It’s official. The C7 has landed, and it was bestowed the name of some of the most legendary cars to wear the Corvette crossed-flag logo: Stingray (not Sting Ray this time). Saying that Chevrolet reserved the Stingray name only for very special generations of the Corvette – it last lived on the early C3 generation, from 1969 to 1976 – GM North America President Mark Reuss said that this new model was indeed a special one.
The car’s debut was held at the Russell Industrial Center, a complex that – were it not for trucked-in floodlights and the projected Corvette logos and Chevrolet bowties – would not look the least bit out of place in an end-of-days movie or as the site of the last stand of a a Batman movie’s villain. With broken windows, graffiti, surrounding streets in disrepair, we didn’t know what to expect when we arrived. However, once inside, a large open space had been transformed thanks to colored LED lights, projectors, and a friendly wait staff into a perfectly acceptable venue for the launch of Chevrolet’s sports car.
The Corvette itself basically looks like the leaked images that circulated the Internet over the past few days. This car’s shape has evolved in an interesting when you think about it; the C2’s simplicity was replaced by the C3’s exaggerated shape. The C4 then went back to a fairly basic shape, and the C5 had flowing organic curves. The C6 kept the curves but sharpened them quite a bit. Now, the C7 sharpens its corners even further.
There are many interesting details in the car’s design. As I looked at photos of old Corvettes, it struck me that this is the first Corvette coupe that does not have large, curved-glass rear window (excepting the 1968-77 notchbacks). Instead, it has a nearly-flat piece of glass for its backlight, installed nearly horizontally in a line that continues from the rear of the removable targa roof. Yes, the roof is still removable (we weren’t allowed to sit in the car, but I did stick my head in to see a release latch at the back of the targa panel). As a result of the backlight change, there are two windows on the side of the car for the first time ever. Fender air extractors are angled more than they were in the past, but the “gills” of the Corvette survive intact.
Though the shape is still unmistakably a Corvette, the car’s design team made perhaps more significant changes than any other Corvette design team has done before. Though every inch of the car’s design is new, perhaps the rear is where changes were most significant. Although gearheads will quickly learn to recognize a new Corvette, the C7’s rear is a seismic shift from the C6’s rear. The traditional quad taillights are gone, replaced by parallelograms with rounded corners units that are (gulp) Camaro-esque. Lest you forget what kind of car you’re looking at, the Stingray’s designers were so kind as to affix a chrome Corvette logo, the word CORVETTE beneath it (also in chrome) on the back bumper. The C6 had a diffuser; it’s about twice as larger and now swallows the license plate in the Stingray.
Inside, critics will less to criticize. You finally get the feeling that the Corvette’s interior is GM’s best effort, which is certainly not the feeling you got from earlier Corvettes. It remains to be seen whether GM can continue to upgrade the interior’s technology as the C7 marches through its life cycle, and I remember when the C6 made its debut that everyone raved about how much the interior improved, only to have those same people bitch and moan about it a year later. Still, the C6’s 2004-vintage infotainment technology was embarrassingly bad, and the C7’s appears to be amazingly good. It gets GM’s MyLink infotainment interface, configurable TFT gauges, substantially upgraded materials, and far, far better seats. (There are two types of seats – one for general use, but still with large bolsters, and one for owners who take their cars to the track. Both feature magnesium seat frames.)
What impressed me most about the interior was its honesty. In general, what looks like carbon fiber is carbon fiber. If it looks like aluminum, it is aluminum. These may sound like small things, but they may actually allow the Corvette to shed the stigma of “for the money.” As in, “it’s an amazingly capable sports car for the money,” or “The interior isn’t bad for the money, if the Corvette were a $25,000 car.” Like the SRT Viper, the Corvette’s interior has leapt into the realm of appropriate for an expensive car.
We’ve talked so far only about what you can see from photos or looking at the car. What’s really important is what is under the skin. In terms of materials, the C7 is actually pretty close to the top-dog C6 ZR1. Think about it – aluminum chassis, carbon fiber roof, both standard. Previously, the base Corvette and even the Grand Sport models lived with a steel chassis, while the higher-performance models (Z06, ZR1) got the more expensive aluminum version. Now, aluminum for everyone. Not only does the C7 Corvette Stingray get a carbon fiber roof, but it also gets a carbon fiber hood. And, unlike the ZR1’s carbon fiber roof, the Stingray’s is removable. It probably weighs next to nothing; when I think about how complex it was to remove the targa roof in a C4 (yes, tools were required), I have to laugh.
The frame may be made of the same material as the old ZR1’s, but it’s a completely new design. This is an all-new car from the ground up. The wheelbase and track have each been stretched about an inch in each direction. Though GM did not provide a curb weight, expect it to go down from the current car’s – if for no other reason than the weight-saving tricks employed with the roof, fenders, hood, and magnesium (rather than steel) seat frames. The company did point out, however, that the new frame is 57 percent stiffer, but 99 pounds lighter than the C6’s steel frame. Also, the C7’s body is 37 pounds lighter than the outgoing model’s.
With an expected lighter weight, a horsepower increase now that the Corvette’s new 6.2 liter LT1 V8 has gone with direct injection, performance and economy will improve. Zero to sixty will appear in less than four seconds, and according to GM, the base model now exceeds the Gran Sport’s performance on a racetrack. For further performance, the Z51 package – one that has been available since the debut of the C4 for the 1984 model year – brings magnetic ride control, an electronic limited slip differential, dry-sump oiling system, and special cooling features.
One thing that hasn’t changed is the availability of a 6-speed conventional automatic. This is kind of a disappointment, because I was hoping for a 7- or 8-speed dual-clutch unit, but maybe that will be added in a few years as the Corvette’s 7th generation further evolves. (You may recall that the 2005 C5 was saddled with a 4-speed automatic). But fear not, fans of multiple ratios – a 7-speed manual is standard. The extra ratios improve highway mileage while allowing lower ratios to be spaced more closely together. It seems to work for the Porsche 911, so why not?
A key addition that will help fair drivers handle the Stingray like good drivers, and help good drivers handle it like great ones, is the Driver Mode Selector. It’s a rotary knob near the shifter that gives five driver-selectable modes: tour, weather, eco, sport, and track. Twelve variables are altered depending on which of the five modes is selected, including the gauge cluster, shift points, throttle control, exhaust system, active fuel management (cylinder deactivation), magnetic ride control, electronic limited slip differential, launch control, active handling, traction control, and performance traction management.
Pricing, curb weight, and a number other questions still remain, but if the reaction by the Corvette faithful sitting around me is an indication (Corvette enthusiasts who are members of the National Corvette Museum were offered a chance to attend tonight’s press conference for a few hundred dollars), the Corvette’s team did its job. They were thrilled with the Stingray name and seemed to love the car. Now, as long as the “fast, cheap car” and “I’m a 50 year old man having my midlife crisis” stigmas can drop – and they may be able to – perhaps the car can attract some new buyers to the fold and get sales to the mid-30,000 level where they had been before the Camaro began to eat its lunch a few years ago.
Are there some things that I wis had been done differently? Of course. We already talked about the 6-speed automatic. The optional glass roof of past Corvettes appears to be gone. Panel gaps are still inconsistent (and probably always will be, as long as the car is constructed of composites and not metal). From a distance, the car is gorgeous, and up close, its details are interesting, but perhaps a bit overdone. The body-color strip above the doors on the edge of the targa roof looks like a mistake that deserved a much more elegant solution.
But by and large, it looks and sounds as if the Corvette team accomplished its mission. I cannot wait to drive this car. I might even be willing to go into debt to own one.
Note: the gallery below contains only live shots. For GM’s photography, including some great historical shots, go to our supplemental post here.