Just when you build the most advanced production Corvette yet, some guy on Facebook sacks the whole thing because he says the rear end looks like a Camaro. Then, a hundred lemmings pile on, adding that 460 hp isn’t that good.
Such are the battles the 2014 Corvette Stingray team must fight. One: Ensure the performance is flagship-worthy and unassailable by reasonable people and car journalists. Two: Make sure it looks cool enough to market to people who will never use the performance and just want the image. Then there’s the new biggie, the elephant in the boardroom, the one challenge with an outcome that could determine the long-distant future of the brand: Overcome the stigma of today’s Corvette demographic, folks who were 20 in 1970 when they first lusted for a ’70 Corvette with an LT1 engine. Will those boomers go Pavlovian for a new version called a Stingray (for the first time since 1976) and with an engine named LT1? Sure. But if those familiar, fuzzy-feeling monikers are attached to a car that’s radically redesigned to appeal to gen-whatever—the nebulous group of hip, younger buyers—will the old guys still go for it? More important, can that same Corvette appeal to the gen-whatevers who are really lusting for a $100,000 Nissan GT-R?
In June 2013, we were invited to GM’s Milford Proving Ground to drive and ogle the cars and seek answers.
The Corvette of the past few generations has represented the most amazing performance per dollar of any car, provided your version of performance includes bends in the road, and the 2014 model takes that up a few steps. Disconcerting for us traditionalists, much of the car’s prowess is achieved through electronics, but we credit the engineers for knowing us: Every single electronic driving aid can be turned off—completely. After a day in the seat, we’re not sure we want to. In fact, we’ll address these electronic aids first, because they are newer to us than the power and mechanical data.
The array of driving modes and options within the modes threaten to remain baffling, but after an hour of fiddling with them, you get comfortable with it. The first part of this will be familiar to owners of recent Corvettes, since a knob on the console is still used to select one of five drive modes: 1) Weather, for slippery roads, with max traction and throttle limitations. 2) Eco, which is the only setting where Active Fuel Management is allowed to reduce the engine to four cylinders in some conditions to improve fuel economy. 3) Tour, which is the default setting when the car is started. This differs from Eco only in that the engine is not allowed into four-cylinder mode, and if the optional dual-mode exhaust system is on the car, Tour allows it to go into a more aggressive-sounding setting. 4) Sport, wherein a number of parameters become more performance-oriented: steering feel, throttle snappiness, auto-trans shift characteristics, dual-mode exhaust settings, and suspension firmness. Within Sport, a Competition setting is allowed for the Electronic Stability Control (ESC), which uses individual-wheel braking intervention, among other things, to control yaw. The Competition option allows more slip angle. The Sport mode also changes the dash display. 5) Track, the most serious performance mode, with further changes to the steering, shifting, exhaust, Magnetic Ride, traction control, and dash display. This mode is truly designed for road-race action and allows five stages of Performance Traction Management (PTM), depending on the skill of the driver. All the PTM settings are designed to allow the driver to mat the accelerator pedal on corner exit, and the computer looks at speed, steering angle and rate, wheel speed, and other parameters to allow maximum acceleration. Wet is the best setting for a new driver because it has the strictest limits on slip angle and wheelspin. Dry and Sport 1 are the next steps up in allowing the driver more liberty. Sport 2 starts to get very serious, since the Electronic Stability Control (ESC) is abandoned. Race is for professional drivers; it has no ESC and allows maximum slip angle while still providing control of the corner exit in a manner that’s said to improve the lap times of even the best drivers. Race also has a Launch Control feature for drag-type standing-start acceleration; just mat the throttle and dump the clutch, and the car modulates the rear-wheel traction.