The Corvette goes mid-engined—supercar performance for $60,000

Chevrolet provided air travel from Washington, DC, to Santa Ana, California, and one night in a hotel for this story.

TUSTIN, CALIF.—On Thursday night, in a 1,000-foot long (300m) hanger packed with hundreds of attendees, the world got its first proper look at the next Chevrolet Corvette. New for model year 2020, it’s the eighth version of “America’s sportscar” and one that’s radically different to any production Corvette of the past.

In the quest for even sharper handling, the engineering team realized the engine would have to move behind the cabin.

This change has been an open secret for some years now, probably to prepare the fiercely loyal and just-as-opinionated fanbase that once freaked out just because the shape of the taillights changed with the debut of the previous generation car. It’s an idea Corvette has played with since the early days, when Zora Arkus-Duntov was in charge. Starting with CERV I in 1960 there have been a stream of experimental concepts with the engine between driver and rear wheels, but none ever made the leap to production car. How times change.

The performance bargain of the century?

Although we’ve known about the impending layout swap, that was pretty much all we knew. Grainy spy shots from places like the Nürburgring and the Milford Proving Ground filtered out, as did rumors of breathtaking performance. But debate raged over the details, particularly the question of whether a supercar layout and supercar speed meant a supercar price. As it turns out the answer is no, for a brand new C8 Corvette (as the new generation is known) will start at under $60,000 when it goes on sale next year. But the stuff about the breathtaking performance? That was all spot on: Chevrolet promises the car will do the dash to 60mph in under three seconds. That’s as fast as the outgoing Z06, a model that has 650hp (485kW) costing $20,000 more.

The C8 gets an a new variant of the GM family direct-injection 6.2L V8, called the LT2. It remains naturally aspirated and sends 495hp (369kW) and 470lb-ft (637Nm) to the rear wheels via an eight-speed dual clutch transmission. The biggest change is to the oil system, which is a dry sump design. This reduces the height of the engine, allowing it to sit lower in the engine bay, in turn lowering the center of gravity. To look at, the engine bay is a thing of beauty, with design cues that remind me of both the Lamborghini Huracan and the Ford GT.

When we look at the the chassis and suspension we see more fundamental changes compared to Corvettes past. The chassis is still aluminum, but instead of the old ladder frame, it gets its strength from a central tunnel running down the middle of the cabin. And the C8’s suspension now features coilover springs and dampers; the transverse leaf springs that were the butt of so many ill-founded jokes are no more. As with the current car, magnetorheological dampers that can adapt to different road surface conditions are an option with the Z51 pack.

GPS-enabled party trick gets cheer of the night

The suspension’s real party trick, one that drew a huge cheer from the hundreds of Corvette fans in the hanger, is the nose lift that raises the front by 1.6 inches (40mm). A low ride height might be good for on-track handling, but listening to the underside of the car scrape on parking ramps and speed bumps gets tiresome after a while, and such systems are common on more exotic fare. What make this one special is that it’s GPS-aware. You can tell the car to remember a particular location—1,000 particular locations to be precise—where the nose needs raising, which it will then do automatically from then on. It’s a very clever touch that should spare C8 drivers the embarrassment that comes from holding up traffic in a slow moving supercar as you hunt for right button or switch.

Saving weight has always been a priority for Corvette designers, and at 3,366lbs (1,527kg) the C8 manages to weigh just 4lbs (1.8kg) more than the car it replaces. The rear bumper beam is carbon fiber, and there are lightweight glass fiber-reinforced plastic moldings for front and rear cargo bays. Speaking of cargo bays, the second biggest cheer of the night came with the news that you can fit not one but two golf bags in the rear trunk.

The most divisive thing about the C8 is going to be the way it looks. As ever, that’s a very subjective thing. I can only speak for myself, but I find the exterior a bit underwhelming. The proportions at the front don’t quite work for me, and the rear is too reminiscent of the Camaro. At the very end of the stage show reveal, we were treated to a second or two of footage of the forthcoming C8.R race car, which looked much more my cup of tea, but beyond that Corvette Racing remains tight-lipped. I’m more of a fan of the interior, which features both a touchscreen a long blade of physical buttons that bisects the cockpit. The design and materials are a step up from the C7 (which was already rather good), and there’s a wide choice of options for colors and materials.

Unfortunately we’ll have to wait a while before we get a chance to drive one, as the car only begins production in Bowling Green, Kentucky, later this year.

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