2020 Corvette Stingray first drive review: Born to dance

2020 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray

2020 Corvette Stingray first drive review: Born to dance

“The Corvette has always been America's sports car, but now it's ready to take on the world.”
  • Accessible performance
  • Well-integrated driver aids
  • Slick digital displays
  • Everyday usability
  • Limited luggage space
  • Awkward HVAC controls
MSRP $59,995.00

With a history stretching back to the 1950s, the Chevrolet Corvette is all about tradition. Yet with the latest, eighth-generation Vette, Chevy is breaking with it.

The 2020 Corvette Stingray is the most radical update of a Corvette in decades. The engine moves from the front of the car to the middle, a configuration preferred by the likes of Ferrari and Lamborghini. Corvette also embraces tech like never before, with a cockpit built around digital displays. Chevy even ditched the manual transmission for a dual-clutch gearbox.

What hasn’t changed? The Corvette’s value. The car’s $59,995 base price is close to a Toyota Supra or Porsche 718 Boxster/Cayman, but its performance rivals cars in the six-figure range. You can spend a lot more on a Corvette. Fully-loaded models sticker for closer to $80,000. Even then, it’s a deal.

Design

2020 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray

It’s hard to overemphasize the 2020 Corvette Stingray’s move from a front-engine to mid-engine configuration. Chevy has toyed with the idea since the 1960s, building numerous prototypes and concept cars along the way. The change is a major breakthrough for Corvette, elevating it from blue collar sports car into a rival for European exotics.

Why the change? “We’ve run out of performance capability in the front-engine architecture,” said Ed Piatek, the new Corvette’s chief engineer.

Rear-wheel drive limits traction. Horsepower is no good if you can’t put it to the road, after all. By moving the engine behind the driver, the mid-engine configuration shifts more weight rearward, putting pounds on the rear tires to help them grip.

It’s hard to overemphasize the 2020 Corvette Stingray’s move to a mid-engine configuration is.

Alex MacDonald, Chevy’s vehicle performance manager, said a mid-engine layout also helps the driver. The driver is closer to the front wheels, so the steering column can be shorter, which makes steering more responsive. The center of gravity is also closer to the driver’s hips, so the movement of the car feels more natural in corners.

That’s why a mid-engine layout is standard in IndyCar and Formula One, not to mention every supercar to grace a child’s bedroom wall poster.

Interior

Going mid-engine has a drawback, however. The engine occupies space normally reserved for people and stuff.

The 2020 Stingray has two trunks – one in front, and one in rear. The front trunk can accommodate a maximum-size airline carry-on bag. Between the two trunks, the 2020 Stingray has 12.6 cubic feet of total cargo volume. That’s a bit less than the previous-generation Corvette, and the current Porsche 911, if you add up the space of the Porsche’s front trunk and the area behind the front seats.

2020 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray interior
Stephen Edelstein/Digital Trends

The rear trunk can hold a set of golf clubs, but only if you leave the roof up. The removable roof panel on all Corvette coupes (a convertible model is on the way) takes up most of the rear trunk when stowed. Also, don’t be surprised if items stored in the rear trunk get a little toasty due to the engine.

Mid-engine cars often look great, but can be stressful to drive due to cramped cabins and limited outward visibility. That isn’t the case with the 2020 Corvette. The wide windshield offers an excellent view of the road, and large, well-placed mirrors compensate for the car’s tiny rear window and wide hips. Piloting this Stingray through traffic on the Las Vegas Strip wasn’t any more nerve wracking than any other car.

Tech

Despite its low price, the Corvette’s interior isn’t spartan. The car comes standard with a 12.0-inch digital instrument cluster and 8.0-inch infotainment touchscreen. It supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and has a built-in Wi-Fi hotspot.

Graphics for both screens were clear and easy to read while driving. Chevy also offers a “stealth” mode that turns off all nonessential information for night driving, but I didn’t have chance to test it.

2020 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray digital instrument cluster
Stephen Edelstein/Digital Trends

The infotainment screen is angled toward the driver for easier use, but is still reachable by the passenger. Analog HVAC controls are placed on a long divider between the seats. While it’s good to not have to rely on the touchscreen for these functions, the controls are poorly positioned.

The 2020 Corvette is available with blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert, but you have to move up from the base 1LT trim level to the 2LT to get them.

A 360-degree camera system is also available, along with the digital rearview mirror previously seen in the Chevy Bolt EV and other GM vehicles. This streams video from a rear-mounted camera directly to the mirror, effectively eliminating blind spots. It definitely comes in handy when backing up, as you’ll see about as much through the rear window as you would looking through an airliner window with the shade half down.

Scraping the front end on speed bumps and steep driveways is a problem with low-slung sports cars, but Chevy has a solution for that, too. The 2020 Corvette has a front-end lift system that raises the nose 40 millimeters at the press of a button. It can also remember up to 1,000 locations, so you can set it to activate automatically when pulling into your driveway.

Sports cars traditionally have Spartan interiors, but that’s not the case with this Corvette.

Chevy didn’t just use tech to avoid parking lot dings. Clever software helps any driver get the most out of the Corvette on a racetrack. The car gets the latest version of Chevy’s Performance Traction Management system, which manages the engine, transmission, and magnetic suspension (if equipped) to keep the driver out of trouble.

“We’ve got a system that will outsmart the best driver,” MacDonald said. The system has launch control for quick standing starts, and even a “flying car mode” that detects when the car is airborne and preps for a drama-free landing.

That system could get even better in the future. The Corvette was built around General Motors’ latest electrical architecture, which allows for over-the-air (OTA) software updates. Every major aspect of the car can be updated remotely, Piatek told Digital Trends.

There’s even a “flying car mode” that detects when the car is airborne and preps for a drama-free landing.

Like the previous-generation Corvette, the 2020 Stingray also gets Chevy’s Performance Data Recorder. It can record video, audio, and telemetry of laps so you can show off to your friends, or find ways to improve your driving technique. This latest version includes 1080p resolution, and a dash cam mode for on-road driving.

Performance

The Corvette’s engine is old school American muscle. Like the previous generation, the 2020 Stingray is powered by a 6.2-liter V8. It’s been modified to work in a mid-engine car. Chevy also added a dry-sump oiling system to improve on-track performance and, of course, has bumped up the power. With an optional performance exhaust, the new V8 – codenamed LT2 – makes 495 horsepower and 470 pound-feet of torque, compared to 455 hp and 460 lb-ft for the old LT1 engine.

Equipped with the optional Z51 performance package, the 2020 Corvette will do zero to 60 mph in 2.9 seconds, according to Chevy. That’s quicker than an Aston Martin Vantage, Lamborghini Huracán Evo, or Porsche 911 Carrera S – all of which cost tens of thousands of dollars more than the Stingray. Top speed is 194 mph, according to Chevy.

The V8 is coupled to an eight-speed dual-clutch transmission, making the 2020 Stingray the first Corvette without a manual transmission. While this takes away some driver involvement, the dual-clutch transmission can shift quicker than a human, and was easier to integrate with the Corvette’s Performance Traction Management system, MacDonald said.

Even novice drivers will be able to go pretty fast with confidence.

The combination of V8 brawn and software brains makes the 2020 Corvette one of the most well-rounded performance cars available. It’s comfortable and quiet in normal driving, and composed and predictable when you get more aggressive. A manual transmission might be more fun, but the dual-clutch unit shifts so smoothly that gear changes are imperceptible. And the Chevy V8 exhaust note is still pure bliss.

2020 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray
Stephen Edelstein/Digital Trends

When pushed on the track at Spring Mountain Motor Resort, the Corvette didn’t break a sweat. It’s not just fast. It makes you look good. The driver aids that keep you from crashing work in the background, so you don’t just feel like you’re along for the ride. It takes skill to push this car to its limit, but even novice drivers will be able to go fast with confidence.

The new car felt more nimble than the previous-generation Corvette, so Chevy’s claims about responsive steering hold up. The square steering wheel isn’t as awkward to use as you might think, and doesn’t block the instrument cluster, as in the Porsche 911. However, the steering didn’t feel as sharp as some other mid-engine cars, specifically the McLaren 570S, and rear-wheel drive versions of the Lamborghini Huracán.

Gas mileage and safety

Most people don’t buy a Corvette for gas mileage, but the latest version is rated at 19 mpg combined (15 mpg city, 27 mpg highway). The car’s trip computer showed a best of 31.4 mpg during a drive through the desert outside Las Vegas. Those are solid numbers for a big engine, likely aided by a cylinder deactivation system that shuts off four cylinders under light throttle loads.

The 2020 Corvette is a new vehicle, so predicting future reliability is difficult. Chevy doesn’t have the best reputation for reliability. The Corvette’s bespoke engine, dual-clutch transmission, and aluminum-intensive construction may make it more difficult to fix than a Chevy Equinox.

The Corvette has the same three-year, 36,000-mile, basic warranty and five-year, 60,000-mile, powertrain warranty as other Chevy models. That’s typical coverage in the auto industry.

Crash-test ratings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) aren’t available. Because the Corvette is a low-volume vehicle, they likely never will be. Neither organization rated the previous-generation model.

How DT would configure this car

To build our ideal Corvette, we would start by upgrading from the base 1LT trim level to the 2LT. This adds blind spot monitoring, front and rear cameras, the digital rearview mirror, and a 14-speaker Bose audio system (1LT models get a 10-speaker Bose system).

On top of that, we’d add the Z51 performance package. This adds $5,000 to the sticker price, but includes upgraded brakes, tires, and suspension, a performance exhaust system that unlocks maximum horsepower, and an electronic limited slip differential that ensures power reaches the pavement efficiently.

2020 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray
Stephen Edelstein/Digital Trends

We’d also upgrade from the base GT1 seats to the GT2 seats – a $1,495 option. These offer more support than the GT1 seats, but aren’t as aggressively bolstered as the available Competition seats, so they’re likely to be more comfortable in everyday use. However, drivers of different body types might think differently.

Without indulging in any of the customization choices, these options inflate the price of our hypothetical Corvette from the base $59,995 to $73,790.

Our take

The 2020 Corvette Stingray is a great car. Its thoughtful integration of tech, impeccable manners in everyday driving, and approachable performance make this a car anyone can enjoy.

The previous-generation Corvette was great as well, but Chevy’s ambitious reinvention has elevated this model. Performance is a step above other cars in the Corvette’s price range, such as the Toyota Supra and Porsche 718 Boxster/Cayman, and so is the tech.

That makes the latest Corvette more of a rival to exotics like the Ferrari F8 Tributo and Lamborghini Huracán, although this humble Chevy will likely never have the caché of the Italians. The Porsche 911 and Aston Martin Vantage lag behind the Corvette on the spec sheet, but they offer a more old school experience, with available manual transmissions and more traditional cockpit layouts.

Some media outlets have also compared the 2020 Corvette to the Ford Shelby GT500, a pumped-up version of the Mustang designed with track driving in mind. But the two cars are very different in character. The GT500 is a prizefighter that’s taken ballet lessons. The new Corvette was born to dance.

Should you get one?

Yes. The Corvette has leapt from sports car to supercar.

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