- Ross Ballot
The C8 Corvette is more fun on snow tires
A global heat wave is hurting nearly every corner of the inhabited earth as I write this. And I’m sitting here, reflecting on how a week earlier this year spent driving a C8 Corvette on snow tires completely changed my mind about the car. Winters on a ‘Vette? Blasphemy, you must think. Hear me out: The best way to gain appreciation for the C8 is to experience it with its running shoes swapped for snow boots. Through this lens, I finally realized what a spectacular machine it is. Getting there wasn’t easy though, and admitting you’re wrong never is. Here we go.
Speed and performance are accessible in a way they never have been before. This is no more evident than in the Chevrolet’s C8 Corvette which delivers power and pace at a price only the newest iteration of Corvette could. But as the Everyday Driver mantra goes, numbers aren’t everything; as impressive as the C8 is on paper, my test of a convertible last fall left me feeling like it was fairly numb. A numb rocket, but slightly boring in how it went about its speed. Spending a week this past spring with the red coupe seen here, which was delivered for a week-long test on snow tires, changed my thoughts entirely.
Automotive journalists like to wax poetic about how performance cars are too fast for the street. They’re right: On all but the biggest, widest, and fastest roads, the upper echelon of sports, super, and hyper cars barely break a sweat when breaking the speed limit. Californians might enjoy the canyons, and Texans and Floridians might have endless straightaways, but many states’ best driving is on tight, twisty roads lined with residential homes and laden with blind corners. Not exactly the territory in which the C8 thrives.
Let’s back up a bit. I wasn’t particularly kind to the C8 when I first drove a 2021 convertible last year. It felt over-styled and lacking drama for the price, largely due to a relatively primitive engine. Yet there’s no denying the C8 was comically fast and could get me from corner to corner at a rate that would otherwise necessitate a car costing two-to-three times as much. Blasting from zero to the speed limit was fun, but the upper limits of the handling were out of reach for almost all roads in the Northeast, and certainly those near my home. Keeping the car in check and driving well below its limits meant there was no drama, no theater, no real emotion. Just brutal speed and the V8’s short, cannon-style exhaust blasting off the trees. In the confines of Connecticut, the C8 was experiencing tortuous restraint. It wanted to run.
Perhaps it wasn’t the roads but the tires that caused the underwhelming enjoyment factor. You see, our good driving roads around these parts are nothing like what the Corvette is geared towards. They’re super tight, have rapid elevation changes, and usually have posted speed limits under 50 MPH. The formula is wrong for the Corvette’s ability to make the most of these circumstances. Short blasts are fun, but the C8 is so wildly capable that you barely scrape its performance surface when on a hard back road blast. It’s the reason cars like the Mazda Miata, Toyota/Subaru 86 twins, Hyundai Veloster N, Subaru WRX, low-end Porsches, and so on all call to me so loudly. They’re more than competent, but the real joy and excitement comes from the driver’s ability to do the work, not the car’s. The C8 is absolute overkill on these roads; fifty percent of its maximum speed through the corners is well above the legal limit and borderline dangerous. The tires are unphased.
Curing this requires making the car less capable, which is exactly what I unexpectedly got when the 2022 C8 press car I took delivery of for a week of testing arrived on the widest, gnarliest-looking winter tires I had ever seen. Take a car that’s possibly the easiest vehicle to go quickly in and strip away its high-performance rubber: Suddenly it’s a totally different animal. Given, that animal is still more capable than nearly anything else on the road, but with careful concentration and fine attention one can really appreciate where the limits of the car are versus where the tires themselves start to give up. On summer rubber, the C8 will handily keep up with its high-po limits, so when snow-dedicated tires mean the grip breaks away well before the chassis is actually there, you gain an appreciation for how capable the vehicle itself is. Throw in a huge dash of oversteer any time the gas pedal is hit with vigor, and some understeer just for whatever is the opposite of fun, and suddenly the C8 is massively entertaining and attention-demanding even at reasonable speeds. This experience transformed my thoughts on the car entirely.
My initial take on the C8 Corvette from last year wasn’t totally wrong-- I maintain that it’s still not as involving as it should be, and many of the inputs are numb as a dental patient after the novocaine dosage is tripled (don’t ask…)-- yet I needed another go to fully get it. The engine isn’t special, rather just an ever-willing way to unleash old-school noise and rapidly propel oneself forward, and the interior layout and general materials all make you wonder who gave the seal of approval to put the thing into production this way. I’m not saying looking down well below the windshield to change climate settings to a long, barely-legible strip is the worst HVAC setup in modern cars (coughcoughVWcoughcough) but the panel gaps present in both press cars I’ve had rivaled those in Teslas. That’s saying something, and that something isn’t good.
Still, I have to eat my words. The C8 is a marvel of engineering to a price. Concessions were made, and they were the right ones. A Corvette needs to punch above its weight on a performance scale first and foremost, and there’s no denying the C8 knocks this part out of the park. And while some people still complain about the lack of a manual, let them; I’d wager that 99 percent of Corvette buyers don’t have the stick-shift skills to keep up with the LT2 when it’s driven hard. Want a manual? Buy a different car. It’s a hard line that Chevy has never before drawn with the ‘Vette, but if you want to compete with the best (See: Ferrari, McLaren, Lamborghini, etc), you have to act like them. Chevy certainly is playing to the “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” mentality. It works: The C8 is a freakin’ rocket. Yes, even on snows.
Maybe I was wrong about the C8 because I was wrong about myself. I’m not a driving madman who pushes the limits on the street, but rather prefers the “slow car fast” approach. Maybe that makes me a wuss or “lesser of a driver” in the eyes of some; frankly, I don’t care. I go about my business and enjoy it. I’ve even put my money where my mouth is on that, buying two Miatas after having owned a couple of fast cars. So it’s not without weight that even I have to admit it: The C8 isn’t just good, it’s genuinely great. As any iconic Corvette has, it again moved the bar for accessible performance higher and faster than has any other (gas-powered) car in the world. Outright speed and numbers are its priority, and while driving involvement may still be covered off by the likes of Porsches and some pesky toys that cost significantly less (Miata and GR86, to name two of them), the newest Corvette does what it needs to do to be a nearly unbeatable performance bargain, again redefining the class. Some things never change, but my mind has.
Hi, my name is Ross. I write for Hooniverse, ATVRider, UTVDriver, and Everyday Driver (obviously). I also co-host the Off the Road Again Podcast. As you can guess, I’m an off-road enthusiast/self-proclaimed expert but I love all things automotive, especially 4x4s and autocross.