When the first Corvettes rolled out of the primordial postwar haze in 1953, they were far from fully evolved. By all accounts, the shoddy, fiberglass-bodied “sports car” was headed for extinction just as quickly as its meager six-cylinder engine and two-speed automatic transmission could carry it. But then Chevrolet installed its first small-block up front. Thusly and successfully mutated, the Corvette’s genetic code has remained stable for 60 years. With few exceptions, the venerable Vette has always been a powerful V-8 plastic-wrapped with only whatever additional engineering was necessary. The LT1 V-8 in today’s Corvette Stingray displaces 6.2 liters and makes 460 horsepower and 465 pound-feet of torque when paired with the performance exhaust or Z51 packages. Other engines may make more power or have more exotic designs, but there is no engine that feels closer to a living, breathing entity than the Corvette’s pushrod V-8. It is close to sentient, shutting down half its cylinders to conserve fuel and granting the Corvette a 29-mpg EPA highway rating. But the LT1 is no goody-two-shoes; it reminds you constantly of its presence, just on the other side of the fire wall behind the axle centerline. At idle, the Corvette vibrates to its pulses, urging you to uncoil the tension in the pedals and shifter.
When you do, it becomes evident that chassis resources were not begrudgingly allocated in designing this seventh generation of Corvette. Grip is far beyond the limits of daily driving. The steering wheel, brakes, and seat bottom tell you more about current events than CNN. Power delivery is immediate, at any sane speed, in any of the first four gears. There is still raw aggression in the Corvette’s acceleration, but the chassis is no understudy to the powertrain. While the rev-matching seven-speed manual transaxle is our obvious preference, an eight-speed automatic is new for 2015. It offers crisp, quick shifts via steering-wheel-mounted paddles and makes two-pedal Corvettes more than just tolerable. Also new: the Performance Data Recorder, an onboard video technology serious enough that its full capabilities are not entirely legal in some states. Criticisms of Corvettes past have been addressed: A modern cockpit and supportive and comfortable seats testify to the thoroughness of Chevrolet’s mission (accomplished) in remaking the car. The C7 is the best-ever Corvette. Even in this, its second year on our list, C7s hypnotize, the convertible and coupe equally. Sitting in the lot among the other contenders, they stand out as if rendered on a Retina display while others are appearing on a CRT. You might think that our familiarity with its many facets and creases has bred boredom, and certainly other beguiling shapes, even a real Italian demi-supercar, vied for our attention this year. But the Stingray looks transplanted from childhood fantasy, an interstellar dragon. We hear it roar, smell the heat of the LT1 cooking its own polymer skin, and the Corvette turns such imaginings into reality.