We test the 2020 Chevrolet Corvette with Chevy’s engineering team
The Corvette has long been the bad boy of the racetrack, the Bart Simpson of supercars. Rude, loud, cheap, unpredictable, and hard to handle; but fast and fun in its own brash way. Now, the Corvette has finally grown up. The C8 Corvette is more sophisticated, capable, and mature. And recently, we were honored with an exclusive 2020 Chevrolet Corvette Z51 track test at VIRginia International Raceway, driving the 911-beater in street and track alignment settings.
To our pleasant surprise, Chevy also supplied a 2019 C7 Grand Sport, which I consider to be the best-handling of all the C7 variations. At this test, Chevy required that a passenger ride along, and that victim was in fact Corvette lead development engineer Mike Petrucci.
If you’re a follower of MotorTrend, you have heard my complaints about the way the C7 drives at the limit. Or more accurately, the way it drives over the limit of grip so suddenly. The car has the dubious distinction of being one of the only test cars in which I leave the stability control on, albeit in the minimal setting, as insurance against an embarrassing and possibly dangerous spin on my hot laps as a result of its sudden snap power oversteer.
And I spoke my mind. “There’s that monkey-motion in the back, Mike, that’s always been there, and the more power you bolt into this chassis, the worse it gets.” The C7 has always tickled my Spidey sense, especially on power application. Now that the front-engine C7 Corvette is gone, the engineers allow that the transverse leaf springs do some tricky things to the spring rate at the wheels, and further, even have an anti-roll component. I find this all easy to believe, because the car would dance a jig back there. Also, it felt rather soft on track, absorbing quick impacts like the curbing, but with too little low shock-speed control at high road speeds.
2020 Corvette Impressions on Street Alignment Settings
My first laps in the new mid-engine C8 Corvette were on the street alignment. Thrilled, we strap into the upgraded interior, and though the squircle steering wheel is a bit odd, I almost never noticed it. I just let Mike push the buttons for his recommended choice of the many possible modes, asking only that he turn off all autonomy (stability controls); I want to do the driving, thank you. Basically what this meant was Race mode.
My first impression was joyous. The monkey-motion was gone at last—hooyah! Second was the deliciously instant steering response. It was quick and stable as I carved into a corner, and revealed snappy trailing-throttle oversteer when I released the brake. Both are clearly influences of the mid-engine low polar moment. The next thing I noticed was the C8’s ground-gripping traction as I accelerated off a slow corner, like VIR’s Oak Tree. Wow! It rockets ahead and remains well balanced, even though it feels like it may wheelie!
I found a consistent gradual side-slip in third and fourth gears, exiting faster sweepers. The C8 has more power oversteer at 80 mph (129 km/h) than it does at 40. Unusual. The braking was strong and stable with moderate nose dive. There was some isolation, if not the degree of e-pedal numbness I feared, and the brakes were cooled with some really nice Z51 brake ducts. Last, there was no more float, better suspension damping, but not harsh.
2020 Corvette Impressions on Track Alignment Settings
Next, we switched to the track alignment. Chevy showed us the specs, and it simply comes down to much more negative camber, front and rear. The engineers are proud of the increased range of adjustment. And eight degrees of caster, street or track, which is a lot. The advantages of caster are that it creates camber gain when the wheels are turned, which is especially good for tight turns, and a strong self-centering force, for stability and good on-center feel. High caster will also cross-weight a chassis, because the outside wheel swings in an arc upward as the inside wheel swings down. The former and latter of these will typically work to reduce understeer. The effect of the added camber was much-improved grip everywhere, reducing yet not eliminating traits of midcorner understeer and drop-throttle oversteer, and raising speeds with better manners. The basic traits of midcorner understeer and trailing throttle oversteer were still there, just not as much.
Times were 2 to 3 seconds faster with less fall-off and better grip on a long run. Tying this all together was an eight-speed dual-clutch transmission that worked quite well at full chat, completing the performance of a much improved product wearing the Corvette nameplate. Far more than deserving of the title, this fresh offering is a 21st century new chapter, with more room to improve. One step back with the engine is a giant leap forward for the Stingray.