quite the same telepathy of Porsche's PDK, but the shifts here are so smooth that the occasional bit of hunting didn't unsettle the car on the longer turns in Pahrump.

But, when paddling my own gears, I was quite impressed at the responsiveness of the transmission. Corvette engineers repeatedly pointed out that they wired the paddles directly to the transmission to reduce the lag, and while I was first inclined to write that off as marketing-speak, the result is a system that does what you want instantaneously. It's a revelation compared to the C7's slushbox.

To get that maximum aggression from the transmission, the car needs to be in track mode, of course, which dials up the steering and throttle response as well. But, somewhat more unusually, the feel of the brakes changes as you cycle modes, too. The pedal gets far more responsive on the track and, since it's a brake-by-wire system called eBoost, you can expect consistent pedal feel lap after lap after lap. While I do fear that such systems could mask brake overheating issues until you're past the point of no return, for our relatively short stints the pedal was equally firm, and the braking equally good, on the last turn as on the first.

2020 Chevrolet Corvette

Track handling is a bit on the safe side by default, but pushed harder the Corvette responds nicely.

Chevrolet

And what about the suspension? Driven traditionally, the Corvette has a natural understeer tendency on turn-in, which I have absolutely no issue with. Get more aggressive on the trail-braking, though, and it's easy enough to keep the nose planted right to the apex. On the way back out of the corner again, it'll probably come as no surprise that the mid-engined, rear-drive C8 is happy to kick its tail wide. But, it does so in a gentle, controllable and delightfully fun way.

And what about the differences in the suspensions, standard versus the optional Magnetic Ride adaptive stuff? I actually got the best sampling of differences there on a short but fast autocross course. Going back-to-back, it was remarkable how different the two cars felt. The car with the purely mechanical dampers definitely had a stronger tendency towards understeer and, once pushed into understeer, required a dramatic lift off the throttle and unwind of the wheel to bring that nose back under control.

In the MagneRide car (an $1,895 option), I could drive far more aggressively on the nose. When pushed, the car just sort of figured out what I wanted and made it happen. It wasn't quite night and day between the two, but the required driving technique was vastly different. Sadly I wasn't able to time myself with the two, but I'd hazard a guess that the MagneRide would be quicker for most drivers. The consistency of the standard dampers may be better for those really focused on improving their skills, however.

I also want to point out that Chevrolet's Performance Data Recorder has also received some significant upgrades for this year, including finally stepping up to a 1080p camera, giving you more control over the on-screen telemetry display, even acting like a good ol' dashcam for those times when you're not running hot laps but covering cold commutes. Sadly, a technical mix-up meant I wasn't able to sample the goods myself here, but I continue to be a big fan of anything that gives consumers access to near-pro telemetrics.

After a few days in the saddle I left Las Vegas quite impressed by the new Corvette. It doesn't achieve the scalpel-like precision of mid-engine exotics from Ferrari, McLaren or Lamborghini, but then of course, it's available at a fraction of the cost and comes with a three-year, 36,000-mile warranty. The look still isn't for me, I find the styling a bit fussy if I'm honest, but I really enjoyed my time inside the thing. As an all-round sports car it's a killer drive and more than capable of being an absolute blast on the track.


Editors' note: Travel costs related to this story were covered by the manufacturer, which is common in the auto industry. The judgments and opinions of Roadshow's staff are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.