In 1953 the world was a very different place. Khrushchev and Tito rose to power in eastern Europe at the same time that an armistice was signed in Korea. For the first time humans stood atop Mount Everest, and evidence linking lung cancer to smoking was discovered. Color TVs were introduced to the market, costing the equivalent of $13,000. Hulk Hogan came into the world. And finally, an American automaker brought a sports car to market.
Somehow, nobody had done it before. It took a daring piece of behind-the-scenes engineering by Harley Earl to marry a fiberglass body to a 6-cylinder engine, but the response to the very first Chevy Corvette Concept was so powerful that it launched into production the same year it was revealed. Seven decades and eight generations later, the 2023 Chevy Corvette Stingray continues to set the standard for American performance cars, and to this very day, it’s not just a car–it’s an inspiration.
70 Years in the Making
The first generation Corvette was almost a disaster. Despite looks that captured the hearts of millions, it had no performance to back up the claim that it was America’s take on the European sports car. A V8 engine saved it, a removable hardtop and a racing program got it to sell, and then Zora Arkus-Duntov got his hands on the second generation. Once that happened, the Corvette would never again face a serious threat to its existence.
The “Father of the Corvette” deserves much of the credit for the 1963 Sting Ray, an all-time classic design from both styling and performance perspectives. But he couldn’t sell GM executives on going all-in against the European competition and building a mid-engine platform. Though rumors persisted with each generation that “this is the one!” it never happened. The engine position has forever remained a compromise against achieving world-class performance. The Corvette kept getting better with a front mid-engine layout, developing Z06 and ZR1 packages with genuinely competitive performance, taking over Le Mans in the early 2000s, and eventually resurrecting the Stingray name with the incredible C7 generation. But it still lacked that pivotal architectural signature of the world’s greatest sports cars.
Finally, after 66 years, the C8 generation was introduced in 2020 with a rear mid-engine layout, like so many Ferraris to which Corvette is often compared. From the Stingray to the Z06 to the upcoming aptly-but-unofficially-named Zora at the top of the line, every modern ‘Vette is finally an ultimate American interpretation of the European sports car.
The Complete Package
There’s a reason why the Corvette has missed the Car and Driver 10 Best list only once in the last decade. It’s why the Corvette is their second-most common guest on the list of all time, behind only the Honda Accord and tied with the Porsche Boxster/Cayman. It just gets everything right. Presence, interior, performance, practicality, value… The Corvette just has it all, to the point that as a total package, it’s genuinely competitive with the Porsche 911, Ferrari 488, and Lamborghini Huracan.
Impressions: Style and Features
Alright, so the styling is a little polarizing. Go ahead and call me out on it. SavageGeese hit the nail on the head by calling it a car that looks like it’s wearing a supercar body kit, but it works. The first one to appear in my area, in Amplify Orange, had me thinking it was a Ferrari or McLaren every time I saw it for weeks. The C8 Stingray owns every bit of its mid-engine architecture and isn’t interested in flying under the radar. From day one, the Corvette has been all about striking an unforgettable image. Whether you find the hood creases and taillight lines to be too much or not, there’s no doubt Chevy has succeeded in that mission again.
Unlike the divisive exterior, the interior is almost inarguably one of the best that Chevy’s ever made. It’s incredibly distinctive with a totally driver-focused layout, highlighted by a narrow line of HVAC controls on a thin, sloped wall running the length of the center console that segregates the driver and passenger cockpits. Even in base 1LT trim, the interior materials–a common cost-cutting point, especially for GM products–are predominantly soft-touch low-gloss selections, finally making the interior space feel worthy of the price point after decades of falling short.
That’s not to mention the features of the car, which are plentiful. The drive mode selector, which is a wheel beneath a padded wrist rest, configurable drive modes, and digital displays, including a HUD, add a ton of personalization to the driving experience. The highlight feature has got to be the Front Lift with memory option. This not only raises the front clearance by nearly two inches in only three seconds while driving as fast as 24 mph, but it can also remember where you use it and automatically lift the front end every time you come across the same obstacle.
Money Where Its Mouth Is: Performance
Even though the Stingray is the base Corvette model today, it’s still a true sports car at heart. Leaving the hardcore performance equipment for the Z51, Z06, and Z07 packages serves to significantly lower the price of entry. What the Stingray achieves through a balance of powertrain, suspension, and practical bodywork is a Porsche 911-caliber grand touring experience from a car that can easily cost $40,000 less than any flagship Porsche. Notably, the 911 Targa starts at twice the cost of a Targa-body Stingray 1LT.
Though it’s now overshadowed by the Z06’s ridiculous flat-plane-crank engine, the Stingray’s 6.2L V8 makes 490 hp and 465 lb-ft and is capable of a sub-three second 0-60 mph time. It does that while burning gas at 16 in the city and 24 mpg on the highway. I get efficiency numbers like that from my 14-year-old Lexus, and it only makes… On second thought, I think I’ll keep that to myself.
Add to that speed more than 1g of road-holding grip, enough to instill confidence in any driver, and you’ve got a car that can hang with or downright beat any of Europe’s best sports cars. The Z51 package takes a few steps further in that direction with a broad array of performance enhancements. You can also opt to equip the Z51 package’s Magnetic Ride Control separately, which adjusts damping 100 times per second to achieve maximum grip in the corners while maintaining a comfortable cruising demeanor the rest of the way. It’s some of the best damper technology in the business and comes highly recommended, even if you do skip the full Z51 package.
Anytime, Anywhere: Practicality and Value
Value is where the Corvette differentiates itself from the competition. Lots of exotic mid-engine sports cars look great inside and out, are loaded with advanced tech features, and carve up corners. Some are even usable daily drivers. But how many of them can be had in a satisfactory loadout for less than $100,000? The answer is very, very few. Even the new Z06 variant of the Corvette starts at over $105,000. But with a starting price of $64,500, even a nearly-fully-loaded Stingray convertible, in 3LT trim, with the 70th Anniversary livery package, Z51 performance package, and Front Lift with memory, still checks in at under $100,000 in Chevy’s online builder.
Then consider the outcome of using a less-than-outrageously thirsty powertrain and the best adaptive damping on the market in a car with two (small) trunks. This is a car that can reasonably be driven every single day. While it doesn’t even pretend to accommodate a family (like the Camaro or Porsche 911, with their comically small rear seats), the Corvette Stingray has a comfortable ride, not-quite-unpalatable operating costs, and adequate storage for the two people who fit on board, while still delivering thrilling performance on demand.
It’s when addressing this combination that reviewers acknowledge what sets the Corvette apart from many comparable European sports cars. The C8 Corvette Stingray is a bona fide daily driver, grand tourer, and sports car. No owner will feel the need to wait for sunny days or to be in the right mood to take it out for a spin because it’s great to drive all the time. Whether hammering canyons, hitting the country club, or just making the daily commute, the C8 Corvette Stingray has exactly the right performance characteristics to do it all, day in and day out.
Worthy of the Name
The Stingray name has been applied now to four generations of America’s old-school joyride machine. The C2, on which it was introduced, remains one of the most captivating designs of all time, while the C3 maximized the accessibility of the car and remains the best-selling ‘Vette of all eight generations. It was another 30 years before the Stingray model would be re-introduced in the C7, representing a tremendous leap from the C6 (which was itself only a modest improvement on the C5). And now, as the Corvette has finally taken on the mid-engine form that the automotive gods intended, the C8 bears the name as well.
With a stunning design, excellent interior space, and thrilling performance, the 2023 Corvette Stingray continues to cement its place among the industry’s performance titans. Combined with a superb ride, useful and exciting tech features, and superior practicality to most mid-engine sports cars, the Stingray starts to look like one of the best of the bunch. Then the big, bold figure on the window sticker cements that position.
In 1953, Harley Earl presented a concept to challenge Europe’s dominance of the sports car market, an idea that set the automotive world on fire. Seventy years later, the Corvette project remains one of the most successful initiatives in the history of the automotive world. Today, there can be almost no doubt that the Corvette Stingray is the greatest American sports car.