Read everything we know about the mid-engined Corvette C8 here.
Beneath the chatter is the constant low-frequency thrum of a Chevy small-block rising and falling through its rev range. It's interrupted frequently but briefly by shifts from the eight-speed dual-clutch Tremec transmission—quickened by cutting engine spark—to which it's bolted. And now, finally, the source of that thrum—a fifth-generation 6.2-liter V-8 named, of course, LT2—comes from behind our heads.
We're riding shotgun in mid-engined Corvette Stingray development mules on rural Michigan back roads. The three cars in this convoy represent the full breadth of the Stingray's chassis options. There's an FE1 base car; an FE3, which incorporates the Z51 performance package with passive dampers and Michelin Pilot Sport 4S summer tires; and an FE4, which is the top-level Stingray combining the Z51 package with magnetorheological adaptive dampers. Similar to the C7 before it, the C8's Z51 package adds an electronic limited-slip differential, bigger (iron) brake rotors and calipers, and different transmission ratios. But now every C8 Corvette gets a dry-sump-equipped engine.
Driven by executive chief engineer Tadge Juechter and vehicle performance manager Alex MacDonald, the C8s are officially here to undergo final tweaks for the differentiation of steering effort in the car's Tour, Sport, and Track drive modes. Unofficially, the engineers, and to some extent the cars, are here to share the mid-engined-Corvette back story, the technical details, and the opportunity to ride in the first production Corvette to place its engine behind the driver and passenger. That we are the first non-GM-employee rider in in the car, well, that's just gravy.
But it's an admittedly difficult environment from which to draw impressions. The cars are still wearing camouflage—both inside and out—and we're balancing interview questions, note taking, and a voice recorder all at once. Plus, the risk of drawing conclusions from what we know a mid-engined car should do well—to fall prey to the placebo effect—is real.
Nonetheless, the first time its new two-spoke steering wheel is turned with purpose—through a T-shaped intersection at modest speed—the C8 exhibits a lightness and willingness to rotate that's common only to cars with their mass centralized behind the passengers. There's a quickness, a pointedness here that's apparent only in this layout; the wheel is turned, and the car pivots immediately and directly into the corner. If the C7 was a turkey in the air, capable but bulging, then the C8 is a falcon—wholly purposeful and mission intent.
A Real Automatic. Finally
MacDonald fires off a battery of upshifts, pointing out that the new eight-speed Tremec dual-clutch transmission provides everything the engineers had hoped for in a DCT, namely shift speed and response time. More important, there's no observable reduction in acceleration between shifts, and MacDonald says they are quick enough to be invisible to a 100-hertz data logger.
What's more, each tap of the paddles is met only with a muted blat from the exhaust as the next gear is engaged. It's a monumental advance from the previous torque-converter-equipped eight-speed planetary automatic, which can now be retired to the museum where it belongs. He demonstrates the DCT's effectiveness by whacking the left paddle three times in rapid succession, triggering three boldly rev-matched downshifts.
Perhaps the most apparent dynamic change from the passenger seat is the C8's ability to put down power while turning. Leaving the tight confines of the next 90-degree intersection, MacDonald boldly hammers the throttle. It's a move that would have pushed the C7—any C7—hard against the unforgiving hand of physics, where the car has a choice only between spinning its tires or stepping in with stability control.
Instead, with more of the C8's weight over the drive axle, we're launched effortlessly and undramatically forward and around the corner, snapping into second gear before the C7 could have shaken off the upset. This new Corvette's on-throttle stability is as clear from the passenger seat as the C7's slower, more predictable rotation was from the driver's seat.
You'd Better Have Fast Hands
And that's the thing no one is saying yet: the point that not a single Corvette engineer or, for that matter, a single Chevy representative, is talking about. A mid-engined Corvette is probably a harder-to-drive Corvette. Moving mass to the middle means the need for faster hands is real and that catching a less stable car requires quicker reactions. It's the double-edged sword of physics, the potential burden of a nimbler Corvette.
But it probably won't be. The reality is that the Corvette team is filled with capable, invested engineers armed with the massive technological might of The General. They will, no doubt, tune the C8's Performance Traction Management to eke every last bit of grip and balance from its newly athletic chassis. They will make it save the overenthusiastic asses of thousands of Americans while sparing YouTube viewers the hassle of millions of disparaging comments. The C8, in ways different and better than the C7 before it, will likely be a remarkable car. At least it seems so from the passenger seat.
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