From sports car to supercar
THE GOOD
  • Exotic styling
  • Handling and performance
  • Significantly improved fit and finish
THE BAD
  • No option for manual transmission
  • Rear visibility
  • Sound could be amplified

There has been much hullabaloo amongst enthusiasts since Chevrolet announced the eighth-generation Corvette would live on without a manual transmission and with the engine behind the driver.

You can count yours truly among the vocal opponents to the plan. It seemed to me that there was room for the front-engine Corvette to coexist alongside this mid-engine C8, with this new model an addition to the lineup akin to the Ford GT and the Mustang-based Shelby GT500. Alas, I don’t have the clout with General Motors (GM) to make these kinds of decisions, nor was my input requested, so here we are.

With the kinks of the previous three generations ironed out, the C7 Corvette featured higher-quality materials and improved fitment, along with better handling and performance than before. Widely believed to be the pinnacle of this nameplate’s lineage, how good could a totally reimagined version possibly be? As it turns out, very good indeed.

Styling: 10/10

The design of the 2021 Chevrolet Corvette is less of an evolution of this car’s heritage and more of a revolution. While there are some subtle cues from previous iterations, it’s a completely different beast with unique angles and proportions. Over the course of my time with the car, I lost count of the compliments shouted in its direction. [Don’t sell yourself short either, Dustin. They could’ve been talking to you. – Ed.]

Curious motorists and pedestrians alike asked if it was a Ferrari, a Lamborghini, or a McLaren. That’s high praise for a car that can be had at considerably less than six figures. The sticker price for the 490-hp base coupe is a mere $69,398 – a fraction of what it would cost to put any one of those exotics in your driveway.

It doesn’t look or feel like a conventionally American car, which may alienate some but attract others. Of course, the optional Accelerate Yellow Metallic paint ($995) my tester was finished in helped capture attention, but I can’t think of another vehicle in this price range that has garnered such enthusiasm from companions and complete strangers alike.

Unlike previous generations, the convertible model is not a soft-top. An electronic mechanism raises or lowers the hard top in a scant 16 seconds at speeds as fast as 48 km/h, hiding it away under a body-coloured panel on the back half of the car. Unfortunately, that means the engine isn’t visible with the top either up or down. I also noticed one curious design element while using a touchless car wash: the engine compartment cover is angled towards the rear window so sharply that there is nowhere for water to drain. Several inches of water pooled against the glass and remained there until I drove up a hill.

Power: 9/10

The C8 Corvette makes use of a 6.2L V8 making 490 hp and 465 lb-ft of torque at 5,150 rpm. It comes mated to a dual-clutch transmission (DCT) for the first time, which utilizes eight gears for forward momentum. Opting for the Z51 performance pack bumps those numbers up to 495 hp and 470 lb-ft.

It isn’t so much its output numbers that make this car so miraculous but how effectively it puts them to use. Introducing your foot to the floorboard results in a scant chirp of protest from the rear tires before launching you forward from zero to 100 km/h in about three seconds. Shifts happen as fast as 100 milliseconds. As much as I lament the lack of a clutch pedal, there’s no chance I could ever hope to shift gears as consistently and efficiently as a DCT. [That acronym now has a new meaning: Dustin concedes triumph. – Ed.]

Better still: the chassis is capable of handling much more power. How much? I suppose we’ll find out when the Z06 – and perhaps even ZR1, if we’re lucky – arrives in the future. But for now, this Stingray offers up plenty of performance.

Driving Feel: 9/10

The unfortunate reality is that many supercars are an utter pain to drive on anything but a smooth road at speeds that could land you in prison. The Corvette, however, is something of an everyday exotic. The C7, like the many generations before it, was very tail-happy. As balanced as they became in recent years, applying the throttle with any enthusiasm would crack the back end loose whether intentionally or otherwise. Granted, it was part of the fun, but the C8 gets serious.

To borrow an oft-used metaphor – and one that even made an appearance in the film Pretty Woman after Julia Roberts teaches Richard Gere a thing or two about how to drive a Lotus Esprit with a manual transmission – it corners like it’s on rails. Turns can be taken faster and with more gusto than before. It feels like piloting a slot car. Part of this can be attributed to its balance and weight distribution, but the optional Z51 package takes it all up a notch. The $6,995 upgrade brings an extra five each of both horsepower and torque, yes, but also adds Michelin Pilot Sport 4S rubber, a rear spoiler, Brembo brakes, performance exhaust and suspension, a heavy-duty cooling system and rear axle with an electronic limited-slip differential (LSD).

A convenient dial at the top of the centre console selects the various drive modes – tour, sport, and track – that adjust steering, suspension, and throttle response. The C7’s automatic transmission felt sluggish in auto mode, but the C8’s DCT makes short work of gear changes regardless of whether you’re using the steering-wheel-mounted paddles or leaving it to its own devices. Throttle modulation did feel somewhat artificial and vague at times during testing, however.

Features: 8.5/10

Packaging options allow you to craft a car that suits your style and budget. Upgrading to the 2LT trim brings welcome features such as the adjustable head-up display, power lumbar adjustment, heated steering wheel, heated and ventilated seats, and a powerful 14-speaker audio system, as well as the premium infotainment with navigation, high-definition front and rear cameras, data and video recorder, and power folding mirrors.

Upping the ante to 3LT trim adds racing-style seats with Nappa leather and carbon-fibre trim, as well as wrapping the upper instrument panel, door trim panels, console, headliner, visors, and A-pillars in microfibre. Meanwhile, the Z51 package is a must-have if you wish to unleash the most potential available in the chassis – at least until the Z06 arrives.

User Friendliness: 9/10

Most supercars may be exciting for a quick fling, but they aren’t always enjoyable to live with long-term. They are often finicky, low, loud, harsh, and uncomfortable. Not so with the C8, which could easily be your daily driver. It’s also shockingly approachable. Previous generations would go sideways (literally) in a hurry if you weren’t careful, but you have to actively work at trying to upset the C8’s chassis to crack it loose, making it comfortable to drive slow and very easy to drive fast.

Chevrolet’s eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system with integrated navigation is simple and easy to pair with your phone. It features Bluetooth connectivity as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. A handy charging pad resides between the seats. It doesn’t take up valuable space that could otherwise be utilized for other driver-focused features and also makes you less inclined to look at your phone while you’re driving. Win-win.

Practicality: 8.5/10

Moving the engine from the front of the vehicle to behind the passenger compartment not only changed the proportions and driving dynamics, but also the visibility. The front- and rear-facing cameras – as well as blind-spot and parking sensors – certainly help.

Even with the optional nose lift function ($2,495), I wasn’t able to enter my usual car wash, but apart from that I didn’t run into any day-to-day issues with the 2021 Corvette. It’s easy enough to get into and out of, and while the performance suspension is relatively firm it’s compliant. The performance exhaust, available either as a standalone option or as part of the Z51 pack, adds some character but isn’t loud or abrasive enough to upset the neighbours. In fact, it could stand to be louder.

The coupe can be had with a targa-like roof panel that stores in the trunk, rendering it virtually useless when driving with it removed. However, the convertible conveniently hides the roof out of sight, allowing for the full use of the rear trunk, which is big enough to accommodate a pair of golf bags or enough luggage for a couples’ weekend away. The new mid-engine layout also allows for a front trunk (frunk), resulting in 357 L of total cargo space.

Comfort: 8/10

As far as it compares to the competition, the C8 Corvette is a very docile vehicle to drive under normal conditions. Its design allows for the roof to be removed or lowered without any perceivable impact on structural rigidity. Conversations can be had with the roof off (and the windows up), and music can be heard at a reasonable level until highway speeds are reached. Road noise does present itself in the cabin, but that’s generally par for the course when you’re driving a mid-engine high-performance vehicle on high-performance tires. The upgraded bucket seats featured in my tester come standard as part of the 3LT trim, with the option to upgrade to sportier seats for $775. The GT2s were comfortable and supportive without being intrusive or restricting as some seats this style can be.

Among the hallmarks of the Corvette’s new design is a driver-focused cockpit. The curved dash incorporates buttons and switches to adjust HVAC functions related to the dual-zone climate control as well as the heated and ventilated seats. While the setup is convenient and practical for the driver, numerous passengers complained about feeling somewhat claustrophobic and isolated by the layout. Otherwise, the Corvette has suffered with cheap materials and poor interior quality in the past, but the C8 leaves this behind. Interior design and materials are top-shelf.

Safety: 7/10

Not surprisingly for a vehicle focused on performance and driving enjoyment, the Corvette offers precious few driver aids. Checking the 2LT trim box gets you a blind-spot detection with rear cross-traffic alert. A rear-facing camera mounted on the Convertible’s hardtop projects within the rearview mirror.

Fuel Economy: 7.5/10

The Corvette’s massive 6.2L V8 features variable valve timing and is capable of shutting off cylinders that aren’t required under light driving conditions. The official estimates put the Corvette’s fuel economy numbers at 15.4 L/100 km in the city and 8.7 highway for a combined estimated total of 12.4, according to Natural Resources Canada (NRCan). I managed to get as low as 8.0 L/100 km, but over my time with the vehicle under a wide variety of conditions I averaged 13.8 L/100km.

Value: 10/10

The new Corvette provides a tremendous amount of value. Large panel gaps, rattles, creaks, or cheap, flimsy materials that plagued the last few generations are in the past. Its interior feels suitably, respectably buttoned up. Its handling is sublime, particularly in Z51 form, but does not sacrifice ride quality. Over the last few generations, it could always be said that the Corvette was a decent car – for the price. The C8 has unquestionably transcended this caveat to become a truly great car, full stop.

The Verdict

Departing from a tried-and-true formula that lasted nearly 70 years, the 2021 Chevrolet Convertible is a vastly different car aimed at a different buyer. Spending the day with members of the Corvette Club of Ontario, sentiment for the new model was unanimously enthusiastic and almost entirely positive.

I’ve tested many a Corvette over the years and never had a friend reach out to express interest, unless it involved a jab about me wearing a Tommy Bahama shirt and gold chains. But sure enough, when I posted images of this tester to my social media channels my inbox was filled with questions from friends who own Audis, Porsches, and BMWs. Through its bold, arguably risky decision to transform the Corvette into an automatic-only mid-engine supercar, Chevrolet has seemingly managed to attract a new audience, without entirely alienating the old guard. My advice for anyone who isn’t convinced that this is the best Corvette yet? Drive one.

Competitors

Specifications

Engine Displacement 6.2L   Model Tested 2021 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray 3LT Convertible
Engine Cylinders V8   Base Price $93,898
Peak Horsepower 495 hp @ 6,450 rpm   A/C Tax $100
Peak Torque 470 lb-ft @ 5,150 rpm   Destination Fee $2,000
Fuel Economy 15.4 / 8.7 / 12.4 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb   Price as Tested $113,463
Cargo Space 357 L combined  
Optional Equipment
$17,465 – Yellow seat belts, $495; Convertible top, $1,495; Front lift adjustable height with memory, $2,495; Z51 performance suspension with Magnetic Selective Ride Control, $2,180; Accelerate Yellow Metallic paint, $995; Edge Yellow Calipers, $695; Suede microfibre-wrapped steering wheel, $695; Five-open-spoke Carbon Flash-painted aluminum wheels, $1,295; Black wheel locks, $125; Z51 Performance Package, $6,995