Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Preview: 2014 Corvette C7 - Hit or miss?

As a lifelong Corvette fan, I decided it would be appropriate to dedicate this blog's inaugural post to be about...yes, you guessed it: the 2014 Corvette C7.  Of course, since it doesn't exist yet, I can't go out and see it or drive it.  In fact, nobody really knows what it'll even look like yet (unless you work for General Motors, in which case please go ahead and tell us everything you know about the C7!), so this whole post is essentially speculation.  So welcome to the blog and thanks for reading (or at least making it this far).

Pictured: variations of the C6 Corvette, the car that is about to expire.

Over the past 60 years, the Corvette has evolved from an almost failed experiment to America's premier sports car.  There were several growing pains along the way, as with many cars, but now, as the sixth generation Corvette (C6) has been around since 2005, it has become an elite performance sports car.  Now the time has come for another update.  The seventh generation (C7) Corvette is coming.  What should be expected with the new 'Vette?  How is General Motors prepared to kill the C6 and make the new Corvette even better?

Unfortunately, fuel economy is the primary focus of almost every car maker in the world right now, and for good reason.  Since most of the general public is obsessed with how many miles per gallon they're getting in their car, car companies should be focusing on what the public demands (umm, yeah...something like that).  As the cost of gas continues to rise, this likely won't be going away anytime soon.  This has also directly impacted the world of sports cars.  Since most sports cars are either a part of a major car maker or owned by one, the parent companies are so focused on fuel economy that there's been less time and money to develop the cars that us sports car fans really care about, because I'm assuming that if you're reading this, you're probably not a fan of the Toyota Prius.

So, as you might imagine, the obsession with fuel economy has impacted the development of the Corvette C7.  You'd be right.  General Motors has developed two major brands over the past half decade: the revived Camaro and the half electric/half gas powered Volt.  Both cars have brought optimism to the otherwise financially challenged company, so these cars arrived at the right time.  Both of them have been a hit to an extent and both figure to factor greatly into the fate of G.M.'s immediate future, but it comes at a cost.  Research and development for the Volt especially has delayed G.M.'s progress on the Corvette C7.  First of all, this car was supposed to be ready for production by the 2013 model year, which clearly isn't happening.  Secondly, there was speculation that the C7 might finally be the world-class mid-engined Corvette that we've been waiting years for.  Guess what?  It's more likely that Lamborghini will start producing hybrids next year than a mid-engined C7 (uh-oh, I shouldn't have said that...).

The C4 remained front-engined, despite G.M. releasing the
"Aerovette" mid-engine concept.  Sound familiar?
This C7 then sounds very familiar.  G.M. is working on a revolutionary car to replace the previous generation Corvette and there's been a delay.  That sounds a lot like 1983, the only model year since the 'Vette debuted in 1953 that there was no production model (at least that G.M. actually produced for the public).  The 1984 Corvette C4 was supposed to move the 'Vette forward: from the slow and defunct 1982 car that featured a six mile long nose to the new, high-tech car that would put Corvette back on the sports car map.  The C4 was very important to the 'Vette's rise to what the C6 is today, so can the C7 be the C4's encore?


The Corvette has always been about styling and performance.  During the '60s and '70s, while most American muscle cars were three city blocks long and had engines the size of a house in them, the Corvette's styling was closer to similar European sports cars of the era, such as Porsche, Jaguar and even the Italian makers like Ferrari and Lamborghini.  Of course, 'Vettes still had huge engines and were still fast in a straight line, but it never fit in with its muscle car relatives.  So like Corvettes of the past, the design of this new C7 is considered a priority among 'Vette fans.

Recently, Jalopnik, who has been carefully following the unfolding of the C7 for months now, released this animation video showing a rendition of the 2014 Corvette in action, so you can safely assume that the car will look something like that.

I have to say, if it does look like that, I'll be disappointed.  The front of it resembles a Nissan GT-R while the rear is pretty much a Camaro.  To me, that's a bit of a step backwards for Corvette.  The GT-R is a great car.  In fact, it's the fastest and probably the best Japanese car in the world right now, but it's everything G.M. rumored to not want with the C7: it's heavy and it's bulky, so why does it look like one?  The Camaro, of course, is essentially the Corvette's little brother, and G.M. apparently wants to attract a younger demographic with the new C7, so they've designed the rear taillights to look similar to a Camaro.  Yet unlike any Corvette before it, the C7's double-taillights are not the same size.  The inner taillight on each side is smaller than the outer ones, and although it is a minor detail, I simply don't like it.

This late C3 model (1982)'s nose is so swollen that some say
a certain fictional Italian cartoon character drives one...
Despite these changes from the C6, which I think is a very good-looking car, the 2014 Corvette C7 does accomplish many of the design "flaws" of the current Corvette C6.  A common complaint about the C6 is that it's too wide.  A sports car isn't supposed to feel like it's sprawled out across a lane, but that's how many people feel the C6 drives.  Similarly, the car's nose appears to have shrunk.  The Corvette has been notorious for having a long nose, which makes cornering difficult at times.  Having big engines was great, but perhaps it simply took up too much space in front of the driver.  So it seems that G.M. may have addressed some of the issues with the design of prior Corvettes with the new C7.

In addition to those changes of the car's exterior design, it is believed that the C7 will finally have an interior that doesn't look like it picked straight out of a Malibu or other sedan.  It may finally have a proper sports car's interior.  Now, don't expect to feel like you're piloting a stealth bomber in a C7, but hopefully it'll feel like what it is: a Corvette.


Aside from my fussy complaints about the design of the C7 Corvette, everything else that's been rumored about the new 'Vette sounds absolutely incredible, including the improved interior.  The most important part of the new car is the engine.  In this fuel economy era that we live in, many sports car makers are having to come up with clever ways to stuff in extra horsepower and torque, so what is General Motors planning for the 'Vette?

The same link as posted above suggests that the C7 will feature a small-block V8 (thankfully they seem to have ruled against going with a V6, as rumored a while ago), which will be around 5.5 liters.  This engine, the LS5.5R (replacing the base C6's 6.0 liter, 400+ horsepower LS3 engine) is expected to produce 485 horsepower.  Yes, you read that correctly: 485 horsepower on the base model.  If that's true, the C7 figures to be an incredibly fast car.

Of course, the highlight of the C6 generation was the inclusion of the higher performance Z06 and reincarnation of the 1990s Corvette ZR-1 (now shortened to ZR1).  The C6 Z06 had the incredible LS7 engine (7.0 liters, 505 horsepower, 470 foot pounds of torque) and the C6 ZR1 had the sueprcharged LS3 engine (named the LS9), which produced roughly 640 horsepower.  Apparently, both the Z06 and ZR1 models are expected to return with the C7, but they're going to be more powerful than the C6 counterparts.

The C6 ZR1's supercharged LS9 engine is G.M.'s most
power engine to date, but that could change soon.
So, if the C6 Z06 produces 505 horsepower and the base C7 is projected to turn out 485 horsepower, where does the C6 Z06 fit in?  Will it produce 550 horsepower?  600?  Since that previously linked article suggests the C7 Z06 will perform much like a C6 ZR1, it should be close to or even in excess of 600 horsepower.  But what about the C7 ZR1?  Could it actually reach 700 horsepower?  The Lamborghini Aventador produces 691 and the new Ferrari F12 Berlinetta makes over 700 itself, and those two cars have V12 engines!  That's the company the new ZR1 could share, and that would be pretty amazing.  The C7 Corvette could possibly have the most powerful V8 engine in the world (in case you're wondering, the 2013 Shelby GT500 currently has the most powerful V8 in mass production).

Wow.  That's a lot to wrap your head around.  Somehow, this new engine will even be more fuel efficient than the current C6, and they aren't even using a V6 or turbocharging a smaller engine (e.g. McLaren's 3.8 liter twin turbo MP4-12C engine) to do so.  The C6's EPA estimate is close to 30 miles per gallon (obviously, it's slightly less with the Z06 and ZR1) on the highway, so improving on that while adding power would be quite an impressive feat.


This new masterpiece of an engine that is expected with the C7 needs something to operate it.  Like with everything else about this car, this is also based on speculations.  It is expected that the new 'Vette will offer a 7-speed manual transmission and a 7 or 8 speed dual-clutch automatic option.  Obviously, to make the new car more fuel efficient, having more gears means more options and more opportunities to keep the rotations per minute down.  Since G.M. wants the new 'Vette to be a more practical every-day driver's car, it will have to offer a low RPM setting for local driving.  The C6 offers a 1st-to-4th gear setting for better fuel economy, so there will likely be a similar feature with the C7.


That's really all we know about the 2014 Corvette C7 so far.  Actually, we don't even know that yet; it's pure speculation.  The C7 is supposed to be publically unveiled somewhere in the 2012-13 winter season and go on sale late in 2013 as a 2014 model.  Until then, there will be more waiting...and more speculating.  If anything else leaks before then, you'll know some G.M. employees will probably be fired.  Seriously.

I'm cautiously optimistic about the new 'Vette.  Why not?  The C6 completely left the C5 in the dust, so why wouldn't the C7 do the same to the C6?

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