A paradigm shift for Chevrolet and the Corvette, but not without its flaws.
What's so great about having an engine in the middle, anyway? The front-engined Chevrolet Corvette has been successful for 65 years, after all. But where the seventh-generation Corvette felt like a true renegade, an awesome oddity among the swaths of mid-engined alternatives, the new eighth-generation Chevrolet Corvette feels, finally, like a worldly supercar. You can now mention it in the same breath as rivals from McLaren and Ferrari without holding back. But the C8 arrives with an obvious learning curve.
We finally sampled the new Corvette this past week on the roads near Las Vegas and on the track at Spring Valley Raceway, an hour north of The Strip. But this rather small taste of what the world's first mid-engined 'Vette has to offer leaves us with some mixed emotions.
Hey, Good Lookin’
Man, the C8 is really pretty in person. Its styling didn't sway us initially, but our tester looks sharp in the new-for-2020 Zeus Bronze metallic paint and matching 19-inch light bronze wheels. And no, you don't need a wing; the two spoiler options (one only available with the Z51 package) look like a tacky afterthought atop the otherwise sleek shape.
The interior is pretty, too. If it weren't for the Corvette logo on the steering wheel, you might mistake the C8's healthy mix of Nappa leather, suede, and carbon fiber for a vehicle that costs twice as much and hails from somewhere like England or Germany. This is the best Corvette interior ever, and it may very well be Chevrolet's best interior ever, too.
An 8.0-inch touchscreen sits atop the stubby center stack, joined by a 12.0-inch configurable digital instrument cluster behind the steering wheel. Both look and feel more premium than anything you'll find on other Chevys; clearly, these weren’t plucked from a GM parts bin. And depending on if you opt for the 1LT, 2LT, or 3LT trim, the Corvette comes with one of three seat choices: a GT1 bucket seat, a GT2 bucket seat, and a highly bolstered Competition Sport bucket. We suggest either of the former two – they're comfy while still supportive. The sport seats, meanwhile, are tight for anyone.
And tightness was a recurring theme throughout our drive. It's really the only gripe we have with the new Corvette's interior. Ingress and egress is tough, and once inside, the bulky center console and adjacent climate control bar creates a harsh barrier between driver and passenger. And yes, that climate control bar is extremely weird and clunky. As a result, both driver and passenger shoulder into a tight compartment that borders on claustrophobic. For a car this big, the cabin feels unnaturally cramped.
This is the best Corvette interior ever, and it may very well be Chevrolet's best interior ever, too.
Visibility isn’t great either. You really have to angle the side mirrors out far to remove the huge rear haunches from view, and the only thing visible from the rear-view mirror is the back hatch. At least the 2LT and 3LT trims come standard with a rear-view-mirror-mounted backup camera, which is an absolute necessity. It provides a nice, clear picture of what's behind you. 1LT owners will simply have to deal (or pay extra).
Sublime Ride, Subdued Nature
Once poured into either of the two passenger compartments, though, the C8's ride quality represents a paradigm shift for Chevrolet. The optional, updated magnetic ride control, which Chevy calls “version 4.0,” benefits from a bevy of fresh engineering bits (like new accelerometers and inertia sensors) that contribute to noticeably improved ride quality. But even without it, the C8 is silky smooth on the road; touring cars like the McLaren GT and Aston Martin DBS have a new American rival.
The cabin of the C8 is so well insulated that (for better or worse) that the exhaust note of the 6.2-liter V8 barely penetrates it, not even in Sport mode. Only when you push the vehicle hard does the raucous note of 495 horses and 470 pound-feet of torque from the mid-mounted engine pour in. But that's only a minor consequence; on the twisty mountain roads of Valley of Fire State Park near Las Vegas, the Corvette’s refined ride, well-finished cabin, and punchy powertrain make it a phenomenal touring car.
If anything, the C8 almost feels too laid back. It could use an injection of personality on the road. The new Corvette does everything extremely well – it's quick, comfortable, and mostly quiet – but feels generic off the track. Blindfold us and tell us we're in any front-engined alternative and we might believe you. We’d have more fun carving up these same Nevada canyon roads in well-spec'd C7.
Quick, Confident… Cramped
But Chevy spokespeople and pro drivers tell us the track is where the C8 shines, anyway. They're mostly right. Spring Mountain Raceway is the perfect proving ground for the new Corvette. Armed with a car that’s loaded to the brim with the $5,000 Z51 package, the optional $1,895 magnetic ride control, and more, we learn quickly that the coupe has performance chops. The C8 transforms from a touring car to a track star. It’s no gold medalist, though.
For one, the C8 is genuinely quick. Hold the brake pedal, mash the gas, and launch control gets you to 60 miles per hour in 2.9 seconds (or 3.0 seconds without the Z51 package). And the Tremec eight-speed dual-clutch is quick to the punch. Flicking the C8 into Spring Mountain Raceway's first turn – a long, tricky sweeper – and the Corvette responds instantly. With a quick steering rack, a 40/60 weight distribution (versus the common 50/50 distribution on other mid-engined cars), and a driver's seat positioned closer to the front axle, the car moves effortlessly, rotating like a well-balanced top.
The C8 transforms from a touring car to a track star. It’s no gold medalist, though.
And because the engine now lives behind the driver, forward visibility is better despite the raked windshield we mentioned earlier. Gone are the C7's nasty forward sightlines; here you can barely make out the C8's hood and relatively short front overhang – there's just a lot of pavement to look at. Forward visibility on track versus the C7 is much improved.
But some things do take a hit in moving the engine backwards, like braking. The C8 actually takes longer to stop with its big Brembo brakes than the equivalent C7, Chevy admits. And because of the additional weight behind the driver, the ‘Vette feels squirrelly under hard braking; the ass occasionally wants to whip around. C8 drivers, welcome to the reality of mid-engined cars.
The Michelin Pilot 4S tires (245 front/305 rear), meanwhile, feel grippy enough, but there's a touch too much body roll for a car benchmarked against perfectionists like the Porsche 911 and Audi R8, among others. We'd appreciate more grip and less body roll with the higher-performance variants that will eventually follow.
Your lanky author also struggled with the new Corvette’s ergonomics on-track due to the aforementioned cramped cabin. Other shorter drivers didn't experience this, to be fair, but a clean 90-degree rotation of the steering wheel is almost unmanageable with the bulky center console and bolstered seats getting in the way. And because of that odd square-shaped, two-spoked steering wheel, there aren't many good grip points higher up (read: 10 and two) to keep elbows away from the center console and seats. Even a test driver on-hand admits that it's difficult for him to find a proper seating position. It's our only major complaint in a car that feels very capable on the track otherwise.
A Great Base
This may very well be the best Corvette ever, technically speaking. But our relatively short time in the C8 doesn't tell us enough about this car yet. We left Vegas with just a few hours behind the wheel and mixed emotions. While the C8 is both extremely comfortable and offers ride quality and cabin materials that rival more expensive alternatives, there is some room for improvement.
By and large, the C8 Corvette feels like a necessary progression for a nameplate that, in many ways, grew stale. What impresses us most about the new Corvette is its price: this car starts at $59,995 after destination. Even with our tester's more-than-$79,000 asking price, it's a bargain compared to most peers and is very well equipped.
This may very well be the best Corvette ever, technically speaking. But our relatively short time in the C8 doesn't tell us enough about this car yet.
There is a lot to love about the Chevrolet Corvette C8, even if it doesn't totally live up to its lofty, almost unmanageable expectations. But this is just the beginning – we can't wait to see how much better this car gets with time.