Chevrolet’s Corvette, the storied American sports car once driven by Apollo astronauts, is taking its first, small step toward a battery-powered future with the announcement on Tuesday of the 2024 Corvette E-Ray hybrid.
It’s the first hybrid Corvette, unveiled 70 years to the day since the original Vette made its debut at the Motorama show in New York City in 1953.
The all-wheel-drive E-Ray hybrid, which will go on sale later this year for $125,704, retains the Corvette’s traditional V8 engine to power the rear wheels, but adds an electric motor to power the front wheels. Electricity is supplied by a small 1.9-kilowatt-hour battery that sits between the seats and is recharged by the combustion engine as well as energy harvested during braking and coasting. That means the E-Ray is not a plug-in hybrid, let alone a fully electric vehicle; it can only do a few kilometres on battery power (what Chevrolet calls Stealth Mode) before running out of juice.
“If you talk to them, people who are buying these cars, they still want that visceral feel that only a V8 will give them,” said Harlan Charles, Corvette product manager for Chevrolet.
The 6.2-litre V8 churns out 470 lb-ft of torque and 495 horsepower, while the electric motor adds another 160 horsepower for a total output of 655 ponies. The hybrid hardware adds weight of course – the E-Ray is 80 kilograms heavier than the standard Corvette Stingray, Charles said – but the hybrid’s instant electric torque makes this the quickest Corvette ever. The company claims acceleration to 96 kilometres per hour takes just 2.5 seconds, which would make it quicker than the quickest Porsche 911.
Adding a hybrid system and the wider body from the track-focused Corvette Z06 has made the E-Ray much more expensive. It’s nearly $47,000 more than the Stingray, whose relatively low price (at least by the twisted standards of mid-engine sports cars) was a key selling point. At $125,704, the E-Ray will have to fend off some more exotic competition.
Where the likes of Ferrari and McLaren downsized to V6 engines in their smaller hybrid sports cars, Chevrolet kept the V8, because America.
“We wanted to maintain the small-block, the legendary V8, that Corvette fans love,” Charles told The Globe and Mail. “They’re really not ready to give that up yet.”
However, fans should brace themselves; Corvettes won’t always have a gas-guzzling V8. Chevrolet previously confirmed the E-Ray is just the first step in Corvette’s march toward electrification. A fully-electric Corvette is coming, and the whole performance-car market is slowly embracing battery-power in an effort to curb emissions.
Ferrari, McLaren, Lamborghini, Porsche and Acura already sell hybrid sports cars, albeit at significantly higher prices than this new Corvette. Mercedes-AMG offers high-performance plug-in hybrids, while the next-generation of Porsche’s small 718 sports car – a potential competitor to the Corvette – will be all-electric and arrive in 2025. As for domestic competition, Ford’s all-electric Mustang Mach-E is an SUV, so a Mustang in name only, but Dodge will reportedly offer an all-electric Charger muscle car in 2024.
“It’s the right time for [a hybrid Corvette,] and it’s actually the soonest we could have done it,” Charles said. The mid-engine layout of the current (eighth-generation) Corvette – which has its V8 engine mounted behind the driver – enables this type of hybrid system because it leaves room up front for an electric motor. Doing something similar in the seventh-generation Corvette with its front-mounted V8 would’ve been hard, Charles said.
All-wheel drive is an added benefit of the E-Ray’s particular hybrid layout. Some hardcore enthusiasts insist rear-wheel drive is best for sports cars, but there’s no doubt the option of all-wheel drive will broaden the Corvette’s appeal.
“Let’s face it, these cars, people put a lot of their savings into them, and the more you can use it and the more versatile it is, the more fun you can have,” Charles said.
The hybrid retains the front-trunk, only losing two-litres of total cargo capacity compared to the standard ‘Vette.
Chevrolet didn’t provide sales estimates for Canada, but in the U.S. it expects the E-Ray to make up 10 to 15 per cent of all Corvette sales. The track-focused Z06 will account for another 25 to 30 per cent and the standard $78,897 Corvette Stingray will make up the rest.
The responses on social media to early teasers for the E-Ray have been mixed. Some commenters are embracing the battery-powered ‘Vette, while others are horrified.
“It’s really a fan-base car,” Charles said. “Just like Star Wars movies or sports teams, the customers, the fans, they really take ownership of this car and anything you do it’s going to be controversial.”