In a world of crossovers, it’s always a treat to spend time with something a bit lower to the ground. Evaluating performance cars on the street only shows so much, though. Painting the most full picture of a sports car’s capability requires track time – something many manufacturers are loathe to approve when I ask. It was a welcome shift, then, when Chevrolet reached out to offer seat time in the 2021 C8 Corvette on both the street and a two-mile circuit a bit west of Las Vegas.
Everyone who buys a 2021 Corvette brand-new receives a coupon of sorts for a two-day performance driving school at Spring Mountain Motorsport Ranch. Chevrolet started this program years ago, and the $1,000 price tag includes the use of their Corvettes on track and lodging in a (large) trackside condo.
I landed at the Las Vegas airport, navigated through a maze of baggage claim carousels and slot machines, and made my way to a driver in a Suburban. I was shuttled to a nearby hotel, where I met the Chevrolet PR team and was presented with my choice of six different Corvettes for the drive from Las Vegas to Pahrump, Nevada, about an hour out of town.
Street-Driving the 2021 Chevy Corvette Convertible
I knew we’d be driving the most track-oriented versions of the Corvette once I got to Spring Mountain, so I chose what appeared to be a fairly basic Convertible model for my street driving. The 2021 C8 Corvette Convertible was in fact a base 1LT trim and did not have the track-oriented Z51 package.
Though I am a convertible person through and through, I made it about ten miles in the Vegas heat before putting the “top” back up. If you’re looking for a true convertible, the C8 Corvette isn’t it, moreso a power-operated targa top above your head. While all Corvette Coupe models also have a targa roof, their roof panel takes up trunk space when stowed. Not so with the Convertible. In any case, I pulled a toggle switch on the driver’s armrest while sitting at a red light, and the roof panel motored into place quickly.
Air-conditioning cranked, I set off for Spring Mountain. Every 2021 C8 Corvette has the same drivetrain, a mid-mounted 6.2 liter V8 producing 490 horsepower and 465 lb-ft of torque. Add five to each number with the Z51’s free-flowing exhaust. Power is sent to the rear wheels with an eight-speed dual-clutch transmission and limited-slip differential.
On the highway, I was most impressed with the civility of the car, a Corvette hallmark for generations. Where past generations of Corvette have been similarly tall-geared for highway cruising, they haven’t felt nearly as well done inside. The outgoing C7 was getting there, the C8 is a truly pleasant place to sit and devour miles. With the transmission in eighth, revs were kept low and fuel economy reasonably high. Chevrolet rates the car at 27 miles per gallon highway.
As the ribbon of asphalt between Vegas and Spring Mountain got more twisty, I found the base suspension to handle quite well for what it is. No, it’s not as laser-focused as the Z51, but it’s not a sloppy mess either. Steering and brake pedal effort (the C8 has a brake-by-wire setup) change depending on drive mode, and felt just fine in the default “Tour.”
The basic Bose sound system in the 1LT provided more than enough punch and featured clear highs and pretty-good lows. My silver Convertible included GM’s navigation software, as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Base seats were comfortable, with just-enough levels of bolstering to keep you in place without feeling too aggressive. I only wished for heated and ventilated seats – which can be had on higher trims.
Perhaps the most impressive street-focused element of the C8 is its dual-clutch transmission. I have driven other DCTs that were not nearly as refined in heavy traffic, starting from a stop on a hill, or while performing other low-speed maneuvers. Corvette engineers managed to make this DCT feel like a torque converter at low speeds, which is no small feat.
Sharpening Up – Driving the 2021 C8 Corvette Z51 Coupe on Track
I awoke the following morning, piled into a Chevy Express van with fellow media, and was taken to one of the classroom buildings at Spring Mountain. The sprawling “Motorsport Ranch” offers a continuous six-mile circuit that is frequently split into smaller sections for the Ron Fellows Performance Driving School – which is what we came to experience. The typical two-day course was condensed into one day for my group, with a series of drills in the morning and hot laps around the East circuit in the afternoon.
Every Corvette used for the Ron Fellows school has the Z51 package, which a Corvette engineer described in detail over dinner. “It’s different sway bars, spring rates, shock valving, brake pad compound, totally worth it if you track the car a lot,” he said. The C8 Corvette can be had with Magnetic Ride Control, a system that controls shock valving using fluid filled with magnetic particles for incredibly quick response. I was told there are, more or less, four suspension setups on the C8 Corvette – with or without Z51, with or without “Mag Ride.”
The Accelerate Yellow C8 Corvette Coupe I drove was a fully-loaded 3LT trim, with Magnetic Ride Control and Z51. Chevrolet adds their recommended track alignment to the Ron Fellows cars, and keeps fresh tires and brakes on every car.
Our morning “drill” sessions helped ease everyone into the car, while teaching the “never been on track” folks among us some basics about looking far ahead and controlling inputs. After lunch, though, was where the day got far more entertaining. With a Motorola radio routed through the Corvette’s speakers, I took the first position behind one of the driving instructors for our lead-follow sessions. Our instructors were all pro-racing veterans of sorts and pretty accomplished. “You can push as hard as you want, try to hit my bumper, it’s fine. We’ll just go faster,” is what I was told. The instructors will absolutely adjust for your driving skill.
After a lap or two of “ope the apex is over there,” I settled into a decent rhythm on the East circuit and with the Corvette. The harder I pushed, the happier the Corvette seemed – provided I set the car up right for a corner. Diving in too hot was – predictably – understeer city, but a quick lift off the throttle tucked the nose right back in line. Turn in a bit early? Nail the gas, let the electronically-controlled differential lock up (it locks primarily based on throttle input) and provide a touch of counter-steer as the Corvette happily slides its way through the turn. You’ll be slow(er) but giggling the entire time.
Turn-in was easy, assuming you stayed focused. Steering offered good feedback and allowed accurate placement of the nose without fighting the car. Brakes were strong, with balanced initial bite and no fade after each 20 minute session in triple-digit heat. I found gearing to be a bit long, which made the car feel slow out of a corner if you blew the entry and fell out of the higher-end of the tachometer’s reading. Power delivery from the 6.2 swells as it builds revs, and blatty V8 is happy to keep making power right up until redline. It’s worth noting that Spring Mountain sits around 3,000 feet of elevation, so we likely weren’t making every single horsepower that Chevrolet claims.
Best of all, the C8 Corvette was just so easy. Mid-engined cars can be a bit on the twitchy side, but the C8’s 107-inch wheelbase helps keep everything pointed the right way. The Corvette’s aggressive styling belies its relatively attainable, non-threatening performance. You can make a C8 Corvette dance, and it’s not particularly nerve-wracking. And then you turn the drive mode dial back to Tour, leave the racetrack, and head wherever your next road-trip destination might be.
I’ve driven several generations of Corvette, on the street and on the track. This C8 generation is the first mid-engined Corvette, and it really doesn’t feel much like the old cars at all. Where those were more rowdy, the C8 is refined. Where I’ve had to ease myself into a C5 Z06, carefully, the C8 feels far friendlier.
My complaints are few, with the not-convertible Convertible being one, and the generally poor rear visibility being the other. Chevy’s digital rear-view mirror helps here, but there’s no replacement for actual glass.
I’m a firm believer in everyone with a drivers’ license getting some extra coaching, and the Ron Fellows school for new Corvette owners provides a great opportunity that is shaped to your skill level. If you’re a new owner and on the fence – just go.
As for the C8 Corvette overall, it’s fabulous. It’s not perfect – nothing is – but it’s a heck of a car for the money. The 1LT Convertible I drove to the event carried a MSRP around $69,000 (that power targa roof is pricey) and the 3LT Coupe with Z51 comes in around $82,000. My personal “sweet spot” C8 would be a simple 1LT with the Z51 performance package and nothing else, for about $67,000.