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Will the all-new Chevrolet Corvette live up to the hype?

Consumer Reports News: October 25, 2012 02:08 PM

Few redesigns are received with as much fanfare in the automotive industry as a new Chevrolet Corvette. Self-proclaimed as America's sports car, the Corvette has been an icon and inspiration since 1953. As the hype machine begins firing on all eight cylinders ahead of the January introduction, one has to wonder: Will the new 'Vette live up to expectations?

The current Corvette (known as C6 for the sixth generation) offers impressive performance, with a relatively comfortable ride and very capable handling. It is stylish, engaging, and has higher limits than most of its drivers will ever experience. But a low-rent interior has been a detriment to the plastic-fantastic wedge now for two generations. There is room for improvement.

At the end of its production run, the current Corvette has its formula down, as I was reminded at a recent track event (enjoyed from behind the wheel of a Corvette Grand Sport coupe). In fact, several of my colleagues thrilled with turns piloting the GS. The C6 is offered in various configurations—including the mighty Z06 and exotic ZR-1—to appeal and entertain at a variety of price points, with performance increases commensurate with its rising MSRP. In general, this strategy is expected to continue with the C7.

Chevrolet-Corvette-C7-engine.jpgThus far, Chevrolet has begun is pre-auto show teases by releasing a more vertical interpretation of the logo, engine photo, and some engine specs. With the new car comes a fresh small-block V8. Displacement is again 6.2 liters, although horsepower creeps up 20 hp to 450. (Given the "preliminary" nature of this figure and the modest increase, don't be surprised if the final figure is a touch higher.)

Chevrolet is claiming that 0-60 mph sprints will be at a rocket-like sub-4 seconds—blazingly quick. In a way, I'm not sure this is progress. As I've experienced in numerous Corvettes over time, quicker just means the fun is over sooner in the real world.

Chevrolet claims that this will be the most fuel-efficient Corvette in history, with 26 mpg on the highway. Sounds great, but that happens to be the same EPA rating that the current car gets. Perhaps the gains are on the city cycle, where the C6 returns just 16 mpg. Or perhaps the improvement is so minor as to be lost as a rounding error. Regardless, I don't think many Corvette buyers factor fuel economy as a potential deal breaker.

The new engine is dubbed LT1, a moniker that has been used twice before—with a carbureted small-block back in 1970 and more modern, fuel-injected V8 in 1992 that breathed new life into the C4 (and later the Camaro). This latest iteration will be used in other GM products, making fuel efficiency a key attribute.

My favorite quote in the latest press release sent by GM:

"The Holy Grail for developing a performance car is delivering greater performance and more power with greater fuel economy and that's what we've achieved," said Tadge Juechter, Corvette chief engineer. "By leveraging technology, we are able to get more out of every drop of gasoline and because of that we expect the new Corvette will be the most fuel-efficient 450 horsepower car on the market."

First, the Holy Grail is an overused cliché with much deeper meaning. In this usage, it should refer to something inspiring and elusive. Becoming the most fuel-efficient 450-horsepower car in the world is akin to being the thinnest elephant or most-honest politician. Really, how many 450-hp cars compete in this market with the Corvette?

Second, and more importantly, how many American rivals boast similar, or even much more power? Well, the Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 comes to mind with 662 horsepower and a backseat. It gets 24 mpg, thereby avoiding the gas-guzzler tax with which the Camaro ZL1 is saddled. Color me unimpressed by the preliminary numbers.

For perspective, I've assembled a chart showing the price points and power for domestic-branded muscle cars. Each is based on the car equipped with a manual transmission. In playing with the figures, it is interesting to look at the cost-per-horsepower calculation on the cars.

Price Engine Horsepower Torque mpg, highway $ per hp
2014 Corvette -- 6.2L V8 450 450 26 --
2013 Corvette $49,600 6.2L V8 430 424 26 $115.35
Corvette Z06 $75,600 7.0L V8 505 470 24 $149.70
Corvette ZR-1 $112,600 6.2L V8 SC 638 604 21 $176.49
Camaro SS $32,635 6.2L V8 426 420 19 $76.61
Camaro ZL1 $54,350 6.2L V8 SC 580 556 19 $93.71
Ford Mustang GT $30,300 5.0L V8 420 390 26 $72.14
Ford Shelby GT500 $54,200 5.8L V8 SC 662 631 24 $81.87
Dodge Challenger R/T $29,995 5.7L V8 375 410 23 $79.99
Dodge Challenger SRT $43,775 6.4L V8 470 470 23 $93.14

There is little doubt that the all-new Corvette will be the highest-performance car in General Motors' history. Judging from spy photos and the most-recent concept car, it should be striking, as well. But will it live up to the hype? It depends on whether GM aimed for the state of the industry during its development, or looked ahead to the 662-hp GT500, redesigned 640-hp (Dodge) SRT Viper, and even the reborn and upcoming Acura NSX.

Whatever the result, I expect it to be thrilling and fueled by hyperbole.

Jeff Bartlett

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