Named after a nimble class of warship and first showcased at the 1953 GM Motorama, the Chevrolet Corvette is an American icon as popular as baseball and apple pie. But it hasn’t all been pretty. Through its iterations the ‘Vette has brought to mind everything from ’70s chest hair to midlife crises to silk Tommy Bahama shirts, stale cigars and trailer park access. There’s been beauty and power, too — especially in the C4 through C6 generations — but America’s car has always failed to achieve world-class stardom, perhaps pulled down by those sour associations. Everything changes in the seventh-generation C7 ‘Vette. This mind-blowing return of the Stingray features sophisticated style, kidney-slamming performance and affordability that belies all of the aforementioned negative qualities. Yes: the 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray ($51,000) could go down as one of the best American cars ever built.
The C7 shows up in an elite performance league, and it looks the part thanks to the most dramatic sheet metal changes of its lifetime; even with styling cues that remain distinctly Corvette — the long grand-touring-style hood, the fastback profile and the quad taillights, which, from their angularity, have stirred some controversy among ‘Vette lovers — the C7 somehow manages to borrow flavor from Ferrari. Aluminum and carbon fiber throughout keep it light on its toes and the electronic limited slip differential that comes with the (necessary) Z51 package allows your traction to range from invasively grippy to completely sideways viral video fodder. In addition to the limited slip-diff, the Z51 package ups the ante with bigger wheels, a dry sump, and better brakes and rotors.
Together, the quick-shifting seven speed manual gearbox and active Rev Matching, which magically feathers the rpm to optimal downshift zones, bring the car to life. Like many rear-wheel-drive sports cars, the Corvette can send you sideways in the blink of an eye; having all the extra help you can get to corral the 455 hp starting in the 6.2-liter V8 and ending up roaring from the quad exhaust is welcomed and necessary. The car drives small for something so large and stays planted to the ground thanks to a low center of gravity and an extra wide footprint.
The different drive modes from Touring to Track adjust everything from fuel management to traction control and steering. Once in Sport or Track, the steering tightens up to big go-kart-like connectedness and precision. It’s surprisingly nimble; driving the line and nailing apexes (yes, even on your commute) is a cinch. Everywhere you go in this car you’ll be looking for straightaways — the on-ramp, an open lane, a back alley — anywhere you can crush the throttle and smile.
At long last, the interior is exactly as it should be: minimal, but functional and styled quite well. This is not something that could have been said about recent generations of the Corvette. The gauges are both digital and analog, allowing you to customize the tachometer to flip through performance numbers or view your radio station. Though this version didn’t have a navigation option (which at $51k+ should have been there), there is a very handy LCD screen that slides down to reveal a hidden cubby with USB ports for charging and hiding your phone or for keeping the keys in the car and locking it for the valet mode. But who really cares? You’ll be busy thrashing the streets of your home town and everyone else’s, for that matter.
Let’s be clear. What you get for $51k is an utter steal. The Stingray will pretty much level anything else in its price range — it’s sure as hell the cheapest way to get to 60 mph in 3.8 seconds. More importantly, the 2014 C7 is a sign of what’s to come from American manufacturers and a symbol of national pride that will once again be worthy of gracing screensavers and iPad wallpaper. If, however, you are considering buying the C7, take note: the rumor pool and spy shots have word of the high-performance Z07 in 2016. If you have to wait till 2015 already…might as well have a little more fun 12 months later. For now, we’re all too happy to revel in driving a car that makes us proud to be Americans.