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First drive: 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray

'America’s Sports Car' improves the breed

Published: September 11, 2013 01:30 AM

The redesigned 2014 Corvette goes on sale in October, but GM has rented us an early version so we could sample the latest iteration of America’s longest-running sports car.

While this seventh-generation model is officially called the Corvette Stingray, most enthusiasts call it the C7. It’s more compact than the outgoing C6, yet it sits on a longer wheelbase. Styling is more angular, reminiscent of an exotic Italian super car. More crucially, the new Corvette is about much more than rapid transit. It’s a trimmer, sharper, altogether more sophisticated machine. Everywhere I went over the last weekend, this icon proved a magnet for approving gazes and cell-phone snapshots. (Read our initial track impressions.)

True to the plastic-fantastic car’s tradition, the Corvette will remain out of reach for many, as prices start at $51,000. Our example, with the optional Z51 performance package and other goodies, was estimated to come in at $65,000. But what you get for this chunk of change is arguably the most performance per dollar anywhere.
 
First impressions
No longer just a brute-force machine, the new Corvette has been reborn as a tight, high-tech sports car. Performance can be civilized or wild depending on your mood. Acceleration is ferocious, handling is precise, and braking superb. Gone is the cheap interior, noisy cabin, and overall cheesiness of past ‘Vettes.

Forward thrust is an eye-popping thrill. The direct-injection 6.2-liter V8 pumps out 460 horsepower and promises a 0-to-60 mph time of less than 4 seconds. From a standing start, the C7 shoots forward like a fighter jet catapulted off an aircraft carrier, with never-ending torque and a throaty bark from the four beautiful exhaust tips.

Not every Corvette generation was known for agility, long the province of European thoroughbreds such as the Porsche 911, but the C7 is closing that gap. I thought the car had quick reflexes, flat cornering, and none of the old nose-heavy sensation of previous models. Of course, like any sports car of this ilk, the C7 needs a track to explore its virtues, and as long as the rubber holds up, you could have fun there all day long.

Dial the driving-mode selector to "Track" mode, and the steering tightens, the exhaust bellow becomes more intense, rev-matching for downshifts comes into play, and the stability control loosens its grip. That turns a skilled driver into a rock star, allowing some degree of sideways slides and a smoke show while still keeping the car on its path. Stability control can be defeated completely, but if you are brave enough to turn off ESC, then you better keep your wits about you and insurance paid up because going solo without electronic aids can come back to bite you.

Switch the selector to "Touring" mode and the C7 turns into a civilized cruiser. The ride is decent, the steering is light enough for effortless parking, and the exhaust sound calms down, allowing you to tool around the suburbs without aggravating neighbors.

Upping the ante, you’d now twist the knob into "Sport" mode and leave it there all day— perhaps the best selection compromise. Ascending to freeway speeds is a snap; at that point you might as well just shift from fourth straight to seventh gear and cruise.  Unfortunately the mechanism that tries to make you shift from first gear into fourth remains from earlier versions. You might consider it a fuel-saver, but it’s certainly a pest. One way to circumvent it is to start in second gear; it’s not like there is shortage of torque here. Or just rev first gear a little longer and enjoy the tailpipe concerto.

The Corvette has comfortable, supportive, well-tailored seats. Slipping in and hoisting one’s self out of the cabin still requires some agility, but the wide doors help some. Chevrolet’s MyLink touch screen competently coordinates the audio, phone, and navigation functions. With the ever-present temptation to go a little faster than the law recommends, it’s handy that the instrument panel shows the posted speed limit. The heads-up-display shows other vitals such as tachometer and current gear.  

Interior quality received a major upgrade, with nicer materials and attractive stitching (à la Impala), but it’s still not up to competing models. The low-effort rear hatch reveals a modest cargo area sufficient for golf clubs or groceries. It’s also a simple matter to remove the optional carbon-fiber roof panel for some open-air driving.

CR’s Take
The new Corvette has come a long way on all counts, with sophisticated styling, a driving experience that should satisfy many preferences, and a broad skill set that make this bold sports car as at home cruising the boulevard as it is taking on a race track.

We look forward to buying our own and putting it through our exhaustive test program, which will most assuredly include ample play time on our track.

Gabe Shenhar

   

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