Up until now, the only 2020 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray we drove had a bunch of options and the Z51 Performance Package, which added nearly $25,000 to the car’s starting price: $85,000. Ouch. The mid-engine 2020 Vette was good even at that price, but what’s this car like at its shockingly low and much-touted entry-level price? I drove a 2020 Corvette 1LT, the base model, to see how it drives — and if you really need anything more than a $60,000 Vette.
At Chevrolet’s media preview, I sampled the eighth-generation Corvette C8 1LT on winding canyon roads and long stretches of highway just outside Las Vegas. I also drove the Z51 Performance Package on-track at the official Corvette driving school (per our ethics policy, Cars.com pays for travel and lodging expenses at such automaker-sponsored programs). Including destination, the Vette starts at an unbelievably low $59,995, or just $500 beyond the starting price of a 2020 Ford Explorer Platinum. My test car had two options: a $1,495 set of wheels and a $100 battery protection package, which together brought the total vehicle price to $61,590.
This Ride Is Road-Trip Ready
I was curious if Chevrolet would go overboard on firmness for the base suspension considering the drastic switch in layout and supercar-beating goals of the C8. It didn’t. A new coil-over suspension on all four corners replaces the rear transverse spring that supported the Corvette’s caboose for decades, and the ride is more controlled and refined than ever.
Ride comfort has been a staple of the base-suspension C6 (2005-13) and C7 (2014-19) generations, and it’s also not bad in the last C5 (1997-2004) I drove, an example with 75,000 miles and Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires. Even in the C8 Z51 we drove in Michigan in 2019, ride quality proved greatly refined on public roads with the car’s optional Magnetic Ride Control shock absorbers and summer tires. So, fear not, road trippers: The Vette’s ride is as ready as ever for long hauls.
Of the three available suspensions, the base FE1 suspension on 1LT, 2LT and 3LT trims comes with standard all-season Michelin tires and offers one heck of a serene ride at highway speeds. The other two suspensions are limited to the Z51 and its more-aggressive FE3 (passive, non-adjustable shocks) or FE4 (Magnetic Ride Control adjustable-firmness shocks) setup, respectively. Granted, we drove on mostly smooth roads, but even over choppy pavement, the Vette’s base suspension provided commendable road isolation and remained largely unaffected for a car of this ilk.
The FE1’s standard Michelin Pilot Sport all-season tires (P245/35ZR19 up front and P305/30ZR20 in back) have something to say for the ride quality because they’re more compliant than the Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires that come on FE3 and FE4 cars; you can’t even order summer tires on a base-suspension car. Summer tires were the standard rubber on the C7, but before you get caught up about all-season tires on a mid-engine supercar, the C8’s all-season tires provide a surprising amount of acceleration grip during wide-open-throttle blasts — and, let me tell you, it is a blast. Improved cold-weather friendliness thanks to all-season tires plus the Vette’s new front suspension geometry could help alleviate the common front-tire chatter in cold weather at full steering lock that the C6 and C7 generations exhibited because of the front suspension geometry and aggressive, wide tires — or so Chevrolet officials claim, at least. So common was this annoyance in older Vettes that Chevrolet even characterized it as normal in some owner’s manuals.
Having 60% of the weight over the rear axle helps traction during acceleration a great deal. The more comfort-oriented suspension makes for more body movement, however, which is most apparent during acceleration, where the front lifts and the rear squats noticeably more than with Z51-equipped cars. Still, 0-60 mph in 3.0 seconds for the base Corvette (versus 2.9 seconds for the Z51) seems attainable given the commanding power off the line.
The 1LT’s standard exhaust is surprisingly quiet — trust me, you’ll want the optional, bellowing performance exhaust system ($1,195) to best experience the wonderful 6.2 liters of noises — and the engine and transmission are a supremely refined combination. At one point, I was in manual mode cruising in 5th gear at 60 mph before realizing I had another three gears to choose from; that’s how relaxed a base C8 drives at highway speeds. Road noise sounded elevated — especially from up front, where other noises no longer emanate — but a more accurate report will have to come when we drive a Corvette on more familiar roads.
You may not think of a 490-horsepower (495 hp with the optional performance exhaust), mid-engine V-8 sports car as efficient, but the Vette’s 27 mpg EPA highway rating is commendable, and the trip computer says I eked out a sustained 30-plus mpg while chugging along in 8th gear at 75 mph and 1,500 rpm.
Oh Yeah, That Dual-Clutch Transmission!
The C8’s standard eight-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission is world-class levels of goodness, and I’m still shocked that a transmission this good comes at a price this low. Every 2020 Corvette comes with the dual-clutch as a manual transmission is no longer offered. I wouldn’t get your hopes up for a manual, either: Neither the driver’s footwell nor center console leave a whole lot of room to row gears or punch pedals.
The manual mode offers some consolation for do-it-yourselfers because there’s almost no perceivable delay between clicking the steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifter and the transmission up- or downshifting. Chevrolet attributes the responsiveness to the C8’s paddle shifters being wired directly to the transmission control module, eliminating any delays from going through intervening computers or modules.
I preferred the directness of the manual mode on the street, but the automatic was the way to go on Z51 cars through a 2.2-mile configuration of the Spring Mountain Motorsports Ranch road course, where the slightest throttle tip-in picks the perfect gear, and rev-matched downshifts are smooth and well chosen. I felt no need to try and outsmart the clearly smarter-than-me calibration in the Z51’s Track mode. On the slower autocross, however, I preferred manual mode: At slower speeds (0-50 mph, versus 30-120 mph on the circuit), the transmission wanted to upshift when I wanted it to hold a gear.
I was driving pre-production cars, so some of the initial low-speed judder I experienced could be tuned out in production models, though such disruption wasn’t as frequent as it is in BMW’s dual-clutch transmission for the M3 and M4. Chevrolet’s example is more on par with Porsche’s PDK dual-clutch automatic, which seems to be the benchmark considering the first driving prototype of the mid-engine Vette (a Holden Ute lookalike) used a C7’s LT1 engine and Porsche PDK to test a handmade chassis.
None of this will convince diehard manual fans regardless of whether a manual transmission is slower. Even the best dual-clutch automatic is no replacement for the reasons people like driving stick: the reward that comes from the skill required to control various mechanical systems (clutch, shifter, throttle) for the perfect shift versus a paddle shifter anyone can use. That said, I chose to buy an automatic-equipped Pontiac Trans Am, so perhaps I’m still confused.
The C8’s $60,000 Interior
Open your checkbook and the 2020 Vette’s interior can come in an assortment of premium leathers, suede-like microfiber and real aluminum and carbon fiber, which look and feel the part of a car that commands $70,000-plus. But Chevrolet didn’t cheap out on the base C8. Soft touch points, a metal drive-mode selector and a square-shaped leather steering wheel all have a sense of weight and quality that previous base versions (and even upper-level trims) did not.
The greater issue with the C8’s interior is visibility and passenger accommodation. As a driver, it’s perfect: The interior wraps around you like the cockpit of a fighter jet, with all controls in easy reach. The 8-inch touchscreen is a finger-flick away and angled toward you, and the driving controls are equally driver-focused. I’m totally enamored with the driving position and forward visibility, and the square-shaped steering wheel benefits style and functionality, allowing for easier entry and exit plus improved forward visibility. The steering ratio is so tight that I rarely needed to go hand-over-hand, which can get a little awkward.
As a passenger, however, the high center console weirdly partitions you from the driver. It’s strange riding shotgun: I felt less like I was sharing the experience with the driver than coming along for the ride, as if in the backseat of a taxi — one hell of a fast taxi.
You will want a passenger in 1LT cars, though, because all that honkin’ mass behind the driver puts a lot of engine and plastic between you and the road. I relied on my co-pilot to check blind spots, because blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alerts and a camera-based rearview mirror are unavailable on a 1LT even as options. Standard rear parking sensors are a nice touch but not enough.
The passenger-side mirror sticks out farther than the driver’s side for visibility requirements, but to alleviate over-the-shoulder visibility concerns, it would need to be the size of a retracting stop sign on a school bus. Like the visibility challenged sixth-generation Camaro, those electronic assists are invaluable in making you feel more comfortable changing lanes or backing out of a parking space. Sure, there’s acclimation involved in driving a car as wildly shaped as the C8, and most mid-engine cars incur this sort of a problem, but technology that helps is not something you get with the $60,000 Vette.
Hardtop or Convertible?
There’s a retractable hardtop convertible Corvette on the way (production starts in April 2020), but don’t forget that every Corvette hardtop has a manually removable roof. Current Corvette owners will feel right at home removing the roof with a similar three-latch process.
Driving with the roof off is 70% of the convertible experience, and I question how much better a convertible can be with the mid-engine layout. What are you missing? Mostly the convenience of a convertible roof retracting automatically, but a little bit may come in how the wind hits you. Anyone with long hair should keep hair ties handy because, at 60 mph with the coupe’s roof off, air hits your head from behind. I haven’t driven the convertible to see if its air channeling is any better, however.
The hardtop’s roof stores in the rear trunk (behind the engine) and takes up any usable space for larger items like luggage or backpacks. My co-driver and I moved our backpacks to the smaller frunk (front trunk) with the roof off, and Chevrolet offers custom luggage that fits up front; otherwise, you’ll have to leave the roof on (or at home) if you need maximum cargo capacity.
Track-Driving the C8 Z51
Another first for us at this 2020 Corvette event was track time with the Z51 Performance Package, which adds the following goodies for $5,000:
- Michelin Pilot Sport 4S summer tires
- Standard FE3 performance suspension with manually adjustable ride height; available FE4 (another $1,895) with Magnetic Ride Control and Performance Traction Management electronic handling assist
- Larger 13.6-inch front and 13.8-inch rear brake rotors (versus the standard 12.6-inch front/13.3-inch rear rotors)
- Additional cooling from a third, rear-mounted radiator
- Electronically controlled limited-slip differential
- Front splitter and rear spoiler adds up to 400 pounds of downforce
- Performance exhaust boosting power to 495 hp (no change in torque)
Tracking the C8 Z51 only whetted my appetite for the more aggressive versions that will surely come down the line. I wouldn’t say I got fully familiar with the car’s dynamics after only a half-dozen or so laps following an instructor, but my initial reaction is that I had to be more gingerly than expected, using trail braking to help the front end turn versus just wheeling into a corner with loads of front grip you’d get from the previous Corvette Grand Sport or even a Camaro 1LE (higher-octane packages of both cars). The C8 quickly darts from corner to corner, feeling light on its feet and highly responsive. The 2020 C8 Z51 I drove was set up in the most aggressive track alignment, as well as in the default, conservative Track driving mode versus the lax Performance Traction Management modes that come with the FE4’s Magnetic Ride Control suspension.
It’s clear the C8’s transmission and engine are perfectly in sync, and for 6.2-liters, the V-8 is snappy and eager to please, with a lot of power under the accelerator pedal. The Z51’s standard performance exhaust is a sound you’ll want to hear over and over — and you can, year-round, with the available onboard Performance Data Recorder that has an interior microphone for recording video and all of those wonderful, small-block V-8 noises. The video records to an SD card, along with a bunch of data parameters, for playback during the off-season while the car is tucked away under a cover. New for 2020, the data recorder is capable of 1080p definition.
Reviewing the Performance Data Recorder of my track and autocross runs taught me a little more about the Vette and my track experience. I didn’t detect any wheelspin accelerating out of a corner, but the in-car data acquisition consistently showed the stability control flashing as I laid into the accelerator. Similarly, I didn’t feel any wheelspin or oversteer, but the Track mode’s default stability setting seemed to shut that down before I observed it. For as natural and sharp as the car felt, the assist features seemed to help on the big track. Driving the small track in Performance Traction Management’s Sport 1 mode allowed for more yaw when the rear stepped out on lift-throttle, but it was still very manageable. The C8 remained crisp and highly engaging with wildly quick reactions on the autocross cone course, where there’s more sawing at the wheel.
Should You Buy the $60,000 C8?
Chevrolet says 1LT orders account for only 9% of 2020 Corvettes so far, and I get it. The lack of visibility aids is my one hesitation from recommending a true base model, because — like other mid-engine cars — over-the-shoulder visibility is poor. Blind spot warnings, rear cross-traffic alerts and the rearview mirror camera are only available starting on the 2LT, which is a $67,295 Corvette, plus, you gotta throw in the $1,195 loud pipes. The 2LT also comes with heated and cooled seats and a heated steering wheel not available on the 1LT, as well as the Performance Data Recorder, head-up display and an upgraded stereo.
Here’s the thing: That still feels like a bargain. You don’t really need the $85,000 car to get the bulk of what the C8 offers, like scorching acceleration times and a great interior. But it also buys qualities you can’t quite put a finger on, such as exotic looks and the way this car makes you feel — like a rock star, in my case, with onlookers turning heads on the Vegas Strip. A newer Acura NSX did a quick fly-by while I was on the side of the road taking pictures. I reviewed the NSX when it launched, and you can get a lot of its experience in the Vette for nearly $100,000 less. The NSX’s trick front electric motors and torque vectoring remain impressive versus the Vette, but Acura’s all-wheel drive and electrification don’t make the NSX much faster in a straight line (0-60 mph in 2.7 seconds versus the Corvette’s 2.9 seconds).
At the end of the day, I wanted to keep driving the C8 with the top off well into the cool Nevada desert rather than give the keys back — and that was even before any track time in the Z51.
Editor’s note: This story was updated Feb. 26, 2020, to correct the percentage of 2020 Chevrolet Corvettes delivered to buyers at $60,000 versus produced.
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