In 1953, Chevrolet pulled the wraps of a concept car that went on to become a North American icon. And now, just ahead of its first public showing, thecharge.ca was invited to sample the latest Corvette at GM’s top-secret Milford Proving Grounds in Michigan. The 2024 Corvette E-Ray is very different and it arrives with some notable firsts.
To begin with, it’s the first Corvette with an electric motor and a hybrid system that delivers six kilometres of electric-only driving. This combination also spins off a second first, and that’s all-wheel drive. Now while the ability to run on electricity alone improves fuel economy and the all-wheel-drive system brings foul-weather drivability, the electric side is really there for one reason – performance. While the E-Ray is a grand tourer at heart, it’s also a very serious sports car with the power and handling demanded of a world-class drive.
The format is simple. The mid-mounted 6.2-litre V8 produces 495 horsepower and 470 pound-feet of torque, and works with an eight-speed dual-clutch transmission to drive the monster P345/25R21 rear tires. These mandated adopting the Z06’s wide-body style, which is a very good thing stylistically.
Move forward and there sits a high-output electric motor that housed beneath the front trunk. It gets its power from a 1.9-kilowatt-hour battery. The hybrid system, which adds just 118 kilograms to the E-Ray’s curb weight, is also somewhat different. The battery was specifically designed to give up its power and accept a charge very quickly. In this regard, it is more capacitor-like than a conventional battery, which makes the electric response instantaneous.
More importantly, the electric motor adds 160 hp and 125 lb-ft of torque and drives the front P275/30R20 tires. The plus is the motor’s gearing brings a torque multiplication factor of eight, so when acceleration is demanded, the E-Ray scoots in a serious hurry. The fact the gas and electric power sources combine to produce a net output of 655 hp sure helps things along!
When asked what the most difficult part of the E-Ray was to engineer, the answer was the interaction between the two power sources. The V8 engine and electric motor are totally independent and are only linked by the tarmac that lies between the front and rear wheels. This means, unlike most hybrid systems, the two are autonomous, so they can work independently or together as needed, and they do so in a seamless manner.
The E-Ray rides on Magnetic Ride Control 4.0 with three settings. The setup is firmer than the Stingray, but it has more compliance than the Z06’s setup. This allows it to fulfill it grand touring mandate without giving up on handling. It also uses ceramic Brembo brakes to rein in the horsepower.
There are multiple drive modes: Tour, Sport, Track, Weather, My Mode and Z-Mode. The last two are customizable — from the exhaust note and adaptive suspension to the powertrain. There are also two electric modes. Stealth uses electricity alone until the driver gets too aggressive with the gas pedal, or the E-Ray hits 72 km/h. Meeting either situation sees the system automatically switch to the regular hybrid mode. The second EV mode is Shuttle. It’s not designed for the road, rather it allows the owner to move the E-Ray without having to start the engine and put unwanted heat into the block. This is not advisable after the car has been stored for the winter season.
We couldn’t drive it just yet, but we did get a ride. The E-Ray demonstration ride started with a run from rest to 160 kilometres an hour. Launch control engaged, the E-Ray left the line as though it had been shot out of a cannon. You see, the gas/electric combination makes this the quickest Corvette ever — it warps to 100 km/h in under three seconds, which outruns the Z06!
After experiencing the straight-line ability, it was off to an autocross course circuit where the E-Ray was pushed to the absolute maximum. The key here is the front-mounted electric motor brings a dynamic dimension no other Corvette has ever enjoyed!
During the autocross, the back-end was so far sideways I was looking out the passenger window to see where we were going. It was here the electric motor paid big dividends. The power going through the front wheels actively pulled the E-Ray back into line and kept it manageable in the most adverse situation. Yes, in a regular Vette, the driver might have pulled the back-end into line before spinning out, but the speed and grace with which the E-Ray could be corrected was mightily impressive. More impressive was the fact the E-Ray did a full-on lane change at 135 km/h and it did not even twitch. Now, that is world class.
Likewise, running a traction circle with the tail out saw the electric motor pull the E-Ray forward as the rear tires drifted and smoked. The reason for the ability to flick the rear out and hold it there is down to the Performance Traction Management system. It has five stability control settings including fully off.
In designing the Corvette, the engineers opted to use the central tunnel to return the structural integrity lost when the roof section was removed. The design does a good job of taming cowl shake, which is the bane of many Targa-roof coupes or drop-tops. The plus is the layout gave the engineers somewhere to put the battery. It’s protected and leaves the under-hood storage space intact. To prevent things from getting too hot, there are three additional coolers: one for the battery, another for the electric motor and a third for the power electronics.
The cabin mirrors other Corvettes, although the instrumentation has been tweaked to show what the drive components are doing. There’s also a neat button sitting on the central tunnel. The Charge+ button allows the driver to recharge the battery during normal driving. When engaged, the electric motor switches to regenerative mode. The system then uses the engine and rear wheels to drive the ‘recouperation’ phase until the battery is recharged. It’s designed for those times when the driver wants a fully charged battery. It could be for a maxed-out hot lap or when the full electric-only range is needed.
The introduction to the 2024 Corvette E-Ray was brief, but the take away was as loud and clear as the exhaust note and electrified performance. In short, the E-Ray takes the Corvette to a higher level altogether. The power, handling and all-wheel-drive set new benchmarks; the electrification finally gives the Corvette a green side.
Of course, that all comes at a price; the E-Ray will start at $128,798 here in Canada for the Coupe; the Convertible pricing will be announced nearer to the release date.