A new Chevrolet Corvette is always news. With a history going back to 1953, the Kentucky-made two-seaters have always been hailed as America’s sports car. Trouble is, for much of that time the claim has been a hollow one.
But this time, Chevrolet seems to be pretty serious about the Corvette’s bona fides as a proper supercar. For the first time in its history, the car is mid-engined, just for a start; a mechanical layout that imposes some compromises but also promises some serious dynamic plusses.
In other ways, the car keeps the Corvette faith with a composite bodyshell stretched over a separate frame – in this case, a back-bone design made from cast and extruded aluminium sections. It’s also every inch a Corvette in terms of its presentation. It’s loud and proud with an exhaust note from its massive V8 engine that’s equal parts Yee and Hah.
The new Corvette’s arrival in Australia has been a story of false starts. It was due to hit showrooms around the start of 2020, but Covid and the collapse of the Holden empire put paid to that. Now, with GM Speciality Vehicles branding, the car is finally on the road here, at a not insubstantial price, that makes it, depending on how you look at it, a very expensive Chevrolet or a very cheap supercar. Perspective, as always, is everything.
The other Corvette habit the new car hasn’t ditched is the ability to use irony as its special power. While Holden’s demise was partly attributed to General Motors’ decision to turn its back globally on right-hand drive cars, the Corvette emerges as the very first time the model has been factory-built in RHD form. Go figure.
Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with? 9/10
The version of the Corvette C8 we tested as the 3LT, rather than the 2LT. The extra LT gains you racier seats (dubbed GT2), some extra leather wrapping of various dashboard pieces and some suede microfibre coverings for areas such as the trims area around the glass and A-pillars.
All Australian-delivered C8s also get the Z51 performance package as standard, adding a dual-mode exhaust, 'Magnetic Ride' (adjustable dampers) larger Brembo brakes, an electronically-controlled differential, extra cooling capacity, shorter overall gearing for even more lurid acceleration, and front and rear spoilers.
We tested the coupe which features a lift-out roof panel that can be stored in the rear luggage area, and there’s also a convertible version with a motorised top. The convertible adds $15,000 to the 2LT’s $144,990, while the 3LT trim package adds a further $15,000, making our 3LT Coupe variant a $160,000 deal (although GMSV claimed the final price and spec had yet to be nailed down).
All Australian-delivered C8s also get the Z51 performance package as standard. (image: Joel Strickland)
Aside from the exotic, mid-engined layout, vast performance and removable roof panel, the Corvette is pretty well specified in terms of convenience items (there’s that US influence). You get full connectivity via the touchscreen and there’s wireless phone charging (although the cradle won’t accept bigger phones). There’s also dual-zone climate-control, a 14-speaker Bose sound system, head-up display, selectable drive modes, satellite-navigation, remote engine starting from the key-fob (which has the added benefit of deterring the neighbour’s cat from sitting on the bonnet) keyless entry and start and a memory function for the seats and steering column.
Outside, there are 19- and 20-inch alloy wheels, LED lighting, folding mirrors and a soft-close rear hatch.
Perhaps the most novel addition is the data-logging system which allows you to record (to an SD card) the vision and sound of a particular drive experience. There’s also a valet mode that records what the car gets up to when it’s left at a workshop or anywhere else where it might be driven by somebody who isn’t you.
The Corvette is pretty well specified in terms of convenience items. (image: Joel Strickland)
There are plenty of people who will screw their nose up at the thought of a Chevrolet with a $160,000 price-tag, but by any other standard, the Corvette is an absolute bargain. It has a fair chunk of the performance of the supercar establishment (McLaren, Lamborghini, Maserati and others) yet it costs a fraction of the $350,000-and-up windscreen stickers of those.
Judged in those terms, the Corvette is a genuine fries-with-that proposition.
Is there anything interesting about its design? 9/10
Corvettes have always been based on a composite bodyshell (originally fibreglass but now a much more exotic cocktail of aramid fibres) bolted to a separate frame. These days that frame is a collection of aluminium parts, but the big step away from tradition has been the location of the engine.
Traditionally a front-engined car, the new C8 is mid-engined, with the V8 residing just behind the seats. This hasn’t affected the normal Corvette two-seat layout, but has forced many other changes to the way the car behaves and is packaged. The new Corvette is also available as a convertible or a coupe, that latter having a removable targa-tyle roof panel that can be lifted free and stashed in the rear luggage compartment.
The overall shape of the Corvette is now closer to the supercar it has always aspired to be than ever before. (image: Joel Strickland)
Other firsts for the C8 include the use of a dual-clutch transmission and the fact that the car is made at Chevrolet’s Bowling Green, Kentucky plant in RHD form.
The overall shape of the Corvette is now – thanks to that mid-engine layout – closer to the supercar it has always aspired to be than ever before. The low nose and sharp, angular looks are not just supercar-aping, they’re also distinctive in their own right. Nobody, but nobody, misses the Corvette in the street.
How practical is the space inside? 7/10
As supercars become more useable and less illogical, Chevrolet seems to have been channelling some of their forebears to make the point that the C8 is a genuine contender. Unfortunately, that means the interior layout is far from perfect.
For a start, the seat feels very small and the cabin quite tight, partly because the seat doesn’t drop down into the cabin far enough. How the average American relates to this is anybody’s guess. The steering column doesn’t adjust to a high-enough position and the wide sill needs some athleticism to negotiate. Even the interior door latches seem a bit contrived with their electric operation that requires a double-jointed thumb as well as a solid push on the door. And there’s more.
The seat feels very small and the cabin quite tight. (image: Joel Strickland)
The shark-fin centre stack is populated with no less than 17 buttons (I counted them) all of which are the same size and colour (black, like their background) and none of which appear to hold more importance than the next one. The drive-mode rotary knob is slow to effect a mode-shift and has a sticky, low-tech feel and action.
And while the leather-clad cover over it looks as though it possesses some computer-mouse function, it does precisely nothing apart form forcing your wrist into a weird angle to operate the mode dial. Other switchgear seems a bit randomly positioned and the park-brake button is well hidden, almost out of reach low down on the dashboard.
The aluminium shift-paddles are cold to the touch (although we’ll blame Melbourne’s recent weather on that) and while the odd looking square steering wheel forces your hands into the correct position, the Alcantara covering was already wrinkling in the thumb-rests (possibly due to the Corvette’s requirement that you hold on tight).
Under the huge rear hatch, there’s a decent space large enough for the obligatory golf clubs. (image: Joel Strickland)
Under the front lid is a smaller, deeper space. (image: Joel Strickland)
The there’s the rear vision. Or lack of it. Okay, so a mid-engined layout will always compromise the view to the rear, but the Corvette solution of using a rear-view mirror that is actually a camera screen is flawed. Yes, the mirror can switch between that and a normal mirror, but in the latter mode, the bulkhead between the engine bay and the cabin can often be misted up from engine heat and, even when it’s not, the view is a slit with plenty of distortion.
So, use the camera then? Well, yes, but for a lot of people, the lack of depth of field inherent in the projected view requires a re-focussing of the eyes. And that takes precious milli-seconds.
That said, the camera offers a bright and very wide view to the rear, so it’s worth persisting with. The exterior mirrors, meanwhile, are most commonly full of the C8’s voluptuous rear flanks. If nothing else, it will force you to concentrate, especially when parallel parking.
The shark-fin centre stack is populated with no less than 17 buttons. (image: Joel Strickland)
Forward vision, though, is another matter. The nose-lifter has a memory so it knows when you’re driving into a front-splitter danger zone and the multi-view front-view camera allows you to park accurately despite the nose that drops away out of sight. The head-up display is equally good.
In luggage-space terms, Chevrolet has done its best to minimise the compromises imposed by having the engine taking up most of the space at the rear of the car. Under the huge rear hatch, there’s a decent space large enough for the obligatory golf clubs, while under the front lid is a smaller, deeper space, itself compromised by the front suspension, wheel clearance and the location of the radiators in each front corner.
Either way, the Corvette will carry enough for weekends away unless you want to remove the roof panel which will consume the space in the rear compartment. Both load areas feature luggage nets.
The camera offers a bright and very wide view to the rear, so it’s worth persisting with. (image: Joel Strickland)
What are the key stats for the engine and transmission? 9/10
It’s easy to think that the Corvette has always been a V8 powered vehicle. But actually, the very first one in 1953 used an inline six-cylinder engine. The V8 didn’t hit the Corvette until the 1955 model year and even then, it was optional.
However, it’s true the Corvette hit its sales straps once the V8 engine had become standard and the V8 has been a Vette trademark ever since. Which is why the C8 uses a naturally aspirated 6.2-litre V8 with all aluminium construction, but still with pushrod valve actuation.
Power is a mighty 369kW (about five horsepower shy of 500 in the old currency) and maximum torque is 637Nm. Again, although the pushrod layout suggests antiquation, the V8 also features variable valve timing and is dry-sumped to ensure there’s no lack of lubrication in high-G cornering. Interestingly, though, the oil tank is part of the engine assembly, not a remotely-located tank as is the dry-sumped norm, to keep the oil cooler for longer.
Power is a mighty 369kW and maximum torque is 637Nm. (image: Joel Strickland)
Transmission is an eight-speed dual-clutch auto with paddle shifters and has shift-point and shift-speed adjustability via the drive modes. Those modes also tailor the throttle response, suspension firmness, braking sensitivity, steering weight and exhaust volume.
Other hardware includes huge Brembo brakes, Magnetic Ride (electrically-adjustable dampers) an electronically-controlled limited-slip differential and, since all Australia-delivered cars get the Z51 performance package, a slightly shorter, 5.2:1 final gear-ratio (4.9:1 in the non-Z51 car sold elsewhere) although eighth gear is still a moonshot ratio with just 1300rpm showing on the tachometer at 100km/h.
How much fuel does it consume? 7/10
A 6.2-litre engine with relatively low tech (and making the thick end of 500 horsepower) and a full-sized, 1500kg-plus body to carry around doesn’t really sound like a recipe for stellar fuel economy. But that would be ignoring the other factors including this engine family’s reputation for giving each litre of fuel a good squeeze.
Throw in clean aerodynamics and that tall gearing, and the C8 is not the guzzler you might imagine. Official figure is 13.5 litres per 100km on the combined cycle. But in the real world, you’ll get something like that or a bit more around town and a pretty commendable eight or nine litres per 100km on the highway. The C8 promises to be one of those rare cars that can achieve somewhere near its official claim, we reckon.
With its 70-litre fuel tank, the Corvette has enough range to be a convincing inter-stater with a theoretical highway range of at least 500km or so, but more than that in highway running.
The C8 also features a capless fuel filler-neck which means the cap can’t be accidentally left at the bowser.
What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating? 7/10
It’s not that North American cars can’t be safe, but the standard safety gear on the Corvette suggests buyer expectations might just differ from ours. The C8 does have front and side air-bags, a rear camera, rear cross-traffic alert, blind-spot monitoring a front kerb camera and a nose-lifter to protect that front splitter. It also has a button inside each luggage space to allow anybody trapped in them (kidnapped, presumably) to open the covers and escape. (Mind you, you’d have to be kidnapping very small people to get one in the frunk.)
The low volumes projected for the C8 mean it hasn’t been ANCAP tested, and probably won’t be. (image: Joel Strickland)
But the shine soon disappears with cruise-control that lacks an active function and a lack of autonomous emergency braking. Given that these fittings are now common on $20,000 hatchbacks, that’s a bit surprising. The stability control also offers you a fair bit of leeway before it steps in.
The low volumes projected for the C8 mean it hasn’t been ANCAP tested, and probably won’t be.
Warranty & Safety Rating
3 years / 100,000,000 km
What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered? 7/10
The notion of cars being more of a disposable commodity in the North American market is borne out by the factory warranty that applies to the Corvette. While Holden’s warranty for Australian cars was either a five or seven-year warranty (depending on model) the Corvette’s factory cover extends only for the first three years or 100,000km.
You do get three years of roadside assistance, but in terms of the actual warranty, three years is off the pace.
What's it like to drive? 9/10
Although it looks like the C8 possesses supercar levels of intimidation, it’s really not too tricky to come to terms with. Perhaps the biggest mental hurdle is reconciling the American Graffiti soundtrack with the Monte Carlo Casino optics. Yes, manoeuvring and parking can be a hassle because of the limited rear vision and the sheer width of the thing across the hips, but once you’re rolling, the C8 is no more confronting to pilot through traffic than a normal family sedan.
That’s mainly down to the great steering that is sharp and accurate but also gives the impression of being a natural steerer. That is, what you put in via the tiller is exactly what you get out at the front wheels. The cabin is also quiet at speed and the main controls are where they should be.
That engine is a highlight, of course, with loads of shunt at any speed and a fabulous noise into the bargain. It revs freely and although the redline is 'just' 6500rpm, it gets there with no problems and encourages you to do so.
Although it looks like the C8 possesses supercar levels of intimidation, it’s really not too tricky to come to terms with. (image: Joel Strickland)
The transmission is less happy, although the longer you spend with it, the more you’ll come around. Like most dual-clutch units, it has lightning quick shifts, perfect rev matching and responds to the paddles faithfully. But even on its least aggressive setting, I found it too keen to hold on to revs and stay in a lower gear, even after I’d finished whatever overtaking or Daewoo-dodging had resulted in the initial stab of the throttle.
The eight-speed is also capable of producing a stilted clunk when talking off from rest or when trickling along in heavy traffic. This isn’t a Corvette-specific thing, but rather a dual-clutch characteristic. Either way, it ruins the magic for a moment.
I’m also inclined to accuse the C8 of lacking a little rear end grip. This is most noticeable on a damp road at low speeds where the car’s 60/40 rear/front weight balance makes itself felt all too early. I was genuinely surprised a couple of times at how little throttle and lock was required to have the rear end stepping out of line a few centimetres.
The cabin is also quiet at speed and the main controls are where they should be. (image: Joel Strickland)
However, at higher speeds (and gears) and drier conditions, the car refused to put a foot wrong. And I’ll also speculate that whoever tested 'my' C8 before me had been doing some rear-tyre torturing for the benefits of a camera. Not only was the tread on the 305/30 x 20 Michelin Pilot Sports not looking too clever (245/35 x 19 on the front) the rubber compound felt as though it might have been heat cycled once too often. Hardly the car’s fault, then.
Without doubt, though, the C8’s dynamic highlight is the suspension which manages to soak up everything thrown at it, despite looking like a race-car. All too often, the settings dialled in by the engineers (and previous Corvette engineers are among the most guilty) are way too stiff for comfy road use, but the C8 has no such problem.
In fact, it actually rides better than a lot of more conventional cars, and part of that will doubtless be the long wheelbase. Even so, it’s a remarkable result and would make the car a consummate inter-stater.
The C8’s dynamic highlight is the suspension which manages to soak up everything thrown at it. (image: Joel Strickland)
The drive modes? Leave them alone unless you’re tackling a track day. The 'Tour' mode winds back everything from the exhaust volume, the steering weight, suspension firmness, gearbox aggressiveness and even the brake pedal feedback.
Sport model gives all those setting a tweak, while 'Track' mode is just overkill and spoils that brilliant ride. It also gives the steering way too much weight to feel right for road conditions.
There’s also 'My' mode which enables you to set, say, everything to comfort yet still open up the active exhaust for a bit of a bi-modal yodel (since the neighbour’s cat now hates you, its owners might as well, too).
Despite looking like rockets, Corvettes have traditionally been disappointing cars to drive. Early ones were crude and poorly built, later ones could be underpowered and underwhelming. So for the C8 version to be such a brilliant thing to drive is not just a surprise, but also an end to the tired old jokes about American cars. In fact, forget what you think you know on the subject, because this car rewrites the book.
Maybe the build quality and outright performance aren’t up to quite the same lofty standards as the Euro supercar brigade, but the Corvette is not far behind. If you can live with the slightly cramped cabin, sometimes stilted transmission and the haphazard switch placement in the cabin, you’ll be ready to enjoy the Corvette for what it is. Neither will you grow out of the C8 in a hurry, purely because it’s by no means a one-trick pony.
It's a striking looker, a proper performance car and, with the move to a mid-engine, it’s about as exotic as anything out of Kentucky will ever be. But it’s in a value-for-money sense that the Corvette C8 probably can’t be beaten. And there’s a sentence I thought I’d never write. In fact, there are several.
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