Editor's note: This review was written in August 2013 about the 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray. Little of substance has changed with this year's model. To see what's new for 2015, click here, or check out a side-by-side comparison of the two model years.
Despite using old names like Stingray and LT1, the 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray's technology, performance and style look to the future like never before, and they impress on the way.
Chevrolet's Corvette sports car has seen only seven redesigns in its 60 years of existence. By 2013, the sixth-generation Corvette (model years 2006 to 2013) suffered, due to outdated features and quality, for anyone who wasn't a track hound. Compare the 2013 and 2014 Corvette here. The 2014 Corvette Stingray addresses those complaints head-on, in addition to doing what the Corvette does best: go fast.
I drove various versions of the 2014 Corvette coupe, sampling the Z51 performance package and the non-Z51 Corvette with manual and automatic transmissions.
Z51 vs. Base Suspension
One of the biggest takeaways is how different ride quality is between the base suspension and the Z51's performance suspension. Base and Z51 Corvettes may as well be two completely different cars.
For $2,800, the Z51 package adds invaluable performance features to move the 'Vette as fast as possible around a racetrack, including a sport suspension, unique chassis tuning, larger wheels with higher-performance tires, and much, much more. A Magnetic Ride Control suspension with adjustable firmness is a separate $1,795 option available only on 'Vettes with the Z51 package.
The Z51 is a more refined performance package than the former Corvette Grand Sport, which was a fast but raw experience. Similar levels of handling are achieved without the Grand Sport's disturbing front tire chatter, which reverberated through the steering wheel when turning into a parking space.
The Z51 package's awesome performance for the money is offset by its ride quality. Z51s ride with the subtlety of a battleship speeding through a no-wake zone. I struggled to differentiate ride quality of the optional Magnetic Ride Control suspension's Tour, Sport and Track settings over choppy roads. Enthusiasts may not find the ride quality overly offensive coming from a car with lowering springs or stiffer shocks.
Dropping the Z51 package transforms the Corvette into a car completely capable of driving cross-country in comfort, with a soft ride that's still taut enough to be considered sporty. Many Corvette owners enjoy driving and do a lot of it — whether it's from car show to car show or cross-country on vacation. A base-suspension 2014 Corvette is the car those buyers want. Getting from home to the racetrack may be as far as you want to drive the Z51.
This duality is one area where Porsche has Corvette whipped. A week prior to the Corvette drive, I was behind the wheel of a 2013 Porsche 911 Carrera 4S with an adjustable suspension and various driving modes. Comfort settings in that car were as comfortable as the base 'Vette, while sport settings were aggressive enough to rival the Z51 — all in one car. That one car does cost as much as two 2014 Corvettes, however. Compare the 911 with the Corvette here.
One Fast Fish
The moment of clarity came with the Stingray Z51's huge levels of grip and controllability on an autocross course. The Z51's unique Performance Traction Management system helps make the Corvette extremely rewarding to drive fast in closed conditions. PTM is included with the optional Magnetic Ride Control suspension for $1,795.
With PTM, five levels of electronic assistance — on top of standard Weather, Eco, Touring, Sport and Track driving modes — rein in the Corvette's immense capabilities for novice drivers. "Experts" can turn them off completely. Relaxed degrees of PTM show how well the all-new, balanced chassis handles throttle and steering input, as the car becomes steerable through throttle control. Even though the 2014 Corvette is heavier, this generation feels lighter, quicker and more agile, with a smaller steering wheel and an aluminum chassis. A new electronically controlled limited-slip differential contributes to the controllability and predictability once the rear end breaks loose; it's active all the time in Z51 'Vettes and gets more aggressive in track modes.
While non-Z51 cars don't have PTM, they do have Weather, Eco, Tour, Sport and Track driving modes. Weather mode tailors traction control and engine torque for slippery conditions; Eco mode uses cylinder deactivation to shut down four cylinders when cruising, for optimal economy; Tour mode is the default startup mode, with comfort settings like enhanced steering assist; Sport mode reduces steering assist while providing sportier throttle progression, firmer and later automatic transmission shifting; and Track mode ups the ante even more with the sportiest steering, throttle progression and transmission shifts. Most notable of the changes is the decreased power steering assist from Tour to Sport, though it's not a particularly good feeling. The car tracks poorly on the highway with the looser steering effort, as it doesn't feel matched to the wide front tires that follow every imperfection in the road. Decreased steering assist in Sport and Track modes prevents the car from darting around, so it tracks straighter at highway speeds, giving a more natural steering feel.
With 455 horsepower in standard form and 460 hp with the must-have $1,195 dual-mode exhaust, the LT1 engine is a powerhouse in base and Z51 cars. The new V-8 is a torque monster with direct injection making huge output throughout the rev range, so the car doesn't care at what rpm you hit the accelerator — it's going to move out blazingly fast wherever you punch it. Chevrolet estimates zero-to-60 mph in 3.8 seconds in the Z51. The new engine is smooth, quiet when the optional dual-mode exhaust is closed, and as satisfying as an engine with aftermarket exhaust when the flaps are open and the exhaust sings its bass-filled angry song.
Even with all this power, Corvette owners are rewarded with an EPA-estimated 29 mpg highway rating with the seven-speed transmission, 17/29/21 mpg city/highway/combined for the manual and 16/28/20 for the automatic. A new seven-speed manual transmission keeps revs down on the highway as the engine spins lower than 1,500 rpm at 70 mph. Driving the seven-speed manual isn't as foreign as you'd imagine. Base Corvettes have the same first six gear ratios as the 2013, just with an extra seventh gear tacked on for fuel economy.
The Z51 package's unique transmission has shorter gear ratios that keep you on your toes as the engine screams into redline extremely quickly. The manual transmission also uses a rev-matching feature, like the Nissan 370Z and BMW M5, where the throttle automatically blips on downshifts for smooth gear changes. The Corvette's execution isn't as perfect as the 370Z's, but it gets the job done without too much intrusion — and it can be turned off via steering-wheel paddles on manual cars.
On the Inside
The Corvette's all-new interior is light-years ahead of the old one, with impressive standard technology including a configurable gauge cluster with enough data and performance information to make automotive engineers wet their pants in excitement. The data can also overwhelm someone who just wants to drive and not think about g-forces, tire temperatures or track timers. Thankfully, all this information is customizable in the gauge cluster, so traditionalists can see a tachometer and little else, while a gearhead can view practically every one of the car's other vitals. The digital needle fails to sweep as smoothly and precisely as an analog dial, however.
The configurable display is surrounded by all-new materials and interior design. Perhaps most impressive are the standard leather seats. I couldn't have been more comfortable in the new seats, which are a big improvement over the previous ones for comfort and body holding in the corners. Choose the optional Napa leather in the 3LT package ($8,005), and the seats are impeccable. Chevrolet has optional performance seats on the way later this year.
Chevrolet claims the interior materials are authentic, and many do look the part, but I couldn't help being disappointed by the $995 carbon fiber trim package in many of the cars I drove. The material's dull sheen made it appear fake. Many of the cars I drove with stickers north of $70,000 — base price is $51,995 with destination — didn't look like they should be $70,000 cars on the inside despite optional premium materials like the carbon fiber and suedelike microfiber. The outside is a completely different story.
Costs $52,000, Looks $100,000
My driving partner and I stopped at a fire station to see if the guys would let us take a few pictures in front of their helicopter. They did, and they gushed over the car: "It looks like a Ferrari or Lamborghini," "I don't like Corvettes, but this looks awesome." The exterior design is undoubtedly striking and untraditional for Corvette. Aspects of the design scream "boy racer," such as the black accent pieces on the hood, brake vents and side cladding — as does the way Chevy painted half the rear end black, not body-colored. I'd much prefer those parts in the same color. Darker colors hide those pieces better than bright red or white.
The 2014 Corvette has various cosmetic choices for the removable carbon fiber roof panel, including the standard body-colored roof, optional exposed carbon fiber, carbon fiber with painted side rails and transparent. The roof is bulky but extremely light and easy to carry to the trunk if your arms are long enough to wrap around it. When stored, the roof takes up most of the available cargo space, though it does tilt upward and allow items like a purse or camera bag underneath.
The 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray has not been crash-tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Standard safety equipment includes the federally mandated dual front airbags, electronic stability system and antilock brakes. Side-impact airbags are also standard. Click here for a full list of safety features.
2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray in the Market
The new Corvette delivers an unrivaled performance bargain, which isn't shocking news when talking about Corvettes. Purists can get into a Z51 coupe with a manual transmission and Magnetic Ride Control for as little as $56,590 with destination charge, and cruisers can step into an awesome cross-country driving package for $51,995. Shoppers should also budget for the $1,195 dual-mode exhaust, which is a must-have option. Either car can be gussied up with interior packages and options like carbon fiber trim and a microfiber headliner, upgraded leather, navigation, xenon headlights, a head-up display and more to bring the price of a coupe near $70,000. That's a high price for a non-Z06, non-ZR-1, non-Grand Sport Corvette, but even though the interior quality isn't as world class as Chevrolet touts, the Corvette surprises with its exotic design, performance and innovative, customizable technology that should remain relevant and exciting for years to come.
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