Tread very carefully when, as an Englishman, you attempt to convey your thoughts on the Chevrolet Corvette. I once tried to do so on the last generation C6 Z06, not all of them were positive, and the resulting YouTube comments drew an interesting conclusion between my ethnicity, my perceived inability to change gear in the Corvette and my lack of appreciation of transverse leaf springs. "That camel jockey can't shift stick fer nothin'. He can go **** hisself."
Euro cars will get track friendly Z51 pack standard
Then the abuse ramped up a notch and I became a little scared. So scared that I gave up reviewing Corvettes. I still haven't driven a C6 ZR1. I'm told it's very amusing.
The Corvette is all about context - always has been. It is one of the worst automotive tourists in that it travels about as well as cheap Provencale wine. In the US, on smooth sunshine state roads, with cheap gasoline and a bargain sticker price, it's sometimes hard to imagine what more Chevrolet could offer for the money. On a wet, bumpy UK B-road, with a price adjusted for import, the 'vette has always been the preserve of the committed few. Or the few that need committing, depending on your viewpoint.
So I took the precaution of driving the new C7 Corvette in California. I made sure the weather was sunny. I suppressed any preconceived notions of inferiority I may have held about leaf springs and plastic panels and left my mind open to new possibilities.
You won't be surprised to see it like this
And then GM delivered one with an automatic transmission. Way to poop the party, Mr General. Or maybe they just heard I couldn't, how do you say it, shift stick?
This did at least give me the chance to confirm that you should only order an automatic Corvette if you cannot operate a clutch pedal.
What a fascinating amalgam of technology and antiquarianism this car is. On the one hand the new 6.2-litre V8 boasts direct injection and cylinder shut-down for a frugal cruise. On the other it still uses pushrods to keep the motor lower for that sexy bonnet line.
The shell is now aluminium - stronger, stiffer and 45kg lighter than before although overall weight is pretty similar to before at 1,495kg. The bodywork is composite and the suspension still has those transverse leaf springs at the rear, but I'm told that the damper rates have been softened.
Test car not exactly the spec you'd want for this
And you can tell as much the moment you bumble out of town. The ride isn't in any way plush, but it jiggles no more than a 991 Carrera and there's an integrity to the shell and the way suspension is attached to it that I've not felt in a Corvette before.
The steering is light-ish and quite fast, you sit low and feel very special, and the motor dominates. I think we've become accustomed to the smooth, revvy V8s of Affalterbach and Ingolstadt, because this lump is so much more rowdy and bustling. Throttle response isn't quite as good and it won't rev out like the best Europeans, but it counters by rumbling like a proper muscle car and with the exhaust set to noisy it sounds quite silly when you push it. Anyone else thing the four-in-a-row exhaust bundle looks a bit ridiculous?
And this is base Corvette, a car with 455hp and 460lb ft in standard US spec. Even with the silly slushbox, it's very, very fast on the road. The brakes are a touch over-sensitive and perfectly good for road use, but as we'll discuss in a minute, they weren't so good on track.
Is there enough rubber left for another lap?
Context has always been the key to appreciating the Corvette - pricing made it possible to excuse some of its failings. Well, for the $51,995 asked in the US for this non-Z51 spec car, I drove around wondering what more you could want. The cabin is leagues better than the C6, the driving position is just about there, the new seats actually support you, the clock faces and central electronic rev-counter are spot-on and the touchscreen nav/entertainment looks good - and works well. It's not as plush as a Carrera, but it's 90 per cent as good for half the money. Make that less than half the money. And it can be loaded with toys if you so wish.
There's quite a bit of road and suspension noise, but again, this is a 'vette, right? It's so much better than the last C6 version I drove you can't really compare them.
On the track this base version with its blipping auto 'box didn't show quite as well. The brakes couldn't handle much sustained lapping, and whereas I'd been happy with the electronic dampers set to Touring on the road, the Track setting was too stiff even for the flat turns of Chuckwalla circuit. In Sport matters were better.
Interior a vast improvement over the C6
You have to be patient with the C7. Get greedy with entry speed and it will either plough forward or want to rotate quite alarmingly when you back-off the throttle. When you find the sweet spot - and it's quite narrow- the 'vette is fast and rewarding. It'll oversteer on demand, but it can be hard to bring the car back into a straight line smoothly. Traction is okay, nothing more. And whereas the rear axle feels much more sophisticated on the road, this base version with a normal locking diff (the Z51 pack standard in Europe has an active locking unit) can feel a little loose at the rear when you push hard. Like the bushings are all a bit too compliant. I suppose it is a road car.
GM will soon sell you a 'vette with all the fancy chassis extras, the Z51 pack, bigger wheels and stick in the UK. The problem is, it'll be £61,495. That's still a whole lot of performance for the money, the looks are really growing on me, and a 991 to similar spec would be nearly £100K.
Base car's ability bodes well for Z06 and ZR1
So what we really need is to test the 'vette and the 991 together, shoot a video and see just how close the C7 comes given the huge disparity in price. As you can see from some of the snaps, that'll be coming soon
For now, the C7 is such good value in the US, it kind of has no competition. For the money, sports car buyers have never had it so good. I'd want to try one on a troublesome English B-road before writing a cheque, but the extra chassis sophistication should make an even bigger difference over here. As ever, it's just a very likeable car.
And just as well too. Moving forward, I implore the Chevy engineers to do a similarly good job on the Z06 and ZR1 versions. Means I can say nice things and thereby avoid any more death threats.
CORVETTE STINGRAY (C7)
Engine: 6,162cc V8
Transmission: 7-speed manual/6-speed auto, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 455@6,000rpm*
Torque (lb ft): 460@4,600rpm*
0-60mph: 3.9sec (manual coupe w/Z51 pack)*
Top speed: Not disclosed
MPG: 29 (US Highway)
Price: from $51,995 (US market, basic), £61,495 (UK, including Z51 pack as standard)
*Figures for US market cars; quoted power figures for European cars with Z51 pack 460hp/465lb ft