After 66 years and seven generations, the Chevrolet Corvette, “America’s sports car”, today gets the one thing it has never had: a mid-engined layout.
The radical reinvention takes American sporting staple into the realm of Ferrari and McLaren and promises a dynamic new beginning for the ‘Vette, but if you think the switch from front engine might make this icon of American open-road freedom suddenly expensive, impractical and alien-looking, you would be mistaken.
Unveiled today in California, the C8 (eighth-gen) series Corvette for 2020 gets something else it has never had before: an official right-hand drive version. Combined with a starting price in the US around $60,000 – that’s equivalent to £47,500 at today’s rates – this is set to be the most significant Corvette ever for British enthusiasts.
First impressions say it looks to be a cracker too, with echoes of other mid-engined coupes in the air scoops and spoilers but plenty of traditional ‘Vette design character. Even if Chevy’s bowtie badges were covered it would surely be clear what it is.
That’s quite an achievement given such a fundamental redesign, one that sees the cockpit brought 42cm (over 16 inches) forward – a change that marks the end of the road for one of the longest bonnets in sports car-dom.
There’s plenty of evidence it stays true to the ‘Vette ethos in other ways, too. Two-seat, rear-drive, of course. Small-block naturally-aspirated V8, check. Long-legged gearing for relaxed cruising, certainly. Room for golf clubs? You bet, two bags-full. Removable targa roof panel? Chevy dare not fiddle with such a Corvette trademark and it hasn’t done (and, yes, the panel can be stored in the rear boot).
Manual gearbox? Er, no. That’s one thing you will have to do without in the new model, which is flappy-paddles only.
Corvette drivers have also been brought up on a comfy, spacious cabin, decent ride quality and everyday usability, and Chevy says the new car delivers on these things, too. As it does on the equally traditional plastic body and metal (aluminium in this case) chassis.
That’s a bit prosaic for a supercar these days perhaps but a carbon-fibre-free zone (apart from rear bumper beam and some cabin trim) allows for that real-world affordability along with mass production. 1.6 million Corvettes have been made so far and annual production of this new one will likely be 10 times McLaren’s yearly output.
All of this would count for little if it didn’t deliver on any Corvette’s raison d’etre. And this car should go all right, from the little we so far know of its performance, anyway.
With a dry weight in base Stingray form of 1530kg and the familiar 6.2-litre V8 in LT2 naturally-aspirated form chucking out an easy 495bhp, 0-60mph is quoted as under three seconds, making it the quickest base-model Corvette ever (though note this figure is for a car equipped with the Z51 performance package).
That, and max torque of 470 lb ft at a surprisingly high-sounding 5150rpm, are the only performance indications we have so far. But you don’t have to be a particular ‘Vette aficionado to know that an awful lot more will soon be on its way; supercharged LT5 6.2 V8s put out 755bhp in the outgoing ZR1 model. Whatever the engine, it’s proudly on show under a glass rear panel in the rear hatch.
The engine and transmission – an eight-speed dual-clutch auto – sit lower in the car than before for a lower centre of gravity. That’s one of the ways the handling benefits from the mid-engined layout. Other key factors are more equal front-rear weight distribution, more torsional rigidity from new “tunnel” chassis, new coil-over-damper strut suspension, quicker (electric) steering, an electronic limited slip differential and bigger brakes.
A switch to dry-sump lubrication, effective at 1g cornering, should also enhance the new Corvette’s track performance, clearly a major focus of the change to mid-engine. With 180kg of downforce the result of all this is, says Chevy, “entirely new ride and handling characteristics”.
Drivers can analyse their track performance using the data logger which includes high-definition resolution camera and a new user interface. You can record circuit or point-to-point road courses – and perhaps just as importantly set it to record the antics of a valet driver...
Overall the car is a little wider and longer than before, as well as lower overall. Too low for everyday roads? Standard is a front suspension lift which increases ground clearance by a speed-bump-friendly 40mm. A neat trick is that you can programme bumps and steep driveway locations into the satnav so the car automatically responds.
Inside a notably driver-centric cabin there’s an all-new configurable digital display, new steering wheel – not just oblong-ish but also heated – and slender panels for controls and air vents. There’s more seat adjustment than before along with a better view – forwards at least. Materials and craftsmanship get a boost, says Chevrolet, with aluminium and carbon trim options, six available colour themes and stitching choices, and a choice of seats up to competition level.
GM boss Mark Reuss tells us: “In terms of comfort and fun, it still looks and feels like a Corvette, but drives better than any vehicle in Corvette history.”
2020 mid-engined Corvette by numbers
1,600,000 number of Corvettes made so far
$60,000 price of entry Stingray model in the US
1530kg dry weight in base form
495bhp at 6450rpm
470 lb ft at 5150rom
376 cubic inch V8, or what we know as 6.2 litres
356 litres of luggage space in boots front and back
180kg of aerodynamic downforce
20-inch wheels rear, 19s up front
12 exterior colours including Sebring Orange and Elkhart Lake Blue
8 generations of ‘Vette since launch in 1953
8-speed dual-clutch paddle-shift automatic
6 driver modes including new Z performance mode activated through a “Z” button on the steering wheel
1g, cornering available on Michelin all-weather tyres