I finally figured it out. The 2014 Corvette Stingray isn't from 2014 at all. It's actually the 2024 Corvette. General Motors has a time machine, and they use it to ship these cars back to our era after building them with future technology. That must be it.
That's the only way I can fathom how the new C7 Corvette — which should look quite familiar by now — is so much more advanced, in every conceivable way, than the C6 it replaces. It's the only way I can explain its fantastic interior, its seven-speed manual gearbox, suite of performance-tracking apps, slick digital displays, and how its direct injected 6.2-liter small block V8 puts out 460 horsepower and also achieves as much as 29 miles per gallon on the highway.
I can think of few cars — if any — that have improved this much from one generation to another.
(Full disclosure: GM wanted me to drive the new Corvette so bad that they had PR man Stephen Martin bring a 2014 Corvette Stingray Z51 down to D.C. for the Washington Automotive Press Association rally. After it ended we engaged in a few hours of proper Corvette shenanigans.)
The Stingray is not just "as good as you've heard," and it doesn't simply "live up to the hype." What the Stingray is, is probably the best all-around sports car America has ever produced. It's even good in the rain.
I need to preface this piece by saying that unfortunately, I did not get to drive the Corvette in the kind of weather you would want to drive a Corvette in. On Friday the D.C area was in the middle of record-breaking, days long, torrential rainfall.
It was pouring most of the time I was behind the wheel, and that's never ideal when you're trying to extract the full potential from an overpowered, tail-happy, rear-wheel drive sports car. But with a little bit of luck, a sizable degree of caution and a liberal amount of help from the traction control, I put the car through its paces as best I could. A test in better weather will come soon, I promise.
I also need to tell you where I'm coming from when I say how good this car is. For years my father owned a C5 Corvette Z06. If you can believe it, that was the car I learned to drive stick on. We both loved that car very much, for it was a snarling, nasty, terrifying land missile, but a missile that did only one thing well: go very fast. Demonically fast, even. But other areas left a lot to be desired.
On the inside, the C5 was a shitstorm of cheap, rattling plastics, horrible ergonomics, and extremely suspect build quality. It was a lot like a Lumina, but not as nice. This has been arguably the biggest problem with every Corvette since way back when: you get a ton of power for relatively cheap, but it comes at the price of interior on par with any other crappy Chevrolet from its model year.
So what blows me away most about the C7 is how great its interior turned out to be. The 8-inch LCD touch screen, the digital gauges, the aggressively-shaped steering wheel with rev match paddles, the aluminum-covered (and perfect for heel-and-toeing) pedals, the carbon fiber panels, the holographic heads-up display, the stitching on the leather, the trick passenger side climate control buttons, and the generally tight, high-quality feel of everything inside make it a massive leap over its predecessors, including the outgoing C6.
In fact, I'd go so far as to say it has the most impressive interior of any GM car I have ever driven. It's at least as good in terms of quality as the Cadillac ATS and CTS, both of which are excellent.
To GM's credit, while they added a ton of technology to the new Corvette, they didn't over-technologize it the way the Germans tend to do. Everything feels oriented towards driving, not at the expense of it.
The inclusion of actual buttons and switches for essential functions like the climate control. Everything is pretty easy to figure out. This way, you don't have to spend too much time screwing with a touch screen if you don't want to; you can focus on driving.
And drive is what you will want to do. That's the point, right? But the overabundance of water on the road meant a few adjustments were necessary. Using the Drive Mode Selector knob below the gear shifter, I am told to select Weather Mode, one of five modes that also include Tour Mode (normal), Sport Mode (fun times), Track Mode (serious fun times), and Eco Mode (no one will ever use this ever.)
Weather Mode dials down the car's throttle a bit and dials up the traction control considerably. Oh, you can still go very fast, and you can easily spin the rear tires as much as you want, but this setting helps keep your car actually on the road. It makes the C7 capable of being enjoyed even in horrible conditions, something that was never true of my father's car. When it rained, you drove something else. Period.
But after I got the hang of things, Weather Mode just didn't cut it for me anymore, and at Steve's urging, I slipped it into Sport Mode. When that happens, it's like the Stingray wakes up from a nap in a real bad mood — the exhaust becomes notably louder, filling the cabin with a low, angry bellow even at idle.
Here's what you need to when you get behind the wheel of the Stingray. Find yourself a nice road with no one in front of you. Launch it hard in first gear and let the wheels find their traction. Take it all the way to its 6,500 RPM redline, shift to second, and then go to redline again. Let the gloriously furious sound of the new LT1 engine fill your ears, and the ears of every car and pedestrian around you. It is all the things.
The Corvette rockets forward in a hold-on-tight, hold-your-breath kind of way. In the 3LT trim with the Z51 pack and 460 horsepower, 465 pound-feet of torque, it is said to do zero to 60 mph in 3.8 seconds, putting this car within a hair's breadth of the outgoing C6 Z06. I doubt I pulled numbers close to that with all the water on the road, but I believe it's capable of such a run.
You can even find out for yourself if you want to. The new car's suite of track apps, which appear on the dashboard and can be cycled through using the steering wheel buttons, let you measure your zero to 60 mph time, lateral Gs, tire pressure, and other factors so you can see exactly how you're performing. It's all very Nissan GT-R-ish.
Even on my limited test drive, the Stingray's superb handling was readily apparent. With a near 50/50 weight distribution, a relatively light 3,300 pound curb weight, and the Z51's damn near magical Magnetic Ride Suspension, the Corvette feels agile and tossable.
It's helped by an electric power steering system that is actually pretty good to use — I'm generally not a fan of this technology, but in the Corvette it transmits a decent amount of road feel while offering remarkably accurate control of the car.
Oh, and speaking of the steering wheel, toggling the paddles there turns on the rev matching downshift feature. You know it's on when the little number on the dash, which tells you what gear you're in, turns orange.
This was kind of a trip to use at first, especially when I didn't realize it was on. Go down a gear and the computer automatically blips the throttle much quicker than a human could do with his heel and toe. I'm so used to doing this myself that I turned it off after a while, but it's fun to play with and could prove to be a very useful track tool.
But in spite of all this technology, all this refinement, the car is still very much a Corvette. The seating position, the curvature of the hood, the power delivery, and the sound of the LT1 will all be immediately recognizable to anyone who has driven a Corvette in the last 20 years or so. GM made it better, but they didn't lose sight of what it is — a stonkingly fast and visceral sports car that competes with the European exotics and has a uniquely American character, all without breaking its buyer's bank the way a Ferrari or a Porsche or a Jaguar might. It just doesn't have the compromises it used to have.
What GM has done is built the Corvette we always knew they could build. Yes, these cars have always been fast and (relatively) affordable, but now they have a lot more tricks up their sleeves.
I really think Matt Farah said it best when he got behind the wheel — It's "a Corvette without excuses." You don't have to say "Yeah, the interior blows, but it's crazy fast" or "Yeah, the quality isn't great, but it's a lot cheaper than a Ferrari" anymore. It's just a fantastic sports car at any price, let alone at $51,000 for the base model or $65,000 for this Z51.
The craziest part is that GM is just getting started with this thing. They're tight-lipped on what's next, but we can fully expect some kind of Z06 or Z07 or ZR1- type upgraded version sometime soon. I can't wait to see how much better it can get. Who knows what else GM will be sending us from the future? (I hope they use that time machine responsibly; maybe they used it to help President Lutz get reelected in 2012. We'll never know.)
In the meantime, I'd do just fine with this car. Hold the rain storms though, please.