2020 Corvette Launches: Mid-Engine, 495 hp, More Tech, Less Than $60K

TUSTIN, CA — The eighth-generation of America’s best and best-known performance car launched here Thursday night. The 2020 Corvette is finally a mid-engine two-seater, as its architects have dreamed of for more than half a century. It has a strong dose of technology ranging from over-the-air updates to a standard 12-inch digital (LCD) instrument panel, a bigger head-up-display, and a GPS database that raises the low-slung car when it approaches a bump in the road or a sharply pitched driveway.

The cheapest 2020 Corvette will cost “less than $60,o00” when it ships early in 2020, according to GM president Mark Reuss, one of the speakers at the event.  That’s a 6 percent increase over the least expensive 2019 Corvette.

Why This Corvette Is Different

The 66-year history of Corvette includes a long-running difference of opinion between GM’s sports-minded engineers, particularly Zora Arkus-Duntov, and cost-conscious financial staff. Duntov proposed better underpinnings to make early Corvettes drive as well as they looked. Fast-forward half a century and the C8 – Corvette, generation 8 – finally has one of the hallmarks of the highest-end sports cars, the mid-engine layout. Some say GM had only bad experiences with its few early mid-engine production cars, particularly the 1960s Corvair which was a) rear- not mid-engine, b) troubled not by the engine location as much as the low-cost rear suspension that came to the attention of a young Ralph (“Unsafe at Any Speed”) Nader even though c) the VW Beetle had the same “swing-axle” design and that didn’t pique Nader’s curiosity.

The things you’ll read elsewhere about the C8 Corvette will often center on the mechanical differences, particularly moving a traditional small-block Chevy V8 with the very same bore spacing (distance between cylinders) as on the earliest Corvettes, from the front to behind the passenger compartment. The lone transmission choice is an eight-speed Tremec double-clutch transmission with a low first gear for tire-smoking acceleration (our words, not Chevy’s), closely spaced gears 2-3-4-5-6 to keep the car in the sweet spot of the power band, and long gears 7-8, meaning gears that let the engine run at highway speeds at less than 2,000 rpm, for fuel efficiency. With no driveshaft, the former transmission tunnel is now a piece of high-strength aluminum with a carbon fiber finisher (aero-smoothing) panel. Also to save space, the shifter linkage gives way to shift-by-wire gears: a Park-Reverse-Drive selector and paddle shifters.

Magnetic ride control shocks are an option. They instantly adapt to changing road conditions; the same dampers can be stiff for sporty driving, soft for daily driving especially with a spouse/partner aboard who loves Corvettes with limousine rides.

The wrap-around cockpit resembles a racecar cocoon. Or to some bigger drivers, it may seem a little confining. The 8-inch center stack display has a volume and a Home button; everything else is done by touch.

More, Better High Tech

For 2020, every Corvette gets a 12-inch LCD display. It’s mated with an 8-inch center stack LCD. To keep the dashboard uncluttered, the LCD has only a volume knob and a Home button; everything else is touch or voice. A head-up display is optional. Audio is by Bose: 10 speakers standard on entry trim models, 14 speakers including woofers in the door panels.

A MyMode feature lets the driver cycle among preferred driving style configurations. A single “Z mode” (named after the Z06, ZR1, and Z51 performance packages) is activated by a steering wheel button lets the driver take a My Mode feature, add engine and transmission tweaks, and store that in the button for back-roads and track use.

The Corvette adopts GM’s new “digital vehicle platform” for next-generation technologies. It minimizes wiring, allows faster data transmission, and enables higher-res displays. Other features are Chevy’s first one-touch Bluetooth pairing via a Near Field Communication patch, Qi wireless charging.

Corvette’s Performance Data Recorder has been upgraded. It’s an integrated action camera/security, records lap times or point-to-point travel times, and even knows where you are on a racecourse for auto-calculation of lap info. Don’t trust valet parking? You can set it to record when the ignition is set to valet mode.

First-generation Corvette C1 greets attendees to the 2020 Corvette C8 launch at the Tustin (CA) Blimp Hanger. The C1 cost $3,490 in 1953, equal to $33,500 in today’s dollars.

Corvette History

Corvette launched in 1953, a decade before Porsche came out with the Porsche 911. Its best era was the 1970s, ironically at the time of the first oil embargos from the Middle East. In this decade, production ranged from a high of 42,000 in 2016 to a low of just under 10,000 last year. Sales and production numbers also followed the aging of the models which ran 5-10 years:

First-generation (C1, 1953–1962)
Second-generation (C2, 1963–1967)
Third-generation (C3, 1968–1982)
Fourth-generation (C4, 1984–1996)
Fifth-generation (C5, 1997–2004)
Sixth-generation (C6, 2005–2013)
Seventh-generation (C7, 2014–2019)
Eighth-generation (C8, 2020-)

In comparison, the Porsche 911, often considered the most iconic sports car, has about 1.1 million units produced. (No Ferrari is remotely close to a million.) Porsche sales are throughout the world where Corvette sales are centered in North America. Porsche sold 35,000 911s last year, worldwide. But where the 911 by itself was Porsche Cars for decades, now it’s only a fraction of Porsche’s 256,000 worldwide sales last year, outsold by the Macaan compact SUV (86,000), Cayenne mid-size SUV (71,000), even the Panamera sedan (38,000). The 911 came out in 1963, at which point Corvette had a 70,000-unit head start. Porsche’s biggest market is China, followed by the US and Germany.

Detroit-focused Campbell-Ewald ad agency campaign from a decade ago noted who gets sung about.

More than a dozen songs have been written about the car, including “Little Red Corvette,” even if the lyrics meant something else, “Riding with Private Malone,” “Dead Man’s Curve,” “Shut Down,” “The Best Day,” “Corvette Dreams,” “The One I Loved Back Then,” and “Corvette Crusin’.”

The Corvette has been the Indianapolis 500 pace car 16 times (17 when the C8 paces the 2020 race). It has been on the Car and Driver 10Best Cars list 20 times (Honda Accord has been on 33 times, BMW 3 Series 23 times). It has been Motor Trend Car of the Year in 1984 and 1998.

Chevrolet produced 1.7 million Corvettes over seven generations since 1953. Production topped 50,000 in 1979 and 1984. This decade, production averaged 23,000 units a year. Note: Low figures such as 1983 are when most 1983 sales were assigned to 1984. New models were in 1953, 1963, 1968, 1984, 1997, 2005 and 2014.

More Than 1.7 Million Sold

Chevrolet produced 1.7 million Corvettes over seven generations since 1953. Production topped 50,000 in 1979 and 1984. This decade, production averaged 23,000 units a year. Note: Low figures such as 1983 are when most 1983 sales were assigned to 1984.

The car goes into production later this year at its sole production facility in Bowling Green, KY. First sales are due to be early in 2020. You will likely find few sub-$60K cars in the early allotments. Buyers will find dealer markups because that’s what the market will bear. While 100 Corvette owners staged their own polished cars outside the launch site, there will also be cranky owners who can’t fathom the idea of a Corvette with a mid-mounted engine, as if better weight distribution and handling is a bad thing. Their fathers likely protested fuel injection.

2020 Corvette Crossflags symbol and script in chrome.

How Soon Can You Get a C8 Corvette?

The base 2020 Corvette will be called Stingray and gets a 6.2-liter V8 (LT2) engine with 495 hp (369 kW) and 47-pound-feet of torque. Tires are 18 inches in front, 19 inches in back, with 35 series front tires and 30 series rear tires.  One option will be the first Corvette rated all-season performance tires.

Chevrolet will release more complete pricing in the fall. Be prepared for dealer pricing adjustments (markups) if the Corvette is in hot demand. In the past, premiums on popular high-end sports cars have been $10,000-plus in their first months on the market.

Along with every other journalist in America, we can’t wait to test-drive the C8 Corvette. Version 8 appears to be a quantum leap forward.

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