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Published: 07/24/2013 - by Josh Jacquot, Senior Editor
If he weren't so polite, Alex MacDonald, chassis control performance engineer for the 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray, would simply call his German competitors a bunch of sissies. Instead, he says this: "They often add stability by letting the inside tire spin when calibrating an electronic differential."
"Add stability," in this case, is another way of saying "never powerslide." And that is not the strategy the C7 vehicle performance integration team employs. "We let you oversteer if that's what you're asking to do," says MacDonald.
And it's in this large playground between the limit of grip and the limit of control that the new Stingray defines itself.
It's Not About Powerslides
The Stingray's magic bullet, the component of its character that makes it truly amazing, is a combination of the right hardware and expertly tuned chassis controls. Together they create a textbook rear-drive sports car with potent power and confidence-inspiring electronic safety nets.
You want big powerslides? Turn everything off and the C7 will oblige. But it's so much better than that. When properly configured, you'll find yourself doing things in the C7 you'd never consider without such elegant backup systems.
One of those things, we discovered under the graceful control of PTM, is confidently executing a 100-mph four-wheel slide over a midcorner blind crest on a wholly unfamiliar racetrack. Try that in your 911.
Stability, then, has a whole new meaning in the C7.
Ask MacDonald, who calibrates the Stingray's Performance Traction Management system, about the nuances of PTM tuning and the details are telling.
"We know it's right when Jim Mero [the ride/handling performance engineer responsible for the C6 ZR1's 7-minute, 19-second Nürburgring lap time] thinks it's just barely slowing him down," says MacDonald. "That's where the calibration needs to be for the best corner exit speed."
Though there's data to support this claim, even this hardened engineer admits that talented drivers prefer more wheel slip. Despite it being slower, he understands that exiting a corner sideways is, for many, the most rewarding component of driving a car that works right.
"That's why you'll never buy a Corvette without an off switch," says MacDonald.
In addition to making more conservative strategies look silly, the team's willingness to acknowledge this truth demonstrates a fundamental understanding of what a real driver's car should be.
And make no mistake, the 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray is a real driver's car. It hunts apexes with laser-sight precision, clearly communicates its intentions and provides dynamic response on par with far more costly equipment.
Cars equipped with the Z51 package include the electronic limited-slip differential (eLSD), dry-sump lubrication, lower 1st through 3rd gear ratios, brake, differential and transmission cooling ducts and other aero aids. In addition to the electronic differential, the Driver Mode Selector (a knob on the center console) manages up to 11 other systems, including traction control, stability control, launch control, throttle progression, steering weight and the optional magnetorheological dampers.
Numerous factors contribute to the Stingray's improved steering: A smaller 14.1-inch wheel drives a variable-ratio rack that ramps the steering rate between roughly 17:1 off center and about 12:1 near lock. The steering column itself is 150 percent stiffer than the same part on the C6.
Structurally, the C7 is about 50 percent stiffer than the car it replaces thanks to an all-aluminum chassis and improved welding, fastening and bonding methods. Though its base structure is lighter, complete cars weigh more than the C6 and their wheelbase is 1 inch longer.
The Stingray, equipped with the optional dual-mode exhaust, packs 460 horsepower and 465 pound-feet of torque (standard is 455 hp/460 lb-ft). Our test car came equipped with the exhaust, the Z51 package and Magnetic Selective Ride Control. It also utilized the seven-speed manual transmission with active rev-matching: a feature toggled on and off using the wheel-mounted paddles that would otherwise execute shifts on automatic-equipped cars.
And in our tests it was insanely rapid... in every measurable way.
How does a 12.0-second quarter-mile at 117.3 mph sound? Sixty mph was gone in 4.1 seconds (3.8 seconds with 1-foot rollout as on a drag strip).
But straight-line tests hardly tell the whole story. Using the Z51-specific Michelin Pilot Super Sport ZP rubber, it circled the skid pad at 1.08g, the highest number we've recorded in a production car on street tires. The slalom, hastily performed in the last few minutes of our test, passed at a mighty 72.8 mph.
With its middle finger raised to physics, the C7 also stopped from 60 mph in only 93 feet, which is the shortest stopping distance we've ever measured.
Though just barely, all of these numbers are better than the last 991-generation PDK-equipped Porsche 911 we tested. And they're so much better than the last base C6 Corvette we tested that those numbers don't even merit mention.
More to the Story
But it's not all magic. The Stingray's brakes are easily the weakest part of its dynamic performance. Z51-equipped cars are fitted with 13.6-inch iron rotors up front and 13.3-inchers at the rear, with four-piston Brembo calipers at all four corners. Running an altered version of the Milford Road Course at GM's proving ground — one that's harder on brakes than the whole track — resulted in diminished pedal response after several hard laps. Same story on the (admittedly high-speed) autocross course.
Braking seems to be the only shortcoming in an otherwise comprehensive performance package, and the team undoubtedly needed to leave headroom for more capable brakes on future high-performance models. In fairness, this isn't the wholly underbraked package we saw on early C6 Z06 Corvettes, but it's far from the utterly indifferent-to-abuse ceramic setup available on outgoing Z06 and ZR1 models.
Though brakes aren't his specialty, MacDonald insists that the car isn't underbraked based on its competition and GM's targets. "We can complete a full tank of fuel on the [unaltered] MRC without brake problems," he says. And, trust us on this one, there's no screwing around when these guys are turned loose on the MRC. It's a full tank at maximum attack.
Livable Track Car
The Stingray's biggest strength is its ability to seamlessly couple commitment to the craft of driving and utter competence in everyday use. Though its performance numbers might indicate as much, an uncompromised Porsche GT3 it is not. Sure, it's got 460 horses shoving around only 3,444 pounds, which will make you plenty dead should you unhitch restraint at the wrong instant, but it doesn't want to.
No. What it wants to do is make you look like a hero, be it at a local track day, ripping a big, sideways burnout leaving work or cruising comfortably down Woodward Avenue. Such competing priorities are no obstacle for proper hardware, tuning and technology.
In other words, you'll be comfortable driving it to work every day. Even Porsche's do-all 911 can't match the ride/handling balance available in the Stingray. The exhaust note remains at bay until wide-open throttle is requested. There's a discernible difference in ride quality between "Tour" and "Sport" modes. And, considering the Stingray's purpose and ability, it is genuinely comfortable when it's asked to be.
We navigated the gray hell of potholes that is urban Detroit with indifference for the Z51's 19- and 20-inch wheels. Both our kidneys and the wheels survived. Anyone with realistic expectations will be happy every day in a Stingray.
And on the road, the wins keep coming. The EPA estimates the Stingray's fuel economy at 29 mpg highway and 17 mpg city.
Seats Don't Suck
If there's one upgrade that will be appreciated above all else in the 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray, it's the seats. Ignore, for now, the car's solid performance-per-dollar ratio. Ignore its acceleration. Ignore its handling. Because without seats that are both comfortable and supportive, the rest matters little.
We drove four or five Stingrays in Michigan, none of which was equipped with the competition sport seats. That we didn't even notice their absence says something about the base GT seats. They are as good as they need to be, so that dead horse can finally be left alone.
Among the Stingray's many configurable systems is its instrument panel. Specifically, its tachometer display changes according to the priorities of the drive mode (Tour, Sport or Track) selected.
An 8-inch touchscreen accommodates Chevy's MyLink infotainment system, which was only partially functional on the preproduction cars we drove. As is common practice at GM now, the screen drops to reveal a bin for small-item storage and a USB port. There's optional carbon-fiber trim, abundant stitched leather and a distinct sense of purpose around the job of driving.
No, this isn't Porsche materials quality. Nor is it Porsche pricing.
In a move sure to set remaining C6 prices into a tailspin, Chevy priced the Stingray only $1,400 more than the outgoing base Corvette. Z51-equipped cars start at $54,795, including delivery. Our tester — loaded up with the $8,005 Preferred Equipment Group, premium paint, several interior trim packages, the dual-mode exhaust and magnetorheological dampers — rang up a $68,175 hit.
Only an outstanding base Corvette can justify that kind of money. Fortunately, that's exactly what this car is. Chevy is giving the world a performance car with few compromises. It's faster than just about everything on the road, will happily get you to work every day or through a weekend road trip and it costs about 60 percent as much as its German competition.
But more important than the performance, the relative practicality and even more than the solid interior design is the fact that, finally, the 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray is good enough to tolerate whatever stigma might accompany its ownership.
Because this is a damned fine car. Anyone who doesn't think so hasn't driven one sideways.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.