The roar of eight cylinders echoes off the hillsides as the 2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray rushes past California's vineyards and sun-faded barns. The magnetic suspension grips the uneven pavement; the manual gearbox rips through seven crisp shifts.
After months of anticipation and hype, Chevrolet is letting the next-generation Corvette out for test drives.
Though brief, our dalliance with a coupe version revealed that General Motors has hit the mark, balancing a towering legacy with the technological demands of a new century. The Stingray is a major step forward in the evolution of the Corvette, built in Kentucky in Bowling Green.
With its 455 horsepower and a $52,000 base price, no one will argue with the performance; many will argue with the styling, which dumps the iconic round taillights and soft curves in favor of an angular profile that gives this seventh-generation 'Vette a digital look that grabs attention but lacks emotion. Though meant to capture a younger audience, the changes don't necessarily make the car more youthful. This could prove to be this generation's only significant flaw.
Chevrolet's need to lure younger fans can't be overstated. From 2008 through June, half of all new Corvettes were registered by individuals 55 and older, according to R.L. Polk & Co. Just 2.6 percent of buyers were 34 and younger.
Chevrolet also deviated from the design playbook. The C7, as the Corvette cognoscente call it, is the first model without two sets of round taillights since 1961. They're trapezoids now, with black vents on the outside.
The deliberate shift from tradition sets the C7 apart from earlier Corvettes, said Kirk Bennion, who is in charge of the new car's exterior design. The reception to the change has been less than positive: often, "looks like a Camaro."
Myriad other changes are less obvious but more substantive: The hood and removable roof panel are now carbon fiber. An aluminum frame sheds about 100 pounds compared to the previous model's steel frame.
Few dispute the interior was overdue for an overhaul. The new cabin is a clear upgrade in sound isolation and quality of materials.
Thoughtful touches abound, like a fully customizable digital instrument panel and the small redundant climate control buttons for the passenger near their door.
Complaints are few. Taller drivers will yearn for a bit more legroom, and a large grab handle in the middle of the console blocks the passenger's view of most of the buttons and screen.
All 2014 Corvettes come with a 6.2-liter V-8 engine that makes 455 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque. Zero to 60 mph passes in a mere 3.8 seconds. And yet the car manages 17 miles per gallon in the city and 29 mpg on the highway, thanks to direct fuel injection and a cylinder deactivation system that shuts off four of the eight cylinders during freeway cruising.
All these changes make for an incredibly compelling sports car. The previous Corvette required some seat time to get comfortable pushing its limits; the C7 is ready to dance right off the bat.
2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray
Highs: Big bang for the performance buck
Lows: Edgy styling will take some getting used to
Vehicle type: Two-door, two-seat coupe and convertible
Powertrain: 6.2-liter V-8
Transmissions: Seven-speed manual, six-speed automatic
Torque: 460 pound-feet
Zero to 60 mph: 3.8 seconds, according to Chevrolet
EPA fuel economy rating: 17 mpg city, 29 mpg highway
Base price: $52,000
Price as tested: $71,660