Last night at a blimp hanger in Tustin, California, past accomplishments and best laid plans for the future collided to form an incredible moment. The theatrics around the reveal of the 2020 Chevrolet Corvette C8 Stingray were reminiscent of the days when automakers had large budgets to play with and would put on large-scale events even for mid-range vehicles.
Following the market collapse in 2008 and subsequent government bailout of GM, this kind of grand reveal seemingly ceased overnight in an effort to show that GM was focusing on what matters most: a better product. Here we are 11 years later and the GM product portfolio is objectively much better than it was across the board with Chevrolet leading the way. However, a rapidly changing marketplace and increasingly savvy consumers means that products need to go above and beyond expectations, not just simply meet them. The majority of GM vehicles that we’ve spent time with unfortunately take the latter approach instead of the former.
Their recent performance vehicles, on the other hand, have been the exception, particularly the C7 Corvette Stingray. It was a giant leap forward from the C6 ‘Vette and proved that Chevrolet (and indeed GM) was listening to their customers. After five years of racking up many accolades and accomplishments, the C7 Corvette has run its last laps and takes its front engine layout with it, along with the option of a manual transmission and the 66 year heritage of the Corvette as we’ve known it. Is Chevrolet still listening or are they off on a monumental ego trip? Given the resounding cheers of approval from last night’s crowd of current Corvette owners and dealers that were in attendance along with media and executives, it seems that GM is indeed paying attention.
The 2020 Chevrolet Corvette C8 Stingray is perhaps the most important vehicle General Motors has launched since 1953 when the C1 Corvette went on sale. It is an absolute moonshot, evidence that for once they’re not going to play it safe, they’re going for broke. A quick overview of the stat sheet shows that the intent remains for the Corvette to be a giant slayer and a brief examination of key details tells us that it’s better positioned to fulfill its purpose than ever before. By placing the naturally aspirated small block 6.2-liter “LT2” V8 behind the cockpit and as low as possible, the C8 Corvette claims to offer driving dynamics normally reserved for supercars with price tags in the mid-six figure range and higher.
Having been mighty impressed by the handling capabilities of the C7 Stingray we’re inclined to believe those claims. That the LT2 makes 495 hp and 490 lb-ft of torque with the Z51 Performance Package equipped and GM President Mark Reuss saying, with a straight face, “We’re seeing 0-60 times under 3 seconds”—you might imagine that this new Corvette is moving upmarket as part of its evolution. Though he wouldn’t dole out specific figures, Reuss also says that the C8 Stingray will start under $60,000. Perhaps the traditional notion of the Corvette isn’t completely gone after all. With that kind of pricing it would certainly remain the attainable sports car it has been for decades while becoming a ruthlessly efficient hunter of exotic cars around the world. For the first time in Corvette history there will be factory built right-hand-drive cars, too. With that in mind there can be no doubt about which Japanese machines the team at Chevrolet has their sights set on.
All of these ambitions hinge on whether the C8 Stingray is as good in practice as it appears to be on paper, but should it live up to the hype, a number of automakers in the far east and in Europe are going to have to take a good hard look at their products. If you can get peak Porsche 911 performance for Porsche Cayman money, why wouldn’t you? The C8 asks some mighty big questions, primarily on the design front and only time on the market will answer them. The appearance will be divisive to say the least and it will certainly take some time for long time Corvette enthusiasts to wrap their heads around the mid-engine layout, which was done for performance, not aesthetic reasons. The new look is well-executed, despite some awkward angles (particularly at the busy rear) but it’s delightfully different and reminiscent of concept cars from the late ’80s and ’90s that we’d have loved to see green-lit for production.
Form follows function in the C8 and with the function offering supercar capability its form had to match. The cockpit has been moved forward 16.5 inches, making a huge difference apparent as soon as you slide inside and peer out over the much shorter nose. This is the kind of driving position that McLaren and Lamborghini have been perfecting in recent years, and finding it offered in a Corvette is a welcome surprise. The aluminum button array running down the spine of the cockpit that dramatically separates driver from passenger is another pleasant element.
Indeed much more attention has been given to the materials used throughout the interior, from the quality of leather and suede to buttons and switches; everything doesn’t just look more upscale, it all feels more upscale too. There’s even a 14-speaker Bose Performance Series audio system with beautiful speaker grilles in case you somehow tire of listening to the mechanical symphony going on behind you, which we suppose is possible on a lengthy road trip, which the C8 will be well-suited for. Yes, there’s storage for a TSA-sized carry-on up front and—true to form—enough space for two golf bags in the back.
So the mid-engine Corvette dream of Zora Arkus Duntov that began in the 1960s has been realized in 2019. All that remains to be seen is if people share the dream. Based on the excitement on the faces of people in the hangar last night, we’d say that Chevrolet isn’t off base with the C8—it’s the halo car Chevrolet needs, and it will get even more interesting when its racier versions and most likely a hybrid, if not a fully electric variant, roll out in the next few years. If these are the kinds of products we can expect from GM in the future, we can’t wait for the future to be the present.
Images by Andrew Maness