Driven: 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray

By Bradley Iger

March 07, 2014

It's been a long overdue, but we finally got some quality time with the seventh generation Corvette. Since its unveiling, volumes upon volumes of superlative-laden praise have been written about the C7, touting this new car as a massive step forward by nearly every measurement. So it's no surprise that it was with a fair bit of excitement that we took delivery of this Laguna Blue example, equipped with GM's new seven-speed manual gearbox, the highly touted Z51 Performance Package, and a host of other goodies. Still, something had us slightly concerned. Had all this anticipation created expectations that would be nearly impossible for the Corvette to achieve? Could the new Stingray even hope to live up to the mountain of hype that surrounded it? Well folks, there will be no M. Night Shyamalan-style plot twists here - the hype is in fact true, the new C7 Corvette Stingray is a truly fantastic sports car.
 
What is the idea behind the C7 Corvette?
 
For a number of reasons, the new Corvette is a very important car for Chevrolet. Beyond being a halo car for the brand - and General Motors as a whole - the C7 needed to turn around Corvette sales figures, which had been on a steady decline for longer than GM would like to admit. Partially because of this and due to GM's restructuring efforts stalling the project in 2009, Chevrolet wisely chose to take a little longer than usual to bring the newest generation of the Corvette to market in order to make sure they got the formula right straight out of the gate.
 
Beyond simple performance metrics, part of that equation included finding ways to attract a younger buyer. As such, the C7 receives the latest in-car technology GM has to offer, a dramatically improved interior, and updated styling that's both daring and yet still familiar to the Corvette faithful. Oh, and to go along with its beefed up performance, the 'Vette finally gets a set of worthwhile sport seats, too.
 
 
 
Who might want a car like that?
 
In the past, it wouldn't have been an outlandish notion to consider cross-shopping a Corvette with pony cars like the Mustang, Challenger and even Chevrolet's own Camaro. Now it is. The performance envelope offered by the C7 Z51 is so vast given its price tag, it would be totally reasonable to cross shop a C7 with vehicles costing considerably more.
 
While a fundamentally different animal, Porsche 911 buyers are the Corvette's primary target, as are buyers considering high horsepower coupes like the Jaguar F-Type, the Nissan GT-R, the BMW M3, the C63 AMG and the Audi RS5. However, if you want a manual gearbox, that field is narrowed quite a bit, and if you want a fully loaded model for under $70,000, the Corvette really does exist in a class by itself.
 
Additionally, the moment you get into the C7, it's very clear that this is a sports car in the truest sense. This is not a regular coupe or sedan festooned with go-fast goodies from the company parts bin. Settling into the C7 at a nearly horizontal driving position and gazing over the curvaceous hood in the cockpit-style interior makes you feel like you're piloting an X-Wing that's ready to go toe-to-toe with the Empire's finest. Just don't plan to bring back a lot of spoils from battle back to base, because "trunk" space is limited, and your passenger count tops out at one.
 
How does it drive on the street?
 
Our tester included the optional Magnetic Ride Control suspension, and it remains one of the most well-engineered and advanced adaptive suspension systems available today. Almost supple in Touring mode and basically unyielding when adjusted to the opposite end of the spectrum in Track mode, it allows the Corvette to be the jack of all trades - livable when commuting yet also totally up to the task when you decide to bomb down your favorite mountain road or hit the race track.
 
The theme of livability without compromising capability continues throughout. The trick optional active exhaust system can be adjusted from Camry-quiet to track day beast at the twist of a knob. Interior quality and layout is a vast improvement over the C6 and receives a huge dose of modernity, most obviously showcased by configurable digital display in place of traditional gauges and the MyLink 8" touchscreen display on the center stack that's reminiscent of Cadillac's Cue system - minus the frustration.
 
 
From the variable steering weight offered by the C7's different driving modes to the multitude of traction and stability control options provided by the Performance Traction Management system, as well as the previously mentioned adaptive suspension, a properly optioned C7 presents an extremely wide range of performance adjustability. It also gives you the option of creating your own "best of" custom presets, which allows you to, for instance, combine the heavier steering weight found in Track mode with the softer suspension damping and fuel-sipping aids found in Eco mode, if so desired.
 
The Z51 Performance Package also brings with it uprated brakes, and when combined with our tester's Michelin Pilot Sport rubber, the results were nothing less than incredible. Sub-100ft panic stops from 60 miles an hour are the norm here, short enough to make nearly any car with a price tag south of six-figures envious.
 
 
Extended runs through the demanding curves of Angeles Crest Highway showcased a car eager to gobble up swaths of tarmac with no signs of letting up. The C7's new LT1 V8 makes 455 horsepower (460 with the active exhaust) and 465 lb-ft of torque and, truth be told, it feels like more. While capable of peeling off 0-60 times under four seconds, the seven-speed equipped Corvette can also return nearly 30 miles to the gallon on the highway when driven sanely, making it the most fuel efficient car on sale today with more than 450 horsepower. The C7's new seven speed manual offers short, precise throws, and will happily take you well into triple digit speeds while still in third gear. With this much torque on hand, combined with the short gearing included with the Z51 package, mitigating wheelspin both at launch and when getting on the throttle exiting corners requires an astute hand and foot, especially if you choose to go it alone by ditching the Corvette's launch, traction and stability control programs.
  
What about character? Is it fun?
 
If we haven't made it abundantly clear yet, we would consider the C7 Corvette Stingray to be quite a bit of fun. Whether it's more fun or less so than comparable sports cars in its class is essentially a philosophical question. Do you want a V8 or a flat six? Do you want a manual gearbox? All wheel drive? Do you take issue with the Corvette's "reputation"? These are questions which can only be answered by a prospective buyer.
 
What we can say is that the C7 offers a level of everyday comfort and flexibility combined genuinely thrilling performance capability that make its $53,800 base price irrefutably one the greatest bargains in sports cars available today. We would also strongly recommend shelling out the additional $4,000 for the Z51 package, as it brings with it not only performance suspension, braking and the revised gearing we mentioned earlier, but an electronically variable limited slip differential, uprated wheels and tires, heavy duty cooling, a dry sump oil system, and a functional aero package. It is, in itself, an excellent value as well, and still brings the final tally in well below the C7's competition.
 
How is the design?
 
While the C7 looks pretty sharp in pictures, it's far more striking in person. In comparison to the C6, the new design successfully ratchets up the aggression without resorting to gimmickry. Every one of the C7's numerous vents is functional, and its dramatic angles look contemporary while still retaining the core elements that make it unmistakably a Corvette. It isn't without flaw - for instance, we're glad to see the chrome strip across the front grill is absent on the forthcoming Z06 - but to our eyes, it may be the most handsome Corvette redesign since the C3's debut for the 1968 model year. Of course, your eyes may see things differently.
 
 
 
Final thoughts?
 
So yes, we're adding another superlative-laden review of the C7 to the pile. Quite frankly, once you've driven this car, you'd be hard pressed to blame us for it. The C7 is exactly what a Corvette should be. It is not a sports car which requires excuses. It is not crude, and it is not a technologically archaic vehicle which seeks to make up for its shortcomings with an over abundance of horsepower. It is, in short, a new benchmark for sports cars in its segment.
 

2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray
Price: $53,800 base, $66,870 as tested
Engine: 6.2-liter LT1 V8
Output: 460 horsepower, 465 lb-ft as tested
0-60 MPH: 3.8 second (est)
Weight: 3400lbs
On Sale: Now