GM's Halo Car Gets A Technological Makeover
January 14th, 2013
by: Alex Villani
pics: Alex Villani, Nick Saporito
Well boys and girls, the wait is over and Chevrolet has delivered an all new seventh generation Corvette, complete with a major overhaul of just about every single nut, bolt, and touch point. With an attention to detail similar to what GM showed with the ATS's development, the engineers were meticulous about cutting as much weight out of every fender, hood, seat frame, and even the chassis. But that weight loss was to compensate for the addition of a bunch of new technology and features that brings the American Sports Car into the new age of infotainment integration and customization.
Say goodbye to the DVD-based navigation and antiquated radio equipment and say hello to a full array of configurable LCD displays and digital communications. Let us not forget what Corvette's bread and butter: performance. We covered the introduction of the fifth generation Small Block that will be powering the Corvette, but now we had a chance to take a look at what else Chevrolet is going to offer to put Corvette back into one of the world's greatest sports cars.Let's talk about the design of the car, but I know where that conversation is going to go, so we are first going to focus on the bits and pieces that make up the all-new Corvette.
Not many people will argue that the current sixth generation Corvette is a slouch when it comes to performance, but what most people will point to as the weak point for Corvette would be the interior. Chevrolet put together a team, headed by Helen Emsley, to put together a proper interior befitting a sports car of this price range. The idea of really stressing the cockpit-like design was a big focus from the beginning, stemming from a design sketch that the team was using as the blueprint for how they were going to put together the real thing. From the start, Emsley and her team brought in people from engineering, manufacturing, and even from the Bowling Green plant itself to see what steps needed to be taken so that this sketch became reality. She wanted to make sure that all the lines flowing from the dash would be met perfectly with the door panels.
In order to make sure that each piece meets up correctly, the real aluminum or carbon fiber trim will be adjusted, by hand, at the factory, to meet the dashboard. Then came designing the seat, another sore area for Corvette owners of the past. Complaints of unsupportive bolsters and flat seat bottoms caused people who took their Corvette racing to look elsewhere, namely the aftermarket. So instead of passing that up, they pushed hard to develop an in-house seat that would be optional for those who liked to be held tightly, while still offering a "touring" seat option to provide a more relaxed fit. Corvette has not had a multiple seat option since the 80s, and with the Sport seat, they also left the side air bag open as a way to show some of the internal parts, giving it that exposed skeleton look. And fear not those who might be a little bit more "robust" than others, we have tested it, and it will fit a 6'1, 270lbs man very well with no problems.
There is also an introduction to some new colors for the interior for Corvette, adding a tan and a dark brown into the mix of red, black, and grey. The leather covered dash will be optional, just as it is now, and will be the hand cut-and-sewn set up that we have seen in several Cadillacs. The focus of making the whole interior very driver oriented was driven by some design clinics that had both Corvette and non-Corvette owners talking about how they do not totally care about the passenger. Do not fear shotgun riders of the world, Chevrolet has supplied you with your own HVAC controls located right below one of the air vents, just so you do not feel totally neglected.
Getting into the hardware, this is way more than just a refreshed C6, but that's not to say that the Corvette's chassis needed a lot of changing. First, every single Corvette gets an aluminum chassis that will be build in-house at Bowling Green, as supposed to the current Z06/ZR1 cars that have a chassis made exclusively for them. The aluminum chassis will be put together by robots, ensuring precise welds and as little margin for error as possible. Anyone who has welded with aluminum knows that it can be a very difficult metal to work with, and when it comes to things like chassis rigidity, you do not want to second guess or have defects with the weld.
The skin was another place to trim weight, and trim they did. For the first time, the standard Corvette will use carbon fiber to make up some of its body panels, namely the hood and roof. The hood is constructed using a new forming process that helps reduce cost while maintaining strength. The hood is actually two layers of single strand carbon fiber put together and painted to match the body. The removable roof panel uses the traditional cross-weave design that can be painted in that super expensive clear coat so that you can see the design. If that isn't your thing, then you can avoid checking that box and the carbon will be covered up in body color paint.
The panels that are not carbon fiber are the SMC material, but thanks to advances in technology are much lighter and stronger than today's rather flimsy panels. Many of us have seen a certain British car show push in on rear valence of a C6 and watch it as it flops around, which is not good when people are spending upwards of six figures for your car. All these new body panels were treated to extensive wind tunnel testing, basically taking all the little aerodynamic tricks learned from the C6.R program, and putting them to work on the production C7. It starts up front with a larger lower grill that vents air out through the vent in the hood and the side vents just forward of the doors. Air is also funneled in from over the top of the fender, down into to the car to cool off transmission and differential fluid as well as the brakes, and then the air exits out of the back vents that are outboard of the tail lights.
There was also extensive work done to aerodynamics of under the car to keep the vehicle planted and stable at very high speeds. All of this is done without the aid of active shutters or spoilers to help push the air around the car. In order to take advantage of all this aero-y goodness, is a revised suspension system complete with adjustable performance modes that the driver can select with a simple turn of a knob. Each of the five performance modes also changes the configuration of the LCD display that takes up most of the instrument panel's real estate, and even allowing you to enhance the exhaust note.
That exhaust note will be singing the tune of the all-new 6.2 liter LT1 engine which will be mated to either a six-speed automatic or the brand new seven-speed manual gear box, complete with auto-rev matching capabilities. For those who have never driven a car with it, the engine will automatically blip the throttle so that it can match revs as you shift through the gears. GM has played with this technology before with cars like the Cobalt SS Turbo, but with the C7, there are paddles that you must tap to activate the system. The performance stuff does not end there, as this Corvette will receive an electronic limited slip differential unit, another first for any Corvette, that will help shuffle power to the left and right sides via an electronically controlled clutch pack similar to what is used in the Ferrari 458 Italia.
Controlling the ride and handling will be the optional third generation magnetic ride control system that has become a staple of GM performance cars. The shocks attitude will be altered as you dial it up on the performance control knob. With the introduction of more and more electronics into the world, it was only a matter of time before Corvette succumbed to the electronic parking brake craze that is even sweeping up the likes of Porsche and Lamborghini. Drifting your fifty grand sports car will never be the same.
There has been a whole lot of talk about this seventh generation Corvette, ever since the first renderings were shown way back in 2011. With comparisons to everything from Viper to Ferrari, there is bound to be similarities out there just based on the fact that these cars share very similar drivetrain layouts. Even with a different greenhouse design, the new car's profile still screams Corvette, all while taking the design into a different direction. One of the biggest hate it or love it parts is the rear of the car. You either think the back end is very exotic and sharp or that it is a busy disaster of a bunch of design themes.
The rest of the car looks the part, and all the hardware sure sounds like it will be more than up to the task of dishing out a true world-class tail-whooping to just about anyone who tries to challenge it. In time, we will see if this design holds up through the years, or will it fail to meet the expectations of those looking for a performance car. The debate will go on for at least another two years, talking about what could have been done or what should have been done differently to make the Corvette look and, or perform better. As of right now, it looks like Corvette will enjoy another successful generation, possibly with more global appeal, propelling it further into the history as America's greatest sports car.