Let me get this out of the way first: Short of Harley-Davidson, there is no brand on the American vehicular landscape that carries as much image baggage as Corvette. Everyone who has even read this far knows immediately what I’m talking about: Mid-life crisis after selling your plumbing company; gold from the mall rather than platinum from the boutique; a certain blue-collar gaucheness that causes similarly-aged drivers of German sports cars to turn up their lips in arrogant sneers. But let me be absolutely clear: After spending some quality time with a 2017 Corvette Stingray, I could frankly care less. As a friend of mine put it, “If you are a guy around a certain age driving a Corvette, just lean into it. If someone starts giving you trouble, step on the 'loud' pedal and drown them out with the sound of freedom.”
I’ll get back to that sound of freedom in a bit, but first some background. The Corvette you see here is a seventh-generation model (or “C7” in Corvette Intelligentsia lingo), first introduced by Chevrolet in 2014, and is the most current in an American sports car lineage that dates to 1953. Volumes have been penned about Corvette’s history (I absolutely guarantee there have been Ph.D. dissertations written), but suffice it to say that the C1, a convertible, arrived after making a splashy entrance at the Motorama display at the New York Auto Show in ’53, and the legendary “Stingray” moniker arrived with the C2 (as the first coupe in the lineage) in 1963. The "Cx"-line continues unbroken to the present day. Originally built in St. Louis Missouri, Corvette production was moved to Bowling Green, Kentucky, in 1981, and many enthusiasts make the pilgrimage to the factory for tours, to take delivery of their new cars, or even participate in the "Corvette Engine Build Experience," where purchasers of the high-end Z06 model can actually work with engine technicians to assemble the motors of their cars. (Full stop: That's darn cool.) In addition to the manufacturing plant, Bowling Green is also home to the National Corvette Museum, featuring not only a superb collection of classic Vettes and an overall repository of the car's history but also ground zero for the most famous sinkhole in the entire automobile world.
This particular 2017 Stingray lists at $55,450, and came with the 2LT Package, the sublime and essential Magnetic Selective Ride Control suspension, the 8-speed automatic transmission, and several other largely cosmetic options, for an as-tested price of $70,200. Take it from me when I tell you this qualifies as the performance (and quality) value of the century.
(Thanks to the fine folks at Van Chevrolet in Kansas City, Missouri, for the extended test drive.)
My tester was finished in a vivid shade of yellow the Chevrolet folks call Corvette Racing Yellow, the color a nod to the world-beating Corvette C7.R’s that have been winning races and championships for years (including 2016) in various incarnations of the IMSA series in North America and at the Le Mans 24-hours race itself. What wasn’t painted yellow (including the massive brake calipers) was finished in black, with the interior swathed in supple Jet Black Nappa leather. (For a mere $994, you can buy a car cover that clothes your C7 in a stretch-fabric likeness of the racecar itself. This is likely the greatest automotive accessory in the history of the world.) The look was certainly not modest, but brilliant and vibrant in a preening peacock way; go big or go home. If a buyer opts for this combo, I might suggest an install mount for a Valentine One as well, as the local gendarmerie will likely have a betting pool on how many of these they can ticket on an average Sunday afternoon.
The Wall Street Journal’s Dan Neil referred to the C7’s styling as “wrathful-dragonfly” and that pretty well captures it. There’s nothing remotely voluptuous about the Stingray’s design language, with none of the curvaceousness of an Aston Martin DB11 or sculpted muscularity of a Jaguar F-Type. With 21 body panel assemblies formed from a material GM calls “TCA Ultra Light,” the Corvette’s angles are all bent and twisted flat-planes, origami made from advanced composites, hard creases and subtle curves that appear and dissolve with sharp, defined edges: The Stingray cuts with a glance. It doesn’t look remotely like any other sports car on the market today and the design works from all angles. Lexus tries with a variation of this design language and generally falls flat. Chevrolet nailed it.
The interior if the Stingray has sloughed off virtually any hint of the previous-generation car’s corporate parts-bin assembly. From the supple Napa leather with contrasting stitching; to the quality-of-feel plastics, padding, and brushed aluminum; to the supportive, multi-adjustable bucket seats; the Corvette’s interior outshines other cars in much higher priced stratospheres. The digital instrument cluster, a bright LCD screen with three configurable “themes,” is superb. And the Chevrolet MyLink touchscreen system, which controls all other interior and multimedia functions, is intuitive and handsome, responds quickly to finger touches, and includes a row of analog buttons underneath the touchscreen to simplify common tasks. (It also beats the pants off the system found in one of GM's other jewels, the Cadillac CTS-V.) Of note is a nifty little switch that raises and lowers the entire screen unit, revealing a storage cubby (with USB port) for small items. The only negative is the occasional low-rent part sullying the overall quality of the party; what’s up with that flimsy turn-signal stalk that clicks into place with the same precision as that on a three-year-old rental car? I guess the GM accountants insisted. But it's easy to forgive given the overall content and quality of the interior.
On the road, the car’s pillbox seating position offers surprisingly good vision, with the vestigial windows behind the B-pillars letting in just the right amount of light and visibility to offset the fun-slit minimalism of the rear-view mirror. And even usable shopping space!
Now, back to that sound of freedom. More specifically, the sound of 6.2-liters of normally-aspirated V8 freedom. There are lots of big, powerful engines in the car world but few with the storied history and dogged commitment to tradition of the Corvette’s push-rod motor. The pushrod engine architecture in the Corvette is a long-held, though increasingly anachronistic, engineering philosophy, sort of an American version of the Porsche 911’s engine hanging out over the rear axle. While essentially all other makers of powerful sports car engines have fled to the safety of dual-overhead-cam engine designs (with forced induction, natch), Chevrolet has doggedly continued to develop the relatively ancient push-rod design to the delight (if not demand) of enthusiasts and no doubt amusement of competitors, but they’ve also ended up with a hugely capable engine that’s both lighter and physically smaller than those from pretty much anyone else.
And what an engine it is. The 6.2-liter, direct-injection V8 makes 455-hp at 6000 RPM, with maximum torque of 460-ft/lbs available at 4600 RPM, and propels the 3300-pound car from 0-60mph in 3.7 seconds. In practice, the car propels the driver forward like one of those classic NASA rocket sled test from the 1950’s, a sledgehammer in the small of the back that goes and goes and goes and builds and builds and builds until…well, if you’re like me, until you back off (I wasn't on a track), but if you keep your foot in it, the Stingray will electronically top out at 181 mph and I imagine some owners have put that to the test out in the wilds of West Texas or Eastern Montana. It’s a visceral engine, alright, an old-fashioned bruiser, and it’s pretty much everything a Corvette engine should be.
When cold, the huge engine wakes with a prodded snore and immediately settles into an idle that sounds like so much dull boredom. The exhaust tuning doesn’t call much attention to itself; on startup, it’s not the wailing-from-the-hills screaming of a Jaguar F-Type R or the look-at-me-look-at-me turbo flatulence of a BMW M4, but a more mellow, reserved rumble, one befitting such a massive displacement powerplant. But when the big beast spins up, look out. An untidy stab at the throttle before the Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires (merely huge P245/40ZR18 in the front, gargantuan P285/35ZR19 in the rear) are warmed up will see the rear end of the car slewing hither and yon, the dashboard traction control light blinking wildly while the onboard systems go to full self-preservation mode. Though the front tires tend to scrub at parking-lot speeds due to sheer width, when tire temps get to operating levels the grip is everything you’d hope, with this car’s optional Magnetic Suspension Ride Control delivering almost 1-G of lateral grip on a skidpad (which amounts to crazy levels of road grip in the real world). Step on it and the exhaust bellows with a roar akin to what I imagine the imperiled hikers on Mount St. Helens must have heard; the car plants, grips, and vanishes into whatever horizon you’ve got it pointed.
Fortunately, Chevrolet’s vehicle dynamics programmers were also on the job with the C7, because the five selectable driving modes (weather, eco, tour, sport, and track) all do a bumper job of tuning the car’s various systems to behave well in virtually all driving conditions. Of special note is Eco mode (admittedly incongruous in a car of this class), which deactivates four of the eight cylinders when the car is loping along, allowing the Stingray to return a 30-MPG-Highway rating (take that, Prius!). And the magnetic suspension, found on such down-market econoboxes as the Ferrari 599 (yes, really), soaks up pavement imperfections imperceptibly and without drama, the Corvette’s brain sending electrical currents through the fluid-filled, iron-particle rich shocks, essentially providing unlimited viscosities for the dynamic fluid contained within; the fluid reacts multiple times a second.
Corvettes are one of the few super-sports cars still available with a manual transmission (in this instance a 7-speed, rev-matching unit), and to the credit of buyers almost 25% still choose this option. My tester was not so equipped, but rather came with the optional 8-speed paddle-shifted automatic, which was fast and precise and intuitive and (heresy alert!) seemed to suit the personality of the car quite well. I’ll never fault a buyer these days from choosing one of the few remaining manuals, as rowing your own is clearly a glorious (though increasingly anachronistic) choice that’s quickly going the way of the carburetor, but the Corvette’s 8-speed auto unit shifts as quickly as Porsche’s hallowed PDK transmission and is an excellent choice all around.
In the end, the Chevrolet Corvette Stingray overcomes all preconceptions I’ve ever had about these American bruisers. At racing circuits all over North America, one guarantee is that the Corvette Corral will inevitably turn out a number of proud and committed participants whose sheer numbers make the Porsche, BMW, Audi, and sundry other clubs blush with embarrassment. After having spent a few days with a current example of this American icon, I can resoundingly say their zeal is well deserved. In terms of performance value, the Stingray is laughably ahead of everything else on the market. Taken as a whole, the quality, aesthetics, sound, finish, and general presence of the car is extraordinary. And in the newly released Grand Sport trim level, this car qualifies as one of the most lust-worthy on the market. Well done, Chevrolet. I'll take mine in Black Rose Metallic.