Farewell, Front-Engine Corvette

There are few vehicles or nameplates in the world that are as universally iconic and immediately recognizable as the Corvette. It’s a model with which I’ve always felt affinity and affection, resulting in conflicting emotions with the announcement and subsequent unveiling of the all-new mid-engine Corvette for 2020.

By all accounts a spectacular looking and performing car, the 2020 Chevrolet Corvette shares little with its predecessors of the same name. I felt it was time to experience the last of the true Corvettes after years of disenchantment with sub-par performance and quality.

Growing up, my bedroom walls were plastered with posters and magazine clippings of various models and generations over the course of the car’s legendary history. Reading every possible review and story I could get my hands on, I spent hours in my room dutifully memorizing specs and historical tidbits rather than completing the homework I’d been assigned in school. I was certifiably obsessed. I vowed that one day I would purchase one of my very own.

After I graduated and secured employment, I test drove a bright red C4 (fourth-generation) ZR1 nearly identical to the diecast model that sat on my shelf as a child. The old adage “Never meet your heroes” echoed in my mind as I later left the dealership saddened and deflated. It was among the most disappointing driving experiences of my life. By contemporary sports car standards, throttle response was lethargic and nonlinear, the clutch and brake pedals were vague, and the shifter nearly changed time zones between gears. Suspension wallowed and bounced over road irregularities and unidentified clatters emerged from various places throughout the plastic cabin. The C5 and C6 Z06s I tested years later were vastly better, but still bad. Wide panel gaps, cheap interiors, and unexplained rattles left me disappointed each time. I can appreciate the appeal for some, but they weren’t for me.

The C7 however, is a revelation. And now it’s going away.

Ranging from the naturally aspirated 465 hp entry into the lineup to the top-of-the-line 755 hp ZR1, the Z06 resides somewhere in between. Outfitted in Corvette Racing Yellow, it is anything but subtle. Boasting flared fenders and a selection of aggressive and quite necessary aerodynamic affectations, its interior creates a sense of occasion that matches its outrageous exterior. Sliding behind the carbon-fibre- and microfiber-wrapped steering wheel, it’s easy to find a comfortable, commanding driving position. The competition sport bucket seats are supportive but not obtrusive. The last Corvette to feature its engine up front, the bulging dual-colour hood hints at the Supercharged LT4 small-block V8 lurking below. The 3LZ preferred equipment group covers surfaces in leather and microfibre and adds Napa leather seats. The black aluminum wheels compliment the side louvres, brake calipers, front splitter and large rear spoiler, accentuated by the visible carbon fibre ground effects package. Microfibre, carbon fibre, accent stitching, and the quilted suede headliner leave all previous Corvette interiors in the dust. Gone are the dismal days of cheap interiors compiled from ubiquitous parts bin plastic. Finally!

In our modern world of watered-down political correctness and conformity where everyone seems to drive a silver crossover, the Corvette bucks this trend. Cold engine starts woke my neighbours and scared school children with the volume and fervour of an ill-tempered mountain lion. It’s difficult to complain about 650 hp and lb-ft of torque other than the limited opportunities where it can legally be exercised and enjoyed. 100 km/h can be reached (theoretically) from a standstill in 2.95 seconds. The challenge that often presented itself over the course of the week became finding enough grip to harness said horsepower. I was basically limited to swift bursts on entrance ramps getting up to speed on the highway. Even under moderate throttle, the 335/25/ZR20 Michelin Pilot Super Sport rear tires would light up like the Fourth of July all the way up to fifth gear, so firm hands on the wheel and a gentle touch on the gas pedal had to be used to keep things from going sideways. Literally. Needless to say, acceleration is… brisk.

Regrettably outfitted with an eight-speed automatic transmission, cogs could be swapped via the microfibre-wrapped gear selector with yellow contrast stitching or the matching yellow paddle shifters mounted behind the steering wheel. Despite its ferocious capability, it can also be quite civilized. Unlike many purpose-built, high-performance cars, the Corvette can easily be piloted slowly. Transmission shifts are swift but smooth and it doesn’t protest at not being driven at the limit. Regardless of how you want to drive, its an eager accomplice. You may not think of a 650 hp sports car as an ideal grocery getter, but the Corvette’s storage area is cavernous and easy to access through the massive opening granted by raising the hatchback – an anomaly in a sports car.

Changing modes is easily done through the circular knob located on the centre console. Steering and throttle response and increased while intrusion of traction control and stability nannies are reduced. The visual display prioritizes different bits of information accordingly. Suspension settings are all far more suited to track duty than poorly maintained city streets. It’s also wide, low to the ground and powerful enough that driving in the rain or snow isn’t advised. The suspension may be too firm for some but will be lauded by others for its ability to lap tracks and carve canyon roads with surgical-like precision. If you aren’t a fan, you can easily opt for the more subdued Grand Sport.

Steering is precise and predictable and handling is sharp. Driving in full-on automatic mode, transmission shifts up and down the range are precise and adequate, shifting early and often to keep revs down. Changing gears using the paddle shifters may be faster than the time it would take me to do it with a manual transmission, but not by much. And not nearly as fun.

The optional carbon-fibre targa roof panel saves weight and is easy to carry. It’s also nice to experience open air motoring without having to deal with all the compromises that come with driving and owning a convertible.

The 8.0-inch colour touchscreen infotainment system includes navigation, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay capability, and a stereo that frankly couldn’t compete with the sound echoing from the rear quad pipes. The user interface was finnicky and often experienced glitches over the course of the week, showing a blue screen rather than the back-up camera for instance. The Corvette has always been the halo model that ushered in new technology with varying success and the C7 is no different. The Performance Data Recorder (PDR) allows the driver to capture audio, video, and data to be enjoyed and analyzed with customized displays.

Granted, it’s tough to fly under the radar in a car this colour, but the Z06 gets loads of attention. Middle-aged men would give me the thumbs up or nods of approval while every guy in a BMW 3 Series or done-up Subaru tried to race me. Anytime I got in or out of the car in a parking lot, I had to be prepared to answer questions from curious onlookers. That doesn’t usually happen for a vehicle under $300,000. With an entry-level price of $93,795 and an as-tested MSRP of $123,305, it’s not cheap. But it offers tremendous value. This car is something special indeed.

The C7 is not without its faults and shortcomings, but nor were its predecessors. It will be interesting to see how it ages and what its legacy becomes in the timeline of the marque. Will the last of the classic Corvettes become collectibles or will they be cast into obscurity by the style and performance of their successor, which is by all accounts a mid-engine budget supercar for the masses. Time will tell. Either way the attraction and adoration this car receives is well deserved. It represents what the Corvette has always strived for in the past but never quite achieved, until now. You should buy one while you still can. I just might. After all, it’s the last chance to get one with a manual transmission.

Mid-engine C8 marks the end of an era 12/5/2019 7:30:00 AM