It’s easy to underestimate the courage it took for Chevrolet to release a mid-engined Corvette. The model has used the exact same front-engined, rear-wheel drive layout for nearly 70 years. The good Corvettes were all built that way; the bad ones were, too. Suddenly stuffing the V8 behind the passenger compartment, and modifying the model’s proportions accordingly, takes the Corvette into an uncharted territory that fans will either love or hate. It’s like if the next Samsung Galaxy ran iOS, or if Taco Bell started serving clam chowder in a bread bowl. Two worlds have collided.
And yet, the mid-engined Corvette makes sense — on paper and in pixels, at least. It’s undeniably quick, it seemingly handles well, and Chevrolet didn’t forget to pack cutting-edge tech features into the cabin. The transformation doesn’t trigger a significant price increase, either.
The 2020 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray is one of the new cars we’re most looking forward to driving in 2020. In the meantime, here are our main takeaways from the model’s unveiling in Los Angeles, where we saw the car in person, and chatted with the men and women who developed it.
Adopting a mid-engined layout was inevitable
Chevrolet began experimenting with the idea of a mid-engined Corvette in the early 1960s, when engineer Zora Arkus-Duntov tirelessly worked to transform the nameplate from a boulevard cruiser to a world-class sports car. Chevrolet made over half a dozen prototypes, and it very nearly launched a mid-engined Corvette in 1980, but it has always found good reasons to back-pedal and remain true to tradition. Tadge Juechter, the model’s chief engineer, told Digital Trends he knew the shift was inevitable well before his team began developing the eighth-generation model.
“We’ve known for some time that we were reaching the limits [of handling] with a front-mounted engine,” he explained. He added that he began seriously thinking about making the Corvette mid-engined when the sixth-generation model made its debut in 2005.
It speaks tech fluently
Chevrolet didn’t skimp on tech. The driver faces a 12-inch, configurable screen that replaces the digital instrument cluster. Its appearance changes depending on which one of the six driving modes is selected. The screen on the center console displays the next generation of Chevrolet’s infotainment system, which is compatible with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay and can receive over-the-air software updates. Wireless device charging is offered, too.
The 2020 Corvette is also available with Chevrolet’s Performance Data Recorder (PDR) technology. It’s a neat, high-tech driving analysis tool that lets enthusiasts record track runs and point-to-point road courses using a high-definition camera mounted near the top of the windshield. The software overlays data sent by sensors like the steering angle, the car’s speed, and the position of the brake and the throttle pedal over the recorded footage to let enthusiasts analyze each track run.
Footage is stored on an SD card. It can be uploaded to a computer, or viewed directly on the car’s touchscreen. PDR is useful off the track, too. It can function as a standard dash cam, so you can record your most scenic drives to share them with friends and family, or catch footage of an alien ship landing on the Toyota Corolla traveling in front of you.
It’s still user-friendly… for the most part
Chevrolet made the Corvette more hardcore without compromising day-to-day usability. It offers 12.6 cubic feet of trunk space split into two compartments. The one in the front, right between the wheels, is big enough for an airline-spec carry-on suitcase and a laptop bag. The one in the back, directly behind the engine, can take a full-size suitcase or two carry-ons. Alternatively, it can house the standard removable roof, which allows users to go topless on a whim. Both storage compartments are made with composite materials, and they’re light enough to float in water.
Leather and suede upholstery play starring roles inside the Corvette. Real aluminum adorns the center console, though carbon fiber trim is available, and the speaker grilles are stainless steel. Speaking of music, the standard sound system is a 10-speaker setup sourced from Bose. Chevrolet put a significant amount of effort into ensuring the 2020 Corvette is as enjoyable to drive across America as it is to race around Road America.
And yet, designers ran out of time, imagination, or both when they searched for the most ergonomic way to integrate the HVAC controls. 14 buttons and two toggle switches arranged in a row split the cabin in half like a Roman aqueduct. They’re seemingly redundant, too, because we spot a “climate” icon on the infotainment system.
It has one of the smartest front lift systems we’ve ever seen
The low-slung stance helps the Corvette’s handling, but it also gives every speed bump the coveted opportunity to meet the bottom part of its front bumper. Chevrolet fitted the car with a lift system that raises the front end by about two inches at the push of a button to prevent these costly encounters. It’s a common feature in the supercar world, it came in handy when we drove the Lamborghini Aventador S on Spanish back roads, but the firm took it a step further by adding a memory function.
When you approach a speed bump, or a steep driveway, and you push the lift button to pump up the front end, the navigation system asks if you want to save the obstacle’s coordinates. If you tap yes, the car will memorize the location of the obstacle, and it will automatically lift itself the next time it detects it’s about to drive over it. It can remember up to 1,000 points so you don’t have to.
It’s still priced like a Corvette, and it’s going global
The eighth-generation, 495-horsepower Corvette shares little more than a name, a few styling cues, and a big V8 engine with its predecessors. It’s a completely new kind of beast, one that’s much more brutal than we’re used to, and its specifications sheet suggests it should be priced well above $100,000. Chevrolet didn’t want to stray from the model’s value-packed origins, though. Pricing for the entry-level model will start at under $60,000, a figure that puts it in the same ballpark as its predecessor. Rivals like the Audi R8 and the Acura NSX are considerably more expensive; the V10-powered R8 costs $169,900, while the gasoline-electric NSX carries a base price of $157,500. Put another way, the 2020 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray offers Ferrari-like performance for the price of a Porsche 718 Cayman.
Chevrolet hopes this unique proposition will allow it to truly take the Corvette global. The eighth-generation model is the first one developed with right-hand drive markets in mind. Previously, buyers in Japan, in Hong Kong, or in the United Kingdom had to settle for driving a left-hand drive car, or commission a conversion from a third-party shop.
All Rights Reserved for Ronan Glon