Revealed: Chevrolet takes the wraps off mid-engine Corvette C8
Orange County, California — Chevrolet officially introduced the first-ever mid-engine Corvette supercar late Thursday night, and there is nothing middling about it.
After a patriotic homage to the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, General Motors President Mark Reuss drove the 2020 Corvette C8 onto the stage of a World War II-era blimp hangar outside Los Angeles. The radically new car, he said, "represents one giant leap for Corvette."
Then he rattled off numbers that made the 1,400 Corvette fans, dealers and journalists in attendance gasp: zero-60 mph in less than 3 seconds at a cost of less than $60,000.
Those acceleration numbers are on par with the front-engine, supercharged, 650-horsepower Corvette Z06’s 2.95-second time. They are comparable to the $270,000, 640-horse, mid-engine Lamborghini Huracan costing more than four times as much.
The most anticipated car of the year, the long-rumored Corvette C8 (for eighth-generation) carries the legendary “Stingray” badge. It looks to be a tour de force of sculpted styling with state-of-the-art electronics.
Even as the C8 relocates the engine amidships like an Italian sports car in a move to give it more nimble handling, the car does not lose its signature V-8. Like 'Vettes of old, the engine will deliver 495 horsepower to the rear wheels.
Nor does the Corvette lose its signature value-play: supercar performance for an affordable price. Alleviating concerns that the exotic mid-engine technology would balloon the sticker price, the new C8 is priced only a few thousand dollars above the current C7's $56,000 price tag.
"This is as good a value as any performance car ever," raved Kelley Blue Book auto analyst Karl Brauer.
Added Reeves Callaway, founder of the renowned Callaway Cars that modifies and races muscle cars: "Corvette has cracked the code. No other automaker does better a great auto at a low price."
The mid-engine design will serve to give better rear-weight distribution over the C8's rear Michelins. The car adds launch control, and there's a standard dual-clutch eight-speed automatic transmission (brace yourselves, purists: there is no manual option).
"The traditional front-engine vehicle reached its limits of performance, necessitating the new layout,” said Reuss, a race-licensed motorhead who was key to pushing the revamped car. “In terms of comfort and fun, it still looks and feels like a Corvette, but drives better than any vehicle in Corvette history.”
The C8’s design avoids the awkward proportions that often plague mid-engine cars (the rear-heavy 1990 Acura NSX and sideburn-clad Audi R8 come to mind). It bears comparison to mid-engine lookers like the Lotus Evora and Ferrari 488.
"We felt this had to be something new — beyond — and still look Corvette," exterior designer Kirk Bennion said. "The new proportion is key ... with the cockpit forward 16 inches, a whole new centerline and a faster windshield. That really sets up the car."
Design cues are carried over from the current-generation C7 with sharp edges, horizontal tail lamps and creased flanks. Designers found inspiration in the F-22 fighter jet — as do Lamborghini architects — and supercar fans will note similarities like the huge outboard front air-intakes. This is a muscular supercar compared to exotic shapes like the McLaren 720 or Ford GT.
The interior maintains the C7 generation’s dimensions while advancing its interior and materials appointments. Wrapped in a cockpit of stitched leather, the driver grips a squared-off steering wheel to better view the 12-inch, digital instrument display. A console touchscreen is rotated toward the pilot with a Porsche-like sleeve of control buttons down the raised center spine.
The C8 will be offered with right-hand drive for international markets. Another first.
Perhaps most controversial will be the Acura-like automatic “trigger” transmission. Drive, reverse and park are operated along a line of toggled buttons.
The manual transmission has been sacrificed to speed and cost, due to the complexities of adding a different gearbox to the already-complicated transaxle that mates the V-8 to the rear wheels.
Purists will miss the stick, but the C7 had proved clumsy with its tri-gate seven-speed box. A new dual-clutch Tremec transmission should help reach that claimed sub-3-second time (when paired with the performance Z51 package).
The eight-speed is mated to an old friend: Chevy’s small-block V-8 used in everything from Camaros to pickups. But this so-called LT2 mill has a few new tricks up its sleeve. One is a standard race-car-like dry oil-sump required to deal with the higher g-loads generated by the mid-engine layout.
Though GM is only talking about the entry-level Stingray for now, reports suggest future engines will include high-revving twin-turbo V-8s and even a hybrid version with an electric motor up front.
For now, the front is occupied by a “frunk” (short for front trunk) — new cargo space opened up by the migration of the engine. Like a Porsche Boxster/Cayman, it will swallow a small suitcase. More cargo space is found behind the engine, which will be under hatchback glass for viewing like the crown jewels at the Tower of London.
True to Corvette tradition, the boot will fit two golf bags. Together, frunk and trunk offer 12.6 cubic feet of cargo volume, down from 15 cubic feet in the C7 hatch. Should the occupants want to go topless, the roof can be stored in the trunk. Door, hood and hatch releases are hidden so as not to interrupt the car’s lines.
The package is wrapped around an all-new aluminum architecture. Six high-strength beams (Juechter calls them the "Bedford Six” because they are produced at GM's Bedford, Indiana powertrain plant) anchor the car. A carbon-fiber bumper helps reduce weight, but overall the mid-engine car appears heavier than the outgoing C7 with a dry weight of a porky 3,366 pounds.
The infamous composite “leaf springs” are scrapped, with all four corners getting coil-over springs and short-long arm suspension.
With the engine amidships, the driver is pushed 16 inches forward. The steering ratio quickens from 16.2 to 15.7. Engineer Juechter promises the most intuitive-handling 'Vette yet.
“Our mission was to develop a new type of sports car, combining the successful attributes of Corvette with the performance and driving experience of mid-engine supercars,” he says.
Secreted inside is GM’s new electronic architecture (allegedly the culprit in C8’s delayed arrival). The electronics promise Tesla-like over-the-air updates.
Other electronics at drivers’ fingertips include a 1.5-inch ride lift — triggered in 2.8 seconds at speeds up to 24 mph — to better navigate bumpy Detroit streets. Next to the trigger transmision are the traditional Weather, Tour, Sport and Track drive-modes, plus configurable MyMode and Z modes.
Chevy says there are 12 exterior hues like Torch Red, Arctic White and Sebring Orange — plus three newbies: Rapid Blue, Zeus Bronze and Accelerate Yellow.
Seats come in three styles: GT1, GT2, and heavily bolstered Competition. They can be optioned in color themes from Jet Black to Morello Red. Seatbelt colors and carbon-fiber accents offer more choice.
The new Corvettes will start to roll of their Bowling Green, Kentucky, line later this year.
2020 Chevy Corvette provisional specs
Vehicle type: Mid-engine, rear-wheel drive, 2-passenger supercar
Price: Under $60,000
Powerplant: 6.2-liter, pushrod V-8
Power: 495 horsepower at 6,450 rpms, 470 pound-feet of torque
Transmission: Dual-clutch, 8-speed automatic
Performance: Under 3 seconds (mfr.)
Weight: 3,366 pounds (dry weight, no fluids)
Fuel economy: NA
Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @HenryEPayne. Catch “Car Radio with Henry Payne” from noon-2 p.m. Saturdays on 910 AM Superstation.