THE 2020 CHEVROLET CORVETTE STILL BEATS WITH AN ALL-AMERICAN HEART
This is not a Corvette. It can’t be. I spent my entire adult life looking at low-slung, long-hooded sports cars with the two-flag logo and roaring V8, and I don’t see that here. Sure, that logo looks awfully familiar and, I’ll admit, the burbling of the V8 brings back familiar memories, as well. But my eyes continue to deceive me. Corvette sits alongside apple pie as embodiments of Americana, and it seems downright blasphemous to alter it in any way.
The uneasiness continues as you head inside—in many ways Chevrolet took nearly as big of a swipe at interior conventions. All the controls very much wrap around the driver at all corners, fighter-jet cockpit style. The strongest emphasis comes from a long array of switches at the driver's right, which really adds the cocooning effect of the seat, forcing your eyes to look more closely at the steering wheel and instrument panel.
But all that fear and dismay fades as you get moving with wheel in hand. Listen to those eight cylinders combust and shout “America!” with a throaty rumble and energetic zeal. Sit low and view the expansive world in front of you. The Corvette all of a sudden feels very familiar. The shape may have changed, but the essence of what makes a Corvette a Corvette remains. Give it time and your brain can indeed comprehend what your eyes see. Oh, it’s a Corvette all right ... one ready to write the next chapter of its history.
But let’s not get too ahead of ourselves. The C8 Corvette presents a very different shape, but is it a good one? Yes. Definitely. The eighth-generation Corvette looks best in profile, forward-facing, low and purposeful. Big and broad side scoops starting from the doors, stretching down at a 45-degree angle to 6 inches ahead of the rear wheels—up front a proud splitter, in back a tasteful rear wing.
Inside again, you are enveloped in switches, buttons, screens and cupholders. All of it wraps around the driver to give easy access. The center console screen that handles your phone connection, radio controls, navigation, etc., for example, nestles against the aforementioned array of buttons and is positioned about 30 degrees toward the driver. The passenger gets a seatbelt and, with long enough arms, can also reach one of the cupholders.
Under what I guess is now the front trunk is room for a carry-on bag. In back, there is another cargo area Chevrolet claims will swallow golf bags. And ahead of that, a 6.2-liter pushrod V8 with a dry sump oil-system tucked deep and low in the engine bay. Assuming you selected the performance exhaust system, peak output comes to 495 hp at 6,450 rpm and 470 lb-ft of torque at 5,150 rpm—that's 35 more hp and 5 more lb-ft than before. Before heading to the rear wheels, that power gets channeled through an eight-speed dual-clutch transmission. Chevrolet is not offering a manual. Sad face.
As before, underpinning it all is a front and rear aluminum control arm suspension that uses magnetic ride control adjustable dampers, but now with coil springs. Yes, another change, the transverse-mounted leaf springs are gone. Going midengine made the packaging of that configuration untenable. Considering all the change going on here, this one affects me the least.
When equipped with the Z51 package, reasonably sized ventilated brake discs take care of stopping duty, 13.3 inches around in front, 13.8 inches in the back. That package also swaps all-season Michelin tires for summer-only Michelin Pilot Sport 4S rubber. Front tires: 245/35R-19 mounted on 8.5-inch-wide wheels, rear: 305/30R-20 mounted on 11-inch-wide wheels.
Looking for more familiarity? The Corvette is still built with an aluminum core structure and still uses fiberglass for the body. If you’re nervous about scraping said body, there’s a hydraulic front axle lift system that raises the car 1.6 inches in less than three seconds. Even though the Corvette loses a driveshaft, all this change does make it heavier. Chevrolet give a dry weight of 3,366 pounds; add fuel, oil, and the rest and expect a curb weight of around 3,566 pounds.
Once you get used to the button and screen location, touring around in a Corvette is all at once familiar and wholly different than before. Of the six drive modes (weather, touring, sport, track, Z and My Mode) in touring, the Corvette feels downright docile, noticeably more comfortable than the outgoing model. And that’s despite stiffer springs. Funny, this is precisely what Corvette chief engineer Tadge Juechter said it would be because the driver sits so much closer to the center of gravity. The cockpit is 16.5 inches farther forward than the last-generation Corvette.
It also made me completely comfortable to switch to sport and track modes. On everything other than a pothole-infested city street, sport mode makes a perfectly reasonable default suspension setting. Besides, this is a midengine sports car now. It’s not meant for the city, but a twisty two-lane. And, despite the added weight, the Corvette feels more athletic than ever.
The biggest difference compared to the outgoing Corvette is steering feel, as it is much sharper than before. (Steering is literally faster too, now with a 15.7:1 ratio instead of 16.3:1.) The very first time I turned in with some spirit, I was pointed to the apex about 100 feet too early. Oops. Steering is fast and light. In fact, too light for my tastes, if in the touring drive mode. Switch to sport or, even better, track, and it feels perfect.
The massive diet the front axle underwent transforms turn-in willingness to supercar levels. Starting with the fifth-generation model and constantly improving since, the Corvette always gripped the road well. But now it transitions from side to side just as willingly. Like a fullback went on a new diet and training program and became a running back.
Sticking with the tried and true, the 6.2-liter small-block V8 continues to make a strong overhead valve argument. Its trademark, cross-plane crank rumble stands out even more now that it resonates from behind the driver. It’s “Detroit Rock City” playing over loud speakers at the state fairgrounds. It’s hot dogs on the grill. It’s ranch dressing on salad. It’s America and music to my ears.
And, of course, it’s fast! Incredibly so. Tied to the eight-speed dual-clutch transmission, or DCT, you lose a clutch pedal, but gain lightning-quick upshifts. Roll in to the throttle and the pull feels like Chevrolet accidently gave me a Z06 model—you get sucked into the seat that hard. But it’s more of a surge of forward motion, as well, because your body doesn’t swing back with the weight transfer. Sitting near the center of gravity is a wonderful thing.
Another advantage of the DCT is launch control. Follow these steps: Put it in track mode, press the traction control button twice, firmly hold the brake with your left foot. Bury the throttle. Revs climb to 3,500 rpm. Release the brake. Depending on surface, you’ll either accelerate hard in tire-smoking glory or hardly spin the rears at all and eclipse 60 mph in less than three seconds. Either one is fantastic, really.
America’s sports car. A no-nonsense approach to going fast. That’s the Corvette credo. Putting the engine behind the driver certainly raised an eyebrow, but it also raised the bar. Its looks are different, but the fundamental character of the car remains the same. It still rumbles, still feels brash. It still prefers to shout than whisper.
The Corvette is still not as refined as the Porsche 911 or the other six-figure, engine-behind-the-driver cars. And that’s a good thing. Otherwise that characteristic alone, much more than engine location, would strip it of its American essence. The Corvette was never about pinky-out etiquette but rather paving another path for epic performance. In this way, the Corvette isn’t shucking its roots, but staying true to them, lifting driving performance another rung up the ladder yet largely leaving the price tag alone.
It may look a little different, but rest assured, the C8 is absolutely a Corvette.