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2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray: First Drive

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If you've been saving your pennies hoping the new seventh-generation Corvette would deliver the performance goods, get your hammer. It's time to break open the piggy bank.

Why? Because the Z51 package makes it almost--almost--as good as a C6 Z06, but it's just $51,995 in base form. The last Z06 started at $75,600.

In other words, this base Corvette is worlds better than the last one, and the last one was pretty great.

The power

Fire it up, twist the little drive mode knob until you're in "Race" mode, snick the shifter into first, push in the clutch, and mat the throttle. You're in launch mode, and about to rip off toward 60 mph or however fast your nerve will take you. That 60-mph mark will arrive in just 3.8 seconds (according to Chevy), but it feels like it might even be quicker on a grippy surface. The new LT1 V-8? Sounds every bit as good as the previous LS3 and feels noticeably more potent.

Seven speeds might seem like one (or two) too many in a manual transmission, and in truth, it is, but that's not a problem. Just as with the Porsche 911, the seventh speed is essentially a commuter gear--drop it in 7th on the freeway and you'll get a couple more mpg. Otherwise, it's a surprisingly slick, though by no means stand-out, six-speed close-ratio gearbox. Thanks to those close ratios, however, all six are very usable, and offer good power from moderate speeds, making the car very tractable on the road.

Take the car to a closed course, like the autocross Chevy set up for the event, and you'll find that power even more readily accessible--and surprisingly controllable, even with all of the (very well-executed) electronic aids turned off.

Sure, it's still a 455 hp (or 460 hp with the performance exhaust) car, and it still has street tires, so it can be a handful if you're not careful (and skilful) but the magic the Corvette works is behind the scenes. An electronically actuated limited slip differential can read and respond to the driver's input, the grip of each tire, and many other factors more than 83 times per second.

Even Vettel and Raikkonen don't react that quickly.

The handling

Whip the Z51-package 2014 Stingray into a tight, cambered, slightly dusty central California mountain road and you'll notice two things straight off: the car is incredibly stiff, and the steering actually does what you want it to.

The latter is surprising if only because the steering is electronically assisted. EPS systems have become more common in the past year or two, and will become the norm in the near future, but so far, very few carmakers have gotten the mix right. Chevy now joins the club of those that have.

2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray first drive

2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray first drive

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No, it's not magical, road-palming, life-changing steering feel, but it's at least as good as the hydraulic setup on the C6 Corvette. More to the point, it's accurate, predictable, linear where it should be (and nicely variable in ratio elsewhere), and, most of all, intuitive. You can feel what the car is doing well enough to learn what kind of input you need to give it to achieve the desired result, and that's good enough for us.

It's certainly good enough for a high-grip concrete pad autocross, where the Z51 showed some serious chops for a showroom-stock car. Here, the e-diff played a strong role as well, particularly with the Performance Traction Management system in Race mode, where the whole of the car's traction, stability, and yaw systems effectively say, "Hey, it's your show buddy. We won't say anything until you screw up."

They keep their promise. If you cause the PTM to step on you, even while aggressively slinging the rear of the car into a tight trail-braking late apex or going firmly to the gas on exit, you did something wrong--and even when it does step in, it only does it as much as necessary, maintaining speed and smoothness. It's really a capable system, and one we've loved since we first tried it on the Camaro ZL1.


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