All new 2014 Chevy Corvette Stingray hits Detroit show stage

Trevor Hofmann - CAP staff
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After years of incremental updates that might be best described as tastefully subtle improvements on a near sacrosanct design theme, an entirely new Corvette has hit the Detroit auto show stage. In one moment Chevy's flagship sports car has gone from gentleman racer to rarified exotic, with styling that's sure to elicit excitement from the young and young at heart while simultaneously causing a lot of grumbling from those who adhere to more elegantly classic lines.

Let's face it, the previous Corvette looked good, as have all models that preceded it except maybe the late '70s glass hatchback version, although most would agree that it ranks lower on the desirability ladder based more on how it performs, or rather doesn't perform. There won't be any concerns about performance credentials with the upcoming 2014 Corvette, mind you, as along with a dramatically new design that has some critics claiming inspiration from Ferrari (especially in red) and others from Nissan's GT-R (particularly the C-pillar shape), will be the most capable standard model for road and track yet.

This seventh-generation Corvette will be powered by an entirely new LT1 small-block V8 that remains 6.2 litres in displacement and integrates fuel-saving technologies such as direct-injection, variable-valve timing and GM's Active Fuel Management cylinder deactivation. Despite all the fuel-friendly tech, output grows to 450-horsepower and 450 lb-ft of torque.

Chevy will be joining Porsche in offering a seven-speed manual gearbox in base trim, although this Tremec unit will boast rev-matching capability for both downshifts and upshifts (which can be shut off), while Chevy's reworked 6L80 Hydramatic six-speed paddle-shifter actuated automatic seems like it's down a gear or two compared to premium rivals.

Details like the C7's curb weight aren't available yet, but reports reveal the fiberglass super coupe will weigh more than 3,000 lbs (1,360 kg), which is heavier than both Chevrolet and the brand's enthusiasts hoped, but its engineers promise a better power-to-weight ratio than the aforementioned rival manufacturer's famed 911, as well as Audi's upstart R8. This should result in zero to 100 km/h in less than four seconds.

Equally important, Chevy says braking performance will be equal to the outgoing Grand Sport, a special performance edition of the old C6, which is impressive considering they're talking about a standard model.

New electric power steering, which is said to be 500-percent stiffer than traditional EPAS systems, turns standard 18- by 8.5-inch Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires up front, while 19 by 10 inch rubber hangs on in the rear, both slightly larger than those on the outgoing C6. Grippy? If the Z51 Performance Package is added to the mix, the perfectly 50/50 balanced sports coupe will be capable of more than one G in the corners.

That Z51 Performance Package is quite comprehensive, and includes a dry sump system for the engine, close-ratio gears for the manual transmission, and an electronic limited-slip differential (LSD), plus it adds cooling systems for the brakes, transmission and rear differential. Obvious Z51 giveaways include brake-cooling ducts, one-inch larger wheels framing larger slotted rotors, and a rear spoiler, while you'll need to get under the car to see the upgraded Bilstein performance shocks. Magnetic Ride Control will be optional.

One of the reasons all C7 models handle better is the adaption of an aluminum frame, similar to the type used in C6 ZR1 and Z06 models. The new frame allowed Chevrolet engineers to chop some 45 kilos from the C7's overall mass while improving rigidity by 57-percent, two critically important performance criteria. Continuing on the lightweight theme, Chevy constructed front and rear suspension cradles from hollow-cast aluminum for a reduction of 25- and 20-percent front and rear respectively, the end result being lighter and stronger cradles than even the magnesium ones used in the C6 Z06. On a more practical note, the new Corvette's turning circle is a full two feet shorter, making it easier to negotiate in tight parking lots.

Via five general settings including Weather, Eco, Tour, Sport and Track, a new Drive Mode Selector adjusts the parameters of various systems including throttle response, cylinder deactivation, steering effort, and Magnetic Ride Control on cars featuring this upgrade, plus it can adjust intervention levels of the stability and traction control systems. Less performance-oriented albeit just as important, the Drive Mode Selector will also change the sound of the exhaust, a feature that main rival Porsche has perfected to the satisfaction of many of its owners.

As mentioned, the C7's stunning new bodywork remains fiberglass in Corvette tradition, but not all of it. Like the Le Mans winning C6 racers, the new C7 sports carbon fibre where lightweight strength is needed, such as the hood and roof, which simultaneously reduces the car's centre of gravity. Additionally, Chevy constructed the front fenders, door skins and rear quarter panels from a lighter sheet-molded compound, while the car's under-panels have been formed from an advanced carbon-nano composite. All combined, Chevy has shaved 16.8 kilograms from the C7's mass.

Saving weight is more critical than ever thanks to the new C7's updated interior. It's so much better than the previous model that it's added significantly to the car's overall weight. The C6 cabin was miles better than previous Corvettes, although still not at the same level of rival sports cars like Porsche's 911, which improved dramatically with its 2012 overhaul. Rethought from the carpets up, materials quality was paramount in Chevy's C7 redesign, as it has been with all new models the brand has delivered in recent years. The new Corvette gets higher-grade soft-touch plastics throughout, including the new driver-focused shroud covering the instrument panel. A smaller 360-mm three-spoke steering wheel is driver-machine interface number one, framing a revised digital gauge package. Genuine aluminum standard trim can be joined by optional carbon fibre accents, with upholstery colour choices ranging from the standard black to grey, red and a special Kalahari brown.

Those leather-clad seats can be had in two designs, both sport-oriented albeit one for the road and the other with side bolsters best enjoyed on the track, as their GT and Competition Sport names suggest. Both seat designs get lightweight magnesium frames, so there's no weight penalty for staying with the more comfortable of the two.

And when does all this excitement hit dealer showrooms? Chevy says the current C6 will be with us for the next two quarters, so we should start seeing the all-new seventh-generation Corvette Stingray hit local dealerships sometime this fall, likely late September or early October.

The question remains whether the majority of current Corvette owners will be there as buyers or just curious onlookers? While the choice of the Stingray name for a car that appears more inspired by the late-'60s-to-early-'70s Mako Shark design than most everyone's favourite early '60s split-window 'Vette only being a sideline complaint, the new C7 styling changes are radical with some questioning whether this revamp of an American icon was truly created for its traditional U.S. and Canadian audience or rather as a halo model for expanding the bowtie brand into other markets. Only time will tell as to whether Chevy has a hit on its hands similar to the success of its redesigned Camaro (albeit in reduced numbers) or if this brave new direction is what 'Vette fans were really wanting. New markets like China and Russia, however, could easily make up for potentially lost sales in North America, a reality Chevy is likely banking on.
©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Sports Coupe, Chevrolet, 2014, Corvette, Corvette Stingray, $75,000 - $99,999,

Geographic location: Detroit

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