Rumors of a mid-engine Chevrolet Corvette have been running through the General Motors faithful for a good half-century. You can trace them all back to Zora Arkus Duntov, the legendary GM engineer who transformed the Corvette from a pokey roadster to an era-defining sports car. He's called the father of the Corvette because he tirelessly pushed against corporate inertia to boost the car's performance in those early years, selling the bosses on adding a V8 engine, independent rear suspension, and the Z06 hi-performance package, among other gear.
Throughout his 20-plus years at GM, the one dream Duntov could never sneak past GM bean counters was a Corvette with its engine behind the driver. He was sure going mid-engine would realize the Corvette's performance potential, so alongside his work on the production car, Duntov masterminded several mid-engine Corvette prototypes. It didn't matter that he'd pushed one of them to 214 mph at GM's proving grounds in 1964, or that everyone knew he was right; each effort was too bold for GM to produce. Meanwhile, Ford took the GT40 to Le Mans and whupped a bunch of Italians, as you might have heard.
Oh, what could have been. The mid-engined Corvette remained a fantasy in Zora's mind—until now. So was he right? And more importantly, was the 2020 Chevy Corvette C8 worth the wait?
The 2020 Chevrolet Corvette, By the Numbers
- Base Price: $59,995
- Powertrain: 6.2-liter V8 | eight-speed dual-clutch transmission | rear-wheel drive
- Horsepower: 495 hp @ 6,450 RPM
- Torque: 470 lb-ft @ 5,150 RPM
- 0-60 mph: 2.9 seconds (with optional Z51 Package)
- Top Speed: 194 mph
- Curb Weight: 3,366 pounds
- The Promise: Mid-engine placement makes the Corvette a true supercar
- The Delivery: Winning performance on the road and the track, though the electronics can isolate the driver
C8 Corvette Comes Out Swinging
Placing the new 6.2-liter small block LT2 V8 engine amidships is obviously the headlining change here, but it would be an injustice to call this LT2 a mere upgrade over the C7's LT1. In reality, the LT2 only carries over a handful of parts from its predecessor. It's simpler to point out what's carried over (combustion chamber design, valve train, cylinder head and the 87 mm throttle body) than what's not (everything else).
Packing 495 horsepower and 470 pound-feet of torque, the LT2 is a full 35 hp more powerful than the LT1 and thus the most powerful engine ever fitted to an entry-level Corvette. Some of that bump comes from the new mill's dry-sump oil system with an engine-mounted reservoir and three scavenge pumps. This setup is designed for more consistent oil delivery throughout the engine without increasing parasitic drag, maintaining even lubrication during high-intensity track driving. That's good, because I saw in excess of 1G in every direction but upward during my time with the car at Spring Mountain Raceway last week.
The dry-sump system has the added benefit of requiring a shallower oil pan, meaning the big V8 can be positioned about an inch lower than before. That might not seem like much, but it drops the Corvette's center of gravity substantially, which in turn has a huge effect on handling. Compared to the C7 Corvette, the C8 now feels like it rotates around your hips instead of your sternum.
Bolted to the engine is the new Tremec TR9080, an eight-speed, dual-clutch transaxle. It's the only transmission you can get. A pure manual was never even considered. With the take rate for manuals on the C7 below 20 percent and sliding, GM didn't see a business case in engineering a second gearbox for an all-new platform with an entirely different engine placement.
I can hear the baleful shouts from those who'd never buy an automatic Corvette, so let me clarify: This is not an automatic. There is no torque converter slushing up the joint. As with other dual-clutch gearboxes, there are two separate, computer-controlled clutch packs and input shafts for the odd and even gear sets. Based on your driving, an algorithm preselects the gear it anticipates you'll need next. The result is lightning-fast shifts and uninterrupted power delivery.
Information from throttle position, brake pressure, steering angle, and latitudinal and longitudinal accelerometers all factor into how aggressively and quickly the DCT initiates a shift. On track, when the car is being driven hard, shifts are more aggressive, and the DCT will also do helpful things like delay upshifts until corner exits to avoid unsettling the chassis. Combine all of that with shift times less than 100 milliseconds, and the DCT is better in every measurable way to a manual gearbox—except for raw engagement, admittedly. But the mid-engine Corvette has to perform.
A limited slip-differential is integrated into the gearbox itself. The base Stingray gets a mechanical setup, while Z51 equipped cars get eLSD, which comes with a higher final drive ratio of 5.17:1 for quicker acceleration.
Driving the 2020 Chevy Corvette
Contending with an average summer high temperature of 105 degrees and a winter low of more than 70 degrees colder, the roads through the Valley of Fire State Park outside Las Vegas are utterly trashed. They're so buckled and uneven that any sensible person would question the decision to test a new supercar on them. But the folks at GM have an ace up their collective sleeve—the astoundingly good MagneRide adaptive suspension.
It uses dampers filled with a magnetorheological fluid whose viscosity can be changed on the fly with a magnetic current. As the car zooms along, its central ECU reads road inputs a thousand times a second and adjusts the current as needed to thicken or loosen the fluid, which in turn firms up or softens the blows at a given wheel. MagneRide proved every bit the match for ruined desert roads and made the Corvette super stable at any speed without grinding both driver and passenger into the pavement. It's included in the Z51 performance package and available as a $1,895 option on the 2LT and 3LT. It's worth every penny.
Out on the twisted tarmac, the C8 feels preternaturally composed, easily controllable, and surprisingly comfortable. Sixty percent of the car's weight is over the rear, and the resulting power delivery is immediate without being overwhelming; in sport and track mode, the shifts come in forceful little snaps that don't quite deliver the violence many are probably looking for. Anyway, its smooth performance when left to shift its own gears is impressive. But since you can't go ten-tenths on a public road, I pointed its shorty nose toward the friendly confines of nearby Spring Mountain Motor Resort.
The 2.2 mile Villeneuve circuit has a bit of everything: long corners, long straights, even small jumps. Turns out the C8 is a dancer, the active differential and magic magnet suspension working in concert to allow the car to carry maximum speed through every corner, every time. It's perfectly balanced with beautiful mid-corner rotation; overall, the next-level handling that comes with a mid-engine platform is proof enough that Duntov was right all along. There's a section of track where the car goes through a right-hand kink, over a blind crest (or a jump if you're fast enough), and immediately into another right-hand kink. Going over the top unsettles most cars, so I braked early in my first few approaches in the Corvette. Turns out I didn't need to—at all. It's stable enough that all you need to do is lift for a second before coming back on the throttle. Hammer down, and that LT2 roars with a brassy, distinctly American thunder.
Choosing between auto and manual modes with the dual-clutch eight-speed was harder than I expected. After a few laps of switching back and forth, I ended up leaving it in auto mode as the shifts were almost perfect. Almost. Turn 2 is a sharply decreasing radius corner, and to get the car to turn in near the end you have to quickly lift off throttle to set the nose. Even in Track mode, coming off the throttle there brings the engine revs down just enough to where the computer thinks you oughta be a gear lower and dutifully executes a downshift. This is normally a big no-no; shifting mid-corner while the car is using all available grip will upset the chassis, cause a momentary loss of traction, and potentially send you into the gravel trap.
But! This new Tremec TR9080 box has the ability to control the rate of clutch engagement when it senses high G force loads, resulting in a shift is so seamless that the C8 doesn't flinch even when wheeling through a fast bend. Literally, the only clue that a shift had even occurred was the change in engine revs. Supremely impressive.
So the road course shows the C8 can rock—I expected nothing less, and it still impressed. But surprisingly, it was an autocross run in a Corvette without the magnetic dampers that revealed its best side. Blasting around the course, the feedback through the steering wheel (15.7:1 ratio) felt more precise. I was able to grab the car by the scruff and really throw it around because the limits aren't being set by a computer, but by your own skill in reading a car's edge. Then I jumped back into a MagneRide car on the same course and that tossable character was replaced by a machine on rails. You can place the car perfectly through a corner, absolutely mash the throttle, let the ECU have a quick chat with the laws of physics, and rocket through to the next one with zero drama.
From the driver's seat, the adaptive suspension makes the Corvette C8 feel miles faster than with the standard kit. But that doesn't make it more fun. It's great on the road for normal use; on a track, it almost feels like an unnecessary layer between driver and pavement.
Crowd-Pleasing Looks, Driver-First Cabin
All this stuff is fascinating to unpack...for us. For the masses, the most striking thing about the 2020 Corvette will be its new look, which I have to say is much better in person than in pictures—something about its long, wide lines make it hard to capture the C8's presence on a screen. When I arrived at the Cosmopolitan Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip to pick up my test car, I had to literally shove my way through the assembled throng of tourists to get to it. This is Vegas we're talking about, land of Lamborghini Centenario Ubers or whatever, and still the hottest thing at the valet stand was a base Stingray.
Crowd pull aside, there are still some stylistic miscues on the C8. The angular front screams Ferrari; the cartoonish rear whispers, “My brother is a Camaro.” In particular, the long decklid out back (to accommodate a rear trunk) is a polarizing touch. But it's de rigueur for Corvettes to be able to swallow up a couple of golf bags, and the airline carry-on-sized frunk won't cut it there. Even if you don't golf, though, the 12.6 cubic feet of cargo space split between the front and rear areas make this an eminently useful performance car.
Finally settling into the C8, the first thing that stood out was the stylish GT2 seats. The heated and ventilated GT2 is the middle of the three available styles of seats, with a wide bottom, moderate leather side bolsters, and carbon fiber trim. It was a fairly comfortable fit for my solid 6’ 1”, 200-lb frame, slightly snug with very good lateral support. But be warned—go no further, for the top shelf Napa leather GT3 seats are too heavily bolstered for anyone other than an F1 driver or a racehorse jockey.
The C8’s redesigned cabin is less spacious in perception and reality—the thumping V8 at your back means the Corvette ditches the connected passenger-cargo space setup that gave the old targa coupe an open feeling inside, while leg, hip, and shoulder room are all down less than an inch compared to the C7. Forward visibility is somewhat improved without the long hood, but the driver-oriented layout feels more like a cocoon than, say, the airy interior of a McLaren 720S. At least you can fix that by removing the roof.
Cramped or not, the interior is very executed with a fit and finish that at last matches (and sometimes exceeds) the price point. Whether or not you're into the vision is another question, especially that long arc of climate control buttons that cascades down from the dash and cleaves the cabin in two. Yes, that's all for HVAC—the driver's controls are located at the top, with the passenger's controls mirroring from the bottom up.
I can appreciate the rare throwback of having fourteen buttons and three toggle switches to play with, but it's a stylistic decision, not a functional one. The center console could have been realized with more elegance. The way it splits the interior space and cants the whole experience toward the driver makes you feel like an afterthought in the passenger seat. The best comparison I can think of is being in a motorcycle sidecar—you're both on the same ride, but you know they'd be having a fine time without you. It's probably true.
Thankfully for whoever's at the wheel, tech has improved immensely save for the maddening absence of adaptive cruise control. There's an eight-inch infotainment display running the latest Chevrolet Infotainment 3 architecture that's crisp, clean-looking, and compatible with over-the-air updates, while the 12-incher in front of the driver has a variety of display configurations to match whichever of the six driving modes you're running with. The base 1LT ($59,995) model makes do with tricks like one-touch NFC Bluetooth pairing for your phone, a 10-speaker Bose sound system, and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, while the 2LT ($67,295) and 3LT ($71,945) step it up with wireless charging, standard heated/vented seats, and the pièce de résistance: the Performance Data Recorder.
Designed and built by the legends at Cosworth Engineering, the PDR is a video-based driving analysis tool similar to the ones used in motorsports (in fact, it's almost identical to their system that debuted in the British Touring Car Championships a few years back). This generation of PDR has now been upgraded with a higher resolution (1080p, up from 720p) camera and a fresh user interface to accompany all that sweet, sweet telemetry data. But one of the best new features for anyone not tracking the C8 is that it can now be set up to function like a dash cam, automatically recording every trip and saving the most recent footage.
And one of the worst new features? Not being able to see anything that's behind you. At all. Entire states could disappear into the C8's blind spots. My 2LT test car was equipped with a standard rear view mirror camera to compensate for this, a trick piece of glass that can switch from a regular mirror to a live rear camera video feed at the flick of a lever. Just remember that you can swivel it around to your heart's delight in video mode, and don't spend ten minutes complaining about the glare on the screen like I did before realizing that.
Called Up to the Big Leagues
The 2020 Chevrolet Corvette is an engineering marvel, all the way from its six-part aluminum chassis to its raw performance potential. At the same time, it's so smart that it takes a bit of the old 'Vette fun out of the end result. Even the standard suspension car really needs to be pushed to match the more visceral experience of the C7. The real criteria for evaluating the C8 as a driver's car comes down to whether you think making it easier to go fast is a good thing.
I love the C8 for what it is: an American performance powerhouse that brings mid-engine goodness to the people. No doubt, the average Joe will feel like a factory works driver behind the wheel. But if you've got some experience flinging cars around tracks, you'll come away from a hot lap a bit wanting. Of course, this is the base Stingray we're talking about—the upcoming Z06 and its rumored flat-plane-crank V8 is sure to be a different snarling beast altogether. And what of the possible 1,000-horsepower AWD hybrid? There is a good bit of room in that frunk...
For now, the 2020 Chevy Corvette has me more excited than any other American sports car in quite some time. We've finally got a horse that can go head-to-head with anything Europe or Japan has to offer. No apologies, no excuses. It's the long-awaited sequel to Ford vs. Ferrari, only this time it's Corvette vs. The World. Just how Zora would've wanted it.
Robb Holland is a professional racing driver and journalist who splits his time between Germany and Colorado. His work has appeared on Autoblog, The Drive, Jalopnik and more.