SAN DIEGO — The Corvette is a special car. I think it's partially because it's always punched a bit above its weight class when it comes to speed and performance, but mostly because it’s always been the attainable sports car.
A factory worker or a plumber could work hard, save their pennies, and when they're 50 or so (and the kids are out of the house), they could go out and buy one. The 2019 Corvette started in the mid-$50's and launched upwards from there depending on which variant you opted for, but even that $57,000 base version packed a lot of bang for your mid-life crisis buck.
A McLaren or a Ferrari isn't a realistic goal for a normal person, even a used one. They're just too expensive to purchase and even more too expensive to maintain. That's why it was so impressive when Chevrolet unveiled the new “C8” Corvette last year and declared that the base Stingray Coupe would start under $60,000.
See, the new 2020 "C8" is mid-engined. That means the driver sits in front of the engine, which itself sits just ahead of the rear wheels. This means the car is better balanced, which means the potential for greater performance. As an added bonus, it looks cool and different. A single glance at the new Corvette and even non-car people know that there's something curious going on.
With the older Corvette (and, in fact, every older Corvette), the big, heavy engine sat over the front wheels which means the center of gravity is further forward. Corvette engineers said at the announcement that the prior, outgoing model was as far as they could push a front-engine, rear-drive car. Now, with a mid-engine setup, the Corvette could be harder, better, faster, stronger. And boy howdy, is it ever.
Last year, when it was unveiled, we knew that it would be mid-engined. Years of leaks had shown us that, but the price was still a mystery. I put the over/under at $100,000 and guessed that Chevy would make the under. But at $60,000 for a mid-engined car, there must be some serious compromises, right?
Not so fast. My test car this week was a 2020 Corvette Convertible: a standard base model 1LT clocking in at a mere $67,495 out the door. You can't actually buy one for that much because there are extremely long waiting lists, but theoretically that's what you'd pay.
It had no options fitted, so this was the true entry-level convertible (which costs $7,500 more than a similarly equipped coupe. But even so, it was well-equipped, with a 6.2-liter V8 making 490 horsepower and 465 lb-ft of torque. These days that's not OMG amounts of power, with the Dodge Charger Hellcat making more than 700 horses, but it's still a prodigious amount.
Getting in a mid-engined car is a bit tricky, but the Corvette is better than most. Put one leg in, put butt on side of seat, then slide. Reverse the procedure to get out. It's not the most dignified thing, but Chevy knows its target market is older dudes and it's not too hard to manage. Getting in and out of a Lamborghini Huracan is a serious challenge compared to the new Corvette.
In front of you is the square-circle-squircle steering wheel, an excellently positioned infotainment display that supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (and wireless CarPlay coming in 2021 models, hallelujah). There are two cupholders that can hold the largest drink cups that Starbucks or 7-11 have on offer (which is an impressive achievement for any sports car, honestly) and a bizarre strip of buttons running down the middle that control the heating and cooling in the car. Just set it to auto and find a temperature that works and forget it.
Behind you is that massive V8 and you can't see the engine or what's behind you or much of anything. Sitting low in a mid-engined car means you don't really know what's behind you. That's ok, because it's what's in front that matters.
Pull a switch on the driver's door and the hard-top roof drops or raises in just 16 seconds and, even more impressively, it can be done at speeds up to 30 mph. This is a serious quality of life improvement and the engineering to make it possible must have been mind-blowing.
Put the hammer down and the car launches, with all the fury and fire and squealing tires — and it gets from 0-60 in less than three seconds if you do everything correctly. For $68,000. You could put a 1 at the front of that price and I'd think it was reasonable.
I've run out of room in this column, but I'll leave you with this: This car, even in the stripped down 1LT form, is the best sports car America has ever made. It is best sports car you can buy for the price from anywhere in the world.
Now go to your nearest Chevy dealer and order one pronto (or call my friend Todd at Johnson Auto Plaza in Brighton, Colorado. If I refer five Corvette buyers I’ll get a free hat or something, so be sure to tell him I sent you).