Rating: 9.1
Bottom Line:
This seventh-generation Corvette is all-new, from its core to the last molecule of its composite bodywork. The Stingray combines stunning looks and performance, exceptional handling and comfort, unprecedented refinement and the smart use of leading-edge materials and technology with some spectacular pricing. Sports car divas beware.
Pros:
  • Rakish, modern styling
  • Superb agility, tenacious handling
  • Fabulous new LT1 engine
Cons:
  • Tricky manual gearbox
  • Poor rear visibility
  • Light on interior storage

View Pictures:  Corvette Stingray

The Corvette, America's seminal sports car, turned 60 this year. After consistently expanding the performance and handling envelope of the sixth-generation 'Vette with standout variants such as the Z06 and ZR1, Chevrolet had likely reached the limits of that platform. Enter the Corvette Stingray, which literally stole the show at the Detroit Auto Show last January, headlining the seventh generation of General Motors' perennial halo car. This spectacular entrance was followed, shortly after, by the unveiling of the Stingray convertible at the Geneva Motor Show.

Model lineup
The name Stingray has been given to very few production versions of the Corvette and was originally written as two words for the now legendary 1963 "split window" coupe. The new Stingray coupe will be available first, in the last days of summer 2013. It is a Targa-type design with a carbon-fiber roof panel that can be securely stored in the rear cargo bay. Yet the new seventh-generation Corvette — aka the C7 — was designed from the start as a convertible. This variant will be available at the end of the year, with a new canvas top that can be opened or closed in about 20 seconds at speeds of up to 30 mph, or with the key fob while parked.

Both versions share a new aluminum chassis that is 57 percent stiffer than the outgoing Z06 Corvette's, yet almost 100 pounds lighter. For the first time, the frame will be fabricated on site at the Corvette's dedicated plant in Bowling Green, Ky.

The new Corvette is 2.3 inches longer and 1.3 inches wider. Its wheelbase has grown a full inch, and its front and rear wheel tracks are wider by 0.9 and 1.0 inch. But it is also half an inch lower — your eyes will make you swear it's smaller.

The Stingray feels smaller at all times from the driver's seat, due to smart touches such as a new steering wheel that is slightly smaller in diameter. In spite of the standard carbon-fiber hood and roof, stiff magnesium seat frames and systematic use of lightweight materials, this slightly larger Corvette is about 90 pounds heavier than its predecessor. That said, it is both quicker and more fuel-efficient.

In addition to expected creature comforts, the standard kit includes a new 5-mode drive program selector with 12 variables, a new 7-speed manual gearbox with a clever rev-matching mode, full steering-wheel power adjustments, two 8-inch control and infotainment screens, keyless start, a 9-speaker Bose audio system with satellite radio and Bluetooth connectivity with multiple media connectors.

Optional packages can add a navigation system and plenty of additional luxury trim and comfort items, but the clincher is the Z51 performance package — an absolute steal at $2,800. To the engine, it adds dry-sump lubrication for safer high-load cornering and a less-restrictive variable exhaust system that adds a touch more horsepower and torque. You also get larger wheels, stickier tires, larger and tougher brakes, bigger shocks with special tuning, and a new electronic limited-slip differential with specific cooling.

Watch Video:  Inside Cars: The iconic Chevrolet Corvette Stingray

Under the hood
The engine remains an overhead-valve unit with an aluminum block and heads, but it is essentially all new, save for a couple of bolts or screws. Now with direct injection, continuously variable valve timing and a host of leading-edge technologies, the 6.2-liter LT1 V8 develops 455 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 460 lb-ft of torque at 4600 rpm — numbers that go to 460 horsepower and 465 lb-ft with the Z51 package.

The standard gearbox is a new 7-speed manual with a clever rev-matching mode you turn on or off with steering-mounted paddles that are also used for the optional 6-speed automatic's manual mode. The first three gears of the manual are shorter for stronger initial acceleration. Chevrolet claims a scorching zero-to-60-mph time of 3.8 seconds for the Stingray. Launch control is available for both the manual and automatic in Track mode, one of the five modes you can pick with a drive selector knob on the console.

In spite of all this thunder, the Stingray flaunts excellent Environmental Protection Agency ratings of 17 mpg city/29 mpg highway with the manual. The highway rating even goes to 30 mpg in Eco mode, thanks to electronic cylinder deactivation that virtually turns the LT1 into a V4 engine under light loads. The system works like a charm with the manual, and it is effective in other modes with the automatic.

Inner space
The Stingray has an entirely new interior. No more barbs for the Corvette's seats or finish inside. The design and layout of the instrument panel and controls are fresh, modern and practical. The graphics on both full-color screens are perfectly clear and legible, even in full daylight. The driver's configurable screen is among the very best of the breed. The Tour, Sport and Track themes are linked to the corresponding drive modes or selected independently.

Track sessions have even helped industrial designer Ryan Vaughn and his team fine tune ergonomics and add features such as a trestle that delineates the driver's space and doubles as a grab handle for the passenger. The new standard GT seats, made by Lear, are a treat. They provide excellent comfort and overall support. Deeper-sculpted competition seats will be available soon for an extra $2,495.

The optional 3LT package is hard to resist, even at $8,005. Virtually everything inside gets wrapped in prime leather, and you get the latest of the Corvette's excellent color head-up displays, heated and ventilated seats with power lumbar and bolster adjustments, plus memory, a navigation system and a 10-speaker version of the Bose audio system with satellite radio.

In typical Corvette fashion, the cargo bay under the rear hatch is wide but shallow. Storage space is also rather scarce inside. Rear visibility isn't great either, with a narrow tapering rear window, substantial rear pillars and smallish, rectangular side mirrors.

On the road
The Corvette Stingray tracks like a hunting dog on curvy roads. Steering is by a new rack-and-pinion unit with electric power assist that varies from an exceptionally quick 12.0-to-1 ratio to a milder 16.4 to 1, and with a mere 2.53 turns of the wheel, lock-to-lock. The system as a whole is said to be five times stiffer. It is tight, precise and impeccably linear in transitions. Steering effort is adjustable on three levels. A bit more on-center feel and feedback would make it brilliant.

With the aforementioned Z51 package, the new Corvette was dynamite on the autocross course at the press launch. The electronic limited-slip differential delivers the promised wonders, mitigating understeer, maximizing traction and making the Stingray impressively agile and controllable in all drive programs, including the all-out Race mode. Traction on the fastest, longest corner was amazing with the new Michelin Super Sport run-flat tires, making the claimed 1.03 G-force in lateral grip fully believable.

Even on the roughest of roads the ride is firm at most, and never harsh, thanks to the optional magnetically variable shocks in all modes but one. Things stiffen up in Race mode, as they should — the slightest pavement crack sends shivers through the structure. It's a setting best kept for track days or autocross. The ride doesn't change noticeably between modes with the standard shock absorbers and settings.

Braking is fierce with the Z51 package's larger front brakes and vented rear rotors, with great modulation throughout. There is slightly less bite and grip in the base Stingray. All systems are by Brembo.

The new LT1 engine is most impressive in midrange torque. The sound is glorious in full acceleration and you get more in the Sport and Track modes. The Stingray is a quiet, smooth cruiser otherwise, especially when the V4 mode kicks in as cylinders are deactivated to enhance fuel economy — even at speeds beyond the legal limit.

The manual gearbox feels solid and tight, but engaging seventh gear requires a deliberate push, and you sometimes look for a gear on the narrow grid. The rev-matching mode works fine, but DIY shifters get well-laid-out pedals for heel-and-toe work, plus a solid footrest. The optional automatic loves the LT1's big torque, and you get decently quick downshifts with the paddles.

Right for you?
With a base price of $51,000, this new Corvette Stingray is an outstanding catch to start with, and there is no reason we can imagine to skip the $2,800 Z51 performance package. The rest is up to you. The story will most likely be the same for the $56,000 Stingray convertible that arrives later this year. This seventh-generation Corvette has hit the bulls-eye for its target audience and kept going from there. It's a true leap for the iconic American sports car and a remarkable achievement in its own right.

(As part of a sponsored press event, the automaker provided MSN with travel and accommodations to facilitate this report.)

A professional auto journalist for more than 25 years and the founding editor of Sympatico / MSN Autos, Marc Lachapelle is a two-time winner of the Canadian Journalist of the Year award from the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada, an accomplished photographer and licensed racer.