Seventh Heaven: Chevy's New 'Vette Has It Where It Counts
Read any review of the Corvette and you’ll see the same list of compliments and complaints: great performance, terrible interior, or some variation thereof. The Corvette team has an answer to that, and it’s called the 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray making its star turn at the 2013 Detroit auto show.
It starts at the core of the car. Every 2014 Corvette now features an aluminum frame, not just the higher-performance models. Instead of two uniformly thick, hydroformed rails, the chassis is now made up of five sections using hydroformed aluminum, cast aluminum, and extruded aluminum, with each section tailored to its purpose in strength and stiffness. The result is a 99-pound weight reduction with a 57 percent increase in stiffness. That’s 60 percent stiffer than today’s Z06 with the C7’s removable roof in place, and 20 percent stiffer with the roof out. Curb weight should be about the same after accounting for other changes.
Moving outward, the C7 features redesigned suspension hardware with new aluminum control arms and stiffer links, knuckles, and bushings. The front and rear cradles are now hollow cast aluminum with stiffer attachment points for the suspension. Bilstein shocks are standard and upsized on the Z51 performance model (which returns after a four-year hiatus) for stiffer body control — or why not spring for third-generation magnetic shocks? Whichever way you go, they hold down narrower 18-inch front/19-inch rear wheels (19 and 20 inches, respectively, and forged on Z51 cars) that improve the turning radius without sacrificing grip. In one of many crossovers from racing development, the same Michelin engineer who designs tires for the Corvette Racing Team now also designs the standard Pilot Super Sport Run-Flats that are unique to the C7.
Behind those wheels are standard Brembo brakes that, while slightly smaller in diameter than before, boast 35 percent more swept area thanks to larger pads that cover more area on the rotor face. Z51 cars get larger front discs (13.6 inches versus 12.6 on the base C7) with 6 percent more swept area than a current Corvette Grand Sport and a lot more bite. Chevrolet says the new Stingray will stop 11 feet shorter than before, putting its 60-0-mph braking comparable with that of the mighty ZR1, which we measured at 94 feet.
Things upstream of the wheels have improved as well. In the front end of the current car, Corvette Racing found consistent failure points in the mounts for the steering system. The C7’s steering system has been hard-mounted and beefed up, and the support structure is now, according to Chevrolet, 500 percent stiffer. The new electric power steering features a variable ratio and variable resistance for every circumstance.
On the other end, the Z51 sports an electronically controlled mechanical limited-slip differential that can go from open to locked in “tenths of a second,” and can vary clutch engagement infinitely. Just ahead of that is the new seven-speed manual trans, an evolution of the Tremec six-speed in the C6. As well as the third overdrive gear (Z51s get shorter performance gearing and a closer overall ratio spread), it boasts active rev-matching for up- and downshifts. A hall effect sensor on the shift rail monitors every minute movement of the shifter and predicts what gear you’ll want next, then revs the engine to match. Don’t want the computer doing the work? Click either “paddle” on the back of the steering wheel to turn it off. The transmission also features a smaller dual-mass flywheel and smaller, twin-disc clutch that improves clamping power while reducing inertia and shift effort. And, yes, it still has skip-shift.
If manual shifting isn’t your bag, there’s also the paddle-shifted six-speed automatic. It’s an update of the current 6L80 automatic and features a smaller torque converter, which carries less inertia for — you guessed it — faster and smoother shifts. Otherwise, all updates are in the software to improve shift speed, rev matching, and gear prediction. You can also do it yourself via the steering wheel paddles.
Providing the go power is the latest update to Chevrolet’s famous small-block V-8. Resurrecting the LT1 moniker, the updated engine displaces 6.2 liters and pumps out at least 450 hp and 450 lb-ft of torque. The improvements in peak power are modest, but Chevy says the power curves are greatly improved, with the new engine producing as much torque between 1000 and 4000 rpm as did the 7.0-liter V-8 in the Z06. Helping to produce the extra grunt is direct fuel injection, continuously variable valve timing, and completely redesigned combustion chambers. On the other side of the spectrum, cylinder deactivation allows it to run in four-cylinder mode, a proven technology with the automatic and a first for a manual transmission car. Chevy says it’s good for a 10 to 20 percent bump in fuel economy. Contrary to what you might think, the engineers say the large-displacement V-8 makes for a more efficient car because it makes enough torque in V-4 mode to stay in that mode more often. Chevy rejected a twin-turbo V-6 because while it delivered on power, it didn’t improve fuel economy.
Controlling all this is the console-mounted Drive Mode Selector, which dials from Tour to Weather, Eco, Sport, and Track. It alters the operating parameters of the electronic differential (if equipped), cylinder deactivation, throttle mapping, stability control, traction control, launch control, auto transmission shift mapping, Performance Traction Management (if equipped), Magnetic Ride Control (if equipped), steering weight and ratio, and the gauge cluster display.
Outside, the radical new bodywork is jet-inspired and race-tested. Every scoop and vent you see is functional, much of it borrowed from Corvette Racing. The hood vent, for example, ducts roughly a third of flow from the now forward-slanted radiator over the top of the car. That helps reduce underbody lift so much that the new Z51 has less lift than the current ZR1. Likewise borrowed from the C6.R are the scoops on the rear haunches. Each is functional and feeds a cooler, for the transmission on the driver side and for the differential on the passenger’s (Z51 only) with hot air released through vents outboard of the taillights and diffuser in the rear. Front brake cooling comes from the single central grille (better for drag), while the rear brakes pick up cool air from beneath the car, just ahead of the rear wheels. The standard carbon-fiber roof has a deeper channel to draw more air over the car and down to the functional rear spoiler, which spans the window’s width on the base car and full body width on the Z51. A new rear hatch that extends all the way to the tail helps air adhere to the bodywork all the way to the spoiler, another racing trick. The new hatch opens around the quarter windows (the first on a ‘Vette since the C1) and is wide enough for the standard removable roof to be stored underneath.
That leads us inside to perhaps the biggest update. Chevrolet took its interior designers to the track to show them how functional the new interior needed to be, and it shows. The two seat options, GT or Competition Sport, have substantially more support and stiffer frames, and the latter has deeper bolsters for real track duty. They’re even heated and cooled. In front of them, the new steering wheel is the smallest Chevrolet has made, and it frames a customizable 8-inch screen with three default modes: Touring, with nav, radio, phone, and other information; Sport, with a large tach and performance gauges; and Track, borrowed from the race car with linear tach and detailed onboard data. Above it, an available full-color, hi-res, reconfigurable head-up display puts the data on the windshield as well.
To the driver’s right, the touch screen drops down behind the dash to reveal a cubby and features a Corvette-specific version of MyLink and fully redundant manual controls, all of which are angled toward the driver. The passenger gets a grab handle on each side and redundant climate controls under the air vent near the door to keep their hands out of the driver’s domain. The whole cabin is bathed in soft-touch materials, cut and stitched vinyl standard, and Napa leather optional in a number of colors. Trim is likewise rich, using aluminum, leather, microsuede, and optional real carbon fiber.
Pricing hasn’t been announced yet, but Chevrolet says if you could afford the old one, you’ll be able to afford the new one. Expect to get your chance to do so in the third quarter of 2013.
|2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray|
|Base price||$59,000 (est)|
|Vehicle layout||Front-engine, RWD, 2-pass, 2-door hatchback|
|Engine||6.2L/450-hp (est)/450-lb-ft (est) OHV 16-valve V-8|
|Transmissions||7-speed manual; 6-speed automatic|
|Curb weight||3300 lb (MT est)|
|Length x width x height||177.0 x 73.9 x 48.6 in|
|0-60 mph||3.9 sec (MT est)|
|EPA city/hwy fuel econ||18/29 mpg (MT est)|
|Energy cons, city/hwy||187/116 kw-hrs/100 mi (est)|
|CO2 emissions||0.89 lb/mi (est)|
|On sale in U.S.||Fall 2013|