I remember when I first drove a Corvette. It was my dad’s 96 GrandSport coupe with 350 miles on the clock. The following day was the second day I ever drove stick and it was in my homecoming parade with the queen on the roof and two other girls packed in the passenger seat. It’s a miracle I didn’t wipe out the entire marching band in front of me, or stall sending the brave girl above into the closest bass drum. This morning I had the same excitement I had when I woke up to at the age of 16 to take the GrandSport to pick up the homecoming queen. Today I’m going to drive the new Stingray.
I have a long and somewhat storied history with Corvettes. I remember the day we picked up our Electron Blue C5 Z06 from the dealership. It felt faster than I could even imagine. God I miss that car. We let it go when the lease was up and my dad and I went out to the museum to pick up our C6 Z06. I wasn’t particularly excited, as I had not seen one in person yet and wasn’t sold on the looks. Even so I took my bonus and paid the $5k dealer markup and then dad and I spilt the payments. It wasn’t a terrible deal as I got to daily drive this and the Z06 before it. Once we arrived at the museum and I saw it in the flesh, it was simply unbelievable. It didn’t sound as good as the C5 but it was a real deal supercar. A couple modifications later and it was all setup perfectly.
Unfortunately the roof flew off and a few months later a 16-year-old girl went through a red light at 12:37am to go wait on line for the new PlayStation at BestBuy. That was more or less the end of that car. As I’m an unbelievable lucky person/automotive enthusiast and retired auto journalist I’ve driven, or been in, almost every car there is out there. And with that here is my attempt at a somewhat unbiased review of the Corvette Stingray.
I kissed my sleeping queen on the cheek and drove off in my John Cooper Works MINI against the sunrise to Monticello Motor Club. My dad was waiting for me just off the highway in his 2011 GrandSport and we drove the last few miles together. This event was not for Corvette people. This was something the General was putting on to attract people who would normally not find themselves dead in a Corvette. The parking lot was full of German luxury cars, Porsches, and a sizeable gathering of GTR’s. I’ve never been much of a fan of GTR’s.
When we walked down from the lot we were greeted with egg sandwiches and four pit lanes full of Stingrays. These things really do look better in person than in photos or even at car shows. Seeing a car at the show is not like seeing one sitting on asphalt. I walked up and down the rows admiring the various bright colors. Velocity Yellow surprisingly looks good. Torch Red should be called torch orange. Black is somehow a let down. Night Race Blue would look better, and less gray, without the metal flake. Crystal Red is nice, if you’re into that kind of thing, same with Limerock Green. Laguna blue is really pretty, not sexy, not beautiful, but pretty. Cyber Gray, which was top on my list, looked too bland in the group. The Arctic White with red guts and black wheels was hands down the best of the bunch. The only thing that was unanimously terrible was the standard base wheels. It visually does not work with the rest of the car. Don’t get those. On the other hand the split spoke Z51 wheels always worked no matter the paint on the car or finish on the wheels.
Our first test was to loop a small section of track in various performance modes. This was it. Time to get into a Stingray. And with that, let’s talk about the interior. With everything I’ve heard I was expecting a mix of Bentley and Audi. As you might imagine I was let down. I’ve always liked the interiors of Corvettes. They don’t look horrible; they’re extremely functional and ergonomically perfect. Do they have style? No, but who cares I always thought. When the C6 first came out people raved about how its interior is far better than the C5. Same thing happened C4 to C5. This is just more of the same. Don’t get me wrong it is great. It’s a really nice interior. I get that the materials are better this time around, and they do feel it. But it’s not a huge change. It still feels like a Corvette interior, just a lot better. And much like what happened with the C6, people will rave about it, and then start complaining as the model grows in age. One thing that is light years better, finally, is the seat. I’m one of those rare Corvette guys with a size 29 waist. I’m used to crushing the door speaker with my left knee to hold myself from sliding out the window around a turn. These seats are fantastic. The second I got in they felt firm, well made, quality leather, and great bolstering. This was before I found the switch to increase the side bolstering even more. The last time I was in a car that didn’t require knee support it was an actual racecar, or, a Porsche. I wasn’t able to play with the infotainment system as our two-way radios were set on auxiliary and we were told not to mess with them. The screen looked good and the backup camera was of acceptable quality. I was told that while it’s currently delayed, the cars would have full Siri integration in the near future to your texting and distractions delight. If you already picked a Stingray up, the software can be upgraded to support it. The digital dash was both bright and extremely crisp. So much so that the analog gauges next to it seemed off, they seemed 8 bit. Makes no sense, I know. From the press photos I saw of the heads up display I was expecting a big upgrade there. It’s of a slightly higher resolution but it’s more or less the same as in the C6, which is fine because it always worked perfectly. I flipped though the different tachometer configurations until I found the only one I needed, the C4/KnightRider/Motec uber track screen. It’s not as futuristic and fancy as the other screens, but it’s the proper choice. While on that setting the shift lights that show up on the bottom of the heads up display have the same effect as being just above the wheel. In the marketing pieces they always say that if it looks like leather, or aluminum, or carbon fiber, it is. Ok, that’s great, but you’re obviously not getting aluminum from the people Audi get their aluminum from. But you know what, that’s ok. I don’t want an Audi. I want a Corvette. And what animals did they skin for the dash and door leather, the Prawns from District 9? It has stitching and looks like leather, but it’s very hard and nothing as nice as the seats. Well done on the Carbon Fiber. It’s silly and expensive but it looks good. Overall the interior is still the same Corvette interior, just a good bit better, for now, before it will be terrible again, and finally upgraded, yet again. Just don’t expect it to feel like a Porsche on the inside. Just for the record I’m not much of a Porsche fan.
And off we go. On the first leg the steering wheel feels like I’m moving around a miniature hula-hoop in the air. I feel nothing. Then again I’m in Eco mode so maybe that will change. The exhaust is quiet. Call me Tommy because I can’t hear anything, feel anything and I must be dumb to not be enjoying this right now. However, even in Eco mode I immediately notice a huge difference in low-end torque. Personally I find my dad’s GrandSport a complete bore to drive around town as you really need to rev it up to get good power out of it. This car has the get up and go, at any speed, and it’s very refreshing. The next lap we put it into tour mode and thank god it starts to come alive. I see where this is going. With the continuing clicks though the knob all the way up to race the car grew louder, the steering and suspension became tighter, the turn-in got shaper, and I became happier. I’ve driven a lot of cars with steering wheel knobs in the past and none of them go through the kind of transformation this thing does. This car in track mode is a far different animal than the car in eco mode. After our first few laps some of the guys who got out said they preferred sport as they felt race was a little too intense. These were Porsche owners complaining that they could feel too much. This is a huge success. The Corvettes of the past would be rather numb around town and the steering would only become sharp once you were above eight tenths. With this car you can get the same feel at five tenths.
Finally it was time to do a few hot [warm] laps on the part of the track with the back straight involved. Having just finished the Ron Fellows driving school [give them your money now] last spring I was set on finding the limits of this car. Sadly I’m still waiting for the opportunity. The driver behind the lead car clearly had never been on a track before, or driven before, so things didn’t get as intense as I was hoping. That doesn’t mean however that I have nothing to report. While the car is heavier than the C6, it doesn’t feel it. The driving dynamics are truly spectacular. The brakes feel as strong as the ones on my C6 Z06 did. Do they fade? I couldn’t tell ya. They slowed the Stingray down in a hurry and with great feedback but I have no idea how many times they will before they get bored with that job. We were told that at the limit this car understeers. Apparently its government mandated that all cars understeer at the limit. Booo. However, with my short time with the car it felt very neutral and even a little oversteer was present during turn in. Hurray. There was no roll, it communicated nicely, and went wherever you pointed it. I too was skeptical when I heard electric steering. Don’t worry it’s very good. Corvette decided to give this car the gift of active rev-matching. As I heal-toe downshift consistently during my morning commute, this news made me a little sad. I felt like it was a small step in the wrong direction. However after driving it on the track, it’s a very welcome addition. The truth is I, and probably you, can’t get perfect heal and toe downshifts consistently on the track. 80% of the time? Sure. 100% of the time? Unlikely. With active rev matching activated it turns you into a track star. The revs come up the right amount, at the right time, every time. The system keeps the car perfectly balanced through the entire turn despite whatever you might try and do to upset it with your right hand and left foot. You can even try and be the man and blip the throttle yourself and it will just put a Band-Aid on the entire situation and you’ll feel like you’ve finally mastered that heal-toe, until you realize the system is on. I wouldn’t use the feature very much but it really is a nice touch.
To review, the car looks killer, the interior is fresh and a huge improvement, the seats are from heaven, it’s got plenty of balls down low and up high, it’s got all the tech goodies for “those people”, it’s a targa top that doesn’t flex, it gets 29 MPG, it does 190mph, a blast to 60 take less than four seconds, and it starts at $51,000. It’s perfect. It’s perfect but it’s not it. There’s something missing from the car. It’s the perfect recipe but the craziness wasn’t baked in. Whatever they put into the ZL1, isn’t in this car. When I get into my dad’s ZL1 I feel the need to say hello to it, ask it how it’s doing, and give it my utmost respect. This car almost feels too easy, even in track mode. It’s got all the right moves and sensations but it doesn’t have that nastiness to it. There’s not that little bit of crazy that the Z06 and ZR1 have. While ripping around the turns and hammering it to well over 100mph, not once did my heart start racing. Also, while it looks good now, the fact is we haven’t seen the wide body. The C6 looked great to, until the wide body showed up. Look at a GrandSport or ZR1 or Z06 and then look at a base C6. The same thing is going to happen with the Stingray. Not to go there but I will. When I had my iPhone 5 sitting unopened in a box on my desk, my iPhone 4 still looked modern and edgy. The second I opened that box and held the 5 in my hand, the 4 looked bulky and dated. The dramatic change happened in all of two minutes. These cars look fantastic, but just don’t park them next to the see you soon hi performance C7’s around the corner. In fact if you have a Stingray, don’t even look at the new ones coming, it will ruin the whole thing for you.
Driving back from the track I couldn’t keep my eyes off my dad’s GrandSport in the rear view mirror. While it does look dated in comparison to the Stingray, it looks a lot sexier and a lot meaner. The Stingray is an unbelievable car at an unbelievable price. If you’re looking for a first real sports car you can’t go wrong. If you’ve got motor-oil coursing through your veins like myself, wait till the Detroit auto-show. The Stingray is so good that I know the Z06/Z07/ZR1 is going to be world beating, yet again. Well done Chevrolet.