2021 Chevrolet Corvette Review: The Affordable Supercar
A switch to mid-engine design and improved quality make the latest Corvette worthy of world-class status
Originally published on July 1, 2021
Often referred to as America’s sports car, the Chevrolet Corvette first went on sale in 1953 and has been available every year since except for one: 1983. Chevrolet instead decided to release the fourth generation the following year in 1984. It has a reputation for seductive design and robust power, but not for refinement, especially concerning the interior.
Chevrolet has steadily improved the Corvette’s quality, and the car’s 2020 redesign is not just an evolution, but a reimagination of the Corvette. In addition to delivering a Cadillac-grade cabin, the all-new 2020 Corvette switched to a sophisticated mid-rear engine layout with the car’s power plant behind the passenger compartment, low in the middle of the vehicle. Explaining this fundamental change in the Corvette’s philosophy, engineers claim they simply couldn’t make the previous front-engine platform perform any better.
The 2021 Chevrolet Corvette coupe has a base price of about $60,000, with the Corvette convertible adding around $7,500 to that figure. In top trim, prices range from just over $73,000 to roughly $81,000, with the convertible costing more. Naturally, when you add every option, a Corvette convertible can reach well into the six figures.
For this review, Chevrolet provided a 2021 Corvette convertible with 2LT trim, a Z51 Performance Package, and other upgrades, bringing the test car’s price to more than $87,000, including destination charges. For 2021, the only changes to the car are a few cosmetic options and the new availability of the high tech adaptive suspension option without needing to buy the performance-oriented Z51 package.
HINTS OF CORVETTES PAST, WITH A FOCUS ON THE FUTURE
Due to its mid-engine layout, the Corvette’s proportions are entirely different, but familiar design cues remain. They include peaked fenders visible from the driver’s seat, classic “Coke-bottle” forms on the sides, broad and flat haunches, a tapered backlight, and quad taillights. Wash the car by hand and you’ll notice how the fender-defining creases sweeping into and out of the door panels recall Corvettes of the past.
Interior quality and technological sophistication take a significant leap forward in the latest Corvette. At the 3LT level, the leather-wrapped cabin, premium leather seats, and suede trim make the car look, feel, and smell like a Cadillac.
The Corvette’s driver-focused layout with dual digital display panels and unusual transmission controls looks confusing at first, but the user experience is remarkably simplistic. The most daunting element is the stripe of dual-zone automatic climate control buttons atop the tall wall separating the driver and passenger; they’re hard to reference and use while driving. The car’s wireless smartphone charger is mounted against the back wall between seats and feels like an afterthought.
Seating is comfortable, but unless you’re extremely limber, getting into and out of this car is anything but graceful. The test car’s GT2 seats came wrapped in premium leather with carbon fiber trim for a performance appearance without the more aggressive bolstering of the optional Competition Sport seats.
Interior storage space is restrictive but better than you might expect for Chevrolet’s sporty offering. Additionally, the Corvette offers a front trunk (frunk) and a rear trunk which combined, supply 12.6 cubic feet of cargo space. You can load three airline roll-aboard suitcases into a Corvette and still have room for a backpack or two. Mind the tall rear liftover height, however. You literally want to pack light.
SOPHISTICATED YET ACCESSIBLE TECHNOLOGY
Chevrolet pairs a 12-inch digital instrumentation cluster with an 8-inch infotainment touchscreen. The 2LT and 3LT trims also include a head-up display (HUD). The instrumentation and HUD change their appearance and data depending on which driving mode is active.
The infotainment system runs Chevrolet’s latest software, so it features speedy load time, fast responsiveness to input, and sophisticated graphics. When equipped with connected navigation and enhanced voice recognition, drivers can quickly use voice commands to perform numerous tasks (make calls, change the radio station, etc...).
Using the infotainment system is easy. The touchscreen is located well within reach, the simple menu structures make it effortless to find what you seek, and both a Home screen button and volume knob prove helpful. Steering wheel controls provide stereo volume and tuning adjustment.
Near Field Communication technology aids Bluetooth pairing. The new wireless smartphone projection technology eliminates the need for attachment cables and the requirement to take your device out of your pocket or other storage areas. Chevrolet offers access to connected services plans that include automatic collision notification, a stolen vehicle locator, a Wi-Fi hotspot, and other features. You can also upgrade to a premium 14-speaker audio system with stylish metal speaker grilles.
There aren’t many advanced driving assistance systems available, but much of the car’s experience surrounds driving the Corvette for yourself. The rear visibility could also could be improved, but Chevrolet includes several features that help you see out. Highlights include front and rear cameras, a rear camera mirror, rear parking sensors, and a blind-spot warning system with rear cross-traffic warning.
One technology upgrade worth consideration is the optional Front Lift with Memory system. It costs about $2,000 and raises the Corvette’s nose nearly two inches to avoid scraping it on all manner of surfaces. Better yet, via GPS coordinates it can recall up to 1,000 locations and automatically raise when you reach these places. For example, if you have a steep driveway, you can program the system to remember this location and automatically raise it each time you arrive or depart from home.
DOCILE WHEN NECESSARY, FEROCIOUS WHEN DESIRABLE
Chevrolet equips the 2021 Corvette with a 6.2-liter V8 engine making 490 hp and 465 lb.-ft. of torque. Add the performance exhaust system, either as a standalone option or as part of the Z51 Performance Package, and the V8 delivers 495 hp and 470 lb.-ft.
A manual transmission is unavailable. The Corvette doesn’t have an automatic transmission, either. Instead, it has an excellent 8-speed dual-clutch transmission (DCT), which is an automated manual gearbox. Internally, it operates like a manual transmission, but the driver doesn’t need to use a clutch pedal or shift between forward gears. Paddle shifters are present, should the driver elect to do so.
Drivers can also choose between Tour, Sport, and Track driving modes, each giving the Corvette a distinctive driving character. Configurable MyMode and instant-access Z Mode selections are also available. MyMode configures your favorite combination of settings, while Z Mode supplies immediate access (via the silver steering wheel button) to a maximum performance calibration of the owner’s choosing.
Equip a Corvette with the Z51 Performance Package, and in addition to a freer-breathing exhaust system, it includes performance brakes, a performance adaptive damping suspension, a performance rear axle ratio, an electronic locking rear limited-slip differential, and a heavy-duty cooling system. Performance run-flat summer tires are also a part of the Z51 upgrade.
The test car had this package, so it offered the maximum power and capability available from a Corvette Stingray. But that doesn’t mean the car is challenging to drive. Choose Tour mode, for example, and the hardest part of driving the Corvette is seeing to the rear and remembering to lift the nose when you think it might scrape on something. The car can, when necessary, prove remarkably docile and suitable for daily commuting.
However, when the mood strikes and you switch into Sport or Track mode, the Corvette erupts with visceral ferocity. From the bellowing V8 and lightning-fast gear changes to the stiff suspension tuning and razor-sharp steering, the Corvette feels ready for competition right off of the Bowling Green, Kentucky assembly line.
In my opinion, the change to the mid-engine layout is transformative. As framed between the front fenders, the immediacy of the road adds a new intimacy to the driving experience while amplifying the sensation of speed. The ride quality is different, more like a mega-buck exotic than a high-powered muscle car. And thanks to its improved center of gravity, the latest Corvette’s superior corner turn-in, rotation through a curve, and stability upon exit adds an intoxicating rather than terrifying thrill to every drive.
Chevrolet claims that a Corvette Z51 can accelerate to 60 mph in less than three seconds. That’s believable. Meanwhile, on a more practical note, the EPA estimates that a Corvette convertible will average 19 mpg in combined driving. We got 21.4 mpg over the course of 148.8 miles, averaging 36.9 mph during the drive.
The 2021 Chevrolet Corvette's real value is in its quality and sophistication
You can buy more horsepower and torque for the same money, but the cars providing those bigger numbers are not nearly as sophisticated as the Corvette. And to get a different mid-engine sports car with the same capabilities, you’re going to spend significantly more.
Value has always been a part of the Corvette’s appeal. But now, you need not settle for less in terms of quality or sophistication.