Vetting the 2014 Stingray

After its world premiere at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit on January 13, Chevrolet transported the red Corvette Stingray prototype to New York City on January 16th to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the original Motorama show car along with members of the Corvette engineering and marketing team to answer questions about the new car.

The new Stingray maintains the front engine, rear drive layout we are all familiar with. The last major change to that architecture was the switch to a rear mounted transaxle in the C6. Previous models had utilized a transmission / driveshaft / differential combination to route power to the rear wheels. Many enthusiasts have called for a change to a mid engine platform to make Corvette a “proper” sports car by today’s definition. When asked about the research into that option, Chief Engineer Tadge Jeuchter explained that with the C7, everything was on the table at the start of the process but computer modeling indicated there were too many compromises in the basic design of a mid engine car versus the current layout to validate the change.

Many enthusiasts have called for a change to a mid engine platform to make Corvette a “proper” sports car by today’s definition.

The Corvette already has an optimal weight distribution that a mid engine design doesn’t. Moving the engine to that position places a lot of weight not only on the rear suspension, but on the frame rails that support and protect the passengers, creating the need for heavier construction. I picture it as the equivalent of building a skyscraper on the mid-span of a bridge. The bridge will sag under the weight unless you add components to reinforce the structure, adding even more weight.

Once you move the engine to the center of the car, the passenger compartment has to be moved forward and the front wheels have to be moved rearward. These relocations affect safety, rigidity and comfort. With the front wheels and the space needed to allow full functionality of the suspension and steering moved closer to the passenger foot wells, you take away volume of the compartment impinging passengers’ comfort. Safety and weight also get compromised, according to Mr. Jeuchter, by having to create a chassis that wraps from inside the front suspension to outside the passengers in such a short span. This involves sharp turns that affect torsional rigidity and require still more structure and still more weight. All that added mass adds up in both complexity and dollars. With the current layout, the transition is less severe and doesn’t require those resolutions.

Another enthusiast wish list item is a dual clutch transmission. Mr. Jeuchter said that, at this time at least, a DCT isn’t offered for both fuel economy and refinement issues. With GM’s new LT1 V8, fuel economy is a function of new to the Corvette tech including variable valve timing, direct fuel injection and cylinder deactivation. It’s the cylinder deactivation that precludes the DCT. It’s not a question of the ability to do both, it’s a question of economic practicality. With the cylinder deactivation, Tadge expects a gain in economy of up to 10% while a DCT could add perhaps 2% more. Using an automatic transmission with a torque converter allows the driveline to absorb most, if not all, of the minor imbalances that shutting down four cylinders create, whereas the DCT would require some form of external damping to limit that sensation, such as what Audi uses on the recently announced RS7. Again, that’s an addition of complexity that could increase the price beyond where it needs to be in the market given what they believe are minimal gains in performance and economy.

Speaking of wish list items, the Corvette interior has been a point of contention among car critics since the C5 hit the tarmac. Director of interior design for Chevrolet performance cars, Helen Emsley pushed hard for the upgrades made to the C7’s cabin. Starting with the layout, her preference was for a modern, functional jet fighter influenced design with no retro cues. The gauge cluster is dominated by an 8 inch display flanked with four traditional gauges while another sits at the top of the center stack with touch screen controls for the Chevy MyLink interface. There are a few rotary controls for common adjustments such as temperature, fan speed and volume controls and also some push button selectors for HVAC distribution. On the console is a controller for suspension and performance management, as well as the electric parking brake actuator and an undercover pair of cup holders and power source.

Speaking of wish list items, the Corvette interior has been a point of contention among car critics since the C5 hit the tarmac.

Materials used in the interior have been upgraded. Ms. Emsley mentioned that a pet peeve is seeing something that looks like, for instance carbon fiber, that isn’t what it appears to be. The interior of the Stingray has actual carbon fiber trim and actual aluminum accents. The seating is improved by new designs built in-house. No Recaros here. There are two seats available, standard GT and a performance upgrade, both with better bolstering and cushioning than previous seating. Their magnesium frames are lighter than the current seats, and the materials are of nicer quality and , as Helen emphasized, chosen to withstand the rigors of everyday life and still look upscale. Those materials are also used to cover every surface on the doors and areas on the dash where appropriate. There is very little bare plastic, especially if you opt for the carbon fiber trim.

Since 1968, Corvettes have maintained a design scheme instantly recognizable the moment you lay eyes on it and the C7 is no exception. Tom Peters, Chevrolet director of exteriors, and I spoke about how the Corvette ignites passion in people. Even those that probably wont purchase one. When we discussed the perception of commenters to online news sources that criticize the new design as being too similar to other vehicles, such as SRT Viper and Nissan GT-R, we agreed that it seems based on a confusion between similarity of design and similarity of purpose.

He mentioned that GM chose not to clinic the exterior design of the Corvette because, in the past, responders were vague about what they would like to see. They would get feedback that they wanted something different, but when offered styling details to evaluate, they always chose the elements that were already familiar. The C6 headlights for example. When he was approached about eliminating the flip up lights, he was enthusiastically for it, but clinics hated it. They went ahead with the plan because it made the car better, for lighting, performance, and maintenance purposes. Once the car came to market the response by consumers was overwhelmingly positive. This time around the goal was to “shake things up” again, because they wanted to create a more sculptured car to excite, and broaden, the consumer base.

The most ‘controversial’ changes are at the rear of the Stingray. The new shape of the tail lights vaguely resembles that of the Camaro, but that wasn’t the goal. Upon closer inspection those similarities, like the ones to other sports cars, disappear. The trapezoidal shape looks nothing like the Camaro’s lighting. There is a three dimensional sculpting to create depth that hasn’t been a part of Corvette design in decades. The decision to add quarter windows and eliminate the “basket handle” look of previous Corvettes was made not only to bring a new international flair to the design, but to build a better car.

The old glass hatch was considerably heavier than the new design because its construction required it. The glass of the new design is half as thick and there’s less of it. The same applies to the Targa roof. Earlier versions were glass, the new roof is made of carbon fiber. It removes weight from the top of the car to allow the engineers to put it where it needs to. The exterior panels are also lighter weight sheet molded compound, which combined with the other changes results in a body 37 lbs lighter than C6. That, in conjunction with its newly lightened chassis, allowed the C7 team to offset the weight gains in other areas. Even though the Stingray will weigh in approximately the same as the current car, the center of gravity will be lower than before.

The prototypes are certainly not the final product that will reach showrooms later this year, but they represent about 99% of what we’ll see. Some materials have yet to be finalized and fuel economy and performance ratings are still being fine tuned, but statistically, the Stingray is the best base Corvette ever. Figure on a car with an extremely low 12 sec quarter mile time and a top speed in the 190 mph range. I’ll wager dollars to donuts that GM will be able to post the magical 30 mpg fuel economy rating on the window sticker for the manual shifted version, at least.

I was always taught not to judge a book by its cover, but the 2014 Corvette Stingray has a damn nice cover. The contents page seems well printed, too. We’ll have to wait until later this year to turn to page one.

Photo Credit: Chevrolet

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