You may think that southeast Michigan, home to General Motors’ proving ground in Milford, gets plenty cold enough in winter. Yet for true cold-weather testing, GM engineers subjected the next-generation C7 Corvette to the extreme chill of northern Canada. That gave our spy photographers a chance to snap photos of this prototype version of the 2014 Chevrolet Corvette as it is readied for production.
It’s no secret that the C7 will be a 2014 model launching in fall 2013 -- Chevrolet recently launched special-edition anniversary packages and a 427 convertible model for the 2013 Corvette to serve as a sort of swan song for the C6-generation car. In addition, GM last spring announced $131 million of upgrades to its plant in Bowling Green, Kentucky, to prepare for assembly of the new Corvette. Almost every other detail on the new car, however, has so far been shrouded in rumor and obfuscation.
Two things are certain with the C7 Corvette. For one, it won’t resurrect the split rear window design cue of the 1963 Corvette, as had been suggested by earlier concept cars and rumor mongering. The mule spotted here continues to use one solid rear window that slopes sharply into the decklid.
Second, even though the promise of a mid-engine layout is the most enduring Corvette myth of all time, it seems clear that Chevrolet will stick to a front-engine design for the C7. Multiple executives have denied that the Corvette would reposition its engine, and the proportions of this mule suggest the engine will indeed stay under the car’s long hood.
Familiar Coupe Body
Our spy pictures reveal that the C7 Corvette won’t look drastically different from the current model. As on the current car, the new Corvette will feature a wide rectangular grille opening, a long and low hood, center-mounted quad exhaust tips, and generous rear haunches able to fit wide on the drive axle. A traditional coupe will likely go on sale first, probably joined by a convertible at a later date.
It is clear that the new Corvette is slightly longer, in part because the wheelbase seems stretched a few inches. That move would probably improve the car’s ride-and-handling mix; recall that the new, 991-generation Porsche 911 also received a longer wheelbase, in order to improve comfort and high-speed stability. In the Corvette, increasing the wheelbase might also marginally improve interior and trunk room.
Reports suggest the Corvette may use an aluminum spaceframe, with the body composed of a mix of carbon fiber and fiberglass. That would be expensive, but it would cut weight -- possibly below 3000 pounds in some models. Like all automakers, GM will try to cut weight from new cars, in part because that improves fuel economy, and also because trimming mass will improve the Corvette’s dynamic performance.
Two Powertrain Options?
The Corvette will certainly retain its signature V-8 engine, though it remains uncertain as to whether a V-6 engine also will join the roster. The V-8 mill will be an evolution of GM’s small block design, with the fifth generation of the V-8 family adopting direct fuel injection for the first time. GM has already promised that the fifth-gen small block engines will produce more power and torque, while using less fuel than current engines; the company has invested about $1 billion in preparation for building the new V-8s.
The new Corvette V-8 will almost certainly continue to use pushrods, and may feature some sort of cylinder deactivation. There are indications it will be downsized to as little as 5.5 liters, compared to the 6.2-liter LS3 in the current base Corvette. Those moves would further cut fuel consumption, while retaining the car’s signature torquey nature and eight-cylinder heritage.
Although many executives have denied it, there are hints that the C7 Corvette will also receive a single- or twin-turbocharged V-6 engine. That might strike the Chevrolet faithful as heresy, but doing so would help bump the Corvette’s economy ratings so that GM could better meet stricter CAFE and emissions regulations. If such an engine is offered, it could be a version of GM’s popular 3.6-liter direct-injected V-6. But don’t place bets on a Corvette V-6 just yet -- such a model would be a hard sell to Corvette purists. Perhaps this engine will have to wait for the C8.
As to transmission choices, we’re told the Corvette will score a new seven-speed manual transmission, again keeping up with the 2012 Porsche 911, which offers a new seven-speed stick. Despite rumors of an optional dual-clutch automated transmission, it seems more likely Chevrolet will stick with a regular automatic for the clutch pedal averse. GM is currently developing its next generation of full-size trucks, so it’s possible that automatic transmissions could be shared between the pickups and the Corvette. Expect seven or eight forward speeds, up from six in current Corvette automatics.
Few Chassis Changes
Few details on the C7’s suspension setup have leaked so far, leading us to believe there are no drastic changes. Chevrolet will probably endeavor to make the new Corvette somewhat easier for novices to drive quickly, while retaining the car’s world-class grip and overall driving dynamics. Reduced overall weight and the aforementioned wheelbase stretch should help with this.
In the face of increasing oil prices and tightening government regulations, it’s no secret that Chevrolet must make the C7 Corvette even more fuel efficient. At the same time, executives have made clear that they don’t want the car to neglect the huge levels of performance and fun on which the Corvette has built its name. When the 2014 Corvette goes on sale in fall 2013, we firmly believe it will continue to be one of the best -- or perhaps the best -- best American-made sports cars available.