I have a confession: the Chevrolet Corvette C8 is a brilliant, fantastic driving machine, but I hate that I loved driving it as much as I did.
I’m a die-hard Dodge Viper enthusiast, two-time owner, and someone who spent much of his life smack-talking his Corvette-loving buddies. I’ve got just one love when it comes to American performance, and that love has always been the Viper, not the Corvette.
After 16 years of telling stories about hundreds of cars, few have ever made me eye up my Viper as a trade-in. The C8 came awfully, uncomfortably close. I’m stuck in an awkward love triangle, so please send some positive thoughts my way.
After logging 1,300 kilometres in the 2021 Chevrolet C8 Corvette across a wide range of driving conditions, I’ve compiled a few notes that I hope will be of interest to prospective shoppers, those reading to pull the trigger on the new C8, or those who have already ordered their sports car and are waiting for their machine to be built.
I found the C8 to be unexpectedly good in many scenarios. These interesting, obscure, unexpected, and surprising talents of the latest ’Vette revealed themselves on a long, real-world test drive. I think these are the areas where prospective shoppers and soon-to-be owners will be the most pleasantly surprised about how their new Corvette performs in the real world.
The C8 does some fantastic work as a highway touring car. My tester was equipped with the Z51 performance chassis and has the Magnetic Selective Ride suspension, which equips high-tech shock absorbers that can read and react to the road. At the direction of a computer control system, these intelligent shocks fine-tune their springiness with millisecond precision, unlocking special abilities to control vehicle body motion, ride quality, and handling response.
On a long drive, drivers should select the tour drive mode, which sets the dampers into a remarkably comfortable and laid-back calibration.
The effect, from the driver’s seat, is one of sitting down low as the C8 glides along, soaking up and absorbing bumps in the road instead of dramatically bouncing over them. The C8 largely hovers over the sort of dips and whumps that send some performance cars for a ride, increasing comfort and reducing driver stress and fatigue. The experience is enjoyed from behind a new signature widescreen view of the road ahead, enabled by the new mid-engine driving position – more on that later.
After over 900 kilometres of highway touring across plenty of Central and Northern Ontario, I can happily tell you the Corvette was more than comfortable during long-distance highway trips.
Aside from excessive tire noise on certain road surfaces and textures, the comfortable highway drive is one of the C8’s most valuable assets. The 495-horsepower V8 even does about 1,500 rpm at a good clip, often in four-cylinder mode (the supercar features cylinder deactivation when loads are light), so it’s surprisingly reasonable on fuel, too.
Hilarious performance credentials and sound effects aside, the C8’s nighttime driving experience was… illuminating, both literally and figuratively.
Its powerful headlights were a particular highlight. Low-beams flood the road nearest to the car with a thick layer of clean, white light, reserving plenty of useful illumination for the treeline and culverts next to unlit highways as well. The light is evenly saturated and provides precise aim that results in plenty of light landing where it’s needed, and little where it isn’t.
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Add in the great forward view from behind the wheel, and you’ve got a lighting system that works to minimize eye strain by mitigating the driver’s need to squint and strain to make out details.
There’s impressive engagement of far-away reflective surfaces, too – another key safety attribute of a high-performing lighting system. Where the peripheral illumination helps provide early warning of nearby potential wildlife hazards on northern highways, the far-away reflective surfaces brightly engaged by the C8’s headlights can help reveal wildlife crossing in front of them at a distance.
This is a confidence-inspiring lighting system, on par or better than I typically expect at this price range.
But that’s only half the reason the C8’s nighttime drive is impressive. The other is a unique and rare after-dark trick the C8 has tucked up its sleeve.
Turn the instrument cluster dimmer down fully, and the C8’s dash goes into dark mode. All interior lighting and screens power down and all interior lighting is switched off. The digital instrument cluster reduces to a minimized display with speed, temperature, and fuel level, and the gear shift console remains dimly lit. Beyond that, everything else is blissfully dark. On an unlit highway, this setting makes it easier to focus on the road, reduces eye strain, and makes for a significantly more comfortable drive.
The distraction-free, widescreen view of the beautifully lit road ahead is an experience drivers can look forward to.
Reducing Driver Stress
Take it from the Viper owner: driving an extreme sports car can be stressful for many reasons, including two that result from a vehicle’s shape and layout.
First, cars with extreme shapes are often hard to see out of. Blind spots are large, limited rearward visibility decreases information available to the driver and increases stress levels, and changing lanes often requires a full investigation be launched before you tap that signal lever.
When manoeuvring in tight quarters in close proximity to other vehicles, this can make some drivers anxious and nervous. Ditto when parking.
In addition to low visibility, high-performing cars like the C8 often sit very low to the ground, with clearance being another source of stress.
To help mitigate these stresses, designers employed some high-tech solutions. The rear-view mirror can be toggled between the regular view and a live camera feed. The camera feed is free of obstruction from the vehicle’s interior panels, enables a wider rear view, delivers excellent performance in low light, and eliminates headlight glare from behind you after dark. In a low-visibility car like the C8, this adds a boatload of confidence in many situations.
There’s also a 360-degree camera system that helps when reversing and manoeuvring in tight spaces. Camera views can be called up to monitor the proximity of the C8’s wheels, tail, and nose to nearby objects, the reverse camera has an ultra-wide angle and great graphics so that moving around in tight spaces hardly causes any stress.
The displays from both camera feeds and their respective screens are exceptional. At one point in my test drive while parked at a gas station, I was able to make out the toilet paper brand from the package in the rear seat of the SUV behind me on the rear-camera mirror.
Also, if you’re worried about scraping the nose over speed bumps, just press a button and the optional suspension lift system quickly (albeit noisily) jacks up the ’Vette’s front end for extra clearance. This function works only at low speeds and self-lowers the car once you get moving again. It can also be automated and triggered by GPS proximity to your driveway or that speed bump at the mall.
Like most diehard fans, I’m not happy that you can’t get the C8 with a manual transmission, but the dual-clutch gearbox bolted between the mid-mounted V8 and the rear wheels is a potent piece of hardware that is capable of very smooth operation. Even the most discerning manual transmission enthusiasts are likely to find serious enjoyment in this transmission’s world-class response and shift speed, especially because it’s unflappably smooth, even in demanding situations.
Even with the tires lit up at the top of first gear, the millisecond upshift into second occurs with no axle lash, meaning you hear the shifts, but don’t feel them. There’s barely any slamming, lurching, or shock detectable through the driveline even when the C8’s gearbox is being worked hard. This transmission is incredibly polished in almost every scenario.
Cornering and Handling Feel
Obviously, the C8 is built to achieve high targets for handling and performance, so the fact that it is great to drive isn’t surprising, but it has some important but not immediately obvious attributes that help make the experience even better.
In the mid-engine C8, you’re sitting forward in the body and not behind a mile of hood. The windscreen and forward view are open and informative, so the unobstructed outward view makes it easier for drivers to place the C8 in corners confidently, directing the car via a steering system that’s very fast and very precise. With no engine between the front wheels, the front of the car feels featherlight and eager to turn with the most minuscule inputs to the steering wheel.
The open view and highly responsive steering feel help inject energy into the C8’s drive, even in ordinary situations. Of course, you’ll need a racetrack to see what this car can really do, but your daily commute becomes a source of entertainment, so you don’t need a race track or even a heavy foot to appreciate the benefits of the new mid-engine layout.
Some drivers will wish for a quieter highway ride on some surfaces, and I was disappointed with the quality and look of the leather used on the steering wheel, though I didn’t mind the squared-off shape.
Ultimately, the new Chevrolet C8 strongly leverages some new and signature technologies to help give drivers the best experience possible in the widest (and sometimes most surprising) range of driving situations, all while inspiring confidence and encouraging full enjoyment of its capabilities.