On the Streets with the 2020 Chevrolet Corvette

Our much anticipated mid-engine Corvette Tester wows with refined performance but fails at the simpler things...

After a week behind the wheel, the C8 left us smitten with its performance, style, tech package, and price tag. We loved driving the new Corvette. However, some of the failings of the long-awaited mid-engine Corvette are so so glaring that the final score is far lower than you might expect. That’s life, though, and life isn’t fair.

The Corvette’s exterior design isn’t for everyone. During our week in northern Georgia, the C8 drew more attention than any car we’ve previously driven… People were in fact desperate to get a look at the Vette, so much so that causing an accident while just out for a drive was indeed a legitimate concern. As expected the reactions varied from wide-eyed amazement to one grizzled enthusiast clearly yelling-out, “That’s not a Corvette.”

Personally, we dig the look. Yes, it’s polarizing, but the C8 is a striking piece of design that pushes this legendary product into new territory. Chevy’s designers wisely put the 6.2-liter V8 on display under a transparent engine cover. The square rear end is pure Corvette (sorry boomers), and the aggressive front fascia has all the menace of a stealth fighter. The proportions are odd, though, with the mid-engine layout pushing the cabin awkwardly forward and leaving the car looking unbalanced.

Where the exterior draws commentary that borders on positive, acclaim for the cabin is universal. The brilliant red leather seats look fantastic, but we have to salute Chevy’s designers for mixing materials so cleanly. There are splashes of red that overshadow the sheer size of the dash and center console, while the cockpit layout, with an absurdly high center tunnel and unified gauge/infotainment cluster, drew further comparisons to aircraft.

However, much as we liked the cabin, we’re not giving Chevy a pass on the confusing mess that is the climate controls. Slapping them on the edge of the center tunnel is sloppy, like the folks at the Warren Technical Center finalized the design and then realized, “Oh crap, where’s the ventilated seat button go?” Chevy could do much better.

Our tester’s “GT2” seats were comfortable and supportive, both over long stretches and when tackling a corner, but Chevy stuck the seats in a space that’s just too tight. The entire experience is a bit like wearing shoes that are a size too small. t’s completely fair to argue that the tilt/telescopic steering needs a wider range of adjustability and that the space between the doors and the center tunnel is much too narrow for tall or overweight drivers. The steering wheel itself, a bizarre squarish thing with just two spokes, is uncomfortable to hold over long stretches, too, although we did like that the low position of the spokes made an ideal nine-and-three hand position easy.

Mid-engine cars don’t prioritize ingress and egress, which is fine, but the Corvette is a menace. Even with the doors open as wide as possible, exiting this car is not a graceful act. And if there’s a car parked next to you, just accept the fact that you’ll have to wait for them to leave – the C8’s long doors are especially thick, owing to the shape of the intakes. So you’ll either break yourself trying to squeeze through the gap or ding up your door by opening it too wide.

Once shoehorned into the cabin, this car redeems itself somewhat with stunning ride quality and impressive levels of sound control. Even our tester, which lacked GM’s excellent magnetic dampers, managed North Georgia’s backroads with ease, erasing high-amplitude imperfections (and doing its best to manage high-frequency bits (like strings of pockmarked asphalt) admirably. In fact, we would go so far as to argue that the C8 has hands-down the best ride of any mid-engine car on the market today.

It’s quiet, too. With the roof in place and the 6.2-liter V8 set to its quietest exhaust mode, the C8 does a fine impression of a car you could commute in daily. There’s little engine noise while cruising, and despite the frameless windows and removable roof panel, the wind is rarely a problem. Ditch that panel for alfresco motoring and the C8 manages airflow well, so long as the windows are up. We were able to maintain conversations at highway speeds with just a hint of yelling.

The C8 loses a point for its tight cargo holds. While you can stuff a golf bag in the faintly U-shaped rear trunk, neither the frunk nor the trunk could handle our small RTIC 20 cooler. And if you do want to go golfing, don’t plan on stowing the removable roof panel on board; like the last Corvette, it also eats into all the space.

Look no further than the Corvette’s tech-suite for a case of GM saving its brightest and best goodies for its most valuable products. The all-digital instrument cluster is one of the best driving aids around. The 12.0-inch high-def display is bright and easy to read even in direct sunlight and offers an impressive degree of customizability.

There are three separate gauge modes that mirror the three main driving modes (Tour, Sport, and Track). Tour is your typical digital speedo and circular tachometer. Sport adds red accents and moves the speedo out of the center of the tach, replacing it with a gear indicator. Finally, Track introduces a horizontal tachometer with an even larger gear display. Our 2LT tester also featured a big head-up display that mirrors the primary elements of the digital cluster. All in all, it’s an excellent setup that GM should be adding to as many vehicles as possible.

Our only complaint is that our tester didn’t carry the C8’s new GPS-guided nose lifting system. But even though we didn’t test it, we can say unconditionally that you want this $1,495 option – we didn’t damage the paint (we looked), although every entry or exit to a steep driveway was a painful affair as the plastic underbody dragged. The C8 scrapes on even the slightest inclines, no matter how careful your approach.

We’re hard on GM products for packaging, design, quality, and material problems, but there’s little arguing that most of its cars, and especially the performance products, are joyous to drive. The Corvette is at the top of that list.

The 6.2-liter V8 and new eight-speed dual-clutch are a match made in heaven. The LT2 V8 packs 495 horsepower and 470 pound-feet of torque, helping the 3,366-pound C8 scamper to 60 in around 3.0 seconds (the Z51 package enables a sub-3.0-second sprint), but numbers are a poor substitute for experiencing this engine.

The C8 dazzles out of the box. From a standstill, the power delivery from this naturally aspirated engine is a joy. Free of the urgency provided by turbochargers, the LT2 pulls off the line in a way that only a big engine can, with progressive and predictable behavior that builds rather than explodes. Winding out a Porsche 911 Carrera S is an exercise in responding to the sudden increase in engine speed, but while the Corvette revs quickly, there’s more time to savor it. It’s the difference between slamming a shot of whiskey and sipping on one – more enjoyable, even if the process isn’t as immediately intoxicating.

The C8 sounds stunning, too. Be sure to tick the box for the $1,195 dual-mode sport exhaust, then grab a drive mode that lets it sing at all times. This car’s sound is rich and sonorous and, unlike past Corvettes, mostly free of annoying valve train rattle under low loads or at low speeds.

Working alongside the LT2 is a new eight-speed dual-clutch transmission. Considering GM’s lack of familiarity with this sort of gearbox, the engineers behind it deserve high praise. Set for performance, it snaps off upshifts and downshifts, responding eagerly to the driver’s inputs through the undersized wheel-mounted paddles. In full auto and with Tour mode selected, the gearbox settles down and fades into the background. Engineers ironed out the bad manners that come with DCTs so that even on hills or at low speeds, the C8 behaves.

The suspension tuning is comfortable, but overall agility is still high. Particularly in how it turns in, the C8 will please owners seeking a real sports car experience, owing to the quick steering and firm suspension tuning. It’s sharp and darty, the sort of thing you can easily point at a bend and know it’ll just get there. There’s very little body roll, so you can push hard into corners and enjoy the supernatural grip. Even accelerating hard out of turns, the C8 feels planted and easy to manage. That came as a particular surprise, considering our tester’s Michelin Pilot Sport All-Season 4 ZP rubber.

Be warned, though: Chevy tuned the C8 for understeer. This is, frankly, for the best. The dynamics of mid-engine cars are far different than front-engine vehicles, so while we think Chevy could have gone for a more neutral handling character, the tendency to understeer slowly and predictably is good for people experiencing this layout for the first time. And anyway, it’s not like this will be the only C8 – Chevy has plenty of time to bring out sharper, better-balanced Corvettes.

Like its mid-engine rivals, the C8 Corvette has no active safety equipment. Not as an option. Not as part of a package. Not on one particular trim. Full stop. The only reason the C8 doesn’t have a lower score is that every version comes with a good pair of LED headlights.

Go with the base 1LT and you won’t even get blind-spot monitoring (it comes standard on the 2LT), which in our experience is the only way to manage the dangerously large over-the-shoulder blind spots. Changing lanes in a C8 is like a game of Russian roulette, solved only by accelerating rapidly and watching the side-view mirrors like a hawk while moving over. These are the worst blind spots your author has ever experienced in a car, bar none.

It’s unconscionable that a car launched in 2020 doesn’t offer at least rudimentary active safety gear (even automatic emergency braking or lane-keeping assist), even as an option. Not having active safety gear doesn’t make a vehicle less exciting or less macho – it just makes the car less safe.

While the C8 returns incredible highway fuel economy, it’s just on the cusp of a passing grade for its combined rating. Total figures are 15 city, 27 highway, and 19 combined. That’s probably the widest delta between city and highway fuel economy on the market. Our tester’s demand for 93-octane fuel drove it down a point further.

That said, we had little issue netting 18 mpg in mixed (but very aggressive) driving. Credit is partially due to GM’s excellent cylinder deactivation system. While less advanced than what you’ll find on the Chevy Silverado or GMC Sierra, which can shut down all but one cylinder, the C8’s ability to stop half its cylinders improves fuel economy while operating with complete invisibility.

For comparison, the hybrid Acura NSX returns EPA estimates of 21 city, 22 highway, and 21 combined MPG, while the Audi R8 nets 13 mpg city, 20 highway, 16 combined. All in all, that makes the Corvette a relatively efficient option, especially if you spend a lot of time on freeways.

Make no mistake, the C8 Corvette is one of the best performance values on the market. Prices start at $59,995, although you have a better chance of winning the lottery while being struck by lightning on February 29 than you do of finding a base C8 on a dealer’s lot. And as we covered in the safety section, you want the 2LT trim for its standard blind-spot monitor.

That setup demands $67,295 – or about $5,000 under an option-less Porsche 718 Cayman S (yeah, it’s even more affordable than the 911’s baby brother) – and adds a raft of features beyond blind-spot monitoring. You’ll get a Performance Data Recorder, a 14-speaker Bose audio system, a head-up display, heated and ventilated leather seats, and a heated steering wheel. Our tester added a spattering of likable options: $1,495 carbon-fiber-backed GT2 seats, $1,495 staggered wheels (19s in front, the 20s in back), the $1,195 sport exhaust, and $595 red calipers. All told, you’d be out the door for an extremely reasonable $72,075, or $175 more than the aforementioned Cayman S.

The C8’s value, though, demands additional emphasis. The Porsche 911 Carrera starts at $99,200. The Acura NSX asks at least $157,500. The Audi R8 is going for $169,900. And even when you remove engine layout from the equation, the C8 vastly undercuts the $115,900 Mercedes-AMG GT and the $153,000 Aston Martin Vantage. In other words, the first mid-engine Corvette is an unmatched bargain.