Automotive

2014 Chevrolet Corvette Z51

Updated: 2014-01-24T19:33:05Z

By TOM STRONGMAN

The summer after I graduated from high school, one of my friends bought a black 1963 Corvette Sting Ray with money from his late grandmother’s estate. One night, on a deserted country road in central Illinois, he let me take the wheel. The 327-inch V-8 and four-speed gearbox were magic to a 17-year-old, and I can still see the hood rising under acceleration as I slammed through the gears.

I thought of that night when I first drove the totally new 2014 Corvette that again carries the Stingray name, although now it is one word instead of two. The ’63 was raw and untamed, at times a little scary.

This Stingray has levels of performance and sophistication unheard of 1963. In fact, it is even a big step forward from last year’s Vette. It feels livelier and more athletic. The 6.2-liter V-8 puts out 455 horsepower (460 with performance exhaust system). It is smooth and silky at modest rpm, fierce and powerful when you hammer the throttle. Chevrolet says the Z51 performance package hits 60 miles an hour in 3.8 seconds, corners at 1.03Gs and scampers through the quarter mile in 12 seconds at 119 mph, making this the most capable standard Vette yet.

The seven-speed manual transmission has a gear for every situation. Fifth, sixth and seventh are all overdrive gears that enable the engine to turn over slowly on the highway, returning a surprising 29 miles per gallon, according to the EPA rating. A six-speed automatic, with paddle shifters, is optional.

There are five drive modes: Winter, Eco, Touring, Sport and Track. In Eco mode, the engine shuts down four cylinders when cruising on the highway. The transition from four to eight cylinders could be felt, but just barely. In Sport and Track, the optional multi-mode exhaust gets louder, throttle response crisper and the ride firmer – almost to the point of being uncomfortable on all but super smooth streets. I spent a lot of time driving in Sport, however, because the car felt more alive. And the sound was great.

There are two 8-inch screens with configurable displays as well as a head-up display. The choices were so numerous that at times I felt as if I were playing a video game. The main instrument display in front of the driver has three display modes. They can be selected manually or linked so that they change with the drive mode. The Track setting brings up a gauge design, with lap timer, like that used on the C6.R racing car.

Prices start at $51,995 for the coupe and $56,995 for the convertible. The test car, from GM’s press fleet, was a coupe with the Z51 performance package and its base price was $53,800.

This, the seventh generation Vette, shares only two parts with the previous model. Everything is new: the frame, chassis, powertrain, exterior, interior and all of the technology to make them work in unison.

The first thing you notice about the styling is that the car seems better in person than in pictures. Styling is always subjective, but to me, the design is a tad busy although the vents and spoilers all serve a purpose. Its looks grew on me during the course of a week. Heads swiveled wherever I drove it, in part because so few are yet on the street but mostly because the test car’s bright red paint, black wheels and yellow brake calipers demand that you pay attention to it.

The Corvette interior was in need of a major upgrade, and the Stingray is much improved. Every surface is wrapped with a soft-touch material, although I didn’t think the materials were as plush as those in the Chevrolet SS sedan. The deeply contoured seats have much better support for high-speed driving or long hours behind the wheel. Competition sport seats are an option.

The Z51 has an electronic limited-slip differential that balances steering response and stability. One aggravating item was the way the test car’s front wheels would bind and jerk when turning into a parking space or a driveway. I’m told that is completely normal, and worse in the cold, but that it gives the car a tight turning radius. I found it most unsettling because it was so pronounced.

It really isn’t possible to probe the upper reaches of the Stingray’s performance without access to a racetrack. Suffice it to say that Tadge Juechter, the chief engineer, has created a world-class performance car that is a relative bargain when compared with imported competitors, some of which cost tens of thousands more.

Price

The base price of the Z51 test car was $53,800. Options included head-up display, heated outside mirrors, heated and ventilated seats, Bose 10-speaker sound system, power seats, multi-mode exhaust, Chevrolet MyLink navigation, yellow brake calipers and black wheels, 19 inches in front and 20 inches in back. The sticker price was $62,085.

Warranty

Three years or 36,000 miles, with a 5-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty. Scheduled maintenance is free for two years or 24,000 miles.

Tom Strongman’s email address is tom@tomstrongman.com

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