Everyone knows that sports cars are finicky machines, only suitable for driving on beautiful days. They also know that hybrids are lame, sluggish, fuel-economy misers, right?
Corvette chief engineer Josh Holder begs to differ, having led the development of the Corvette E-Ray, which cleverly packages a compact battery and motor driving the front wheels to deliver a more complete Corvette without the expected tradeoffs that might come with all-wheel drive or battery power.
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To recap from our description of the E-Ray when it was announced, the hybrid Corvette carries a 160-horsepower, 125-lb.-ft. electric motor between its front wheels that is powered by a 1.9-kilowatt-hour (1.1 kWh useable) LG lithium-ion battery pack nestled into the car’s central spine.
Behind the cockpit sits the conventional 495-hp, 470-lb.-ft. 6.2-liter LT2 overhead valve small block V8 used in the base Stingray model. Together, they vault the E-Ray to 60 mph in just 2.5 seconds, the quickest of any of the current Corvette models (stand by for the upcoming Corvette ZR-1 to top this). It rips through the quarter mile in just 10.5 seconds.
Sending power to the front wheels is a reliable way to improve acceleration time, as the available contact patch for transferring power nearly doubles (the front tires are smaller than the rears, so not quite 2X). It is also a reliable way to add weight and introduce excessive understeer in corners.
Despite the engineering team’s best efforts, there is additional weight from the batteries and motor. At 3,774 lbs. for the coupe and 3,856 lbs. for the convertible, the E-Ray weighs about 350 lbs. more than a Z06 and nearly 400 lbs. more than Stingray.
This was even though engineers waged an all-out war on weight. “We put the highest bounty on weight of any car we’ve ever done,” said Holder. “It is the heaviest Corvette we’ve ever done, but it is the lightest hybrid we’ve done,” he noted.
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Putting the electric motor between the front wheels necessitated taller shock towers to provide room for the modified suspension, and a brace that reinforces them to match the rigidity of other Corvette models also contributes slightly to the mass.
The EPA fuel economy ratings of 16 mpg city, 24 mpg highway, and 19 mpg in combined driving match the efficiency of the Stingray while delivering performance similar to that of the Z06 (which is rated at 14 or 15 mpg in combined driving depending the equipment). This means the E-Ray has similar performance without suffering the cost penalty of the gas-guzzler tax that is applied to the Z06. The E-Ray’s starting price is $106,595.
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What this means behind the wheel of the E-Ray is that the car is impressively well balanced. That means in terms of handling balance, thanks to the absence of dreaded front-wheel-drive-induced understeer, as well as a balance of utility.
The car provides a smooth ride, the security of all-wheel-drive, and the dependable grip of available all-season tires. Those all-weather tires handicap maximum grip, which is an impressive 1.0 g of lateral acceleration. That compares to the 1.1 g maximum lateral grip for cars fitted with Michelin Pilot Sport 4 S tires, like those on the Stingray.
The calibration of the hybrid drive system is amazing, with no perceptible intervention as the electric motor adds power to the front wheels or absorbs energy during deceleration. It is easy to forget the deceleration aspect of electric drive, but it has the potential to make the car difficult to drive quickly if braking is inconsistent as the car recovers energy while the driver is braking for turns. In the case of the E-Ray, braking feels completely conventional, with excellent feel and modulation of effort to position the car on corner entry. This is an underrated attribute among hybrids.
The E-Ray is so much like a traditional rear-drive Corvette that it is possible to drift the car sideways through turns using rear wheelspin because the car knows to back off the electric drive to the front wheels in that situation.
Similarly, both in autocross testing and on the racetrack, the E-Ray exhibits none of the sluggish turn-in response to corners that is characteristic of cars routing power through the front wheels. During high-speed track driving at Pikes Peak International Raceway, the Pilot Sport 4 S tires, which are superb on-road tires, revealed their ultimate limits at track speeds, losing grip after a few fast turns.
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That’s no indictment of the car or the tires, just the reality of driving regular tires on the track instead of purpose-made racing tires or their street-legal approximation in tires like the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2R that we’ve experienced previously. That’s a different tire for a different car. Namely, the Corvette Z06 that we track-tested at Pittsburgh International Race Complex.
The Corvette is a family of vehicles with a range of pricing and performance that customers can choose among depending on their needs. Drivers who like the idea of having a fast car like the Z06, but who aren’t excited about living with the stiff ride and fast-wearing tires will love the E-Ray, which boasts similar performance in a much more livable package.
Budget-minded shoppers can stick with the Stingray, and soon, people seeking the minimal Nurburgring lap time will have the ZR1, which will likely marry the Z06’s double-overhead-cam V8 with the E-Ray’s hybrid-electric drive system. Chevrolet’s ability to deliver enthusiast-pleasing performance in the $69,995 Stingray, astounding track day capability in the $111,795 Z06, and all-season comfort and security with the fastest 0-60 mph acceleration time is a tribute to the dedication and creativity of the car’s engineering team. We can’t wait to see the final piece of their vision for the C8 Corvette when the company reveals the ZR1.