First Impressions – 2014 Chevrolet Corvette

Corvette loyalists might have been gawking when the wraps were pulled off the seventh generation (C7) Chevrolet Corvette this week at the 2014 North American International Auto Show. Whether those were gawks of horror or gawks of adoration is something else entirely.

After weeks of teasing, spy shots and leaked material, the C7 Corvette has finally seen the proper light of day and at first glance, it is quite a striking thing to behold. It might not be the drop-dead gorgeous lines of the 2009 Corvette Stingray Concept, it might not have a mid-engined pose but the proportions all read engine at the front, RWD at the back. In other words, this is still a Corvette in the classic sense.

2014 Chevrolet Corvette

Instead of launching one model and then complimenting it with variants later in the product cycle, Chevy has introduced two distinct flavors of the C7. The base model (if you can call it that) is the Corvette Stingray and though that name may invoke images of the 2009 concept (or the 1957 Stingray for you err…..seasoned readers), almost nothing is carried over from those cars. In comparison to the out-going C6, the new Corvette strikes a lean, almost futuristic and aggressive stance. Where the C6 was smooth and rounded at the corners, the C7 is creased, angular and sprinkled with vents all around (and all of them functional so says Chevy). The front now features a single piece air intake and the headlights are now more vertically oriented. The hood, now made of carbon fiber along with the roof panels, also features a heat-extracting vent that reduces front end lift while offering more efficient cooling for the engine. The greenhouse now features rear-quarter windows, something not seen on a Corvette since the C3 generation. Along with the blacked out A pillars, this gives the Corvette an almost Nissan GT-R look in some views, particularly the rear 3/4 view. That’s not a bad thing, particularly when the engineering that necessitated such a styling feature is revealed.

One of the rear fender mounted vents – trick racing technology here

In a classic case of trickle-down technology, Chevy looked to its C6.R ALMS racing cars to improve the C7. Atop both rear fenders are intakes that feed fresh air to radiators for the transmission and differential.. These bookend the new flat rear glass and replaces the wraparound rear window of the C5/C6 versions. Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the new C7’s styling is the treatment of the tail lights. For decades, the four round elements have been a Corvette hallmark (right up there with pop up headlights) and for the C7, they have been restyled in a way that mimic those on the Camaro. Instead of being round, they are tightly packed into an angular cluster and have more styling depth and detail to their housings. The housings themselves also feature small vents at their outer extremities that serve to vent hot air away from those same transmission/differential radiators. The exhaust pipes are now arranged neatly in a single row in the center above a defined air diffuser. In profile, this is still a Corvette in overall stance but the styling is visually a lot more interesting than the C6 and more aerodynamic in nature.

Perhaps the most controversial styling aspect are the tail lights, but they look great

The C7 Corvette aims to fix the niggling faults of the C6. One main complaint from owners (and the auto media) was a lack of steering feel. Chevy addressed this by bolting the steering rack directly to the front cradle and tightening up the front end, yielding a massive increase in rigidity. Every Corvette will now ride atop an aluminum frame in order to save weight, a page taken out of the ZO6/ZR1 playbook. By itself, weight savings technologies such as making the suspension mounting points aluminum keeping the reinforced plastic body panels yielded about a 100lb saving over the outgoing C6. Electronic steering replaces the hydraulic unit in the C6 and though these systems have never been a favorite of enthusiast drives due to their ‘video game’ like operation, Chevy worked hard to retain as much steering feel as possible.

2014 Corvette Interior – finally looks world class

Another sore point in the C6, and one I’ve personally experienced, is the interior. I’ve sat in quite a few Corvette cabins and every single time I found myself wondering why the interior didn’t match the price tag. Even a lowly Chevy Sonic would turn up its nose at such low rent materials and quality. Chevy has finally addressed this eye sore by making the cabin both functional and luxuriously appointed. The steering wheel, which looked like every other wheel in the Chevy stable, is now uniquely Corvette and smaller in diameter. Craftsmanship quality and the materials now look to be first rate. The dash features stitched leather and is canted towards the driver for a more focused look and soft-touch materials are sprinkled liberally throughout the cabin. The uncomfortable and woefully inadequate seats of the C6 have been banished in favor of thrones that finally live up to the Corvette’s mission as a sports car. Two seat options are available: GT and Competition Sport. Both offer support and comfort (including heated and cooled modes) that are decades ahead of anything the C6 offered (and hopefully that horrible plastic smell has been eradicated from the interior). The leather looks great and the central touchscreen interface looks as if it has finally been brought into the 21st century with vibrant graphics and detailing.

6.2L LT1 V8 – 450+hp/450+lb-ft of torque

You can’t talk about a Corvette without talking about the engine so here goes. Twin turbo V6? Nope. Chevy opted to stick with the Corvette’s tried and true pushrod, small block V8, here still displacing 6.2 liters. While it’s based on the LS series, enough of it has been either redesigned or revised to demand a new code name: LT1. Sounds familiar? It should but it’s not to be confused with the LT-1 designation of engines that powered C4 Corvettes and various F-body Camaros and Firebirds. This is a whole different beast that employs the latest in power generating and fuel saving technologies in Chevy’s arsenal. Direct fuel injection, continuously variable valve timing and redesigned combustion chambers help the LT1 to pump out preliminary figures of 450hp and 450lb-ft of torque. While this represents an incremental increase over the LS3, Chevy boasts that torque delivery is similar to the bigger ZO6-equipped LS7 7.0L V8 in that, between 1000-4000rpm, the engine is already generating over 400lb-ft of torque. Cylinder deactivation is also standard on all C7s, manual transmission cars included (a first in the industry). Together, these bump up fuel efficiency by as much as 20% when coupled with either the revised 6L80 six speed automatic (equipped with paddle shifters and rev matched downshifts) or the new Tremec seven speed manual (that’s right, SEVEN speeds). The manual is identical to the one offered on the old C6 with the exception of the new seventh gear being an ultra-tall and long ratio in a nod to increase fuel efficiency. Remember the Corvette was one of the few lauded performance cars (the ZO6 especially) for being reasonable on fuel.

Top down, the flowing lines point the massive aerodynamic work done to the body

As was mentioned before, two C7 models will be offered at launch: the Corvette Stingray and the more performance-oriented and more aggressively-styled Z51. While the Stingray features a stiffer suspension with standard Bilstein shocks all around, the Z51 is equipped with the third generation of Chevy’s superb Magnetic Ride damper system as well as upsized brakes, wheels and tires (now Michelin Sport Cups instead of the longstanding GoodYear Eagles). The Z51 also sports an electronically controlled mechanical limited slip differential that is capable of apportioning torque between the drive wheels, thereby cutting understeer and enabling a more neutral poise. All C7s will come equipped with a Drive Model Select system operated by a rotary knob on the console. Five distinct modes are available to the driver: Tour, Sport, Track, Wet and Eco and they affect various vehicle parameters such as steering heft, throttle response, damper settings (Z51), cylinder deactivation, exhaust note and traction/stability intervention points. What’s more, the driver is able to mix and match all of these settings into various programmable modes that are available at any time.

The Stingray is back

Pricing hasn’t been announced as of yet but chances are if you were in the market for the previous C6 (or the rival Porsche 911), the C7’s ultimate price shouldn’t be a bother. One of the Corvette’s core philosophies involves providing world class sports car performance that the everyday worker can afford. Let’s not forget that the ZR1, even in the sunset of its existence, was still trouncing exotic performance cars two, or even three, times its price and this was due to the C6 being a fabulous starting point.With the new C7 Corvette, Chevy has fixed the flaws of its predecessor while sharpening the claws that make the Corvette driving experience one to remember. Sure the C7 might not have gone the exotic mid-engined route (maybe the C8 or C9?) but theĀ  new 2014 Corvette is enough of a comprehensive redesign that will give the European competition nightly sweats.

Images courtesy of Chevrolet and EGM Car Tech

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