The mid-engined Corvette was a meme long before the internet was invented. US car magazines were predicting a reversal of the V8-occupant relationship in the 1980s, and Chevrolet engineers started to work on them several times.
For some time, the previous-generation C7 ’Vette was even supposed to make the switch, but the project was canned by GM’s bankruptcy in 2009. Now it’s finally here, and CarAdvice has already had a go in one in Michigan.
Editor's note: This story was under embargo until tomorrow morning, but has now broken wide in the US. So, enjoy. We'll add here that GM didn't provide photography assets on the day, with all US-based media bringing their own shooters along. We've used GM's existing marketing shots here.
My time in the car was road only and without a photographer, which is why you are having to look at GM’s cheesy official handout shots. I didn’t get to take the 2020 Chevrolet Corvette C8 on-track or do much more than flirt with its toweringly high limits, but it was still enough to prove that the new Corvette is genuinely special.
The most impressive statistic is definitely the one wearing a dollar sign. In the US, the entry-level car is US$59,995 – although good luck to any American readers finding a dealer willing to sell one without a fat mark-up.
That brings a 364kW 6.2-litre V8 and eight-speed double-clutch transmission, plus pretty reasonable standard equipment that includes power seats, dual-zone climate and an 8.0-inch touchscreen interface.
For context, a less well-equipped base Porsche 718 Boxster is $60,250 with a four-cylinder engine in the States.
Even a fully loaded 3LT Corvette with the must-tick Z51 performance package (exhaust, limited-slip differential, meatier brakes, a bigger rear spoiler and Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres in place of standard all-season tyres) plus adaptive dampers is less than the $81,950 Porsche reckons that American buyers should pay for a Cayman GTS. Jealous much?
While the mid-engined Corvette is obviously different to its predecessors, a fair amount is familiar, too. The design has plenty of the same themes, the sharky front end being particularly close to that of the old car. Plus, there is the reassuring presence of GM’s 6.2-litre small block, pushrods and all.
Other engines will follow, including a new turbocharged overhead-cam V8, but the old engine still has more than enough firepower for the entry-level position.
Interior quality feels immediately better than that of older Corvettes. For a start, the C8 barely has any of the resin-and-plastic smell that characterised them. It does still use glass-fibre exterior panels, but the core structure is aluminium.
However, cabin materials also feel much higher quality, with the 3LT I drove having leather and Alcantara pretty much everywhere. There is naked plastic lower down, but none of it feels egregiously cheap.
Ergonomics aren’t great. The long row of switches for heating and ventilation – that are positioned on top of what feels like a narrow wall on the passenger side of the centre console – are pretty much impossible to see, and the driver’s seat is mounted too high, even in its lowest settings.
Strangely, the passenger gets to sit at a sports-car-appropriate height on lower runners. The long dashboard and narrow angle of the windscreen also created lots of distracting reflection when travelling through dappled sunshine.
All of the above quickly become 'so what' niggles once the Corvette is attacking twisty roads with the engine on song. The V8 might be old and short on technical sophistication, but it is willing, effective and endlessly charismatic.
Throttle response is instant, the mid-range is keen, and although the rev limiter calls time at just 6600rpm, the C8 makes nicer noises at this modest peak than many posher alternatives produce one or two grand higher.
Performance is more than good enough. Chevrolet claims a sub-3.0-second 0–60mph time – that’s 0–97km/h in metric – with a launch-control system and even a burnout mode (holding then releasing both gearshift paddles simultaneously to dump the clutch).
I didn’t use that on public roads, but a stamped-throttle run resulted in a 3.5-second 0–60mph on the car’s inbuilt performance timer. Bear in mind that this will be the slowest version of a car certain to spawn several much brawnier siblings.
What this Corvette doesn’t have is the edgy feel that the C7 and (especially) C6 did under power – as if they were trying to work out where to spit you off. There is much more natural grip in the chassis. Getting anywhere close to the edge of adhesion requires big throttle openings at low speeds.
In quicker corners it feels absolutely planted, the Pilot Sport tyres generating huge grip. I imagine on a racetrack it would feel more alive close to the limits, but sadly I didn’t have one of those.
Ride is compliant and the switchable dampers of my test car did a fine job maintaining discipline over crests and bumps, even in their firmer modes. But there is little steering feel, certainly under road loadings, with keen front-end responses but no real communication.
You build faith in the car’s ability to generate grip, but it’s not one of those cars that bombards you with tactile feedback.
The gearbox is another major accomplishment. The twin-clutcher doesn’t have the pronounced torque bump on upshifts that has become common for junior supercars. Instead, the transmission gets the job done without fuss.
Changes are pretty much instant in all modes, with the ’box doing a good impression of an auto under gentle use, but as snappy as you’d like under manual control.
While some American buyers will doubtless regret the loss of a manual option, the new gearbox is a much better all-rounder. Gearing is still tall – at an indicated 120km/h in eighth there is just 1500rpm showing on the tacho – but that should help with economy, which has long been an unlikely Corvette strength.
Like its predecessors, the C8 has been designed to be a stylish workhorse rather than just a show pony. It is impressively practical for something so low and muscular.
Over-tall driver’s seat aside, the cabin feels no smaller than that of the C7, and cruising refinement has improved significantly; the low-frequency hum that used to vibrate around at steady speeds has almost entirely gone.
Luggage space is split between front and rear, with a Boxster-Cayman-style frunk under the front bonnet and a larger space behind the engine at the back, which is accessed by the huge opening rear lid. While this is responsible in large part for the new ’Vette’s bulky-looking rear end, it does result in a total luggage space of 356L – the rear compartment claimed to be capable of transporting a full set of golf clubs.
The Targa roof remains another familiar detail – Chevrolet will also be offering a conventional convertible. Removing the panel requires some physical exertion; one person can do it, but it is much easier with two. It can then either be stowed in the rear luggage compartment – pretty much filling it – or left behind if you are sufficiently confident it won’t rain.
With the roof off, the cabin gets loud and windy above about 100km/h, but it is still nice to have the novelty of an almost-roadster.
The new Corvette has many of the traits of a junior supercar, and some comparison is inevitable, but that is not especially fair. This is a turned-up sports car, and although future, faster iterations will chase Ferraris and Lamborghinis, the entry-level C8 lacks the purpose or dynamic finesse to be a true rival.
But it is an undoubted bargain, and for anyone lucky enough to be in position to consider one, it will be very hard to pass it over for similarly-priced alternatives.
For most of its long lifespan, the Corvette has been too American to travel well. On first impressions, this feels like one that could take on the world.
Engine: 6162cc, V8, mid-mounted, rear-wheel drive
Transmission: 8-speed twin-clutch, rear-wheel drive
Power: 364kW @ 6450rpm (sports exhaust)
Torque: 630Nm @ 5150rpm
Top speed: TBC
Weight: 1527kg (dry)
Price: US$59,995 (1LT) – US$78,850 (3LT with Z51 package and active dampers)