► Mid-engined Corvette on sale in Europe
► Plus, right-hand drive for the UK market!
► Starts from £74k here, and it's convincing...
What sports car fan really saw this coming, eh? Chevrolet's finally decided to officially bring its iconic sports car – the Corvette – to Europe, including right-hand drive versions for the UK.
That in itself would be a pretty big deal for performance car fans but, for its eighth generation (the C8), the 'Vette's DNA has been completely rewritten. Of course, you know this by now – the US has had access to it for more than a year, so much so that a ZO6 version is already confirmed – but it now has a configuration befitting a proper sports car with its engine now behind the driver. Only took 'em 60 years.
There has to be more to it than an engine movement...
Oh, there absolutely is. Of course, that change in engine location has meant redesigning the car from scratch with a much more cab-forward silhouette than the C7. Interestingly, along with the engine configuration change, the Corvette C8's been designed from the ground up to be a convertible. The actual chassis has no fixed roof connecting it at the top so, if you get a 'coupe' version, you can still take the roof panel off manually and store it in the rear load area. There's also a 'convertible' version with an electric folding roof, which weirdly makes it the more practical option; when it's folded away, it doesn't impede load space like the coupe does. This Corvette really is topsy-turvy...
You'll be relieved to hear that the engine remains thoroughly old school: a naturally-aspirated 6.2-litre V8, making a respectable 475bhp and 452lb ft.
But it's linked to a new eight-speed dual-clutch automatic that's been developed to send that torquey engine's power to the rear wheels. The 'Vette's usual rear leaf spring suspension setup has also been replaced with double wishbones all round, and the wheels are mixed size, too: 19-inch at the front, 20-inch at the rear. How very 21st Century. How very... Porsche.
Every Corvette in Europe comes with the Z51 package as standard (it's an option in other markets), meaning your 'Vette comes fresh out of the box with manually-adjustable performance springs and Brembo brakes, Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres, an electronic limited-slip differential, an uprated cooling system and performance exhaust for making the most of that burly V8. An option worth having is the Magnetic Selective Ride Control (essentially adaptive suspension; £1940 in the UK), which was fitted to our test car, and you can spec other things like a nose lift system, but that blocks you from adjusting the suspension.
That interior looks wild...
It's also taken a massive step forward in terms of material quality, too. There are three seat types: GT1, GT2 and Competition. Each seat from left to right gets thinner and more huggy, with the Competition pews having adjustable electronic bolstering.
The driver's properly cocooned, with digital instruments and a respectably sized central touchscreen running GM's okay-but-not-class-leading infotainment. If you bought a Vauxhall Insignia until around 2018, you'll be familiar with how it works. Then there's the wacky column-like button arrangement running down the centre console; it looks like a usability nightmare, those buttons, but is actually quick to get used to – the top half is for the driver, the lower half is for the passenger. The indicator/wiper stalks are a bit hollow, and at an odd angle, raised above the top of the shifter paddles, meaning you have to stretch your fingers to reach them properly.
There's also not a lot of places to put stuff; tiny door cubbies, a shallow centre console and dinky cupholders (who'd have thought it, in an American car...) and effectively zero visibility out the back 'window'. So much so that every Corvette has a digital rear view mirror with a camera that peers over the engine bay, much like Land Rover's ClearSight tech, or the Honda E.
Along with a set of finger-shaped levers and buttons on the centre console for the automatic 'box, there's also a twiddly dial for the drive modes: Tour (basically acts like a comfort mode, switches off half the cylinders when cruising), Sport (wakes the car up a bit, sounds louder and holds gears longer) and Track (firms the suspension and steering up, sets the exhaust to 'thunderstorm') are the main ones, with each having their own graphic design for the digital instruments, as well as My Mode (where you can customise the car's parameters to your liking) and Weather (which dulls the throttle and feeds the traction control some Pro Plus in slippy conditions).
There's also a Z mode – activated by a button on the steering wheel. That sets the car on maximum attack, and gives you a sliding scale upon which to turn down the traction control like modern cars from AMG, so you can get the rear end doing anything from a simple hip flick to a full on twerk mid-corner.
How's the performance, then?
Well, when you think about it, the engine configuration is still a little odd. What other mid-engined cars have a burly, grumbly,naturally aspirated V8? All other possible mid-engined rivals have turbo'd screamers, or six cylinders over eight.
After the first few miles, you learn just how flexible the engine is and how to make masterful use of that huuuuuuuuge torque well. You don't really have to use full throttle even if you're out for a country road jaunt, that swelling mid-range is more than enough to make proper progress as the V8 snarls through those chrome pipes. When at a cruise, the engine really settles down and, if you're in Tour mode, the cylinder deactivation technology doesn't really change the engine note that much either.
Of course, when you do want all of that power, the 'Vette bellows loud enough to shatter windows a few towns over (particularly if it's in Track mode), with a linear power delivery that even the most well-engineered turbo engines can't quite fully communicate to the wheels. It's enough to get the pulse racing and far from slow, but there is also a little bit of you that'll realise Chevrolet has left some room above this technically-entry-level model for more power. Such a large capacity engine is capable of more than 475bhp.
And, while some may bemoan the lack of a manual gearbox, the new eight-speed dual-clutch auto is impressive, too: changes are snappy and delivered without lurching, including downshifts. The paddles themselves are a bit plasticky, though, and their action is a soft click like an Alfa Giulia Quadrifoglio rather than the riflebolt action of a McLaren.
How does the Corvette handle?
It's definitely a car that's trying to tread the thin line between GT and sports car as best it can, with the best example of this being the ride.
The new double wishbone suspension system, complete with adaptive dampers on our coupe test model, is hugely impressive. In Tour, it soaks up so many imperfections on the road surface you have to remind yourself you're driving a two-seater sports car, not an executive saloon. Our test routes east of Frankfurt included everything from Autobahn stretches and smooth country tarmac to drain cover-ridden town roads and even properly broken surfaces – all are handled with aplomb. Even if you step up to Track, where the suspension is at its firmest, the way it controls lumps and bumps has to be commended.
As for the steering, it too can be easygoing or direct as you grab hold of that wonky, almost rectangular wheel. In Tour, there's a slackness off-centre that you wouldn't detect in a European rival but it feels like it's designed that way, as the sportier modes remove that slackness completely, transforming the steering into a direct but not overly-assisted system where you feel the car pivot around your bum.
Grip is plentiful from those Michelins, too, to the point that the only time the 'Vette lost traction is when we provoked it on purpose. Hoof it unnecessarily mid-corner and it'll slide in Track mode, but it's easy to control. The trade-off is a lot of tyre noise; spans on the Autobahn brought to light a constant tyre roar that's better quelled by some rivals of similar intent and performance, so you'll have to turn your music up via the thumping subwoofer of the Bose stereo system to compensate.
I also wouldn't mind sharper brakes. Even if these four-piston Brembos are an upgrade over the standard car in the US, they only feel okay. A little more bite wouldn't go amiss.
Where can I buy one in the UK?
Well, Chevrolet says it's setting up a European-spec configurator for future orders, so you can spec yours to your hearts content much like the Americans have been able to do. But in terms of actually buying one, your only outlet in the UK is Ian Allan Motors, based in Surrey, as Chevrolet don't have any dealers here – the brand withdrew from the Euro market years ago.
Prices for Corvettes start at £74,200 – that gets you a Corvette Stingray 2LT coupe with the aforementioned Z51 pack, with other kit like a performance data recorder for track days, nav, a properly good Bose audio system, heated and cooled seats and a parking camera all standard. Corvette Convertible models start at £79k.
That entry price undercuts the Porsche 911 by around £10k (and that's before you go ham with Porsche's options list) and the Cayman GT4. It is, however, in the same ballpark as Jaguar's F-Type P450 and the BMW M4, price-wise. Established rivals, of course, but there's something about the Corvette that'll charm you...
Chevrolet Corvette C8: verdict
It feels like the right time for the Corvette to make a properly global debut. It does its best to span being a two-door grand tourer, eye-popping pose-mobile and properly sorted sports car all in one machine. It's imposing, dramatic and fast enough and represents great value for money looking at the list price.
It's a little soft around the edges – to the point that Porsche and BMW fans might still sneer at it turning up to the European party – and its looks might not be to everyone's taste, but the Corvette makes up for that by just being so damn fun.