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First drive review: 2020 Chevrolet Corvette pushed the envelope in new directions


I bring the Torch Red 2020 Chevrolet Corvette to a stop in the outskirts of Ann Arbor, Michigan, on a warm and beautiful fall day. I look left and right. No other cars in sight, just the open road and green trees that will soon paint this landscape in their vibrant colors. Mike Hurley, a vehicle dynamics engineer on the Corvette, tells me to move the mode selector dial to Track, then double-click the traction control button to engage the Performance Traction Management system. I’m in PTM’s Wet mode but any mode will do.

I’m now ready to engage Launch Control.

With my left foot on the brake, I pin the throttle. The 495-horsepower LT2 6.2-liter V-8 revs to 3,500 rpm and stays there. I let go of the brake.

I grip the squared-off steering wheel for dear life as the 305-mm wide Michelin Pilot Sport 4S rear tires slip maybe a quarter turn, probably only a couple of inches, and the new mid-engine Corvette takes off with an efficiency no factory Corvette has ever known. It builds speed with tremendous force, and its dual-clutch transmission snaps off gears quickly and cleanly (let’s pour out a little for the dear-departed manual) without a pause in power between cogs.

I’m not timing it, but I’d believe that 0-60 mph flies by in 3.0 seconds or less.

The new normal

The reason it works so well is called normal force. It’s the perpendicular force exerted between the car and the road, basically the weight that sits on the road over the tires. With 60 percent of that weight on the rear tires for 2020 rather than 50 percent for the previous car, the new Corvette exerts more normal force on the road at its drive axle and accelerates quicker.

The improved traction created by the new mid-engine layout not only makes the car quicker but also makes a 3.0-second 0-60 mph time easier. I didn’t do anything special to get such great traction and acceleration. The 2020 Corvette, which starts at $60,000 and makes 490 hp (495 hp with the $5,000 Z51 performance package), can achieve about the same 0-60 mph time as the $122,000 2019 755-hp Corvette ZR1. The difference is the new ’Vette does it easily and repeatedly, while the ZR1 often loses time in a gout of tire smoke.

It’s obvious that the new mid-engine layout has pushed the envelope for acceleration. One check for the new design.

More civilized, too

Until my launch exercise, I’ve been driving on suburban streets like any commuter and I’m impressed at how much more civilized the new Corvette is.

“The car needs to do multiple things, go around a track well but also take you on a weekend trip in a civilized way,” says Hurley. “It’s easy to make a car that has one purpose, whether it’s a track or road car. The hard part is to make a car that does both really well and everything in between.”

The civility starts with the engine note; the V-8’s rumble isn’t as pronounced as the C7’s while cruising around these neighborhoods, and that makes conversation easier. However, the LT2 V-8 still barks when provoked and rumbles more noticeably in Track mode. The American V-8 still sings its uniquely American tune, just not at death-metal volume anymore.

Track is also the only mode that turns the ride jittery. This car has the Z51 performance package and the optional magnetic ride control dampers ($1,895). Despite the stiffer suspension tuning of the Z51 package and because of the range of tuning for the magnetic dampers, the ’Vette absorbs bumps well in Tour and Sport modes. However, the car jiggles on bumpy pavement in Track mode, so that mode is best used for its namesake.

Inside, materials quality and fit and finish take a leap forward. I’m in one of three known 2020 Corvettes. It’s technically a prototype but Chevrolet calls this a “saleable manufacturing validation build, level 3,” and it’s fully baked except for some minor issues like a check engine light that isn’t communicating correctly with the computer.

This car is decked out with the 3LT package that adds niceties such as a 14-speaker Bose audio system, front and rear vision cameras, a head-up display, the top-line heated and cooled GT2 bucket seats, a heated steering wheel, wireless phone charging, and Chevy’s Performance Data Recorder that takes video and reports track times. The $11,950 package also includes extended leather on the instrument panel, dash, and doors, as well as synthetic suede trim. Add $1,500 for carbon-fiber interior bits, $395 for Torch Red seat belts, and $395 for Adrenaline Red leather seats, and the new Corvette’s cabin takes a back seat to no sports car interior. I can’t even find hard surfaces down low on the doors and dash where even luxury brands tend to skimp. However, given this car’s $85,710 list price, it should have a high-end interior.

The view from the driver’s seat improves as well. Rather than sitting low with the hood high and its scoop blocking the view like the ZR1, the driver looks down the fender line out a more-open windshield. The view ahead and to the sides is excellent. Look to the rear and there’s a decent view through the window that covers the engine, and I also notice that the engine sits so low that I can’t see it from the driver’s seat.

Quieter, easier to see out of, more comfortable, and higher in interior quality. Four more checks for the new design and four more ways the Corvette’s envelope expands.

A taste of dynamics

The missing element of this drive is time on a racetrack or a California canyon road. The outskirts of Ann Arbor have some fun roads with gentle bends, but there’s no opportunity for corner carving here. Still, I get a taste of the dynamics.

The Corvette steers with purpose. It feels direct and the car is stable as speeds rise, though I’m not getting much feel for what the 245 mm front tires are doing. Cornering is flat in any of the drive modes, which is another reason not to mess with Track.

How does it react at the limit? I’m not dumb enough to find out on the street, but Hurley says the aim was neutral responses with a bit of understeer. I want to feel how it rotates, what happens when it starts to lose grip, how it puts the power down upon exiting a turn, how it brakes at the limit, and how composed it is during high-speed cornering.

I’ll wait until we get a Corvette on a racetrack to judge all those characteristics, if Chevrolet accomplished its goal of neutral handing, and if the new Corvette pushes the envelope for handling.

Until then, I can say the 2020 Chevrolet Corvette is quicker, quieter, easier to see out of, and rides better. The interior takes a quality leap forward, too. I’m not betting against Chevrolet pushing the envelope for handling as well.

Now let’s try Launch Control again.



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