The Milford Road Course is 2.9 miles of climbing, plunging, twisting pavement designed to make cars unhappy. If a lap here is fun, that's an accidental byproduct of the main goal, which is to exorcise chassis demons before production vehicles are sent out into the world. I don't think it's a coincidence that GM's cars have become ever-better road-course weapons since they built this place. "Here, you're pulling 0.9 g on the straightaway," says Corvette chief engineer Tadge Juechter. You know it's a tough track when the straightaway is a corner.
Weight is the enemy of lap times, and that's the one area where the C6 trumps the C7. Despite the C7's aluminum frame, carbon-fiber hood and roof, magnesium-framed seats, and center-tunnel insulation made from Aerogel -- one of the world's lightest solid materials -- the C7 is heavier than its predecessor. GM lists the base Stingray at 3298 pounds, 90 pounds more than last year's model.
In the most basic sense, the new car offers a lot more features than the old one, and additional capabilities generally presage additional weight. For instance, adding cylinder deactivation required a move to a steel torque tube instead of aluminum, because V-4 mode generates low-frequency resonances that only a steel torque tube can smother. "That added eight kilograms [17.6 pounds]," says Juechter. "From a performance perspective, that is trivial. So for the huge gain in fuel economy, you've got to do it." Juechter says that on the street in Eco mode, his best twenty-five-mile drive averaged 37.2 mpg.
That new interior adds weight, too, for the simple reason that padding and nice materials are going to weigh more than naked plastic. I talked with interior design manager Ryan Vaughan, who told me that weight was the single biggest concern. "In a normal program, you fight for every dollar," he said. "Here, everybody knew what we needed to do and there was no resistance to spending what it took. There was more discomfort when there was something that added weight, because they were very sensitive to that."
Whatever it weighs, the new interior is killer. The eight-inch high-res display in front of the driver is particularly entertaining, as it can morph into several different presentations (including my favorite, a Motec-style rpm bar graph). It's flanked by analog gauges, which help hedge the inevitable digital-display datedness that will set in when 2014's high-res looks like an Atari 2600 compared with the new hyper-realistic holoscreens in the 2024 models.
Speaking of the C7's future as a used car, buried in that display is a gauge that will prove useful for comparing secondhand Vettes: in addition to mileage, the C7 logs total engine revolutions. So you should be able to get an idea of whether a given car spent its life loping down the highway in seventh gear or clocking hot laps at the nearest track.
At Milford, GM coned off two areas that might prove deleterious to the health of the C7 and its drivers. A chicane breaks up a particularly brutal high-speed section, and the steeply banked carousel-style corner will not be scraping off any chin spoilers this afternoon. I strap on a helmet and climb behind the wheel of a Stingray equipped with the $2800 Z51 performance package. There isn't much choice in the matter, as every car here has the Z51 Performance Package. Which makes sense, because you'd be silly to buy a Corvette without it.
Opting for Z51 gives you the all-important eLSD, as well as dry-sump lubrication, differential and transmission coolers, and aero upgrades. Performance-wise, you'll also want the magnetic ride control with performance traction management ($1795) and the dual-mode exhaust ($1195). If Chevy is looking for a slogan for that optional exhaust, I'd like to suggest, "It only adds five horsepower, but it sure does sound like more!"
The cars queued up at the track are all manuals, too. The automatic puts more weight on the rear tires, making it the nominal 0-to-60-mph champ, but out here the stick is what you want. Shift paddles flank the steering wheel with either transmission, but with the manual they control the transmission's electronic rev-matching function, with the prominent center-display gear indicator changing from white to yellow to indicate the system's activation. With that display showing a yellow "1", I go booming away from the pits and out onto the track.
Up to 4700 rpm, the LT1 makes almost as much torque as the old Z06's LS7. Running in track mode, there are corners where I could probably downshift to second, but third still pulls hard enough to invoke some electronic torque management if I unwind the wheel too fast. The C7 isn't as explosive as a C6 Z06, but the lazy low-rpm behavior of the LS3 is definitely banished.
I'll admit that I never turn off the entire electronic safety net on this particular gray-hair-promoting course, but track mode allows enough chassis leeway to reveal that this car is much, much friendlier than the C6. Most gratifying is that this Vette is predictable. Whatever you're trying to do, whether it's trail-braking into a hairpin or powering out of a 100-mph sweeper, somebody has already thought about that situation and tuned the differential lockup, throttle response, suspension stiffness, and about a million other parameters to make the car respond consistently. There's even a system that predicts the tire temperatures and adjusts the chassis controls to raise the thresholds of intervention as the tires warm up. You can turn off traction management and disable rev matching, but there are nonetheless always a lot of computers at work figuring out how to keep you hurtling toward the next apex.
Yet, you're really not aware of any of that when you're driving. Like many a Vette before it, the C7 coughs and bellows and invites you to pop off its targa top and lay down an endless pushrod V-8 burnout like the lout it's always been. Never mind that variable valve timing means that any rough-camshaft idle shake is premeditated. Never mind that the targa top is exotic-car-worthy carbon fiber. And never mind that the parallel stripes of rubber you'll paint on the pavement might be enabled by a hydraulic clutch pack running its own dedicated ECU programmed with in-house algorithms.
The trick with modern performance cars is adding these new layers of digital speed enhancements without ending up with a car that feels like a driving simulator. And that's the real achievement with the Corvette Stingray. In the course of optimizing this torrent of ones and zeros, Chevrolet still remembered to make the C7 loud, brash, low, wide, and menacing. It's smarter and sharper -- and sometimes it's a four-cylinder -- but it's still a Corvette.
Figuring it OutA while back, a delivery-truck driver loading a Ferrari FF told me to push down on its front end with the ignition off. The car bounced freely. He said that Ferraris loaded tightly on trucks have been getting dented hoods because they bounce up and down so much. I hypothesized that the magnetorheological suspension must go AWOL with the ignition off, so without power they basically lose their dampers.
At Milford, I asked Tadge Juechter about this, and he said that’s exactly what’s happening. Actually he said something like, “Oh, I guess they haven’t figured that out.” He said GM wrestled with the same problem and used to solve it by shipping Corvettes with pucks inserted into the suspension to prevent them from moving much during shipping. Problem was, dealers would sometimes forget to remove the pucks. “One guy complained to me that his Corvette had an awful ride even though it had this high-tech suspension,” he said. “So I reached under it and sure enough, the pucks were still there. I pulled them out and it was like I’d magically fixed his car.” So GM decided that the puck system wasn’t working. Standing there next to a parked C7, I pressed down on the fender and the car barely moved. What was the solution? “We figured it out,” he said.
2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray
|Price:||$51,995/$69,775 (base/as tested)|
|Displacement:||6.2 liters (376 cu in)|
|Power:||460 hp @ 6000 rpm|
|Torque:||465 lb-ft @ 4600 rpm|
|Chassis / Steering:||Electrically assisted|
|Front Suspension:||Control arms, transverse leaf spring|
|Rear Suspension:||Control arms, transverse leaf spring|
|Brakes:||Vented discs, ABS|
|Tires:||Michelin Pilot Super Sport ZP|
|Tire sizes F, R:||245/35R-19 (89Y), 285/30R-20 (95Y)|
|L x W x H:||177.0 x 73.9 x 48.6 in|
|Track F/R:||62.8/61.6 in|
|Weight dist. F/R:||50/50%|
|0-60 mph:||4.1 sec|
|Top Speed:||185 mph (est.)|
|EPA mileage:||17/29 mpg (est.)|