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Exclusive: We Drive Mid-Engine Chevrolet Corvette Prototypes

Motor Trend logo Motor Trend 7/12/2019 Motor Trend Staff

a blue car parked next to a body of water: 1990-CERV-III-Corvette-1.jpg
The most striking thing about the earliest of three mid-engine Corvette prototypes on hand for today's drive is its impossibly long 72-degree windshield. Its steep rake helps deliver a 0.325 drag coefficient and really sells the cabin-forward/engine-aft promise of this long-anticipated car, but it seems destined to cause headaches for the climate-control engineers. Then again, with a solid bulkhead almost right behind the front seats, there's a lot less cabin to cool than in the front-engine fastback Corvettes. Its next most mind-blowing feature is the impossibly cool doors. They work like manual versions of the Tesla Model X rear doors, hinged so as not to bump vehicles parked nearby.

Once buckled in, I light up the 6.6-liter small block V-8 engine and delight at the sound it makes right behind my head. In this early prototype, devoid of full sound-deadening materials, the engine sits transversely, affording my ears the pleasure of some raw exhaust manifold sounds, and they're all worth keeping. With everything related to the mid-engine Corvette project on double-secret lockdown until July 18, 2019, my drive is inside GM's Warren Technical Center, so I can't get up much of a head of steam. Still, the car feels light and lithe, and even with this automatic transaxle possibly sapping some power, it accelerates with ease. In just the few turns I make rounding the reflecting pond, I'm already falling in love with the car's delightfully light steering effort and near Porsche-like road feel. Even when pressed hard through a corner, it remains neutral, although the tail can be brought out with a little throttle-induced oversteer. This is why we've so longed for the Corvette's engine to migrate rearward.

a blue car parked on the side of a road: 1990 CERV III Corvette 8© Motor Trend Staff 1990 CERV III Corvette 8

Next I strap in to a later-generation prototype that features a lot of changes relative to the first one—such is the nature of iterating a brand-new design of such epic magnitude as this. The bodywork has changed from composite to aluminum, the nifty "falcon-wing" doors have already been ash-canned in favor of conventional front hinges (Chevy couldn't figure out how to package windows that open), and the engine now displaces 7.4 liters. It's hard to tell if it's the weight reduction or the power boost, but this one definitely feels loads quicker off the line, and although the larger engine weighs a bit more, with most of that burden over the rear wheels, the helm remains delightfully delicate.

I'm relegated to the passenger seat for my experience in the third-generation prototype, which boasts a twin-turbocharged 5.7-liter DOHC 32-valve V-8 driving all four wheels, with four-wheel steering and fully active suspension. It also gets proper supercar doors that pop out an inch or so and scissor upward. The fixed seats are very raked, and the pedals and wheel move to fit the driver. The seating position corroborates the message the doors send: that this car is itching to take on the Italianate supercars. As we all expect such higher-powered variants of the C8 to arrive long after the initial launch, this prototype feels farthest from being sorted out. The booming engine note, stifled a bit by those big snails, is overlaid with a lot of whirring and popping sounds from various solenoids and motors operating all the high-tech gear, and the active suspension doesn't quite erase every bump. But my chauffeur notes that the top speed is estimated at 225 mph. Expect to pay dearly for this super-'Vette.

a car parked in a parking lot© Motor Trend Staff

A little more than 13 years after driving and riding in these early prototypes (the XP-882 Aerovette, the XP-895 Reynolds Corvette, and the CERV III), I had the pleasure of riding shotgun in two very late C8 prototypes. Please click back to read about that adventure on the evening of July 18, and click here for more details on the mid-engine Corvette concepts that paved the C8's way.

Research the Chevrolet Corvette on MSN Autos | Find a Chevrolet Corvette near you

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