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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.
The LT1 engine, using aluminum for block and heads, is all new for the Stingray. At 6.2 liters, it is a monster for displacement, and gets direct injection for fuel delivery. The car I drove, made 460 horsepower and 465 pound-feet of naturally aspirated torque due to the performance exhaust as part of the Z51 package. Without that exhaust system, each spec would have been down by five.
Unlike the Italian supercar competition, the LT1 is not a high-compression engine. Redline sits a 6,600, with peak horsepower at 6,000. Chevy relies more on displacement than revs for power. The result is a deep exhaust note and throbbing power felt throughout the car even at idle.
The wonders of electronic throttle control made this powerplant easy to control, and never so sensitive that I felt like it was getting away from me. The Stingray can go from Main Street cruiser to track day star at a turn of its drive mode dial.
I had the opportunity at an earlier press event to drive the Stingray on a cone course. Thanks to its rigid construction, precise steering, and suspension, I was able to throw it hard around the corners and floor it on the straights with complete confidence. The back end might start to come out, but I found it easy to correct even mid-turn.
I also have to give credit to the Stingray's Performance Traction Management, Chevy's sport-oriented traction control program. It worked with a sport program in the differential to help keep the car on its line. Some people might deride these programs as "electronic nannies," but in the Stingray they enhance performance rather than rein it in.
In a big nod to new technologies, Chevrolet gave the Stingray an LCD tachometer. The instrument cluster features three analog gauges -- speed, fuel, and temperature -- but the literal centerpiece is a large, color LCD that changes configuration depending on the drive mode.
With the car in Weather, Eco, or Touring mode, the display showed a simplified tachometer, while Sport mode made it look more like an analog gauge. Track mode turned it into what one Chevy engineer called the hockey stick, a race-style display that shows the engine speed on something that looks like the Nike swoop logo.
Along with engine speed, I could select from a number of interior displays, showing useful information such as trip data, or just a big vehicle speed readout. That last was very useful, as the analog speedometer is off to the left of the instrument panel and not particularly easy to read at a glance.
There was about a second delay between switching drive modes and the new screen coming up, an odd little bit of lag.
The head-up display mirrored the LCD instrument cluster, or I could set it for different display information. For public roads, I found it handy to show the digital speed read-out.
The instrument cluster LCD comes standard in the Stingray, as does a sizable center touch screen LCD for cabin tech features. The center screen features an iteration of Chevy's MyLink system, other versions of which I previously saw on the Sonic, Cruze, and Impala models.
The interface seemed a little confusing, with a menu button on the end of a center dial along with a button bearing a home icon below the LCD. It took me a little while to figure out that the home button called up a main screen with touch icons for navigation, media, radio, phone, and apps; while the menu button called up context-sensitive menus, such as destination entry when the navigation system was up. There were hard buttons below the LCD for radio and media, but I had to use the home screen to access navigation.
I didn't like how this interface brought up three rows of preset buttons over the media screens, forcing me to swipe down on the LCD to see song information, or how I had to bring up the navigation menu bar to zoom the map screens. Likewise, that navigation menu remained up on the screen, obscuring a big part of the map, for far too long.
The navigation system's maps looked good, and rendered buildings when in perspective view. Although I usually like perspective view, the rendered buildings created too much of a visual cacophony in downtown San Francisco, obscuring the intersections I wanted to see. I had to set this navigation system to plan view.
In most of my regular routes, I found route guidance worked just fine and was easy to follow. But on one excursion, from Napa to San Francisco, the system initially gave me a route across the Bay Bridge, and showing a three-hour drive time. Using my local knowledge, I headed for the Golden Gate Bridge, waiting for the system to recalculate for that route. Even when I was a mere mile away from the bridge, the system kept insisting I take an off-ramp and head back in the opposite direction. It wasn't until I was on the Golden Gate that it finally relented and gave me the route I wanted, which was half the projected drive time of the route it tried to put me on.
Chevy does the legacy thing of putting radio and local audio sources in two different buckets, and Pandora as a completely separate menu item on the homescreen. It makes more sense to put all the audio sources on one screen. Instead, if I wanted to go from listening to Bluetooth streaming to a source plugged into one of the two USB ports in the car, I had to repeatedly push the Media button to cycle through the local sources. There was also no obvious way to call up the music library screen for an iOS device or thumb drive plugged into the car. I found, through trial and error, that turning the menu dial under the LCD automatically brought up the library selection screen.
Music played through a Bose audio system developed specifically for the Stingray. This bass-heavy system sounded designed for classic rock, which seems appropriate for the buyer demographic. However, the sound is very clean. I had one of those music epiphany moments listening to Muddy Waters, as the system brought out the nuances of his voice and guitar picking.
Being a GM vehicle, OnStar is included in the Stingray. Along with its traditional emergency services, it includes concierge features that complement navigation. Most importantly for such a showy car, the stolen vehicle service lets OnStar locate the car, and even bring it to a safe stop if the perp has gone off on a Fast and Furious-style police chase.
The 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray is a remarkable GT-style sports car. Chevy fully embraced tech throughout its running gear, making it very suitable for the streets and a track day contender. It really is the kind of car you can drive to the track, spend a day doing laps, and then drive back home. However, the manual version proved uncomfortable to drive in stop-and-go traffic, and the binding of the steering system with the wheel hard over was disturbing. Although the Stingray could turn in mid-20s fuel economy in normal driving, this car is meant to be flogged through the turns at high revs.
As a grand tourer, there is certainly a place for electronics in the dashboard -- the Stingray is no stripper. Chevy has done good work refining its MyLink system, and it offers good connectivity for external devices through USB ports and Bluetooth. The head unit offers many features, although some of the execution is lacking. The navigation system routing was problematic, as were some of the interface elements. The lack of a screen to choose audio sources was a big miss. The highlights of the cabin tech were OnStar, the Bose audio system, and the LCD instrumentation, including the head-up display.
The biggest lesson I learned spending a week with the 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray was that it's not a car for wallflowers. From its audacious design to the thunder from the exhaust, you will be noticed.
|Model||2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray|
|Trim||3LT with Z51 Performance Package|
|Powertrain||Direct injection 6.2-liter V-8 engine, seven-speed manual transmission|
|EPA fuel economy||17 mpg city/29 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||20.2 mpg|
|Navigation||Optional with live traffic|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard|
|Digital audio sources||Internet-based radio, Bluetooth streaming, iOS integration, USB drive, HD radio, satellite radio|
|Audio system||Bose 10-speaker system|
|Driver aids||Rear view camera, head-up display|
|Price as tested||$71,960|