Jeremy Sinek is a juror on the North American Car of the Year awards.
The 2020 Porsche 911 was a last-minute no-show. Too bad. Deprived of the opportunity for same-day, same-roads comparison, we’ll have to back-burner for now the burning question whether the all-new mid-engined Corvette is better than the just-redone German icon.
Then again, the Corvette may not even need to be better. By all accounts, Porsche withdrew its candidacy for the North American Car of the Year (NACOTY) award because even though the Germans believe in their car, they knew they’d be priced out of contention.
The Corvette’s Canadian base price is just $69,998, which gets you a 495-horsepower, 6.2-litre V-8. Add just the key performance options – the Z51 package and the magnetic ride control variable-damping system (both on the test car) – and you still come in at less than $80,000. The new 911? The $111,000 base MSRP gets you 379 horsepower; add just the available performance upgrades and you’re closer to $130,000.
At the NACOTY test days, our Corvette drives are chaperoned by GM engineers for a 30-kilometre suburban/semi-rural drive route where the only road that gets close to challenging is burdened with a 56-km/h speed limit and swarming with cyclists. So I’m not expecting a serious workout. The roads won’t allow it, and probably neither will my minder.
Still, I have to try. Halfway around the route we find a short, level, straightaway with no traffic. I ask my minder whether I can try out the launch control. “Sure,” he says. “These things can take it all day every day.” He activates the Launch Control for me: switch the drive mode into Track and double-tap the traction-control button. I stand hard on the brake and flatten the throttle. The engine rpm stabilises at 3,500 rpm. I lift off the brake.
The ‘Vette simply explodes off the line. No sense of mechanical abuse, it’s just outta there. Chevrolet claims zero-97 km/h in under 3 seconds, which equates with a Porsche Turbo’s zero-100 km/h in 3 flat (Porsche 911 Turbo MSRP: $184,200).
One thing is missing in the Corvette, though. Without the benefit of AWD traction, it doesn’t quite deliver the initial visceral gut-wrench you feel when a Porsche Turbo instantaneously catapults off the line.
The Corvette makes up for it aurally. With 6.2 litres of V-8 just inches behind your head and no turbos to dampen the exhaust, wide-open throttle in track mode sounds like being in the midst of an artillery barrage at the delivery end. Meanwhile, the upshifts by the eight-speed dual-clutch transmission are as slick as they are swift.
Having gotten a launch-control race start out of my system (OK, maybe a few more than one …) the rest of the drive reveals what we least expected: how utterly benign, comfortable and civilized the Corvette can be. And remember, this one has the Z51 performance chassis package. But it also has GM’s magic elixir, magnetic ride control.
Even in Track mode the obligatory exhaust crackle-and-pop stops short of boy-racer raucous, and the engine’s voice becomes progressively more civil as you dial it back through Sport to Tour. It’s the same story for ride comfort and for steering effort: even the extreme settings are not over the top, and in the go-with-the-flow Tour mode, the Corvette can be as mild-mannered and user-friendly as a Toyota Corolla. The steering feels just right.
Is it too tame? No. It can do savage, too. Remember, too, that many Corvette customers are on the experienced side. Aside from the ‘Vette’s willingness to drive docile when asked, those drivers will appreciate how relatively easy it is to get in and out of (more so than its predecessor, Chevrolet says). And, at least for my mid-size frame, you can tailor a spot-on driving position with panoramic visibility in most directions. The view back through the rear-view mirror is a little narrow, but the optional rear camera mirror can fix that.
Porsche’s withdrawal from 2020 North American Car of the Year might turn out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. By my reading of the buzz among my fellow jurors during the all-candidates test days last week, Chevrolet’s exotic-for-the-everyman has a good chance of going all the way.
Meanwhile the three finalists will be announced at the LA Auto Show in late November. It will be a shocker if the Corvette isn’t among them.
The writer was a guest of the automaker. Content was not subject to approval.
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