It was a damp and dreary January day at the Milford Proving Grounds in southeast Michigan, where automotive journalists of every stripe were greeted for a first ride in the latest Corvette model. Surely, there was disappointment regarding the conditions. Forty degrees and drizzly has never been a driver-friendly forecast, but there they were. Fresh off the heels of the big “first drive” event for the Z06 in Pittsburgh, they would have thought that the new car looked incredibly familiar. Yet as it approached, something was just a little bit off.
As it would turn out, something was a little off about the new Corvette: the engine! Upon strapping into the passenger seat, they heard the V8 finally roar to life before launching them into the fastest 0-60 and quarter-mile runs in the history of factory-stock Corvettes. They felt it hug the curves of a slippery autocross track with the widest all-season tires in the world, experienced high-speed power slides from the first all-wheel-drive Corvette drivetrain, and left the event feeling absolutely in love with the 2024 Chevy Corvette E-Ray.
It must be acknowledged that the E-Ray features a lot of hybrid electric “newness,” which naturally raises some hackles. Purists could easily question the intent of the E-Ray and its design philosophy. Is it a gimmick to satisfy emissions requirements? Is it a betrayal of the name which it inherits? Can a car which offers AWD be called a Corvette at all? I’d argue that the C8 E-Ray is far from a cynical, trendy sellout. On the contrary, it’s as true to the Corvette’s DNA as the original C1 itself. It’s directly challenging Europe’s ultimate sports cars with American manufacturing pride at its finest.
One Hybrid, Like None
The centerpiece of the 2024 E-Ray is literally in the center of the car: a 1.9 kWh battery, optimized for rapid discharge and recharge, snugged into the central tunnel between the driver and passenger. The battery powers a 160-horsepower electric motor that drives the front wheels of the E-Ray. Chevy’s well-known LT2 V8 making 495 naturally-aspirated horsepower still drives the rear, creating the first NA V8 hybrid on the market. This is achievable because unlike most hybrid powertrains, the V8 operates completely independently from the electric system, and is thoroughly unconcerned with optimizing fuel economy (a goal that all but requires forced induction).
Most of the time, the E-Ray is AWD with a significant rear bias thanks to the electric motor up front, making it the first AWD Corvette. When the electric motor reaches its redline of 18,500 rpm, it disconnects. This means that on occasion, the E-Ray is still a RWD ‘Vette, but only for the final push from 150 mph to its reported top speed of 180 mph.
Another significant first is the inclusion of an electric-only Stealth mode, designed to make inoffensive egresses from quiet areas. This mode only has a range of three to four miles and a top speed of 45 mph, but it also makes the 2024 E-Ray the first Corvette to have front wheel drive.
It’s unusual for a non-plug-in hybrid to have an electric-only mode, but there are no charge ports to be found on the E-Ray, just a curious “Charge+” button on the center tunnel. Charge+ puts the electric system into full generator mode. This adds a significant drag to performance, but only for a short time as the purpose-built battery is rapidly recharged. Charge+ exists solely to ensure the full performance capabilities of the E-Ray are always at your disposal before starting a hot lap, a drag race, or a spirited post-Stealth-mode joyride. Use Charge+ when speed doesn’t matter to ensure you’ll have maximum power when it does.
The Hybrid Corvette
Contributing to E-Ray’s success in its general mission to undercut European models is the fact that it manages to represent a wonderful marriage of the pre-existing C8 offerings. You might even say it’s a “hybrid” of the Stingray and Z06. It looks almost like a Z06, and sounds almost just like a Stingray, because it pairs the Z06 widebody to the Stingray’s V8 powertrain, with just the most subtle clues to indicate that it has its own unique design.
Let’s start with the most obvious design attribute: the exterior. To accommodate the electric powertrain and put all of the E-Ray’s power down, the car uses the widebody of the Z06, distinguished only by the body-color trim pieces like the side intake surrounds. One effect of this is that the frunk is barely impeded at all by the added components. Another is the 345mm wide rear tires. These are all-season tires to emphasize the year-round nature of the E-Ray, and ranking as the widest all-season tires in the world.
This made the crummy January weather of the media ride-along day a perfect showcase for the E-Ray’s talents as an AWD sports car. But don’t mistake it for a one-up on the Z06, though the starting price, power figures, and straight-line quickness numbers are close to the same. The motor and battery, as small as they are, plus supporting equipment add up to a 300-pound weight increase compared to the Z06 and make this car the heaviest Corvette ever, despite it also being the quickest Corvette ever. That mass necessitates some changes which differentiate the E-Ray from its body double.
The first is revealed behind the striking and unique five-spoke E-Ray wheels. A carbon-ceramic Brembo brake package, which is an $8500 upgrade on the Z06, is standard equipment on the E-Ray. All performance-oriented electrified vehicles have serious braking systems to manage the extra mass, and since Corvette already had one at their disposal, it made sense to put it on their heaviest car.
The second change doesn’t show until experiencing the ride itself, where the E-Ray starts to show more of its Stingray side. With Magnetic Ride Control 4.0 as standard equipment, the E-Ray is tuned to provide a more forgiving experience than the Z06 and feels closer to the Stingray Z51 setup. This is what really establishes the E-Ray’s identity as the grand tourer of the lineup, capable of incredible acceleration, and also of excellent cruising on any day of the year, without making the driver lament their life choices when they encounter imperfect asphalt.
On the inside, the Stingray’s greatest contribution to the E-Ray is revealed: its engine. The E-Ray restrains its price tag by hosting the “lowly” 495 hp LT2 V8 from the Stingray. Its quad exhaust system manifests in two pairs of outboard exhaust tips instead of the Z06’s centered quartet, the surest exterior indicator of the car’s DNA.
This means no flat plane crank howl for you, future E-Ray Driver, but your soundtrack isn’t limited to the Stingray’s classic V8 rumble, either. The design team chose not to suppress the amplified whine of the electric motor, even when the V8 is roaring flat-out, resulting in a harmonized cacophony completely unique to the E-Ray which Hans Zimmer could only dream of recreating.
More Than Just Another ‘Vette
There’s one other aspect of the Corvette that makes this hybrid version a natural evolution rather than a grievous deviation: the build process. Since 1981, more than 1 million Corvettes have been assembled in Bowling Green, Kentucky, in a plant that has to be one of the most special general assembly facilities in the country.
If you’ve never toured an automotive assembly plant, I highly recommend it. The constant cyclical rhythm of the work, and the melody of the tasks performed in each station punctuated by deviations in the spec from build to build, is entrancing at every stage. Three aspects of the Bowling Green operation set it apart from all others and make it perfectly suited to elevating the Corvette’s game to include the hybrid E-Ray:
- The low volume of the Corvette, compared to economy cars, means relatively long task times. Each operator has a series of tasks that takes more than four minutes to complete for each vehicle. Where a high-volume facility has a fast pace of simple work, Bowling Green’s rhythm is slow, with each pair of hands performing an elaborate melody of work in the time they are given. There’s a romantically elevated essence to this type of manufacturing which, in my opinion, suits a passion-driven sports car like the E-Ray.
- The tremendous diversity of the product means every job is unique. Every Corvette–Stingray, Z06, or E-Ray, coupe or convertible, in every trim–comes down the same production line. The logistics of coordinating the delivery of precisely the correct wheels, seats, doors, panels, accessories, and more at exactly the right time are completely overwhelming. The privilege to witness it executed to perfection is awe-inspiring. It also means that integrating the E-Ray to the line is almost second nature because every workstation is already hybridized to handle both Stingray and Z06 parts.
- They’re building freakin’ Corvettes in there! Beyond the question of, “Where else would they build it,” after four decades of achieving the mountainous goal of building a premium sports car at attainable prices for a profit, the legacy of Bowling Green General Assembly surely has them in the highest echelon of regard among GM’s production facilities. No other plant could be more trusted with the latest iteration of the General Motors halo car.
Significance Beyond Measure
There’s a poetically appropriate aura to the introduction of a hybrid Corvette in this way. It has a hybrid powertrain unlike any other, behaving as a hybrid of PHEV and ICE powertrains in ways that traditional hybrids do not. In every other respect, the E-Ray is a hybrid of the Stingray and Z06 platforms with which it shares a birthplace, and adds a new layer of complexity to the heavily hybridized workstations along its assembly line. By marrying distinctly Z06 parts to distinctly Stingray parts, and presenting an extra little bit of character of its own, it’s a perfectly natural addition to the Corvette lineup.
Though the 2024 E-Ray is many things that no Corvette has ever been before, at its core it’s creating a relatively affordable and accessible American alternative to the European hybrid hypercar. It’s equal parts Stingray and Z06, with a little bit of something new, and they build it in Bowling Green. What could be more “Corvette” than that?