Corvette Stingray: The rocket scientist’s ride

The original American astronauts were celebrities who drove Corvettes. Today’s astronauts are just about as anonymous as accountants, and no one really notices what they drive.

Is the Corvette too smart for its own good? Hardly.

Time passes. Astronauts and their machines surrender some stardust. But with the Corvette’s seventh generation, reaching dealers as a 2014 model, Chevrolet is making a hard push to recapture an era when a Corvette was every space cowboy’s dream car. The 2014 model is not only sculpted to recall those days, but also wears a name dating to the landmark 1963 model: Stingray.

Sliding behind the wheel of the seventh-generation car, known in series as the C7, the contours of the front fenders frame the view ahead. It’s a decidedly throwback sensation, if not quite the one-to-one evocation of the pontoon fenders of ‘60s sports racers. Close enough, though, to slake the nostalgist’s thirst – a thirst that runs particularly deep among Corvette fans.

Pressing the starter button awakens the 6.2-litre small-block V8 engine, a piece of equipment with roots stretching to  1955. In its latest incarnation, the engine incorporates direct fuel injection, a change that necessitated a complete revamp of the unit’s cylinder-head design, with intake and exhaust ports swapping places to ensure proper airflow and fuel mixing – this, according to John Rydzewski, assistant chief engineer for the engine.

Rydzewski frames the Corvette’s myriad capabilities in terms of bandwidth – a term with roots among the horn-rimmed set in the astronauts’ mission control. Translated to the C7 Corvette, the term encapsulates the car’s eminent suitability to daily driving or fevered racetrack laps.

The engine’s 455 horsepower (460hp with the tested optional dual-mode exhaust) are converted into pleasing burbles and snorts, the volume of which being adjustable via the console-mounted driver mode selector. The rotary knob dials in up to a dozen parameters, including the electronic limited slip differential, power steering, throttle, automatic transmission, shock absorbers, traction control and mufflers.

The Stingray’s engine doesn’t just sound fabulous, it also propels the car with suitable authority thanks to an additional 50lb-ft of low-rpm torque compared to the outgoing Corvette. With two adults aboard, no burnouts to warm the tires and the iffy grip of a random empty stretch of asphalt, an impromptu run from zero to 60mph produced a 4.5-second time on the dashboard display. Chevy says the Stingray will make the sprint in 3.8 seconds under optimal conditions.

Want to expand the base Corvette’s performance? Choose the $2,800 Z51 performance package, with its track-ready gears and engine oil system, bigger brakes and improved shocks. Some of these components could cost $2,800 themselves on the aftermarket, so the Z51 package represents an amazing bargain.

At the other end of the spectrum is the eye-poppingly expensive $8,005 3LT leather interior package, which – heavens – doesn’t even include the suede headliner, an additional $995. That is a $9,000 outlay to create the plush cockpit that premium sports-car buyers demand. Yet Chevy recognises the breadth of the Corvette cult, which includes luxury-aspiring Sunday drivers and track rats alike. Together, the Z51 and 3LT represent opposite ends of Corvette bandwidth, if you will.

But in a Corvette, you don’t have to make a King Solomon-calibre decision. If you have the money, you can have both.

You must, however, choose between the seven-speed manual transmission and the conventional six-speed automatic. The gate pattern of the seven-speed unit is a bit crowded, but the shifter is precise enough that missed shifts never arise. Drivers can choose to use a rev-matching feature, whereby the car automatically blips the throttle to allow better meshing between gears, or you can leave that feature off and do it yourself.

The six-speed automatic lacks the two additional forward gears that are quickly becoming de rigueur among performance and luxury cars, but with the small-block’s prodigious torque, six gears feel like plenty. More importantly, drivers can shift the automatic manually with steering wheel-mounted paddles.

Chevy has made the effort to program the automatic to mimic a manual in its behaviour, even giving the engine a touch of rev-matching throttle on downshifts. And unlike the manual mode on the new Jaguar F-Type, which reserves the right to make ill-timed mid-corner downshifts that upset the car’s line exiting a turn, the Corvette’s manual mode is truly manual. 

In fact, the Corvette is so intelligent that when driven hard towards a corner in full automatic mode, the car bangs off downshifts as the driver brakes. “Great automatic”, incidentally, is not heard very often among sports-car enthusiasts – particularly where an American sports car is concerned – but it is richly deserved here.

So is the Corvette too smart for its own good? Hardly. The visceral thrills and rawness are still there in abundance. It just now takes a bit of mission-control know-how to tap them.

Vital stats: 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray

  • Base price: $51,995, inclusive of destination charge
  • As tested: $65,780
  • EPA fuel economy: 17mpg city, 29mpg highway
  • Powertrain: 460hp, 460lb-ft, direct-injected V8 engine with variable valve timing, seven-speed manual transmission with available rev-matching, rear-wheel drive with electronic limited slip differential
  • Standard equipment: Five-position drive mode selector, carbon fibre hood and roof, seven-speed manual transmission, aluminium frame, Bose 9-speaker audio, high-intensity discharge headlights, dual eight-inch display screens, keyless pushbutton start
  • Major options: Z51 performance package with dry-sump oil system, electronic limited-slip differential, upgraded brakes, shocks, wheels and tires; 2LT package with power heated and ventilated seats, HD radio, heated outside mirrors; carbon fibre interior and exterior trim packages