GM recently announced that the 2014 Corvette achieves 17 mpg in the city and 29 mpg on the highway, and it goes as high as 30 mpg in "Eco Mode." Those are certainly impressive figures for a 460-horsepower car, but they come at a price enthusiasts will have to pay behind the wheel.
It's important to note that these fuel economy figures are for the Corvette's brand-new seven-speed manual transmission; figures for the six-speed paddle-shift automatic have not been finalized. There is a catch: if you want power, fuel economy, and a manual gearbox, you're going to have to live with the skip-shift.
The new Corvette has the latest iteration of a long-utilized but little-publicized technology that forces the driver to shift from first gear to fourth gear except under hard driving conditions.
Known as CAGS, or Computer Aided Gear Selection, the system locks the driver out of second and third gears after starting in first in order to eke out a bit more fuel economy from its powerful V8 and avoid the "gas guzzler" tax.
It's been on Corvettes since the days of the C4, and it was also implemented on other GM performance cars like the Pontiac G8 GXP. After you shift into fourth, you're free to put it back in second and third as necessary. Isn't that generous?
And now it's back, annoyingly, on the new Stingray. I say "annoyingly" because unless you go hard on the throttle in first gear, signaling to the ECU that you intend to engage in some speedy shenanigans, it takes control and forces you into fourth.
(To be fair, GM isn't the only one who does this; the Viper has had it for a long time, and the new SRT Viper uses it as well.)
I don't think there's a Corvette driver on the planet who likes to live with this; after all, the reason people buy cars with manual transmissions is because they offer more control over the car and are thus more fun to drive. Taking that away in the name of fuel economy, simply put, sucks.
Though the skip-shift isn't publicized in GM's news releases about the Stingray's fuel economy, Corvette spokesman Monte Doran confirmed it in a January interview with the website TechnologyTell:
In normal city driving or at low throttle pressures on those backroads, the feature could baffle an unknowing Corvette rookie and frustrate the brand faithful.
This is the part where I’m supposed to say that skip-shift feature is a thing of the past, right? Well, no. It’s still there. But there is one important caveat, Doran, said.
“Yes, the skip-shift feature is still present on the manual. However, the window of engagement has gotten smaller, as the efficiency of the Corvette has improved through uses of direct injection, variable valve timing, and active fuel management, A.K.A. cylinder deactivation,” he said.
Well, that's kind of a shame, but Doran makes it sound like it's less intrusive than on older Corvettes. My father's old C5 Z06 had the feature, and I can tell you personally that unless you wanted hot, nasty, badass speed in first gear, it would kick in. And even under hard acceleration, it still seemed to interfere when it wanted to.
So it's a nice trick that pushes up the fuel economy ratings, but it makes for an extremely frustrating driving experience. Corvettes are great to drive fast, but sometimes they need to be driven normally like any car. An electronic nanny that takes gears away from the driver during around-town driving is supremely irritating.
But there's good news! As most GM enthusiasts know, CAGS can easily and cheaply be disabled. Skip shift eliminators are typically sold for less than $20 and are remarkably easy to install. We found a way to do it for as cheaply as $7 as well.
Being that the C7's seven-speed gearbox is all-new, and that the car isn't even on sale yet, it's not clear whether these old methods will still work to defeat the skip shift. Frankly, I think they're easy to do on purpose; Corvette owners would be doing themselves a disservice if they didn't invest in one, and I fully expect most Stingray buyers will find a way to turn it off as well.
It's awesome that the Stingray has seven gears. I just want to be able to use all of them whenever I want to.