MONTEREY, Calif. -- Chevrolet's 2014 Corvette Stingray is improved from the outgoing sixth-generation car by every major measurement: It's faster, more powerful, more refined and more fuel-efficient, and has a much better interior.
But it is the sports car's edgy exterior styling -- "futuristic," "exotic" and "more international" were descriptions used here by Corvette designers this week during a test drive for the automotive press -- that General Motors is counting on to cultivate a new breed of Corvette loyalists.
The seventh iteration of the sports car introduced 60 years ago should solidify the Corvette's status as an attainable dream car. At $51,995 for the coupe, including shipping, the car matches the performance credentials of peers that are priced two or three times higher. The price is up $1,400 from that of the current comparable model.
The basics: The new aluminum frame is 100 pounds lighter and 57 percent stiffer than the steel frame that underpins the 2013 base and Grand Sport models. That extra stiffness, along with a magnetic-based damping system and a new electronic limited slip differential, kept the Corvette sure-footed even at high speeds on the pebble-strewn roads that snake through this area's coastal mountain range.
Under the carbon fiber hood is a new 6.2-liter V-8 engine that produces 455 hp and 460 pounds-feet of torque. In a first for the Corvette, the car features cylinder deactivation, which cuts fuel to four of the cylinders under light loads. The technology, used on GM's full-sized pickups since 2007, helps the car get 29 mpg on the highway, up from 26 mpg on the outgoing model.
The engine is teamed with a seven-speed manual gearbox with what GM calls Active Rev Match, which anticipates gear changes for smoother shifts. It's also available with a six-speed paddle-shift automatic transmission. The car scoots from 0 to 60 in 3.8 seconds, GM says. Stomping on the throttle of a Z51 performance model with an automatic transmission produced a 4.2-second reading on the digital 0-to-60 readout on the instrument panel.
Notable features: The car has five drive modes that are selected with a knob on the console: "Tour" is the default setting; "Weather" offers better stability in rain and snow; "Eco" maximizes fuel efficiency; "Sport" dials in more-precise steering for carving twisty roads and electronically adjusts the exhaust valves for a throatier growl; and "Track" offers Sport features plus torque reduction and brake intervention for competitive driving.
The most striking improvements come on the interior, long panned even by Vette loyalists. The cockpit style cabin is awash in soft-touch materials, even in the base model. A high-definition 8-inch touchscreen in the center stack features Chevy's fairly intuitive MyLink infotainment system.
It's matched by a second 8-inch screen in the instrument panel that displays 69 different readings, a lap timer, tire-tread temperature and shift lights that give gear-change notifications at high speeds. Both screens show bright and crisp, even in bright sunlight.
To address another common gripe of Vette owners, GM made the seat frames of magnesium, rather than steel, which renders them more rigid and supportive. Competitive sport seats that add side bolstering for more aggressive driving will be available later this year. A smaller steering wheel — the smallest GM has ever used in a production vehicle — is meant to give the driver more-precise feel.