2013 is shaping up to be a frantic year for Chevrolet, with over a dozen reveals and launches on its calendar. New iterations of the most financially and emotionally important vehicles to the brand are launching little more than a few weeks apart – the 2014 Silverado (financially) and the 2014 Corvette (emotionally). Better than any other models, these two lines form the bedrock for the Bowtie's identity and bookend its portfolio. The pickup is the backbone of the brand's profits (and indeed, those of General Motors) and the Corvette is its spiritual core and flagship.
It's fair to say that upon first impression, the new Silverado didn't exactly bowl over the assembled media – or the Autoblog commenteriat – with what many see as largely incremental improvements. (This, at a time when rivals are rewriting the book on what it means to be a full-size pickup). By contrast, the 2014 Corvette Stingray will slay a few sacred cows along the way to what is its arguably its biggest model-over-model change in decades. And at least at first glance, the Vette appears all the better for it.
We'll get to the specifics of its genetic makeup and appearance in a minute, but for now, you'll want to focus on these key bits: The all-new LT1 small-block V8 holds on to the same 6.2-liter displacement as the C6, here producing 450 horsepower and 450 pound-feet of torque backed by either a seven-speed manual or a six-speed paddleshift automatic. And although GM has yet to release the car's weight (we only know it won't be under 3,000 pounds as previously rumored), it's promising a better power-to-weight ratio than the Porsche 911 Carrera and Audi R8. In fact, Chevy pledges the C7 will run from 0-60 in less than four seconds and Z51 Performance Package examples will achieve cornering grip of over one g right out of the box. Further, 60-0 braking distances are said to be consistent with that of the outgoing Grand Sport and so are its lap times – impressive for a standard model.
Aesthetically, the car seen here is a big departure, though from most angles, it's still quite clearly a Corvette. About the same size as before, the C7 should nevertheless look significantly smaller in person thanks to its shrink-wrapped sheetmetal (err, fiberglass), which is much more angular. The front end is pure Corvette, with more detailed HID headlamps and much greater surface definition and tension in the hood, which, like the roof panel, is rendered in carbon fiber to shave weight. For reference, the C7 looks to be about the same size dimensionally as the 911, albeit with a significantly longer 106.7-inch wheelbase than the rear-engined German.
The C7's profile is the same basic view that's been around since the C4, with one big exception – the institution of a secondary side window, something not seen on a Corvette since 1962. The move was necessitated by air intakes mounted atop the rear fenders that feed the rear-mounted heat exchangers on automatic or Z51-equipped models (more on both in a moment). The ducts also mean the backlight is no longer a wraparound piece of glass, it's more flat and tapered. Otherwise, the side view is the same long dash-to-axle layout, albeit again, with more muscled contours to the skin, particularly in the body's lower third.
The biggest change aesthetically to the C7 is undoubtedly its rear end, which is utterly unlike any Corvette before it. It's likely to be the new design's biggest source of controversy, as well – there's no getting around it, the unusual taillamp treatment is going to be the crux of most styling discussions. Not only are the quad lenses not round, they are clustered together tightly, angular and have real depth and interest thanks in part to their lens internals and because they are surrounded by unusual new vents. There are new vents in the extremities of the blacked-out bumper, too, all part of a massively reworked aerodynamics strategy that has been "blatantly lifted from the C6R" racecar. Combined with the new side window and roofline, we almost see a bit of Nissan GT-R in the shallow rear three-quarter view, but there's plenty here that's distinctive, including four Howitzer-sized exhaust outlets.
It seems like every new vehicle generation brings with it larger and larger wheels and tires, but the C7 puts that trend on hiatus. At 18 inches by 8.5 inches up front and 19 inches by 10 inches in back, the Michelin Pilot Super Sports are the same diameter as the old car, but an inch narrower in front and two inches narrower in the back than the C6 GS. That restraint should pay dividends in a number of arenas, including reduced unsprung weight, better steering response, improved aero and reduced road noise. The Stingray's turning circle is two feet tighter than the exit model, too.
Like the outgoing ZR1 and Z06, the C7 rides atop an aluminum frame, a change that helps save some 99 pounds while adding 57-percent more rigidity, and the front and rear cradles that rest atop it are now rendered in hollow-cast aluminum, too, for a weight savings of 25 percent up front and 20 percent in the rear versus the C6, yet they are lighter and stronger than their magnesium counterparts from the exiting Z06.
Those weight savings are important, because in order to meet ever-stricter crash regulations, develop a much richer interior and add performance, some weight had to be added back in the form of new equipment. Counterintuitively, Chevy tells Autoblog that if its engineers didn't have to care about fuel economy, the C7 would actually be lighter. How's that? The new small block incorporates features like direct injection, variable-valve timing and cylinder deactivation ("Active Fuel Management") trickery, all of which adds weight. The new engine management hardware alone adds 35 pounds, plus there's a further 5.5 pounds for the AFM exhaust valves (so the engine doesn't sound objectionable when operating in V4 mode), another 15 or so pounds for the steel torque tube to help improve drivability with AFM, etc.), and so on. Surprisingly good fuel consumption figures have become something of a hallmark in recent generations, and it was a top priority to preserve that leadership in the new generation.
So the new C7 figures to weigh more-or-less the same as the C6, but engineers says they've taken pains to locate the weight in the right places to ensure 50/50 weight distribution. That means splurging on things like the carbon roof and hood panels to assure a lower center of gravity, but also means using lighter sheet-molded compound for the fenders, doors and rear quarters, not to mention advanced carbon-nano composite underbody panels. Together, those changes account for a weight loss of around 37 pounds.
We took a long look at the LT1 when it was unveiled back in October, but it's worth noting a few more choice sound bites – despite having a smaller displacement, the new small block matches the torque curve of the 7.0-liter LS7 found in the Z06 from 1,000 to 4,000 rpm. Said another way, GM notes that competitors as diverse as the BMW M3, Porsche 911 and Ferrari 458 Italia are all putting out about 250 lb-ft of torque at 2,000 rpm. At that point, the LS1 is already churning out 400. Murrica!
A word about the transmissions – the optional Hydramatic six-speed carries the same model number as before – 6L80 – but incorporates a host of new internals, including revised gears, a different torque converter and active fuel management software.
More interestingly, the all-new seven-speed manual is a Tremec unit, and it incorporates rev-matching for both downshifts and upshifts (it's also defeatable via a steering-wheel paddle). We've seen rev-matching tech before, but generally such systems only goose the throttle on downshifts. This system is predictive, too, in that it "sees" which gate the gearshift lever is going and adjusts its response in anticipation. Engineers are particularly proud of the fact that they've gotten cylinder deactivation to play nice with the manual transmission (it might be the industry's first such application), as apparently it's much harder to get variable displacement technology to play without a torque converter to smooth out transitions.
Also saving fuel is a new electric power steering system. Traditionally, EPAS technology and "steering feel" haven't exactly been on speaking terms, but GM engineers have worked hard to bridge the gap by increasing the stiffness of the entire system by a whopping 500 percent thanks to tricks like mounting the steering gear directly on the cradle and reinforcing the steering column. The proof will be in the driving.
As is the way these days, there's more driver-selectable performance settings than ever before, with the unimaginatively named Drive Mode Selector governing no less than a dozen attributes including throttle, active fuel management, steering effort, exhaust note, Magnetic Ride Control suspension compliance (on models so equipped) and stability and traction control intervention points. There are five general settings, Weather, Eco, Tour, Sport and Track, but individual aspects can be tailored to the driver's whim, as well. The DMS also promises not to overload the driver with irrelevant details, with relevant information displayed on the eight-inch in-cluster screen and varying depending on the mode selected.
We mentioned the Z51 Performance Package earlier, and for 2014, it's a pretty comprehensive bundle of kit, with key drivetrain elements consisting of a dry sump system, close-ratio gearset, electronic limited-slip differential, and additional coolers for the brake, transmission and differential. Visual telltales will include brake-cooling ducts, model-specific rear spoiler, and inch-larger wheels shrouding larger slotted brakes and Bilstein dampers with optional Magnetic Ride Control.
On the subject of the creature comforts, the Corvette's cabin has received a badly needed clean-sheet redesign. If there were any single line item on the C6's resume that wasn't up to scratch, it was the interior, which was marred by suspect plastics, uncomfortable seats, antiquated infotainment accessed through pixilated displays and counterfeit-feeling switchgear that would've been unacceptable in a Cruze-class econobox.
The Stingray's new dashboard features a prominent driver-focused cockpit design whose aesthetic reminds us a bit of the last Toyota Supra, albeit rendered in superior materials. Designers wanted to make the interior appear more intimate, so they started with a 14.1-inch smaller-diameter steering wheel and worked their way out. With the exception of two minor pieces, the cabin air filter and a roof panel latch, absolutely nothing carries over from the C6 indoors. Designers are calling this a "fully-wrapped interior" with soft-touch surfaces everywhere from the door armrests to the sides of the transmission tunnel. The cabin will feature real aluminum trim and optional carbon fiber accents, and will be available in a number of colors including black, gray, red and Kalahari brown.
Critically, there are two different new seats, GT and Competition Sport, either of which provide more aggressive bolstering than the outgoing chairs. Regardless of the buyer's choice (we're being told that Competition Sport seats are bolstered so aggressively that some may find them uncomfortable for daily use), both designs feature lightweight magnesium frames. Weekend track warriors can probably rig five-point harnesses with either seat, but the GT's twin holes around the shoulder look like they offer better placement.
In GM's own design clinics, customers preferred the C7's interior to the R8 two-to-one, and they skewed four-to-one over that of the 911. Importantly, however, that A:B testing dates from the last-generation Porsche and the pre-facelift Audi (which didn't really change all that much). We should have a better idea of how we feel about the new digs after locking ourselves inside of a display car for a while at the reveal event or down on the Detroit Auto Show floor.
There's no word yet on pricing, but GM says the new C7 will be in dealers in the third quarter of this year, likely September.
It's a bit of a shame that the 2014 Corvette is being revealed today, January 13, because it misses the 60th anniversary of the original Corvette's reveal by just four days. On January 17, 1953, the car that would come to be known as the C1 was unveiled as a concept in New York City at GM's Motorama display. The response was swift and powerful, with crowds demanding it be put into production. GM happily obliged in short order.
Of course, the '50s were a much different time, both for General Motors (and for the nation as a whole) thanks to the optimism of the jet age fueling the economy and our country's collective ambition. Neither GM nor the land it calls home is in anywhere near the fighting shape it was back when the first Corvette bowed. And while far healthier than it was in the teeth of the bankruptcy crisis just a few years ago, GM very much still needs a hero to light the way. A world-beating Stingray could do just that.
Let's hope it's good.