Automobile of the Year: 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray
Yes, the 2014 Chevrolet Corvette is the Automobile of the Year. No, this was not a foregone conclusion. The Corvette may have a special place in the American automotive pantheon, but not every new Corvette has been a big deal. The C6, for example, was a conservative effort, a safe play that didn't reach. The new C7, though, is something else.
This is a thorough redesign, and it starts with a new frame. Switching from steel to aluminum (previously only Z06 and ZR1 models used an aluminum frame), the C7's frame structure is nearly 100 pounds lighter than the C6's and considerably stiffer. The front and rear cradles -- both aluminum -- are also lighter and stiffer. The lift-off top remains, but it's carbon fiber (as is the hood). The V-8's 6.2-liter displacement is the same as before, but this is an all-new engine, backed by a new seven-speed manual transmission. There's newfound sophistication in the chassis and an interior that makes no excuses to anyone.
The car's performance is simply awesome. In today's era of horsepower inflation, the big V-8's 455 hp, or 460 hp with the performance exhaust, may not be numbers made for bar boasts -- we'll have to wait for the Z06 for that -- but you get the impression that reaching some marketing-driven power figure was not the point. The point was to smoke tires, roar out of turns, and storm down the straights -- oh, and do all that without quaffing unleaded. As it turns out, this new 6.2-liter proves to be highly effective at all those things.
With 460 lb-ft of torque (again, add 5 with the performance exhaust), the ability to fry the Michelin Pilot Super Sport rubber is always there, just a push of the traction control button away. When you're more interested in go than in show, the Corvette gets down and boogies. We clocked an 11.9-second quarter mile at 118 mph; 60 mph ticks by in less than four seconds. Launch control is available should you want to clock yourself, and there's a function that will record your time so you can amaze your friends. Full-throttle blasts are accompanied by a race-car-worthy soundtrack trumpeting from the quad exhaust pipes, but under mellower circumstances the engine emits a muted yet purposeful rumble.
Even in a Corvette, you're not always stomping on the gas, and this powertrain is just as rewarding in less aggressive driving. The new, seven-speed manual features creamy clutch action and a slick shifter. Without turbochargers to manage, the V-8's throttle response is precisely predictable, and the long-travel accelerator pedal lets you easily mete out the exact amount of power. Despite the normally aspirated engine's large displacement and potent output, a tall top gear and the ability to run on four cylinders (in Eco mode) help this muscular beast post EPA numbers that you won't be ashamed to mention in polite company: 17/29 mpg city/highway for the manual, 16/28 mpg for the automatic.
The Stingray is a great car for going fast, but it's also great for going slow. It's great for going fast not because it goes faster, but because it's now easier to drive it faster. The excellent steering comes by way of a system that Chevrolet says is five times stiffer and a wheel that's smaller than before; the result is newfound precision that makes this big machine much more wieldy. The chassis incorporates the expected suite of computer-managed traction and handling aids, but what's remarkable is how customizable they are and how deftly they perform their bacon-saving functions while still leaving so much of the car control in the hands (and feet) of the driver. There are five main modes, topping out in Track, into which you can delve further until you get to the level where stability and traction control are completely off. The optional and highly worthwhile Z51 package supplements all that with an electronically locking rear differential that constantly apportions torque from side to side, which allowed even the less skilled among us to power out of corners at GingerMan Raceway with confidence. This Corvette is not going to break away suddenly or snap around on you. There's grace and fluidity here.
Accessibility is a theme running through the C7. Despite the sophisticated technology, this is not a cold, technocratic machine. It is a democratic sports car -- and what could be more American than that? From the moment you press the hidden pad releasing the familiar electronic door latch and slip inside, the C7 presents a friendlier countenance. The driver's relationship with his surroundings has changed. You're no longer buried in the car, lost in a sea of undulating fiberglass, surrounded by cheap-looking plastics.
Forget all that. Your interaction with the C7 is as straightforward as a handshake. The ergonomics feel right; the switchgear is clear and functional; you can see out of the cabin; and the seats hold you comfortably in place. Yes, the Corvette really does have decent seats -- and we haven't even tried the optional competition buckets. It also has an interior worthy of a $50,000-plus sports car. The materials look and feel good, and the interfaces manage to be modern yet not gimmicky, a concept that more and more carmakers are finding elusive these days.
The interior design may actually be more successful than that of the exterior, which is the new car's most subjective aspect and its most controversial. The styling is very busy, and the essential Z51 package adds even more in the form of spoilers and brake-cooling ducts. Against that, the new design does move the Corvette's look forward at last, after three generations of stasis. And based on the reactions of our younger staffers and of the cell-phone-wielding paparazzi, the design also seems to resonate with a new generation. If the Stingray really can capture their imagination, then the Corvette might once again be seen on the coasts, not just in the middle of the country.
It is interesting that, in our days of driving and discussions, it emerged that the Corvette's major rival for this award was the Cadillac CTS. Of all the new cars introduced this year -- from brands such as Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Lexus, Ford, Jaguar, Land Rover, and many others -- the top two contenders for Automobile of the Year were both from General Motors. General Motors, the bumbling giant, tied up in knots of bureaucracy and legacy costs, recipient of a much-vilified loan from Uncle Sam. Although many will never admit it, today's GM is putting out some excellent products. We can't help but marvel at the fact that they were developed under the darkest possible skies. Given the circumstances, we might not have expected a great new Corvette, but that's exactly what we got.
The Corvette has long been a tremendous performance value wrapped in an all-American package. Now, however, with newfound sophistication and user-friendliness, the C7 should melt the barriers that have kept away so many driving enthusiasts. This is not just a car for the Corvette faithful but instead spreads the gospel to a new, wider audience. The 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray is a world-class car with no apologies to make, an expression of greatness from a town and a car company that have been dismissed as losers. It is also the Automobile of the Year.
2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray
- Base Price: $51,995
- Engine: 16-valve OHV V-8
- Displacement: 16-valve OHV V-8
- Horsepower: 455-460 hp @ 6000 rpm
- Torque: 460-465 lb-ft @ 4600 rpm
- Transmission: 7-speed manual, 6-speed automatic
- Drive: Rear-wheel
- Steering: Electrically assisted
- Front Suspension: Control arms, transverse leaf spring
- Rear Suspension: Control arms, transverse leaf spring
- Brakes: Vented discs
- Tires: Michelin Pilot Super Sport ZP
- Tire sizes F, R: 245/40R-18 (93Y), 285/35R-19 (99Y)
- L x W x H: 177.0 x 73.9 x 48.6 in
- Wheelbase: 106.7 in
- Track F/R: 62.8/61.6 in
- Weight: 3436 lb
- Weight dist.: 49/51%
- 0-60 mph: 3.7 sec
- Top speed: 185 mph (est. )
- 17/29 mpg,
- 16/28 mpg (manual, automatic)