2020 C8 Corvette First Drive Review: It’s Brilliant

Though not without faults, the C8 is already a legend in the making.

Erik JohnsonWriterSteven PhamPhotographer

ANN ARBOR, Michigan—Here is where we're supposed to discuss how the new 2020 C8 Corvette is a wild departure from its front-engine roots, how it's a decades-long mid-engine dream made real, and how it hopes to achieve nothing less than to fully redefine American sports cars. Those are important and true facts, but they've been beaten to death here and elsewhere. The thing you really want to know is what we think about how the new Corvette drives.

It drives brilliantly. The 2020 Chevy Corvette is a balanced, incredibly quick, and capable thing, packed with performance-enhancing technology optimized by some of the world's best chassis tuners. Its composure, the delicacy of its feel, and its holistic execution are perhaps unlike any other vehicle's in the history of General Motors—and GM has kicked out more satisfying cars than we have space to list. (And this is the internet; we have lots of space.)

Blasting down some of southeast Michigan's best—and only—driving roads, the C8's steering is precise and lighter than you expect in a Corvette; its accuracy means placing the car in a corner is a matter of simply thinking it, and adjusting the chassis-mode dial from Tour to Sport and on to Track doesn't make the steering heavy so much as thickens it. The by-wire brakes are extremely strong and trustworthy. The car feels more solid than any previous Corvette, its structure rigid enough to allow the coupe we just drove to be offered as a convertible with no major alterations. The 495-hp, 6.2-liter LT2 small-block V-8 packs a wallop worthy of mighty Mjölnir, its righteous fury transforming the periphery into watercolor streaks with every stomp of the accelerator.

In a nutshell, the engine is a dry-sumped evolution of the C7's LT1 that uses equal-length exhaust runners and with myriad assemblies and accessories moved to accommodate the engine location and to allow lower placement. It makes 490 horsepower in regular trim, or 495 with the active performance exhaust of our test car (torque is 470 lb-ft with the exhaust, 465 without) and feeds its fusillade to the rear wheels via a Tremec-sourced eight-speed dual-clutch automatic. It's a formidable pairing: In Z51 cars like ours, the run from zero to 60 mph, as you may have heard, takes just 2.8 seconds as measured by our friends at MotorTrend.

Yet despite its ferocity, the C8 is so adept at handling its power and so absent of twitchiness that it can make anyone feel like a hero, at least within the envelope achievable on public roads. There is a touch of safe understeer, but it's dialed out easily enough by easing off the accelerator, when the nose is perfectly willing to tuck itself back in. Be judicious getting back on the throttle, and the 2020 Corvette will hook up and hurtle itself out of corners with stupefying speed. The Michelin Pilot Sport 4S rubber on our Z51-equipped car doggedly sticks (and sticks and sticks) to pavement of all types and conditions.

This tenacity also comes thanks to the magnificent suspension. The C7, the previous high-water mark for Corvette handling, could leave you wondering if a mid-corner bump might send the rear end kicking out unpredictably, but the C8 just deals with things, leaving you to the business of going faster. Crests and heaves will put the car on its toes, but as the body settles, the suspension recompresses and . . . well, that's it. No jounce, no bounding, just an overwhelming sensation of the chassis saying, "I got this." The magnetorheological dampers' otherworldly initial impact response also delivers marvelous ride quality on basically any surface, flattening all but the hugest imperfections to nearly nothing. The C8 is now our ride benchmark.

And yet.

The key difference when comparing C8 and C7—besides the blindingly obvious one, of course—is that the latter was a visceral hellsled with gobs of feel and half a mind to kick you in the shins if you did something stupid. In this Stingray form, the C8 has all but abandoned the junkyard-dog attitude and hemmed the ragged edges that made the Corvette so purely red-meat American. Its face-distorting acceleration is businesslike, effortlessly tapped, and endlessly repeatable. Launch-control starts are a matter of pressing the stability-control button twice while in Track mode to activate Performance Traction Management (or the Competitive stability-control setting in lesser versions), standing on the pedals, and releasing the brake. There's a bit of wheel spin before the car attacks the horizon like a blazar jet.

For better or worse, the mid-engine Corvette is all poise and polish—and you often feel more a witness to its talents than the conductor. It doesn't help that it needs more steering feel and could be louder (even in Track mode) and we couldn't tell much of a difference in terms of brake operation through the various settings, even if Chevy says there's supposed to be. We figure—we hope—those things will improve as beastlier versions come online, but there is no doubt this is the most refined Corvette ever.

Some credit for this must go to the cabin, now possessed of proper fit and finish and lacking the distinctive plasticky aroma of its forebears. It's genuinely attractive—we love the cantilevered elements on the dashboard—and quiet, too. Inside, the driver is afforded plenty of space, although the passenger has room to passenge but not much else. Even resting their left elbow is a bit of a task, requiring a slight contortion to avoid the long, dramatic row of buttons arranged along the central spine. We'll also shout out the automatic transmission for its contribution to the C8's composure; while its shifts aren't quite as whip-cracky or telepathic as those of, say, Porsche's PDK, it's responsive enough to paddle inputs when charging full bore and astonishingly transparent when you're loping along in traffic, save for a couple second-to-first-gear stumbles we experienced. The 2020 Corvette Stingray is nothing if not extremely livable.

To that end, much has been made, including on these pages, of the new Corvette's ability to swallow golf bags, large suitcases, and the like despite its ostensibly less practical mid-engine format. While that is certainly welcome among a vehicle type that typically cannot accommodate more than a Dopp kit and a pack of Doublemint, it has taken its pound of flesh in the rear aesthetics. Where it could taper in at the corners, McLaren-style, or even be dramatically bobbed and bluffed like a Lamborghini, instead the new Corvette has a wide, flat, and awkward carrier deck of a rear end. We place the blame with guys who really like gold chains and tracksuits and who likely told Chevrolet they really, really needed the space. The rest of the car is absolutely breathtaking, however, and the rear end really isn't so egregious in person, we guess.

All this in a car that costs $59,995 to start, or $88,810 when equipped like ours, a 3LT model with the Z51 package ($5,000), FE4 suspension with the voodoo dampers and PTM ($1,895), and a pile of largely aesthetic options. Those included trident-spoke 19- front and 20-inch rear wheels ($1,495), carbon-fiber engine-bay trim ($995), carbon-flash coloring for the spoiler and mirror caps ($100), orange seatbelts ($395), and a carbon-fiber targa roof ($2,495) and interior trim ($1,500). Our Sebring Orange over Jet Black car also had the comfortable and supportive $500 Competition seats and $1,495 front-axle lift system.

Despite switching to a layout that on its face would seem to promise a harder-core experience, the C8 is more sophisticated, more comfortable, and more approachable than any Corvette that's come before. If the car we've just described didn't have twin flags on its nose, this would all be cause for unmitigated celebration. But it does bear those flags, as well as the weighty expectations of the legions who rally to them. Will they be satisfied? Based on this initial experience, we're going to say yes. Yes, they will.

2020 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Specifications
ON SALE Early 2020
BASE PRICE $59,995/$88,810 (base/as-tested)
ENGINE 6.2L OHV 16-valve V-8; 490-495 hp @ 6,450 rpm, 465-470 lb-ft @ 5,150 rpm
TRANSMISSION 8-speed dual-clutch automatic
LAYOUT 2-door, 2-passenger, mid-engine, RWD coupe
EPA MILEAGE 16/27 mpg (est)
L x W x H 182.3 x 76.1 x 49.6 in
WHEELBASE 107.2 in
WEIGHT 3,600 lb (est)
0-60 MPH
2.8 sec
TOP SPEED
184-194 mph
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