2020 Chevrolet Corvette: Why It Was Time to Move the Engine

July 23, 2019, 11:00 AM UTC

For fans of American sports cars with big V8 engines, the introduction of a new Chevrolet Corvette is a milestone event. And the arrival of the long-awaited eighth generation ‘vette is particularly special.

GM unveiled the “C8” Corvette at a private event for media and a select few owners on Thursday in Irvine, Calif. As the first Corvette to place the engine behind the driver, the new model signals the American brand’s dash to compete with exotic sports cars.

“Where else can you get a supercar that goes from 0 to 60 in less than three seconds for this kind of money?” said GM President Mark Reuss. The mid-engine configuration “is something that we have been looking at for a very long time.”

The Corvette’s traditional front-engine, rear-wheel-drive layout endured for seven decades, making it one of the world’s longest-running, continuously produced passenger cars with sales surpassing 1.7 million units. Named after a warship, the Corvette debuted as a “dream car” convertible in 1953 at the GM Motorama show in New York’s Waldorf Astoria hotel.

“This is the right time to move to mid-engine,” said Tadge Juechter, Corvette Executive Chief Engineer. “We’ve known for quite a while that we were reaching the limits of performance in the front-engine configuration.”

American muscle cars like the Corvette have long boasted a potent V8 engine beneath the hood, but technology has pushed the front-engine, rear-wheel-drive layout beyond its limits. Dispensing with tradition allows GM to move the engine farther back to improve handling, stability and acceleration.

The mid-engine supercar will keep its 6.2-liter V8, even as competitors opt for smaller, more compact engines with forced induction. “There’s simply no substitute for the immediate responsiveness and the sound emanating from this technological masterpiece,” Juechter said.

At 495 horsepower, the new model is rated the most powerful entry-level Corvette ever and one of the world’s quickest cars. When equipped with top-of-the-line Z51 performance package, it can rocket from 0 to 60 in under three seconds—holding pace with the likes of the Lamborghini Aventador, Porsche 911 Turbo, and all-electric Tesla Model S.

Putting the engine behind the driver enables a “quantum leap forward” for driving dynamics, according to Juechter. “The seating position puts the occupant’s center of gravity right on top of the vehicle’s center of gravity so the car literally rotates around you in a turn,” he said.

Some enthusiasts have waited for this development since Corvette creator Zora Duntov floated the possibility of a mid-engine version more than six decades ago. The revamped powertrain will help the Corvette compete against models such as the Mercedes-AMG GT, Audi R8 and Porsche 911. However, exotic car buyers are still unlikely to cross-shop the Corvette with ultra-luxury models from Ferrari, Lamborghini and McLaren, according to Karl Brauer, executive publisher of Kelly Blue Book.

“The mid-engine layout will up that number slightly, but we’re talking from 5% cross-shop to 10% cross-shop – not a big number,” Brauer said.

Inspired by quick conveyances like fighter jets and Formula One race cars, Chevrolet designers lowered the new Corvette’s stance and moved its rear wheels back to create a “forward feel” for the driver.

The Corvette’s new musculature showcases strong fender peaks over front wheel and rear quarter and a sleek, horizontal crease down the side of its body. For the first time, the sports car’s engine will be visible through a glass hatch.

The engine’s location is the “focal point of the new car’s design,” said Phil Zak, executive design director at Global Chevrolet. “Having the motor behind you creates a supercar feel which intensifies the overall driving experience.”

Subscribe to Well Adjusted, our newsletter full of simple strategies to work smarter and live better, from the Fortune Well team. Sign up today.