2024 Chevrolet Corvette E-Ray First Test: Green Means Go, Go, Go!
2024 Chevrolet Corvette E-Ray First Test: Green Means Go, Go, Go!
The hybrid Corvette is basically a discount Z06 with better fuel economy.
- Z06 speed
- Z06 handling
- All-season capability
- Fake electric motor noise
- Can't activate EV modes while engine is running
- Not quite as quick as promised
The Corvette team has done its market research and knows exactly what its customers think about hybrids, EVs, and especially hybrid and all-electric Corvettes. The team also knows a combination of evolving consumer preferences and government regulations are going to force the issue sooner rather than later. To appease both, they've deliberately promoted their first hybrid, the 2024 Chevrolet Corvette E-Ray, as a performance enhancer and not a planet saver—but they've still delivered both.
As part of that messaging, Chevy has been promising the E-Ray will be the quickest factory-built Corvette ever, clipping the mighty Z06 by a tenth of a second to 60 mph and through the quarter mile. Unfortunately, we weren't able to validate that claim. In our testing, the E-Ray was dead even with the Z06 to 60 mph and the quarter-mile finish line, hitting 60 in 2.6 seconds and running a 10.6-second quarter mile at 128.0 mph. The Z06 breaks the tie by traveling substantially quicker—131.6 mph—at the finish line, its lighter weight and greater horsepower finally overcoming the E-Ray's torque and traction advantage at launch.
Yes, as you'd expect, the E-Ray is significantly heavier than the Z06. Despite this test car being a mid-grade trim with only the performance options and even decked out with the $13,995 carbon-fiber wheels, it still weighed in at 3,912 pounds—261 heavier than the lightest Z06 we've tested. You can bet all of it is down to the electric motor on the front axle and the 1.9 kWh of batteries in the tunnel between the seats, which do help shift the weight balance forward slightly to 42 percent front and 58 percent rear compared to 40/60 for the Z06. It's also worth noting the E-Ray comes with Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires and does not offer the stickier Cup 2Rs you can get on the Z06.
You'd be correct in assuming the extra weight and traction on the front axle would improve the launch, but they're not a complete cure for wheelspin at the rear. It took several attempts to dial in the correct launch rpm that would neither spin the rear tires nor bog the engine, but it was significantly easier than doing the same on any rear-drive Corvette. Warming the rear tires with burnout mode, which temporarily deactivates the front axle, is as helpful as it is silly fun.
For those comparison shopping on price, the E-Ray is 0.2 second quicker to 60 than the best Stingray we've tested, as well as 0.9 second quicker through the quarter mile.
While the extra pounds make up for themselves in acceleration, there's no hiding them in braking. Although the E-Ray wears Z06 wheels, tires, and brakes below its Z06 bodywork, they all have to contend with more mass. Unsurprisingly, the E-Ray takes a few feet longer to stop from 60 mph, needing 103 feet, or four more than the Z06. Still, that's a foot shorter than the Stingray.
The pounds have a similarly small but notable effect on cornering. The front axle does its best to help pull the car out of corners to a tune of 1.10 average lateral g on our skidpad, but the lighter Z06 manages 1.12. On our figure eight, the advantage grows into a 21.9-second lap at 0.99 average g to the E-Ray's 22.5-second lap at 0.95 average g. Here's where the E-Ray and Z06 really separate themselves from the Stingray, which managed 1.04 g average on the skidpad and a 23.3-second figure-eight lap at 0.90 g average.
Note that all these results were achieved with the various Corvettes in the Chevy-recommended track alignment, which is guaranteed to wear out the tires more quickly. They retail for about $2,200 per set before tax, so set your alignment wisely.
Almost Z06-Level Driving Experience
If you've driven a Stingray with the Z51 performance package as we have extensively, you won't be able to tell the difference with the E-Ray until you're approaching the ragged edge. Just driving quickly, it doesn't feel or sound any different from the non-hybrid, rear-drive car. Really start to push it, though, and the electric motor makes itself known in more ways than one.
While it's doing things all the time, you won't feel any extra boost of acceleration from the front axle until you really put your foot down. Only when it's adding more than 100 hp to the front wheels does the E-Ray start to feel like it's substantially quicker and more powerful than a Stingray. (It can add up to 160 hp and 125 lb-ft to the total output.) Drop it all the way to the floor, and it really starts to feel like a Z06, but with the classic pushrod soundtrack of a Stingray rather than the deep-voiced exotic wail of the Z06. With both the engine and the motor giving it all they've got, the E-Ray actually feels supercar quick.
For those who prefer the old-school sound, the E-Ray is the perfect Z06 substitute, right up until you floor it and the speakers start piping in an obviously fake high-pitch electric motor whine. We understand why Chevy would want to give you this audible cue that the E-Ray is something special; we don't understand why it won't let you turn it off.
The only other time you feel the electric motor at work is when you're trying to hammer out of a corner. It's not so much torque steer as it is a resistance in the steering wheel as you unwind it. It almost feels like a bad case of tramlining, but the bite and pull you get from the front end lets you know there's a benefit to the sensation.
Similarly, the E-Ray feels most like a Z06 when it's being really leaned on. Carry a lot of speed into a corner, with high lateral loads, and the car will show its true colors the moment you assume even a hair of additional steering lock will induce understeer. The E-Ray somehow just turns even tighter and pulls even more lateral g's.
Once you've done that the first time, you really begin to understand and appreciate the car, and you'll push harder and harder just to see how far it'll go. It responds well to trail braking, and if you push it too hard at corner exit, it'll power oversteer but less aggressively than rear-drive Corvettes. Put it into a full-on drift, and it's much easier to control, as it doesn't want to snap loose like those other models. All of them would prefer to just grip and straighten out, but the E-Ray will let you dial up as much drift angle as you want instead of just trying to swap ends like the other cars.
It's Easy Being Green
You may not often feel it, but the electric motor is doing more work than you think. Just cruising down the highway, it feels all the world like a Stingray, but one that gets better fuel economy. A driver with plenty of Stingray seat time will quickly notice the E-Ray spends a lot more time in V-4 cylinder-deactivation mode; that's entirely thanks to the electric motor. On a flat stretch of road and even up slight inclines, you can give it a fair amount of throttle before the other four cylinders kick back on, the front axle happily making up the difference. It gives you a chance to appreciate the deep burble of an uncommon engine configuration, sounding an awful lot like an idling Alfa Romeo 4C or Fiat 500 Abarth while cruising at low rpm in V-4 mode.
That's as close to a typical hybrid as you're going to get, though. While there's an automatic engine stop-start system that works well (and lets you hear the engine startup over and over on a drive), the E-Ray will never turn off the engine entirely while driving down the road. There are EV modes, but they've been made needlessly difficult to use. You can only access them when the car is parked and turned off, and you have to remember to twist the drive mode knob before you press the engine start button or it won't work. Only then can you drive it around (under 45 mph) on electrons for a few miles. Good for sneaking out of the neighborhood without causing a ruckus, bad for sneaking back in. Still, it's a welcome first step given how loud a Corvette is on startup.
Official EPA fuel economy still isn't out even though the car is on sale, and Chevrolet engineers have insisted any gains from the hybrid system will be lost to the widebody and extra weight, but we're not so sure. Our long-term Corvette Stingray Z51 averaged just 17.0 mpg over its year with us, but just driving down the highway we regularly saw the E-Ray reporting well over 20 mpg, a number our long-term car struggled to ever self-report. When not driving fast, we imagine it'll do a bit better than the standard car like for like.
Despite the small size of the battery, we also found it nearly impossible to drain. Chevy says track work will do it, and they must mean tracks with long straights. On real-world roads, you'll struggle to spend enough time at wide-open throttle to actually drag down the battery meter, as it recharges incredibly quickly (mostly because it's so small). We never felt any reduction in acceleration, nor did we ever get the battery down to its safety buffer no matter how hard we drove. (The buffer prevents the car from ever suddenly becoming rear-wheel drive instead of all-wheel drive.) Outside of instrumented testing, we found no use for the Charge+ button, which raises the target charge from 80 percent to 100 percent.
It's not a matter of aggressive regenerative braking, either. The automatic regeneration that happens when you lift off the throttle is so slight you won't notice it but for the eAWD meter swinging from power to regen. There's no way to turn it up, so it simply fades into the background behind the massive, indefatigable carbon-ceramic brakes. None of your typical hybrid tells exist in this car.
The Other Stuff
OK, there is one if you know where to look for it. Just above the driver's right thigh on the side of the center tunnel are a pair of buttons that increase the battery charge limit and turn off the automatic engine stop-start. Those and some new widgets on the instrument cluster and infotainment screen showing battery level, electric motor output and input, and front-rear torque distribution are the only differences to the E-Ray's interior.
If you're disturbingly familiar with the front trunk of a Stingray or Z06, you might also notice the E-Ray's frunk is a teensy bit narrower front to back, but it shouldn't be enough to stop your luggage from fitting if it would on any other Corvette.
Chevrolet has updated the interface and back-end infotainment software on all Corvettes with its latest Google-based system. While it looks a little more contemporary, the functionality is basically the same save for moving the docked shortcuts from the bottom of the screen to the left edge. The biggest difference is it now runs embedded Google Maps, which sounds great except that our preproduction test car's software was buggy and the Maps app would completely freeze up roughly 30 minutes into route guidance and could only be cleared by turning the vehicle off and getting out so the screen would shut down, too.
As close to the Z06 as the E-Ray is in performance, there's a bit more daylight in pricing. The hybrid is $7,400 cheaper to start than a base Z06 (an E-Ray 2LZ like our test car is basically the same price as a base Z06 1LZ) and by our calculations, a similarly specced Z06 would cost about $27,000 more than this E-Ray you see here, and that's without the nearly $9,000 Z07 package, which helps give the Z06 its handling advantage.
That's not to say the E-Ray is a total bargain. At $112,095 to start, it's way more expensive than a standard Stingray, which starts at $71,690. Option a Stingray as close as you can to our E-Ray test car, and it still comes in at $92,430 (partly because Chevy won't sell you carbon-fiber wheels on a Stingray, a $14,000 savings).
If you're shopping purely on price, it might be hard to justify the E-Ray's performance gains and potential fuel economy benefit over the staggeringly good Stingray, but if you care at all about both and or you want the peace of mind all-wheel drive can bring in wet and freezing conditions, the E-Ray makes a compelling case for itself. And really, once you've had a taste of what it can do, you're going to have a hard time saying no to all that extra power and grip.