North American Car, Truck and Utility of the Year Jurors impressed by new 8-speed dual–clutch transmission
Cars.com / Joe Wiesenfelder / Oct. 15, 2019
(Photos courtesy of Chevrolet)
The streets of Ann Arbor, Mich., aren’t the optimal place to test the redesigned 2020 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray, but when Chevy offered the opportunity to North American Car, Truck and Utility of the Year jurors, I and my colleague Kelsey Mays, Cars.com senior consumer affairs editor, weren’t going to turn them down, were we? Frankly, these are the conditions under which most Vettes are driven most of the time anyway, and it’s likely that the ongoing United Auto Workers strike will delay the build of production Corvettes — and our chance to drive them — so we gladly took our turns behind the wheel of an eighth-generation (C8) preproduction Corvette Stingray 3LT coupe equipped with the Z51 Performance Package, which brought its still remarkably affordable starting price of $58,900 up to $85,710 including the destination charge.
A familiar engine start-stop push button brought the V-8 to life with an equally familiar roar. The only difference is that the sound is now entirely behind you. The Corvette now comes with the LT2 6.2-liter version of the legendary small-block V-8, naturally aspirated, at least for now, and rated at 490 horsepower — or 495 hp with my car’s Z51 Performance Package and its performance exhaust.
The new eight-speed automatic transmission has push- and pull-button controls, all things that are sure to enrage some purists, but despite their unfamiliar design, I instinctively chose the right motion and put the Vette in drive.
Chevy says the car now does zero-to-60 mph in less than 3 seconds, and that’s definitely how it felt, aided by the Z51 package’s grippy Michelin Pilot Sport 4S summer tires. (All-season tires are standard.) But both Kelsey and I noticed that the engine had to wind out a bit more than expected to get into the power. A development engineer who accompanied me confirmed that the 2020’s engine has a different camshaft that pushes the peak power higher in the rev range. The specs confirm it’s now 6,450 rpm instead of 6,000 for the 2019, despite being more robust. The torque peak, now 470 pounds-feet, has also climbed to 5,150 rpm from 4,600 rpm. Also note that the Z51’s axle ratio is 5.17, which is shorter than the base axle’s 4.89 for higher performance.
Bearing in mind that this wasn’t an acid test, and that Chevy says these preproduction cars are still being tweaked a bit, the new dual-clutch eight-speed automatic transmission really impressed. I’m not going to say what I’ve heard many times from people discussing other cars that have abandoned three-pedal manual transmissions — that the automatic is so good you won’t even miss the manual. That’s like saying the ice cream is so good you won’t even miss the pizza. Just because they both serve the same bottom-line purpose doesn’t make the experience irrelevant. The loss of the stick is no small matter, and I won’t be letting Chevy off the hook for it under any circumstances.
But it does seem to be a really great gearbox in the vein of Porsche’s revered PDK dual-clutch system. It comes from Tremec, a name long synonymous with high-torque traditional manual transmissions, and the 2020 Vette marks its debut. (A similar Tremec seven-speed is in the new 2019 Ford Shelby GT500, a conventional front-engine design rather than a transaxle.)
Upshifts feel instantaneous, and downshifts come without delay. The shift paddles are wired directly to the transmission controller, so there’s no latency. In the more aggressive driving modes like Sport and Track, a quick double or triple click would evoke a jump directly to a low gear rather than stair-stepping down. I kept jabbing at the accelerator pedal under different circumstances, trying to confuse the transmission, but it never took the bait and flaked out. Its reactions always seemed reasonable. According to Tremec, the unit can complete a shift in less than 100 milliseconds, but it clearly shifts slower and smoother in Tour mode than in Track mode for increased comfort.
A silver “Z” button on the steering wheel is like BMW’s M and Hyundai’s N buttons — a one-push activation of your personalized settings. Press again, and it defaults to normal. It’s great if the predetermined modes aren’t quite to your liking. They adjust everything you’d expect, like steering assist, throttle, transmission mapping, suspension firmness and active exhaust levels.
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