After several hours, we swapped cars to acquaint ourselves with the Chevrolet and it was instantly disappointing. The heavy twin-plate clutch accessed a notchy gearbox, the numb steering was slow, throttle actuation ponderous and the body rolled into turns, giving an impression of considerable weight. It felt industrial, almost agricultural. Even the exhaust note was muted and monotone.
All this shone an even brighter light on the Jaguar, but the Stingray hadn't warmed to us yet. It took a few miles before we could appreciate what it had to offer.
Let's start with the transmission because it dominates first impressions. Being a seven-speed takes some familiarization, since the neutral position is sprung between third and fourth. This means that higher ratios require the lever to be pushed to the right, but finding the right amount of pressure took a few miles. And although we didn't like the idea of a gear indicator, it proved useful at first when confirming you guessed right.
Another unwanted aid was the Rev Matching function. It was selected by the redundant shift paddles left over from the automatic transmission that's also available with this car. Once armed, downchanges were accompanied by a throttle blip to ensure smooth engagement. However, it also has the effect of making every Corvette owner sound like a racecar driver.
Along with its Hill Hold function and electronic parking brake, the Stingray usurps the art of the heel-n-toe downshift or the e-brake hill start, allowing the electronics to empower the incompetent. Frankly, if you can start a manual car on a steep hill or rev-match on downchanges without these devices, we'd question why you're at the wheel of a 460hp Corvette!
That said, it makes the car accessible to more people, and at least Chevrolet has provided a manual option. Kudos to an American manufacturer for not abandoning the clutch pedal entirely. In fact, European Corvette owners won't even get the automatic option.
While transmissions such as the eight-speed auto in the Jag are exemplary, there are still some of us who enjoy the control and flexibility of selecting our own gears and side-stepping the clutch occasionally.
There were voices who suggested we shouldn't compare the manual Vette to the auto F-Type, but we felt we should test the best of what's available. And because the C7 even has a manual option, it will be a better choice for drivers like us...
The Vette was fitted with the optional Magnetic Ride Control, which damped uneven road surfaces slightly better than the Jag. It allowed a curious amount of body roll, but that allowed you to setup the car for each turn, shifting the weight with the steering. At low speed the car felt heavy, but the responses lightened as speed increased. So at very high speed, the Stingray felt more stable than the Jaguar, with its Michelins and transparent traction control keeping the Vette pointing in the right direction at all times.
In fact, all our complaints evaporated once we settled into the car. The steering became more positive at speed, and the four-piston Brembos were easier to modulate than the Jag's brakes, giving you a little more confidence into turns. The grip on exit was astonishing, making it feel as if every turn could have been taken faster if you had another go.
The exhaust note also improved. Although it maintained the same hollow bellow at all engine speeds, it happily gained volume and purpose with velocity. It made the car feel more brutal, more substantial than before.
The Performance Exhaust fitted to our car gave an extra 5hp and 5 lb-ft, but that was icing on an already well-decorated cake. It's amazing to think that in 2013, Chevrolet's flagship model uses a two-valve pushrod engine, but this 6.2L LT1 V8 generates 50 lb-ft more torque than the outgoing 7.0L LS7 in the 2013 Z06. It also offers a better power to weight ratio than the 911 Carrera or Audi R8, making it a serious contender at a fraction of the price.
In Z51 guise, it gets dry-sump lubrication and better cooling, making it ideal for track use.
The Corvette has a sensitive side, though. Its Drive Mode selector allows you to access Eco, Weather, Tour, Sport or Track settings. These are fairly self-explanatory, with Eco mode allowing the engine to operate as a V4, deactivating half the cylinders to make its 29mpg EPA rating possible. Meanwhile, the F-Type gets stop/start technology to also reduce fuel consumption.
Of the other modes, Weather was designed for rain or snow, while Tour was designed for daily driving. Admittedly, we spent most of our time in Sport, giving us access to different settings on the throttle, steering, suspension, e-diff, traction control and exhaust flaps.
In Sport, we found that throttle sensitivity had an interesting step, where it allowed you to potter around at regular speed without drama. But push past some resistance and the car introduced a different side to its character at full throttle. It awoke with a start, careening forward with a velocity and noise previously unknown. That's when you realized it was genuinely 0.4sec quicker to 60mph than the Jag, and would probably keep accelerating past it in the higher gears.
We should point out that seventh gear on the manual is strictly for cruising. You'll need to change down to pass anything since it's loping along at 70mph at about 1400rpm. It's strictly for fuel saving and worked well in combination with Eco mode, where we saw some savings.
That said, we returned about 19mpg average in the Corvette, where the Jaguar saw 20/21mpg. This defied the stats because we spent hours on the freeway, but the 6.2L Vette required engine revs to gain speed, where the Jag had more to offer at lower RPM. This seemed to give the F-Type a narrow advantage at the pumps during our 500-mile adventure. Daily driven in Eco mode, we're confident that the Corvette's cylinder deactivation should be able to do much better than we managed...
At the end of the day, the Vette needs to be manhandled to extract its best. Where the Jag is instantly accessible, the Chevy seems to have a secret level, only accessed once you have the password. Yet the harder you push, the better the C7 feels. This is possibly because its roots are more muscle car than sports car, lacking the grace and agility of the F-Type. It certainly couldn't be called subtle!
Having driven both cars and enjoyed them equally, it was time for some soul searching. Which was the best car, and which would we buy if we had the money?
Mike Febbo and Alex agreed that if you wanted a track car, the Corvette was the best solution, but the F-Type would make a better daily driver. And indeed, the Jaguar's accessible performance, overall quality and good looks would make it very easy to live with.
Despite being miles apart on paper, we were astonished at how close they came on the road. Overall performance, comfort and technology were very closely stacked. You might have to try a little harder in the Vette, but it rewarded with a remarkable driving experience.
In fact, when behind the wheel, the Chevy reminded me of a previous E90 M3 project car, or some '90s performance cars that needed to be coaxed to their full potential. They would also feel a little wooden at low speed, slightly hesitant, gruff, indicating that they were clearly designed for greater things.
Admittedly, the Jaguar F-Type has the visual and aural drama of exotics like the Aston Martin DB9. It felt more refined overall and was also more relaxing to drive.
And yet there was something about the brutality and seeming reluctance of the Corvette that kept us coming back for more. It was almost as if it didn't want to go fast, but that you had to force the issue by taking it by the scruff of the neck.
I find myself in the unusual position of liking an American-built car. I can't say I've experienced this very often; the Ford Mustang Cobra R being the only other one that springs to mind... However, we all loved the 2014 Corvette Stingray with Z51 Package. The performance for the price makes it an absolute bargain. But the question remained whether we could own a car that looks like a Transformer robot.
In all honesty, we'd probably opt for the F-Type V6S, which is cheaper than the model tested here. However, it would also offer less power, which would give the advantage back to the Corvette.
So faced with the V8S or Vette, and as gorgeous as the Jag obviously is, we'd choose the cheaper Stingray for its massive entertainment factor if we could live with its looks.
It would have to be dark grey, and we'd be ousted from the Euro community, but it's an awesome car for the money. I can't believe I just said that... Did hell freeze over?
Sadly, we can't actually afford either car, but it's always fun to play a game of "what if..."
2014 Jaguar F-Type V8S
Layout front-engine, RWD
Engine 5.0-liter V8 DOHC 32v supercharged
Drivetrain eight-speed ZF Quickshift automatic, e-diff
Brakes six-piston calipers, 15" rotors f, six-piston, 14.8" r
Suspension four-wheel independent double wishbone
Wheels & Tires 20x9" f, 20x10.5" r wheels, 255/35 R20 f, 295/30 R20 r Pirelli P Zero tires
Power 495hp at 6500rpm
Torque 460 lb-ft at 2500-5500rpm
Top Speed 186mph
Weight 3671 lb
Economy 16/23/18mpg (city/highway/combined)
2014 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray Z51
Engine 6.2-liter LT1 V8 16v direct injection, variable valve timing, dry sump
Drivetrain seven-speed manual transmission, Active rev match, Z51 close-ratio gears, e-diff
Suspension double-wishbone f&r, optional Magnetic Ride Control
Brakes four-piston calipers f&r 13.6" rotors f, 13.3" r
Wheels & Tires 19x8.5" f, 20x10" r wheels, 245/35 R19 f, 285/30 R20 r Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires
Exterior aluminum frame, carbon fiber hood and roof panel, composite fenders, doors, rear quarter panels
Power 460hp at 6000rpm
Torque 465 lb-ft at 4600rpm
Top Speed 185mph (est)
Weight 3298 lb
Economy 17/29/21mpg (city/highway/combined)