TUSTIN, Calif. – The radical new 2020 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray looks like a spaceship or fighter jet, but its superpower is gravity, not flight.
In the biggest change in America’s greatest sports car’s 66-year history, engineers moved the eighth-generation Vette’s engine from its familiar location under the hood to behind the passengers, over the rear axle.
That’s because gravity was an ally, not a foe as Chevy worked to let the Vette put more power on the road than ever before, chief engineer Tadge Juechter told me in an early look at the sports car that debuted Thursday night.
“We began exploring possibilities in 2005,” two full generations of the Corvette ago, Juechter said.
With 60% of the car’s weight over the rear axle – the proportion super car maker Ferrari traditionally pursues – gravity pushes the rear wheels down onto the road so they don’t spin, inaugurating a future of faster and more maneuverable Corvettes.
The result? Zero to 60 mph in less than 3 seconds and more technology and luxury than ever before in a car that remains unmistakably a Stingray.
The changes are so profound that some longtime Corvette fans swore Chevy ruined the car before they saw one without camouflage, sat in the driver seat or learned how quick it was.
I’ve done all three.
Classic V8 sound and power
The engine is GM’s classic small block V8, a normally aspirated 6.2L that produces 495 horsepower and 470 pound-feet of torque. Both figures are up from the previous base model. The sky’s the limit as GM develops engines for even higher performance models like the ZO6 and ZR1.
A new eight-speed dual-clutch transmission promises lightning fast shifts and smooth operation. Designed specifically for the eighth-gen C8 'Vette, the DCT is programmed to rev high and shift fast, changing gears at the moment the engine reaches peak horsepower and revving down to the point of maximum torque for uninterrupted acceleration.
There’s no manual transmission, a Corvette first that’s certain to be a bone of contention with the car’s critics.
Everybody’s entitled to their opinion, but a good dual-clutch transmission is faster, smoother and more efficient than a manual. Chevy made the right choice but included paddle shifters for dedicated do-it-yourselfers.
Despite its radical engineering makeover, the C8 is immediately recognizable as a Corvette. Moving the engine behind the passenger compartment changed the proportions, but not the car’s personality. The LED running lights, fenders, “waterline” crease and square taillights all say “Corvette.
The driver sits lower in a cockpit that moved 16 inches forward from the previous car. The hood is lower, for a better view of the road. The roof is four-tenths of an inch lower, the wheelbase is a half inch longer. The car grew 5.4 inches longer, but the new proportions keep it from looking bulky.
High-end materials, no tuning dial
The interior is a revelation, crafted specifically to address the most consistent complaint about recent Corvettes: great car, chintzy passenger compartment. Other than buttons and switches, there’s not a piece of plastic to be seen. Everything that isn’t wrapped in leather is carbon fiber, aluminum or ballistic nylon on high-wear areas like seat bolsters.
There’s 1 inch more seat travel.
The center console loses the conventional shift lever to toggles and buttons. They look intuitive, but time will tell.
A big touchscreen angles toward the driver for easy use, with a nearby leather wrist rest on the center console. The audio system has a dial for volume, but not one for tuning. Narrow vents across the dashboard provide air flow.
Controls both occupants will use – temperature, heated and ventilated seats, etc. – are easy to reach in the middle of the car.
On first inspection, the 2020 Stingray’s only trade-off seems to be that it lost the yawning rear luggage compartment that made the old car surprisingly practical. In exchange, the '20 Corvette has a pair of smaller trunks, one behind the engine, one in its nose. The rear compartment will hold a pair of full-size golf bags, or a set of Corvette-branded luggage, but total luggage space is down 16%, from 15 cubic feet in a 2019 Corvette coupe to 12.6 in the 2020. The Stingray’s removable roof fits in the rear trunk, making it easy to enjoy open-topped driving.
Selected features on the 2020 Stingray
- 495-hp 6.2L V8
- Eight-speed dual clutch automatic transmission by Tremec
- Cylinder deactivation
- Electronic limited slip differential
- Front and rear trunks
- Removable roof
- Standard all-season tires
- Magnetic Ride Control adaptive suspension
- Front suspension raises 1.6 inches for steep driveways, etc.
- GPS memory to recall 1,000 locations that require the raised front
- 12 exterior colors
- Six seat belt colors
- Three seat options
- Aluminum structure, composite exterior panels
- Right- and left-hand drive versions
- Glass cover to make the engine visible
- 10- or 14-speaker Bose audio
Follow Mark Phelan on Twitter: @mark_phelan.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Chevy breaks the mold with faster, more sophisticated 2020 Corvette