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TEST DRIVE: 2020 C8 Corvette Stingray Z51 — Game Changer

After having driven the Audi R8 V10 Performance, we were ready to get into some other mid-engine supercars to see how they stacked up to the brilliance of the R8. While there are some other great mid-engine supercars on the market, the one we wanted most was the newest and, oddly enough, the cheapest — the all-new C8 Corvette.

 

The C8-generation Corvette is the first ‘Vette in history to use a mid-engine layout. Since the late 1950s, the Corvette has used a big, American V8 hung out over its front axle. So moving the engine behind the driver naturally caused quite a stir among Corvette purists. To say we were eager to test out the re-imagining of an American automotive icon would be a gross understatement.

 

 

Due to it being mid-engine, the C8 is also the first ‘Vette to truly compete with the likes of Ferrari, Lamborghini, and, in this case, Audi. And after having driven the new C8 Corvette Z51 package for a week, I can honestly say that it’s an absolute game changer.

 

Not Just Good for the Money

 

When Corvettes are put up against cars like the Porsche 911, they always lose the comparisons, albeit with an excuse — they’re cheaper. Ever since it debuted all those decades ago, the Corvette has always been the affordable sports car; the car that middle-class folks could save up for and buy when they retired — the attainable sports car. So its shortcomings were always forgiven, due to its relatively low price.

 

However, with this new C8 Corvette, Chevy has performed nothing short of a magic trick because it keeps its shockingly low, attainable price tag but ups both the quality and performance to world-beating levels. My test car rang in at just under $66,000… for a mid-engine, V8-powered supercar.

 

It’s Got the Look

 

One look at the new ‘Vette in person is enough to prove that it’s the real deal. Its new mid-engine design is killer in person, with its ultra-low stance, wide hips and aggressive lines. It’s not a beautiful car in the way a Ferrari 458 Italia is (no mid-engine Ferrari since has bested the 458), but it looks exciting and aggressive. It’s more Lamborghini than Ferrari, in that it’s a great bedroom wall poster but it’s not exactly beautiful. It also somehow manages to look both Italian from some angles and American from others, which I actually sort of liked.

 

However, my tester’s Shadow Gray paintwork didn’t do it any favors. It’s a fine color but not one befitting of a supercar. The Corvette needs to wear a flashier color and Chevy has some good ones available. It also doesn’t have any good wheel designs. The five-spoke wheels on my tester were fine but nothing special and the optional upgraded wheels are actually worse looking. Proper aftermarket wheels would go a long way on the new ‘Vette.

 

Still, even in a bland color and with ho-hum wheels, the C8 Corvette made an impact everywhere it went. I’ve tested some astonishing cars over the years but I’ve never received so much love from passersby than in the ‘Vette. I said the same thing about the Audi R8 but the love shown for the new C8 Corvette made the R8 seem invisible. Not only is it exciting to see but people actually really like a Corvette because it’s the everyman’s sports car. So when they see one looking like a Lamborghini, it makes them happy because they realize it’s something they can actually afford one day.

 

Not Bad Inside, Either

 

One almost constant complaint about Corvettes over the years has been about their interiors. You could always tell that 90 percent of the budget for the Corvette went into the engine because the interior always felt like a rental car’s. Cheap plastics, flat seats and boring designs have plagued Corvettes for decades. Not so with this one, though.

 

Inside the C8 Corvette, you’re met with an interesting, if a bit confusing (we’ll get to that in a bit), interior that stands out not only for its design but also its quality. The standard GT1 bucket seats in my tester were great, the seating position was bang-on and all of the materials I could find were surprisingly nice. The dashboard, center console, door panels and even the lower door bins were all made from either leather or nice soft-touch plastic. During my week with it, I could not believe just how good the interior was, when the car costs less than $66,000.

 

Admittedly, the design is a bit confusing. That central stack of climate controls that cascades down from the dashboard in a single-file line is just too difficult to use. Not only is it hard to memorize where all those buttons are when they’re in a straight line but the bottom ones are actually hard to reach, without contorting your arm into an odd position.

 

 

Also, the buttons for volume and track selection on the steering wheel are downright odd. You pull them, rather than push them, which is just doesn’t seem intuitive. There are also little ergonomic things that the Germans get so right but you don’t notice until you’re in something else. For instance, the wiper and turn signal stalks are up and out of reach while you’re hands are on the steering wheel. So I had to actually move my hand from the wheel to reach them comfortably, while they’re just a finger’s reach away on most German cars.

 

Still, those are all minor quibbles. Most of the cabin is actually great. The square steering wheel is odd but you get used to it after awhile and I sort of liked it by the end of my test. The paddle shifters are fantastic; big, chunky and aluminum, rather than the cheap plastic ones you get in the Audi R8. The touchscreen is great, too; exactly in the right place for ease of use, with crisp graphics and quick responses. Thankfully, climate controls can also be operated via touchscreen, so I never had to use the annoyingly confusing center line of buttons.

 

It’s All About the Performance, Though

 

Honestly, none of that matter so much. What matters most is what happens after you press the starter button. That 6.2 liter naturally-aspirated small-block V8 roars to life with a classic American V8 rumble. It’s wake-your-neighbors loud on start-up but it then settles into a delicious, burbly idle.

 

With the Z51 package, you get 495 horsepower 465 lb-ft of torque. That might not be as much as the 602 horsepower you get from the Audi R8 V10 Performance but the Corvette is less than half the price and is actually no slower in the real world. Chevy claims a 0-60 mph time of under three seconds and we’ve seen independent tests reach a staggering 2.8 seconds. So the C8 Corvette, despite having 100 fewer horsepower is every bit as fast as the R8.

 

Paired to that mighty V8 is an all-new eight-speed dual-clutch transaxle gearbox and it’s one of the better dual-clutches I’ve ever used. It’s not quite as good as the R8’s but it’s 90-percent there. Upshifts are as snappy as they are in the best of gearboxes and they’re met with a kick in the back in sportier settings, which is welcome in a car like a ‘Vette. Downshifts are mostly good but it can get confused at lower speeds. Still, it’s mostly brilliant. Also, using the big aluminum paddles is always a treat.

 

Old-School Engine in New-School Body

 

The hulking V8 in the Corvette isn’t really anything new. The LS1 6.2 liter V8 has been used, in some form or another, since cavemen were drawing buffalo on cave walls. However, despite its age, it’s always welcome.

 

It might only have 495 horsepower but it pulls like it makes double that. Full throttle bursts land you in license-losing speeds before you can blink and I surprised a few passengers with just how quick it will fire off the line. It’s shockingly fast, every bit as fast as the Audi R8.

 

Admittedly, the R8 Quattro will have a massive advantage in anything other than bone-dry conditions, thanks to its all-wheel drive, as the Corvette is so powerful it can spin its tires in third gear. That small block V8 sends a tidal wave of torque to only its rear wheels. So if the pavement isn’t dry, be careful.

 

Still, this new Corvette is more composed than every one that came before it, thanks to that old-school engine being put in a new-school spot. Mounting the engine behind the driver not only puts more weight over the rear wheels but it also allows the Corvette to have better aerodynamics. So it grips like no other Corvette in history. Which is why this standard Z51-equipped ‘Vette is just as fast as the last-gen 750-horsepower Corvette ZR1 in a straight line.

 

Now it Handles, Too

 

The last couple of Corvette generations have been good sports cars. They’ve had good steering and good handling dynamics. However, they’ve lacked the finesse that their European competitors have had. Now, though, the Corvette is far more capable of taking its more expensive rivals head-on.

 

Steering is excellent in the new ‘Vette. It’s light on feel but the overall weighting and accuracy is great. It might be a touch too light but it loads up nicely as you add steering lock and you can place it extremely well. Helping that is outward visibility, which is not only excellent but you can also see the flared fenders over the scuttle, so you know exactly where the front tires are at all times. Ironically, it’s a bit similar to a 911 — its closest rival — in that regard.

 

Through the twisty stuff, the new ‘Vette shines. Its chassis is both balanced and predictable. It will get sideways if you push it, which can happen quite suddenly and isn’t unusual in a mid-engine car, but when it does happen it’s easy to reign in. Though, you really have to push it too hard for public roads for that to happen. For the most part, it turns in, grips and goes, like a proper supercar should. I also didn’t notice any of the understeer that many journalists have noticed. Though, I didn’t take it to a track, so I didn’t really get to test out its limit handling.

 

On the road, though, the C8 Corvette is an absolute weapon; it’s shockingly fast, steers with precision and responds to your inputs like a willing dance partner. In terms of outright capability, the Audi R8’s limits are higher and it’s probably a bit quicker around a track. However, the ‘Vette feels more fluid, it’s more of a proper driver’s car than the R8. The Audi R8 makes you feel like a superhero, capable of incredible feats of speed and performance. While the ‘Vette is less capable overall, it’s the more rewarding to push hard and it involves you more in the process.

 

Nothing’s Perfect

 

During my time with the new Corvette, I was genuinely blown away at how much I liked it. Having said that, there were some minor drawbacks. For instance, while forward visibility is outstanding, rearward visibility is virtually nonexistent and my tester lacked a backup camera. So backing out of my driveway was a bit sketchy. Also, because it’s a mid-engine car, its blind spots are enormous and my tester also lacked blind-spot monitors. Though, I had the very same complaint about the Audi R8, which was more than double the as-tested price of the ‘Vette. My test car also lacked heated seats, which was frustrating on chilly mornings.

 

That’s about it, though. There was honestly very little to complain about during my week with the ‘Vette. Plus, all of those little issues were completely erase by the fact that my test car had a sticker price of just $65,000. That’s $10,000 cheaper than an Audi S6, with twice the performance in a mid-engine package. Wild.

 

Cool Features

 

Sure, there were some mild complaints about the ‘Vette’s lack of options and slightly annoying blind spots. However, the new C8 Corvette also has a few really cool features that more than make up for it. For instance, the roof panel is manually detachable, via three levers inside the cabin, and fits perfectly in the trunk, allowing for open-top, mid-engine V8 pleasure.

 

Speaking of trunk, the C8 Corvette is a rare mid-engine car that has two trunks; one behind the engine in the back and one at the front. The only other mid-engine car that comes to mind with two trunks is the original Acura NSX. The back trunk’s lid is also soft-close, so you don’t have to slam it near that spoiler. Just gently shut it and it will soft-close like the doors of most luxury cars. Brilliant.

 

Build into the gauge cluster, there’s a kick-ass 0-60 mph timer that will constantly judge how quickly you get to sixty. Even if you’re just gently pulling away from a stop light, it will record your time to 60 mph and reset every time you stop. It’s completely irrelevant in the real world but I got a kick out of it every time I used it. Silly stuff like that makes car ownership more fun.

 

Verdict — Game Changer

 

The Corvette has historically been considered a good sports car for the money. It could never beat cars like the Porsche 911 but it was always the budget option. Now, though, the C8 Corvette is such a good sports car that it genuinely rivals the best from Europe and can even stand toe-to-toe with some of the best supercars from Ferrari, Lamborghini and, most importantly for us, the Audi R8.

 

Not only is the new Corvette brilliant to drive, its interior is excellent, it has great technology and is the most practical supercar we’ve ever used. When you throw in the fact that you can get the Corvette — a mid-engine, V8-powered supercar — for under $70,000, it completely changes the game. Not only should supercars fear it but there are only one or two sports car under $100,000 that I’d prefer to the ‘Vette and they both wear Porsche badges. Every other sports car needs to fear the C8.

 

The C8 Corvette somehow manages to ditche the value excuse but actually retain the value. I honestly don’t know how GM has managed to sell a car that such a complete package for so little money. But I’m glad it did because the new ‘Vette is brilliant.

 

Nico DeMattia

I've been in love with cars since I was a kid, specifically German cars. Now I get to drive them talk about them on the internet.