2020 Chevrolet Corvette C8 Stingray Trades Raucous For Refined On The Track
In the world of sports cars, there's an increasing divide between the descriptors 'fast' and 'fun.' At their best, performance cars unify human and machine towards the common goal of having an absolute blast at a high rate of speed, smiles stretched and tailpipes harmoniously calling out to the heavens.
Sure, automotive history is littered with examples of badges that strayed too far in the opposite direction, terrifying their pilots with raw, unpredictable power or casually-tuned suspension dynamics. Lately, however, the trend has swung in the opposite direction. Modern-day high-tech speed appliances are rewriting the record books in terms of acceleration and lap times by wrapping their occupants in a cozy bubble of control that can often de-link the driver from the actual driving.
For 2020, Chevrolet has completely redesigned the Corvette, swapping its front-engine setup for a mid-engine design that presents as the most advanced coupe ever to emerge from General Motors. I set out to Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch in Pahrump, Nevada, to find out whether there was still soul in the machine, or whether the Corvette had fallen victim to modernity's double-edged digital sword.
All The Right Specs
That the Corvette C8 is a technological tour de force is not up for debate. There was so much at stake in transplanting the car's beating heart behind the driver that Chevrolet couldn't afford to make any mistakes when adopting a clean-sheet approach to its most important coupe.
To wit: the C8 is more powerful (495 horses, 470 lb-ft of torque), quicker (0-60 mph in 2.9 seconds), and better-balanced than any version of the car to have come before it. It also introduces the first eight-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission in Corvette history, slices the car's drag coefficient while improving its downforce at speed, and includes an available electronically-controlled limited-slip differential integrated into its transaxle (as well as making available next-generation Magnetic Ride control active suspension).
Each version of the Corvette provided to our group for use on the 2.2-mile road course at Spring Mountain was further outfitted with the Z51 Track Package. Intended to further focus the C8, Z51 cars benefit from large Brembo brakes with enhanced cooling, a louder, free-flowing exhaust system, a more aggressive suspension tune (with the option to step up to Magnetic Ride control), the eLSD mentioned above, and a front splitter paired with a rear spoiler.
Whereas the previous C7 Corvette was able to transition from comfortable daily driver to tarmac-tearing terror with the judicious application of accelerator and oversteer, the C8 takes a markedly different approach to entertaining its owner.
The inherent balance of centering the weight of the new coupe's engine has utterly transformed its personality on a race track. Gone are the flagrant displays of tail-out aggression that were constantly lingering at the edges of the older Vette's performance envelope. In its place, there's a newfound calm and sense of purpose regardless of how quick the vehicle may be traveling, or how abrupt driver inputs might become.
Certainly the C8 will get out of shape when provoked, but its desire to return to the straight-and-narrow is so hard-coded into its new mid-engine DNA that any transgressions are momentary and easily dealt with. At the same time, the car is stubbornly set in its ways about which line you should take through what corner, frowning on over-speed with a consistent understeer that manifests in the form of outside tire push that's harder to correct with a right-foot lift than in a front-engine vehicle.
If this makes the C8 sound to you like one of the more driver-friendly options mentioned earlier, you're not far from the truth. It's not much that the edges of the Corvette have been dulled, but a case of it being much more difficult to get the car in a position where their sharpness might slice you open. It's a remarkably controlled driving experience that ensures repeatable laps with a minimum of drama, and never once did the car have me feeling as though I were in over my head. Even the automatic transmission performed admirably, especially when left alone to manage its ratios according to whatever tarmac-devouring algorithms General Motors had seen fit to bestow it with.
An All New Audience
Is it possible for a vehicle's chassis balance to be 'too' good? I'd venture that in the case of the 2020 Chevrolet Corvette, the answer lies with its drivetrain. Although its launch control system makes straight-line shots crisp and quick, at higher speeds the car's 495 horsepower don't thrill with a comparable level of get-up-and-go. It's the same story on a race track, where engine output comes across as so well-parsed by the car's (optional) Performance Traction Management system that I had a harder time making an emotional connection with the sonorous, smooth LT2.
I'd venture a guess that it's going to take a much more powerful motor to reveal the sky-high limits of the C8's mid-engine platform. This is a car designed to decimate all in upcoming Z06 trim, where output will no doubt rise to above 700 horses, not to mention the alarmingly powerful ZR1 model that is surely also on-deck.
I am certain that Corvette fans will pass on the base model C8, for exactly these reasons. The new car may offer more accessible performance, combined with stunning good looks and a comfortable commute, but the C7 makes it easier to push past its limits in the name of fun.
That being said, I do believe that vastly more of the Bowtie faithful will be more than pleased with the progress that the Corvette has made in terms of refinement and technology. Such a radical change was always going to be a divisive move for a car with a long and rich history like Chevrolet's flagship, and with sports car audiences continuing to shrink with each passing year, GM's decision to take a more sophisticated path could help the Corvette tap in to a new vein of performance enthusiasts.
Looking for more on-track reviews? Check out our spin on the Dodge Challenger Hellcat Redeye.