This set of images was leaked to the press a week ago. On the assumption that they are correct, and it’s a fair assumption since apparently they came from dealer service manuals, we’ll review them step-by-step. Of course the big date we’re all looking forward to is January 13, 2013, when the 7th generation Corvette is officially revealed.
A number of “spy pictures” have already been published, so a some but not all of the details are already known. But these new images clear up several areas. One is the overall profile of the new Corvette, which strikes us as long and lean – almost Italian-esque. The swept-back shape of the headlamps, the scoop on the side and the character line running from underneath it, the new side window (breaking a paradigm of C4-C6 styling), and the upswept rear fender “shoulders” all add visual length to the design. The overall size of the car is believed to be a little bit shorter, as demonstrated by images of the first engineering mules (C6 cars modified with the new suspension underneath), where the new suspension was tucked well inside the then-current C6 fenders. These long lines help maintain the impression of the size of the car while also improving the “flow”.
There are a couple of things we don’t yet know; one is the width of the B-pillar. It’s hidden under the glass, and will block some degree of the sightlines. Lets hope it’s not as pointlessly bad as the 370Z, where the rear side windows are useless – leaving the driver sitting in a dark cave, just like the Camaro and the Z. It’s important to be able to see out of the car for street driving, and just as important on the track where there are other cars are all around you in turns and straights.
One thing we don’t like is the large vent behind the front tires. A vent makes sense functionally, but it’s squared-off shape doesn’t fit well into the otherwise rounded and flowing lines of the car. Arguably, it’s also too large – visually and functionally. But at least it’s not the tacked-on vents and scoops of the C6 Corvette.
The A-pillar shape is familiar (as is, we suspect, the structure behind it), and as we’ve seen in the spy pics, is very very thick. While that’s nice for roll-over and crush protection, it makes for an obstructed forward view as well as an obstructed view in turns when the pillar is directly in your line of sight – blocking your complete view of the turn. This seems to be a developing trend in most GM cars, and it’s one that needs attention. We can’t give up any roll and crush protection, but we also don’t need the pillar contributing to the likelihood of an accident.
Looking at the front, we see the new engine compartment; very logically laid out. This has already been seen in at least one spy picture, along with the vent (#6) leading to matching vents in the underside of the hood. Very nice, and a clear lesson learned from the C6 racing program. This will improve overall aerodynamics, reduce front end lift, and improve engine cooling. Very nice, and a necessary evolution from the C6. We also see that there is a single large air cleaner element, but instead of being placed ahead of the radiator as in the C6, this time it’s placed to the side and draws colder air from inside the fenderwell. We note and hope that this design could allow for a 2nd air filter element, a mirror image to the right side, for improved high-end breathing on a future Z06 model. This would also work nicely on the future – the inevitable future – twin-turbo V-6 model.
Now we’ll move to the back, which like the rear sides has been almost completely covered up in spy pictures to date. Right away our first impression is negative – the taillights and side vents are too much Camaro showcar, too kid-stuff immature, too “Transformers”. The taillights are hideous, breaking the paradigm of several styling trends of several previous generations of Corvettes and relegating the Corvette to the Chevrolet taillight styling trend that started with the Camaro and was most recently tacked onto the Malibu.
The rear is also in direct contrast to the front end of the Corvette, where form follows function, and the car is a clear evolution of the C6. Did a different committee style the rear end?
Likewise for the C pillars – they will have a huge impact on rear-side visibility and will only be slightly mitigated by the rear-side windows – if they are indeed usable at all. And then there are the four vents… just plain awful. The ones next to the taillights have no clear aerodynamic function and are apparently fake. Again, think kid stuff and “Transformers”. Then there are the vertical ones on each end of the bumper. They are likely functional, or at least hopefully so since to date Corvette aerodynamics have been very poor (which combined with the inherently variable rate leaf springs make for a twitchy car at very high speeds). The \___/ shape around the license plate matches the rear window, neither of which we like nor are they functional in any way. We would have preferred the rear window to angle inwards: /__\, or even be a squared off rectangle (like a 240Z). What we can’t see is the underside of the rear end, and we would hope that there has been some attention there paid to airflow. But, overall, the back end of the car is very negative in our minds.
Now for the rear hatch, previously seen in only one spy picture. It’s as we expected, as wide as possible. Necessarily so to swallow two golf bags (the use of the hatch for most Corvette owners). This image also reveals the back side of the seats, which matches the spy pictures. Obviously a lot of attention has been paid to making the seats far more supportive, which goes a long way to resolving that other big Corvette problem: big wide flat seats. Apparently designed by a big fat wide engineer. As an HPDE instructor specializing in Corvettes, we see a lot of students having to jam their knee into the driver side speaker just to stay in their seats. Hopefully that problem will be no more… although there may be some less-bolstered standard seats for the typical Corvette demographic – leaving these as an option. We’ll have to see. The rest of the hatch area is obviously shaped to take the removable top. We laughed when we saw another site declare that the horizontal line behind the front seats was actually the top of a fold-down back seat!
Also clear in this shot are the vents above the rear tires. Spy shots to date have had this area covered up, both to hide these as well as the vertical cents on the bumper. Now we know why, and all (or most) of these vents are another nod to aerodynamics. But the vertical bumper vents are also a recent Toyota styling feature, where they similarly look out of sync with the rest of the car.
Moving inside, first to the seats. As previously said, this is a critical area for improvement and clearly some much-needed focus was put here. Despite a bit of attention paid to shoulder support in the last year of the C6, the seats of all previous Corvettes have been frankly shameful – especially in a 125k+ car such as the C6 ZL1. The reason, brought out in an interview at the time the CTS-V was announced with its optional Recaro seats, was room between the drivers shoulders and the B-pillar. That’s a problem area for crash protection, and apparently it’s been addressed in this new generation by moving the seat and b-pillar geometry. The bolstering in the lower seat isn’t much, but the attention to shoulder support is very apparent and welcome. We would also have liked to see pull-out thigh support for drivers with longer legs. We’d prefer an honest set of Recaros. If a buyer can get the real thing in a Fiesta ST (!), why can’t we get them here? There is simply no substitute for a seat designed by professional seating engineers, rather than stylists. This is an area where the new Viper has also failed.
One thing that is apparent in the pictures below are the controls for seat heating and ventilation. Corvette engineers have considered offering ventilated seats in the past (shown to the press with an elaborate external ducting), but never did. They make a lot of sense for road comfort, but also track comfort.
Moving to the dash, we see an enormous paradigm shift – and one of the most anticipated changes for the new generation. This has been a focus area for C7 designers, and a much-needed area of attention. Not only is everything new, everything is different. The main gauges in front of the drivers are entirely LCD, and the panel to the right is also a large LCD, probably with standard navigation. But also, as we will see below, the home of track-oriented applications.
A question – where is the parking brake handle? Don’t tell us it’s electronic (#23)…! Note the shifter: short and well-placed. A 7-speed manual had been spotted some time ago being tested in a C6, but it’s not yet known what will be offered here or where it has been sourced from. Same for the automatic, where reports of a “temporary” 8-speed outsourced from Japan suggest that GM’s own 8-speed is not yet ready for production.
The following image is unfortunately fuzzy and indistinct. We’ve already seen part of the main dash panel in action in the teaser videos supplied by Chevrolet. Just like the Viper, when the car starts a large logo of the car appears in the message center (and how did that happen? Coincidence, we think not). Two things we don’t like. One: there is only a gas level and water temperature gauge. True sportscars should be fully instrumented, and should not have to rely on secondary screens to show critical information. Oil temperature and pressure should be provided here because oil and water temperatures have been a serious – even fatal – problem in Corvette track cars in the past.
Second: the tiny speedometer. Like it or not, some people have to drive 25 MPH thru their neighborhoods and school zones and having a half-inch of travel for that speed in the lower half of the speedometer doesn’t help you monitor your speed. And while this car may or may not be able to attain 200 MPH, 95% of Corvette owners will never get over 100. Traditional Corvettes have provided an over 300-degree sweep of the speedometer (and matched that with the tachometer). That would be 100% functional, it makes sense, and attention for function over form should have been the rule here. These instruments (like some of the exterior design) smack just a little too much of styling, and distraction, instead of maturity.
The steering wheel holds no surprises, with the expected multi-function switch to control dash and secondary LCD menus. That’s how it’s done. It’s also nice to see that the switches near the right palm rest won’t be accidentally hit as they were on the C6.
Here we see the switch for the optional power convertible top. The ones to the left of that are more interesting, and so far unidentifiable. We suspect they may be switches to control the suspension, which previously were placed on the console behind or to the side of the shifter. Note the dead pedal in the footwell. Also note what appears to be an air vent under the switch panel. That has been a GM HVAC trademark, and we think it’s a good one. If it isn’t, we hope there is still one where.
Now we move back to the LCD panel in the center stack. This is clearly configurable for several different purposes, including the radio and navigation. But here’s something new: a track overlay. The GPS system can track a car’s position within a couple of feet and “draw” a rough track layout (corresponding to your position on the track, rather than an actual map of the track), then track lap times and speeds around that track. None of this is new technology, but it’s interesting to see it here.
The buttons directly under this LCD are an unknown… hopefully the entertainment system ranks placement in the LCD and not with these 6 switches and one dial. We hope this isn’t a Camaro-style radio, one of the most ugly and useless systems on the market today. The HVAC controls beneath these also look like they were styled by the Camaro team, given the two large and protruding dials. Again, why not something function here, instead of heavy and over-styled? The good news, as described above, is that this panel shows the heated and cooled seats. Whether these are an option or standard is not yet clear.
Now we’ll get into the risky part of the post… Corvette owners are a strongly opinionated group and so are we. So, overall (and before official introduction), what are the plusses and minuses of what we know of so far?
- Clear attention to quality, with an interior that jumps much farther forward than any Corvette before it.
- Clear attention to seating and ergonomics, again with attention that moves farther forward than any previous Corvette. And it’s about time.
- Attention to aerodynamics, again much overdue.
- Likely, not confirmed, one chassis structure instead of two. Instead of separate steel and aluminum frames (plural), one for the base and the other for the hyper-expensive Z06 and ZL1 models, apparently now we only have one. This should reduce manufacturing complexity, increase quality and consistency, and reduce the price of optional variants of the car. Although at this early point we’d bet the base price of the car will rise.
- Improved chassis dynamics. From the pictures we’ve seen of the rear suspension, it’s an evolution of the geometry of the familiar C5 and C6 suspension (some of which is close enough to be interchangeable). The major problem remaining in our perspective is the leaf springs. These are inherently variable-rate, and bind up considerably at the extremes of travel. Anybody who has driven a properly prepared C6 with coilovers knows that they is a simple and functional solution to the ills of the standard suspension. GM: it’s time to move on, despite the packaging simplicity of the leaf springs.
- Strong focus on track driving. With the improved seats, and the easy availability of a dry-sump oiling on the base car (that is, base currently being below any future Z06 and ZL1-type models), this should be an even better track car than before. Chevrolet engineers have said that the 450-HP/450-torque (“+”) of the new engine “approaches” (which means that it does not exceed, but comes close) the performance the old Z06 engine.
- Direct injection: this is one of those few technologies which has it all: drivability, power, emissions, fuel economy.
- Areas of the Corvette where flash and styling override functionality. Think “Camaro” and “Transformers” instead of maturity and exclusivity. For serious driving enthusiasts, form should always follow function.
- Areas of the dashboard which over-inform and distract the driver. And the main instrument panel, which under-informs.
- Clumsy side vents, questionable vents on the back end of the car.
- Sightlines, both to the rear-side and out the back.
- An unknown: we’re sick to death of oiling and temperature issues with the standard (non-dry sump) engines of the C5 and C6. This is inherently lousy engineering: the base wet-sump engine should be able to be driven at track events (and in “Texas-hot” stop-and-go street traffic) without alarming water or oil temperatures, and with enough oil pressure to guarantee the engine isn’t eating itself alive. So many cars fail here, the Corvette should not be one of them.
Would we take one? Not personally, since on day one only the base models will be introduced and anything similar in concept to a Z06 will be off by at least a year or more. But at this early point we would recommend it as a nice driving car for enthusiasts.
But for hopeless track-heads like us (an affliction which admittedly means that nothing is ever perfect, noting ever totally satisfies in the long term, everything can always be improved, and lots of moaning over what the engineers didn’t do versus what they did do) we’d suggest a C6 Z06 instead. These are easily available in the mid-forty thousand dollar range and will make better use of the year or two until a Z06-type model appears. Yes, the C6 Z06 has it’s faults, and it’s a lousy daily driver, but for track use it’d be a better choice (with some Recaro seats and even a coilover suspension) for now.