x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Road test: 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray

The revamped ‘Vette is a ripsnorting hooligan, but with one flaw.

2014 Corvette Stingray. Courtesy of Chevrolet
2014 Corvette Stingray. Courtesy of Chevrolet

This one has been a long time coming for me. Unable, thanks to prior commitments, to attend the international first-drive press launch in the United States last year, I’ve been patiently waiting my turn to get behind the wheel of a car that practically everyone has been raving about – even those who have never even seen or driven it. The new Chevrolet Corvette – the Stingray – is here, and its keys are in my grasp. But I’m apprehensive. Can all the hype be believed or, as I suspect, is the new ’Vette better than the old one, but not as good the rivals that it purports to be squaring up against?

On paper, at least, this new Corvette represents a quantum leap from any before it. It’s absolutely rammed with new technology, it’s beautifully designed and trimmed inside (at last) and it’s been given a comprehensive exterior redesign. Crucially, however, it remains – as the Brits say – cheap as chips, with a starting price of just Dh250,000.

For that, you get a car that turns heads wherever it goes, sounds like a rolling thunderstorm and punches a hole in your head with a minimum 455hp and a colossal 624Nm of twist. It will hit 100kph from standstill in less than four seconds, has a better power-to-weight ratio than a Porsche 911 and, depending on what transmission you specify, can return an astonishing 8.1L / 100km fuel consumption. It can also, says its maker, reach 314kph. It’s nothing if not a bargain – there will no doubt be thousands of these things on UAE roads before long.

I’m not sold on the exterior, which I reckon is over-styled and will date overnight. But we can all agree, however, that the new Corvette’s cabin is a masterstroke. Gone are the hideous, scratchy plastics and cheap-parts-bin switchgear. Gone is the feeling that GM really couldn’t be bothered to actually design a cabin that might appeal to anyone interested in spending more than 10 minutes inside it. Now it’s a beautifully designed and finished place that invites you to take a seat. Everything (well, almost) is wonderful to look at and to feel; the seats are incredibly comfortable and supportive (the cooling fans inside them are brilliant, by the way), and the switchgear and instrumentation look expensive and futuristic. Chevrolet says that its design was influenced by fighter jets, but, despite the fact it’s very driver focused, I find myself wondering if anyone at the company has actually seen inside one. Time for another analogy, guys.

Start it up and that 6.2L, pushrod V8 makes its presence known in an instant. And it doesn’t stop. Whenever it’s running, there’s a physical manifestation – it gently shakes the entire car – and it’s obvious that this thumping motor cannot be hushed. It is what it is – that’s why the model has such a huge fan base. The Corvette is no apologist; instead, it’s a high-performance machine that wears its heart on its sleeve. Good.

There are a number of different drive modes that are easy to navigate, and the default one is Eco, which shuts down four of the engine’s eight cylinders at low speeds. It’s quite docile and user-friendly, but to get anything approaching electrifying, tyre-smoking performance from it, you need to select Sport and put down the hammer.

When you do, the ’Vette transforms into a fire-breathing, ripsnorting hooligan that makes you want to shout “Yeee-Haaa” like a buffoon. It’s hugely entertaining, but there’s a but – a great big one.

You see, despite the myriad advances and improvements, and despite the magnificent engine’s capabilities and propensity for liquidising the rear tyres, the entire car is let down by the one thing that appears to have been a complete afterthought: its six-speed automatic gearbox. It’s as though GM spent every last development dollar on everything else and thought “That will have to do” when it came to the thing that puts that power onto the road.

By all accounts, the manual is a different matter, but the auto is nothing more than a slush box that hampers progress and feels horrid. It takes an age to wake up and shift into the next ratio, and, even when it does, it manages to feel like it didn’t really want to be bothered. Drive this after something like the Jaguar F-Type, with an automatic that’s so responsive that it feels like a dual-clutch racing ’box, and you’ll see how far short the new Corvette is.

What a pity, then, that a car of so many blindingly brilliant characteristics can be so blighted by one aspect. My advice? Demand a manual and hope that, when the midlife refresher comes along, GM has found enough spare change to give the ’Vette a decent self-shifter. If that turns out to be the case, this could be a truly great sports car. As it is, it’s a valiant attempt to take on the Europeans that narrowly misses the mark.

khackett@thenational.ae