Last corner. Hairpin, zero camber. Be patient with the throttle, or it’ll just push. Start to unwind the wheel, roll hard into the throttle. Let all that weight in back dig in and put the power down hard. Front straight, lap Vmax will be the instant before you brake. Keep your foot in it, keep your nerve. A little farther, a little farther, now maximum brake. Too far, too late. Not slowing fast enough, briefly fixate on the weeds you’re destined to meet. This isn’t going to end well.
No, knock that off. Look where you want to go, turn but don’t lift, hope ABS does its job and lets you brake and steer at the same time—or else. Like magic, it’s turning! However, new problem, the rear end is coming around, fast. Countersteer before the engine passes the driver …
What car is this?
A year ago, there’d be no doubt. It’s an ass-engined Porsche we’d be talking about. Then Chevrolet went and did the thing we’ve been saying for 60 some-odd years it could and should: It put the engine behind the driver. The mid-engine Corvette is real, and I’m driving it. Or am I driving the new 992 edition of the 911 Porsche just launched? They’re the same shade of red, and they’re nearly identical in performance. They even have similar rear weight biases. And that’s just to start. One thing that still remains entirely separate: the price.
Nearly everything about the 2020 Chevrolet Corvette Z51 and 2020 Porsche 911 Carrera S is effectively equal—on paper. The Corvette is 4 inches longer, 3 inches wider, and 2 inches lower, but you’d barely notice with the two parked next to each other. Their side profiles are nearly identical, with the roofline, front fenders, and A line (the primary character line connecting the front and rear fenders below the windows) almost carbon copies.
The Corvette is 209 pounds heavier, owing in part to its top-trim 3LT interior, and it carries 61 percent of its weight on the rear wheels to the 911’s 64 percent. The Corvette’s 6.2-liter V-8’s 52 extra horsepower offset the extra weight for a superior power to weight ratio of 7.3 pounds per hp to the 911’s 7.7.
The 911’s turbocharged flat-six is down 80 lb-ft of torque against the ‘Vette, too, but you wouldn’t know it from the stopwatch. Be it 495 American ponies and 470 lb-ft from eight free-breathing cylinders fed to a Tremec eight-speed dual-clutch auto or 443 German thoroughbreds and 390 lb-ft from six pressurized pistons behind a Porsche eight-speed dual-clutch, you’re getting to 60 mph from a dead stop in less than 3.0 seconds.
With the Porsche, it takes only 2.9 seconds, but the Corvette needs just 2.8, making it the quickest factory Corvette to 60 mph in history. The advantage carries through the quarter, the Corvette trapping in 11.1 seconds at 123.2 mph and the 911 in 11.2 seconds at 124.3. And these are just the base versions of each car. What a time to be alive.
Oddly, the Porsche looks and feels quicker. Something about the midrange oomph provided by the turbochargers gives the 911 a feeling of supercar urgency, from a stop or a roll, that the ultra-smooth Corvette lacks. The ‘Vette’s big V-8’s power delivery is so smooth and so consistent everywhere in the rev range that it never feels like you’ve just hit hyperdrive. The cabin is so isolated that you never feel like you’re going as fast as you are. It just goes.
Provided it has grip, of course. We found the Corvette much more sensitive to the road surface than the 911 despite equally good launch control systems, which can cost precious tenths when your pride is on the line. If you do lose by a nose, just remind everyone you have “burnout mode” by grabbing both paddles, giving it the beans, and releasing the paddles to dump the clutch for a smoke show. Porsche guys have to buy a GT3 at half again the cost to get that.
It isn’t just the rear end of the Corvette that is sensitive to grip. Even with slightly stickier Michelin Pilot Sport 4S rubber to the 911’s non-Corsa Pirelli P Zeros, the Corvette manages 1.04 average lateral g on our skidpad to the 911’s 1.09.
The Corvette’s default limit-handling behavior is big, fat midcorner understeer, and it shows in the figure-eight laps. The Carrera laid down a truly blistering 22.7-second lap at 0.94 average lateral g to the Corvette’s significantly slower 23.3-second lap at only 0.90 g. That’s just barely quicker than the previous generation’s Z51, which figure-eight master Kim Reynolds always found to be an unpredictable mess in this test despite the numbers it put up. He finds this new car communicative, responsive, and easy to drive (despite said understeer).
So how did that big midcorner push get past the Corvette engineers? We don’t think it did. We think it’s intentional. The vast majority of Corvettes sold are base models, and the vast majority of customers will never have driven a mid-engine car before, much less one this quick. Understeer is safe, in that it makes it very difficult for the car to oversteer—and when this car does oversteer, it’s a very fine line between a sweet little drift and going backward off the road. Drivers who prefer exploring varying degrees of the safety net can choose from ESC Competitive mode when the car is in Sport mode (it’s plenty lenient) or one of five Performance Traction Management modes with decreasing levels of computer assistance and intervention.
The figure eight is not the real world, though. It’s not even a racetrack. We were short on notice and driving an early-build Corvette (VIN No. 10) restricted in its comings and goings per Chevy PR minders. We couldn’t get a proper racetrack, either, so we improvised and marked out a closed loop of road roughly 3.5 miles long.
Test wizard and serious hot shoe Chris Walton and I would do a few timed laps each to see if one car was consistently faster with different semi-pro drivers aboard, and one was. In Walton’s hands, the 911 was 1.1 seconds faster per lap. In mine, 0.6 second faster.
Comparing notes, we found the same advantages in the Porsche: more midcorner grip allowing us to carry higher cornering speeds and get on the throttle earlier when exiting a corner, as well as more steering feel and better brake feel at the limit.
The Corvette’s brake-by-wire pedal was a particular point of contention among the editors who had a go in both cars. Some had no issue with it. Others noted it would get into ABS before the pedal reached the end of its travel but disagreed about the difficultly in modulating braking once ABS was reached. Walton and I, crazy late brakers that we are, felt we didn’t get enough feedback from the pedal and had to learn to anticipate when ABS would kick in while also trying to slow for corners and get the best lap time.
The resistance in the pedal didn’t feel proportional to the actual braking force happening, making it feel as if the brakes were fading when they weren’t. Bumpy braking zones only made matters worse in the Corvette, as the front wheels fought with the pavement and the ABS. At minimum, it was distracting, and at worst it hurt some of our confidence in the car—despite knowing it needs only 1 foot longer to stop from 60 mph than the Porsche.
The 911 put it in starker relief. Step on the Porsche’s brake pedal, and it doesn’t feel as if you’re pushing hydraulic fluid around so much as pushing the brake pads directly into the discs with the ball of your foot. You always know exactly how much stopping power you have left by just the feel of the pedal. It’s an astonishing feat of engineering. And the 911 can do it all day, all the way to threshold.
Similarly, the 911’s steering offered more feedback midcorner; you knew exactly how much front-end grip you had. Not to diminish the Corvette’s steering, which was as accurate and precise as the 911’s. Indeed, the Corvette’s more damped steering was a virtue on faster sections of our makeshift track.
At triple-digit speeds, the Corvette feels solid and planted, but all the extra kickback in the 911’s steering makes it feel nervous and light up front the faster you go. Nervous or not, the 911 saw up to 8 mph higher maximum speed on our “track.” You can put it down to greater cornering speeds and the ability to roll hard into the throttle just after the apex—having the rear end rotate you slightly in the exit direction as it digs in and whips you off the corner harder than the Corvette could.
Add together those 911 advantages, though, and you get a car that never asks you to think about anything but your own driving. Giving you exactly the feedback you need from your inputs and predictable behavior at every turn, the 911 lets you focus on being a better driver, not driving the car better. It may be a semantic difference, but bear with me.
The Corvette is very nearly this good (and better than any Corvette that’s come before it), but having to navigate the limits of the Chevy’s ABS and understeer right at the critical moments makes you focus on the car as well as your driving—and thus costs you the precious tenths you lose to the 911. With a time delta this small, the 911 spends less than 1 percent of the lap ahead of the Corvette, and that’s where you’ll find it. The Corvette makes you feel like you’re in a supercar, the 911 makes you feel like you’re part of a supercar.
Where you won’t find time is in the Corvette’s hot new transmission. Many sports car makers have tried to match Porsche’s class-defining PDK dual-clutch gearbox. Precious few have come close. But the Corvette does—on the first try, no less.
During our figure-eight testing, Reynolds, who almost always shifts manually in this drill, found the ‘Vette’s dual-clutch good enough to not bother. Walton and I thought the same on our pseudo track—though he said he had an instance or two where he might’ve gone down one more gear than the computer did. If you prefer to pull the paddles, you’ll find the Corvette immediately responsive and happy to let you pull a downshift that drops you just under redline. It’ll let you sit there, too, and stall at the fuel cutoff rather than shift for you. The shifts do get noticeably stiffer (some might say harsher) in manual mode, which we imagine is meant to make the car feel sportier to people who don’t know any better.
You won’t find time in the dampers, either. The Corvette’s fourth-generation magnetic dampers are the stuff of magic, keeping the car just as planted and confident in the corners as the 911 while providing huge advantages in ride quality.
In its default Tour driving mode, the Corvette rides like a luxury sport sedan while still handling like a mid-engine sports car. Crank it up to Sport mode, and you’re roughly where the 911’s default ride quality resides, with more vertical motion and louder impacts passed into the cabin. Go all the way to Track mode, and it’s pretty stiff, but even then it’s never harsh. Even the worst craters in the road are heard in the massive tires more than they’re felt in your spine. The Porsche may be a little quicker around a track, but there’s no question which car you’d rather drive home on a cruddy aggregate or a freeway cursed with mile after mile of expansion joints.
It’s not just impacts, either. The Corvette allows far less engine and road noise into the cabin than the 911. There’s more noise from those big tires, especially the front ones right next to your feet, but you can have a whispered conversation at 80 mph in the Corvette. You’ll have to speak up a little in the Porsche.
It’s just one of the ways in which the Corvette’s cabin is nicer than the 911’s, a sentence we feared we’d never get to write. The Corvette’s notoriously cheap materials, gaping panel gaps, and persistent smell of glue have all been banished—and this was in an early-build car, no less.
The previous Corvette generation showed us Chevrolet could afford to give the car both performance and a nice interior, but the C8 has skipped straight past nice and into proper supercar territory. The leather is the best we’ve seen and felt in a Corvette by a wide margin, there’s no cheap-looking hard plastic anywhere (well … the cupholders are a bit of a wince), and the seats (midgrade GT2s, in this case) strike a balance between comfort and lateral support that even some supercar builders don’t get right.
Granted, our Corvette was a top-shelf 3LT trim level with the best interior you can yet buy for the car, but you can do that when the as-tested price is a Silverado less than the 911—which had zero interior dress-up options, at that. Sure, Porsche will wrap the air vent blades in leather if you put enough zeroes on the check, but out of the box, it’s a stark field of dark grays and blacks all finished in varying grades of plastic and piano black. Our Carrera didn’t even have power seats.
We also found the Corvette’s controls more intuitively laid out—even that long strip of Chiclet buttons down the center console—though we did appreciate the Porsche’s programmable hot keys on the dash and steering wheel. Similarly, the Corvette’s infotainment system is less cluttered and layered, and it’s easier to read at a glance and operate while the car is in motion.
The Corvette’s highly customizable digital dash and the bits of theater provided by the transitions between screens won many points over the 911’s pair of screens—which flank the analog tachometer and are absurdly obscured by the steering wheel. The Corvette’s squircle steering wheel might take a little getting used to, but it affords a clear view of all the information on the instrument cluster.
On more practical, everyday matters, the cars are more evenly split. The Corvette’s geo-tagged nose lift feature is a must-have and works perfectly to save the chin spoiler. On the other hand, the ‘Vette has massive blind spots when you look over either shoulder, and the rear window is quite small. Some of this is mitigated by the best implementation yet of a video rearview mirror, if you don’t find it too distracting. But in any direction but forward, the 911 is simply easier to see out of.
The Porsche is also better when you need to put things in it. It may not sound like a lot of extra space, but the way the Porsche’s 0.7-cubic-foot advantage is shaped means a medium-sized spinner suitcase can fit in the frunk. With its vestigial rear seats folded down, the 911 can also hold more in its rear, but you have to get it past the front seats first, which have to be folded and slid in a particular order.
The Corvette’s trunk is much easier to access but can only hold a pair of carry-on bags, not a medium or large suitcase. The Corvette team does win back some points for hiding a frunk release button under the driver-side headlight and eliminating the extra latch under the hood.
In judging these cars, we kept coming back to priority. If it’s the ultimate driving experience you’re after, the feeling of car and driver as one, the Porsche is worth those extra as-tested $34,335. If those extra tenths on a racetrack matter most, the Porsche is also worth the money. But even if this is the lens you judge sports cars through, Porsche should still be looking over its shoulder.
It’s always been easy to write off the Corvette as producing big numbers with all the grace of 12-pound sledge. No more. If you’re willing to give up a little bit of steering feel and learn to work around the brake pedal, you’ll find far more car to love in the Corvette. Performance per dollar used to be an excuse to brush away the Corvette’s shortcomings. Now, it’s a virtue. Exotic and attainable, it finally punches above its weight class in every category, not just one. When it’s this damn good, money matters. The Corvette isn’t good enough for the price. It’s unbeatable.
Second Place: Porsche 911 Carrera S
The winningest model in Best Driver’s Car history maintains its standing as the better sports car, but just barely. As a complete package, it’s found wanting.
First Place: Chevrolet Corvette Z51
No excuses, no compromises. The long-awaited mid-engine Corvette isn’t perfect, but it’s damn sure close enough.
|2020 Chevrolet Corvette (3LT Z51)||2020 Porsche 911 Carrera S|
|DRIVETRAIN LAYOUT||Mid-engine, RWD||Rear-engine, RWD|
|ENGINE TYPE||90-deg V-8, alum block/heads||Twin-turbo flat-6, alum block/heads|
|VALVETRAIN||OHV, 2 valves/cyl||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl|
|DISPLACEMENT||376.0 cu in/6,162 cc||181.9 cu in/2,981 cc|
|POWER (SAE NET)||495 hp @ 6,450 rpm||443 hp @ 6,500 rpm|
|TORQUE (SAE NET)||470 lb-ft @ 5,150 rpm||390 lb-ft @ 2,300 rpm|
|REDLINE||6,400 rpm||7,400 rpm|
|WEIGHT TO POWER||7.3 lb/hp||7.6 lb/hp|
|TRANSMISSION||8-speed twin-clutch auto||8-speed twin-clutch auto|
|SUSPENSION, FRONT; REAR||Control arms, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar; control arms, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar||Struts, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar|
|BRAKES, F; R||13.3-in vented disc; 13.8-in vented disc, ABS||13.8-in vented, drilled disc; 13.8-in vented, drilled disc, ABS|
|WHEELS, F;R||8.5 x 19-in; 11.0 x 20-in, cast aluminum||8.5 x 20-in; 11.5 x 21-in, forged aluminum|
|TIRES, F;R||245/35R19 89Y; 305/30R20 99Y Michelin Pilot Sport 4S||245/35R20 91Y; 305/30R21 100Y Pirelli P Zero NA1|
|WHEELBASE||107.2 in||96.5 in|
|TRACK, F/R||64.9/62.4 in||62.5/61.2 in|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||182.3 x 76.1 x 48.6 in||178.4 x 72.9 x 50.8 in|
|TURNING CIRCLE||36.4 ft||35.8 ft|
|CURB WEIGHT||3,622 lb||3,369 lb|
|WEIGHT DIST, F/R||39/61%||36/64%|
|HEADROOM, F/R||37.9/- in||37.9/32.5 in|
|LEGROOM, F/R||42.8/- in||42.2/27.2 in|
|SHOULDER ROOM, F/R||54.4/- in||52.6/47.9 in|
|CARGO VOLUME||4.0 (frunk)/8.6 (trunk) cu ft||4.7 (trunk)/9.3 (rear parcel) cu ft|
|ACCELERATION TO MPH|
|0-30||1.0 sec||1.1 sec|
|PASSING, 45-65 MPH||1.4||1.4|
|QUARTER MILE||11.1 sec @ 123.2 mph||11.2 sec @ 124.3 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||97 ft||96 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||1.04 g (avg)||1.09 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||23.3 sec @ 0.90 g (avg)||22.7 sec @ 0.94 g (avg)|
|TOP-GEAR REVS @ 60 MPH 1,300 rpm 1,400 rpm|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$88,305||$122,640|
|AIRBAGS||6: Dual front, front side, front side/head||8: Dual front, front side, f/r curtain, front knee|
|BASIC WARRANTY||3 yrs/36,000 miles||4 yrs/50,000 miles|
|POWERTRAIN WARRANTY||5 yrs/60,000 miles||4 yrs/50,000 miles|
|ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE||5 yrs/60,000 miles||4 yrs/50,000 miles|
|FUEL CAPACITY||18.5 gal||16.9 gal|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB ECON||16/27/20 mpg (MT est)||18/24/20 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||211/125 kW-hrs/100 miles||187/140 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.99 lb/mile||0.96 lb/mile|
|RECOMMENDED FUEL||Unleaded premium||Unleaded premium|