Just as the first Chevrolet small-block V8 engine debuted in the original Corvette, the arrival of a new ‘Vette heralds an update to the company’s signature power plant.

This latest small block will evolve into its usual various iterations for service in everything from sports cars to school buses, but the version we see in the 2014 Corvette Stingray, which was unveiled in Detroit on 13 January, is a 6.2-litre monster with an estimated 450 horsepower and 450 pound-feet of torque, outfitted with modern technology like direct fuel injection, cylinder deactivation and variable valve timing.

What makes this engine truly special is the advanced combustion system that extracts the full potential of these technologies, said Mary Barra, senior vice president for global product development at General Motors (GM). She added that the suite of technologies contained in the small-block V8 can only be found on a handful of engines in the world.

Just as the Corvette itself revives an old nameplate with Stingray, so does the engine, which is badged LT1, a designation that first appeared in 1970 and was last seen in the 1998 Corvette.

By definition, the small-block Chevy V8 continues with a two-valve pushrod overhead-valve configuration. While uninformed critics might grouse that this is obsolete technology, its continued utility can be understood in a perhaps unorthodox comparison to BMWs dual overhead-cam twin-turbo 4.4-litre engine a power plant beloved of performance drivers. The Chevy unit, for all its antediluvian architecture, can sit four inches lower and is 40 pounds lighter than that Bavarian wonder.

Only the bean counters at GM know the exact costs, but component suppliers do not give away those turbos, intercoolers or surplus camshafts to BMW, so the small block can be presumed to cost less than competitive engines. Also being smaller and lighter, the engine is a key to both the Corvettes comparatively affordable entry price (exact pricing on the 2014 car will not be available until later in the year) and to its sleek, low hoodline. Its light weight permits the car, even with its front-engine configuration, to have a 50/50 weight balance.

Of course, how well it makes use of all this goodness can only be known on the road.