The rise of a new Corvette

Price: $169,990.
Engine: Mid-mounted 6162cc,eight-cylinder, 369kW, 637Nm.
Transmission: Eight-speed DCT, rear-wheel-drive.
Safety: Five star
Wheels and tyres: Alloy wheels, 245/35 ZR19 front and 305/30 ZR20 rear tyres.
Fuel and economy: Premium petrol, 12.1L/100km, tank capacity 70-litres.
Emissions: 277g CO2/100km. Clean Car rebates and charges (additional to price): $5,175 fee
Dimensions: Length: 4630mm; width:1934mm; height: 1234mm.

Overview

Enthusiasm for sports cars really ramped up after World War 2; in America as here, the fad for light and lithe cars was such it wasn’t long before race meetings were being organised.

Legendary General Motors designer Harley Earl was so impressed he was inspired to build a purely American sports car. His 1953 creation was the original Corvette.

Cars change. Habits, too. Intent to maintain the Corvette as the young driver’s choice arguably fell by the wayside. Some predecessors to the C8 here have stereotypically become talisman cars; brought out for cruisy Sunday suburbia drives, their owners more into soft rock reminiscence than driving hard.

The C8 should break that habit. New chapter or new book? That’ll be debated long and hard. While it tolerates relaxed motorway driving, this is far from being a ‘‘lazy lifestyle’’ car.

My motorway run in the 3LT Coupe was a warm-down from it having been put through its paces on more challenging roads, at speeds hard enough to exert the car. Beyond getting an appreciation of its oomph, which is plentiful, the drive also revealed the model’s dynamic responsiveness and feel. Which is highly enticing. This is a car that communicates with great coherence. And I really like what it’s saying.

Obviously, a ‘‘new’’ Corvette is not exactly that. The V8 powertrain and the general styling ethos are legacy. Yet it’s the model that finally realises a long-held, always thwarted, ambition to move the engine’s position from ahead of the passenger cell to behind it. The most radical change since 1953, this shift seems well timed with the C8 also being factory-built in right-hand drive.

Reversing the order of passengers and powertrain makes the C8 heavier, wider and quite a bit longer than its predecessor. The repositioning also affects the car’s look; the overall appearance is a touch heavy-handed from some angles yet highly-dramatic. It has incredible street presence. Times 100 in Accelerate Yellow.

Though low-roofed, tarmac-hugging sports cars aren’t about capacious cabins, concessions for American sizings have clearly been made.

Still, though finding good leg, body and head room for my 1.8m frame, some angles of visibility are tight.

As the first journalist driving this particular car, and having to start my adventure by crossing a busy road, I didn’t want to risk also being the first to have a whoopsie. Removing the carbon fibre targa roof opened up the view; but snicking the panel in its holder within a rear boot compartment (designed for a set of golf clubs) ruined my chance of placing my modest overnight bag in there. As the front compartment was also in use, my bag ended up in the passenger footwell.

Before firing up, a quick check around the cabin. Leather and Alcantara account for most touchable surfaces with hard plastics relegated to hard-to-reach places; finishing is solid, and it’s not cheap, but the blue collar roots aren’t wholly hidden.

The square-topped steering wheel looks odd yet is fine to hold and gives a terrific view of the instrument binnacle. The obvious design intrigue is the long row of buttons on the ridge between the seats. Primarily for the ventilation system; these are small and a bit hard to see in direct light, so best to finetune before heading off.

Wireless phone charging is cool and so too cordless involvement with CarPlay; except my phone wasn’t having it. The Bose stereo tends to be drowned out by wind, road and, sometimes, engine noise.

Also in the kit count are all-round parking cameras and blind-spot sensors, plus another neat bodywork blemish-avoiding trick: The nose lifts hydraulically for ramps and speedbumps. This is linked to the sat nav, so if you store tricky locations, it will rise automatically next time you're there.

Time to fire up that engine. By hypercar standards this lightly developed LT2 version of GM’s small block might not seem exactly brimming with sophistication, but is still a legend. GM’s primary development focus for this iteration, the eight-speed dual-clutch transmission, negates need for a manual.

The V8 push button-starts with a nice, big boom but settles back to an almost restrained idle; overall the noise tends to be pretty polite outside of the serious sports drive modes. In those, when edging towards the 6600rpm limiter, it gets properly loud.

Shove? A colleague put it nicely in suggesting it’s “muscular from the basement to the penthouse”. The throttle response is sharp, too, and though the higher gear ratios are tall, the lower ones in which you’ll operate having fun, are geared so that the car feels really lively and it snaps between them beautifully.

No timepieces were used in this test, but on the butto-meter the oomph is up in the brutal zone. Chevrolet claims a sub 2.9-second 0-100kmh time. US magazines have already recorded sub-three-second runs and 0-160kmh in the low sevens. My gut tells me they’re on the money.

There’s no doubt this is a car of transformational character; as said, it’ll cruise easily. Put in more effort, and it’s suddenly getting serious. Push harder . . . and, yes, you’ll need your wits about you. Just as it should be with a car of this type.

The chassis’ ability to find traction for the huge urge is massively reassuring. They say the brawniest front-engined ’Vettes always felt edgy and on the brink of big slides, even when travelling straight. The C8 has such huge adhesion and stability as to transcend into almost all-wheel-drive character.

Almost. You’ll want to be careful in the wet; there are nuances. Those Michelin Pilot 4S tyres don’t inhibit a hint of understeer in tight turns and you can also move the handling balance rearwards with a big dose of throttle. The steering does take a bit of getting used to as well. It’s fast but I found it hard to get a good feel for the loadings.

You’d wonder the same about the brakes, given they are a by-wire setup bypassing the physical connection between pedal and braking system (with a mechanical backup lest the system fails). This means the computer can change the pedal feel depending on the driving situation. Sounds gimmicky, yes, but I had no quibbles.

This was a great taster and it left me eager for more. The only reason I stopped driving it was that the fuel level was getting low and my left leg was starting to get a bit numb, I suspect due to the edge of the seat being quite sharp.

It pays to bear in mind that what we get now is the starter pack; faster and more focused iterations, ultimately with electric-assist technology, are still to come.

Given how brilliantly this car already celebrates its move to mid-engined configuration, there’s a lot to suggest the future for this breed could turn out to be very starry (and stripey) indeed.


- Richard Bosselman

Top