The law of unintended consequences doesn't usually apply to pleasant surprises, but the radically new 2020 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray comes with a beauty.
The first-ever Corvette with its engine mounted behind the passengers — a mid-engine layout, in auto parlance is also the quietest and smoothest in the history of the great American sports car.
Sub-3-second 0-60 mph time notwithstanding, the new Corvette isn't just ready to run with exotic sports cars from Ferrari and Lamborghini on track and country roads. It's also primed to match the best from Mercedes AMG for long-distance touring.
Based on a brief test, I wouldn't hesitate to drop the Stingray into track mode and set off on a cross-country drive.
Improved handling and the ability to use more power aren't surprises in a mid-engined car.
But I didn't expect the quietest and most vibration-free cabin of any Corvette I've driven. It's not easy to keep engine noise out of the cabin as the engine pounds away 18 inches behind the driver's ears. Chevy engineers pulled the trick off with traditional insulation and active noise cancellation.
Add a very stiff chassis with springs and bushings expertly tuned to lock out road noise and vibration and you've got an interior that's as peaceful as many luxury sedans.
The steering is fast and direct, even more responsive than the 2019 'Vette, thanks to the car's lighter nose, a higher ratio and new steering gear.
A new feature that will save owners countless paint chips and minor repairs allows the driver to raise the Corvette's nose for driveways and to avoid parking blocks. You can even tell the GPS to remember frequently visited spots and raise the nose automatically if you forget.
The engine announces its presence when you hit the gas, of course. The 'Vette leaps forward and the engine roars to life. The suspension shifts smoothly at light throttle, but hammers through the gears when you nail it.
The new Corvette's dynamics, design and comfort have the makings of a hit.
Virtually everything about the Corvette changed when Chevy decided to move the engine from the nose to between the passenger compartment and rear axle.
Putting the engine there means 60% of the car's weight is over its rear axle, not coincidentally also Ferrari's preferred ratio. It lends itself to better acceleration, since the weight presses the wheels down, putting more power to the street without spinning them.
Brace yourself for future
Corvettes that are even more powerful than the 2019 ZR1's 755 horsepower, but the current car's 490 hp already delivers that 0-60 mph in less than 3 seconds.
A fast and smooth dual-clutch automatic transmission connects engine and rear wheels.
The 2020 Stingray is the first Corvette that doesn't offer a manual transmission. The dual-clutch (also called a DCT) is quicker and more efficient than a manual, but Chevy would've offered a manual if it could.
The problem was that sales would be so small no transmission maker would even bid for the job to develop and make a new manual for the 'Vette. On top of that, there literally isn't enough room for a clutch pedal in the driver's footwell. I found it surprisingly roomy, likely enough to stretch and shift your legs during a long drive.
If you insist on shifting yourself — seriously, do you churn your own butter? — the steering wheel has paddle shifters.
Tailored to the driver
The interior fits like it's tailored to the driver. An 8-inch touchscreen angled toward me as I sat behind the wheel. Below it on the center console are a computer-style wrist rest, buttons and levers to select gears, a dial for drive mode and a wall of climate control buttons and switches between driver and passenger.
The mid-engine layout changed the Corvette's basic proportions, shortening the hood and lengthening the rear deck. Overall length increased 2.5 inches. The height of the roof is virtually unchanged, up 0.1 inch to 48.6.
It took cranky baby boomers less time to complain about the 'Vette's looks, layout and transmission than to say "Where's the in-dash CD player?"
Distract them with a "Brady Bunch" DVD and go out for a drive. The changes are for the better. The 2020 Corvette Stingray is a landmark.
Prices start at $58,900, a bargain for a car with the Stingray's looks and performance. My test car was loaded and stickered at $87,800.
At a glance
- Base price: $58,900 (excluding destination charges)
- Price as tested: $87,800Two-passenger rear-wheel drive sports car
- Assembled in Bowling Green, Ky.
- 6.2-liter V-8 engine
- 495 horsepower at 6,450 rpm; 470 pound-feet of torque at 5,150 rpm
- Eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission
- EPA fuel economy rating: TBA
- Wheelbase: 107.2 inches
- Length: 182.3 inches
- Width: 76.1 inches
- Height: 48.6 inches
- Base curb weight: 3,366 pounds