Autoblog hasn’t had the best run of luck with Corvettes. It snowed during Stocksdale’s time with the C8, Riswick for some reason decided to drive one up Mount St. Helens, and Ramsey most recently found himself in the midst of a snowpocalyptic event driving his personal Z06. That I woke up to sub-20-degree temperatures and snow flurries just about every day the C8 was in my driveway seemed par for the course.
To make matters slightly worse, the loaner did not come with the winter tires we’d been promised. One of the wheels had been damaged and was out for repairs, so all-seasons were substituted instead. That would address the temperature problem, but not so much the snow and ice problem. My best bet was a sunny but still frigid Saturday that would no doubt offer perilous conditions on just about any surface not exposed to direct sunlight. Welcome to Michigan.
In the crisp winter air, the 6.2-liter V8 awakes with a shout. Even with the active exhaust in its tamest mode, the Corvette won’t do anything to mend your relationship with your HOA board. It doesn’t take long for the 495-horsepower small-block to settle into its characteristically nonchalant idle, but stealthy this machine is not.
Any lingering pretense of anonymity or lethargy disappears instantly when you hit the road. The engine may respond like those of Corvettes past, but everything else about the C8 is far more earnest. The dual-clutch automatic is lightning-quick, as is the front axle’s response to steering inputs. The latter is no doubt at least partially down to the engine’s relocation. Take weight off the nose and it’ll move quicker.
Quicker is an inherently relative term made even more so in my case by the weather conditions. The twisty roads west of Ann Arbor might as well be surfaced with glare ice and a half inch of loose road salt from about mid-January through March. This tends to reward a reserved approach to throttle application. Still, even judicious footwork can get the C8’s rear end squirrelly with roads in this shape.
One benefit of a low-traction environment is that everything happens more gradually, and that makes it a little easier to feel out a car’s limits. Despite the Corvette’s near-neutral balance and its eagerness to respond to helm inputs, it doesn’t feel twitchy. In fact, it’s a downright relaxed car to drive fast and a blessedly pleasant one to drive slowly.
Even its Sport mode isn’t overbearing, which is saying something in the context of a performance model. Plenty of commuter cars behave like angry Chihuahuas straining their leashes when you spin the dial to Sport. By comparison, the Corvette is a well-trained Shepherd. Alert, but not tense; ready, but not poised. It’s an excellent balance for a dedicated sports car.
And since the Corvette utilizes GM’s latest Magnetic Ride Control suspension, the same holds true for the ride. The pocked and occasionally ice-packed roads of southeast Michigan are problematic even in the plushest of luxury cars, but the C8’s electronically controlled dampers manage it commendably and without suffering from the small-dog-big-feet syndrome that plagues the likes of the Ford Mustang Mach 1.
The thrum of tires on asphalt and light scratches of wind over exterior plastics are constant reminders of the Corvette’s reputation as the working stiff’s supercar. The small-block contributes some rough-and-tumble charm, though it took awhile to get used to hearing that bark coming from over my shoulder, especially in the surprisingly frequent moments where the experience felt so distinctive that I actually forgot I was driving a Corvette.
The worst thing I have to say about this car is that the V8 is the odd item out in this formula. Its coarseness and relatively low redline seem at odds with the borderline-telepathic transmission and chassis response. Don’t get me wrong; it’s an excellent engine and it does its job admirably. It just feels oddly anachronistic in such a radically redefined Corvette. The high-revving, flat-plane-crank V8 in the forthcoming Z06 is going to be absolutely at home in this chassis; gee, d’ya suppose Chevy’s engineers knew that going in?
The C8 invites comparison to a wide range of cars, but the one I can’t help coming back to is the 911. Both have their rough edges, whether for the sake of hereditary obligation or merely imposed by cost. And while their engines aren’t in the same location, both are capable of phenomenal on-track performance without punishing those who want one badly enough to live with them day-to-day. And when you feel you’ve outgrown their potential, both can be traded in for a more-extreme permutation. Unless you’re a diehard manual fan, choosing between the two could be tough.
It shouldn’t surprise you at this point that the C8 continues to live up to its launch hype, but what I saw here was evidence of the new mid-engine formula’s staying power. Plenty of cars impress on first blush (See: Alfa Romeo 4C) but end up being hard to live with. The new Corvette’s blossom remains as bright and healthy as it was the day it debuted, and with Z06 and Grand Sport E-Ray still on the horizon, I’m confident that it won’t wear out its welcome any time soon. We’ll just try and get one in July next time.