Hating to love, or loving to hate the C8: The best Corvette yet is also the worst
You know those Chevy commercials, the ones in which they have “real people, not actors” who they not-so-convincingly ask if they think a Malibu or Equinox or other bowtie-bearing bore-box is something up-class and wearing a much heavier sticker price? As fabricated as those ads are, that’s the tactic Chevy employed in reality with the design and performance goal for the C8 Corvette. It’s formulaic: Ferrari or McLaren styling (take your pick), Porsche-quality gearbox, exotic-emulating cockpit, and so on. But the C8’s heart still beats Chevy, and its purpose for being continues to stand as the hardest-hitting performance car value ever. As the C8 pushes the Corvette’s boundaries and limits to a point it has never before explored, is it actually a good car, or even a good Corvette?
The thing about Corvettes is that the model built its résumé on performance without pretentiousness. Until recently, at least. Things changed with the C7, when the ‘Vette’s styling caught up to its performance, finally arriving with looks as aggressive as its performance promised. With the C8, it’s a whole different world. Moving the engine to the back inherently forced the proportions to change. Rather than the long-nose, short-deck layout like a Viper, Mustang, or, car gods forbid, the Corvette’s own Camaro stablemate, the C8 eschews its long-famous, long-evolving muscle-minded shape for that of a supercar. Its model-mandatory V8 now sitting behind the occupants, you wouldn’t be faulted for mistaking the C8 for a McLaren or Ferrari. Many people still do, even coming up on two years since its launch. Like those incessantly irritating Chevy commercials suggest, covering the badges and thrusting the C8 on unsuspecting civilians would have them genuinely thinking this is a car of British or Italian descent. More American now than ever, Corvette represents something truly American, a melting pot of foreign and domestic values baked into one mega performance bargain.
For the first time, the Corvette’s styling is decidedly flashy, a consequence of the engine’s transition to the opposite vehicular hemisphere. Its C7-derived nose and taillights don’t look bad from afar, but up close the styling becomes fussy and overwrought. Shame about the trunk aft of the rear axle, as it ruins the proportions and lengthens the back unnecessarily for anyone not involved with golf clubs or the model’s design briefing at GM. Yet, it’s impossible to ignore how far the Corvette has come.
Thankfully, the architectural departure from traditional American to traditional European performance car also means the C8 is by far the easiest Corvette to see out of. Looking forward, at least. Backward, not so much (though the digital rearview mirror helps), and don’t even try to look over your right shoulder to inch out into traffic. But styling isn’t everything, especially not with a car branded Corvette across its rump, and when it comes to putting the hammer down the Chevy delivers on everything its looks and lineage promise. Out back lives a NASCAR-sounding V8 that’s endlessly powerful, however the noise is far less than exotic and at times, especially down low in the RPM range and when the engine shuts down half its cylinders and goes into V4 mode (yes, you read that right), feels primitive compared to the forced induction units and low-displacement V8s from across the pond. The snaps and pops it emits are juvenile, forcing laughs reminiscent of being in middle school and trying as hard as you can to hold it together to avoid the teacher’s scowl, but you just keep laughing. Somehow the sounds get old quickly. As good as it is, the C8 Stingray’s engine isn’t “special,” and when you’re paying almost $100k for a car (our tester stickered at $93,620) the engine should be enamoring.
As less-than-stellar as the LT2 is, the new Tremec-sourced 8-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission is its antithesis. Heresy for those who need the ego-boost of telling everyone their Corvette has a clutch pedal, sure, and yet the gearbox snaps off shifts at a remarkable rate reminiscent of Porsche’s seemingly-inimitable PDK. The DCT is absolutely the shining star of the C8 package, but in going to such a spectacular transmission the Corvette loses some of its ability to transmit the sensation of speed to its driver. With shifts quicker than the snap of your fingers and ratios that make for the perfect amount of shortness between gear-changes, there’s zero interruption in thrust when accelerating. Slamming your boot into the firewall at any speeds produces a result that somehow always feels the same, regardless of what the speedometer indicates at the start of your race to jail-level speeds. And its cornering abilities are well beyond those which can be explored on any open-to-the-public street, at least in the Northeast.
Even in base C8 Stingray form, the ability and human interaction involved in driving fast are missing from the C8 in a way the Corvette has never before been subject to. Everyone can be a hero so long as they have the capacity to display moderate restraint of their gas-pedal operating extremity. The C8 perfects the video game feel that the GT-R made famous when it debuted in 2007. Rolling onto the gas at 20 MPH and 60 MPH has no discernible difference. Cornering at a rate Miatas can only dream of feels like more human speeds than what the Heads Up Display relays. Hitting the gas mid-way through a corner and rocketing from turn to turn means all you have to do is point the steering wheel and brake before the woods you’re approaching quickly become game over. The C8 feels like it does a lot of the job for you, rather than you doing the job and being rewarded for it.
That’s not to minimize the C8’s performance. It’s truly outstanding, pushing the Corvette into territory it once desperately strained to touch and could never grasp. 0-60 in sub-3 seconds used to be Porsche Turbo territory; today, even a base $60,995 C8 Stingray can rip those off consistently and repeatedly. It’s simply shocking to experience. And then you look around the cabin, and despite the wannabe-exotic deliberately fighter-pilot-esque arrangement and mesmerizing performance, some aspects of C8-land are impossible to like. Evident cost-cutting and build quality to make Tesla giggle present their evil little heads more and more the closer you look. Panel gaps exist on the plastic interior panels of the convertible mechanism through which I was able to fit my rugged case-wearing iPhone. Hard, cheap plastic is abundant. Sure, this was a high-ish mileage press loaner that was undoubtedly beaten on hard by everyone journalist who touched it before me. Somehow, though, the C8 doesn’t feel closing-in-on-$100k premium. Good thing the performance figures speak to the contrary.
It all feels very calculated, for lack of a better word. Built to a price. Numbers over sensations. It’s something that the Corvette has always been subject to in its quest for world domination, and now it hampers the experience. Though the V8 constantly sings the song of American thunder, the C8 has lost some of the freedom that ‘Vettes of yore shouted as their mating call.
The C8 Corvette arguably is the best performance car under a quarter of a million dollars and yet the Everyday Driver community would undoubtedly collectively pick an Evora GT or 718 GTS 4.0 despite the Brit and German being down on speed, acceleration, and cornering abilities. There’s more to a drive than sheer numbers, a motto we live and breathe here at EDD. On the front of intangibles, the C8, at least in my week with one, failed to stun.
And that’s my biggest gripe with the C8. As fast as it is, as fantastic as it is to drive (the steering feel and directness is extraordinary, as is the ride quality), as much as it shocked the world in finally coming to fruition after all these years of rumors and spy photos, the latest and greatest Corvette is missing that special something. That intangible fizz that’s as present in great cars as are clichés in car reviews. Driving the C8 is a truly special experience, but at the end of the day and the end of what would be a special drive, the Corvette itself isn’t special. Never after parking the C8 did I long for an unobstructed, unbothered time to drive the car. Maybe with the supposed flat-plane crank and higher redline, the soon-to-be-released Z06 will tick that final, nearly-untouchable box.
The importance of the C8 and how far it has moved the bar isn’t lost on me. I owned a C6 Grand Sport, with the 6.2L LS3 V8, Tremec TR6060, Z06-esque wide body, Z06 brakes, targa roof, dry sump, added cooling capabilities, Magnetic Selective Ride Control, and so on. It always felt like it was there to be tamed rather than just driven, like I had to put in an exorbitant amount of effort to extract even seventy-five percent of its capabilities. For that reason, it was exciting. One of my best friends has a C5 that’s been modified extensively and makes more power at the wheels than does the C8’s LT2 (yes, it also has copious amounts of suspension, tire, and brake upgrades). His car, too, feels like it’s yours to drive rather than something already fully controlled that just needs to be piloted, as was the impression the C8 made on both of us. Moving the engine to the back was crucial for performance but caused the Corvette to lose some of that lunacy and required driver interaction that made a Corvette a Corvette for the duration of its life. Until now, until C8.
In every measurable, objective way, Chevy’s C8 Corvette is not just the best ‘Vette yet, it’s one of the best sports-turned-supercars ever made and unquestionably raises the namesake’s performance-per-dollar value quotient even higher. Maybe I’m old school, or maybe I’m just clinging onto the past, but the Corvette is desperate for something more than a sensational transmission and its engine in the back. It cries for an extra touch of polish, and, simultaneously, to loosen its belt a few rungs. The Corvettes of the past that we’ve come to know and love weren’t so fond in our hearts because they were perfect, it’s because they were imperfect in ways that driving it helped you grow as a driver and interact with the car on a fundamental level. The 2021 Corvette Stingray Convertible 3LT w/Z51 package is missing that, and the upcoming Z06 has its work cut out for it. Not on a numbers level, but on an emotional level. Hopefully the addition of Z to the C8 name will let the subjective surpass the objective, and flip the formula to the way it’s meant to be. Until then, the best Corvette ever is also, sadly, the worst.