When making a comparison test, one of the most important ingredients is seat time. Five laps of a track will tell you plenty, but 500 miles behind the wheel will tell you far more. So we planned to maximize our time in these two exotic sports cars, rising at 4am, meeting at 5.30 and chasing the sunrise to the California coast. From there, we'd head north on the freeway network, climb into the mountains, before finally watching the sun drop into the Pacific. Returning home by 10.30pm, we put 500 miles on both cars and felt as if they'd become friends.
Inevitably, there were winners and losers, as well as sunburn and dehydration. But mostly there were smiles and a new appreciation for the automotive builder's craft.
The test was initiated by the arrival of the Jaguar F-Type. On first sight, we were spellbound by its taut lines and salivating at its performance potential. Our First Drive review (EC 9/13) indicated that it lived up to the hype, although Alex felt the Jaguar wasn't as finely tuned as the Porsche 911 it was aimed at. So we decided to avoid that obvious comparison and look into the left field - at the new Chevrolet Corvette Stingray.
On the face of it, there was almost no comparison. The Jaguar, the product of a low-volume British luxury carmaker, was priced way beyond the Chevrolet. It would have to compete with the offspring of one of Detroit's Big Three; one of the largest car builders in the world. However, we felt that buyers looking for driving fun, bold styling and ballsy V8 power might consider both cars since there are some interesting parallels: both companies are trading on past glory to create new excitement, each has gone for classic V8 powerplants up front, with rear-wheel drive platforms to engage the driving enthusiast.
Where these two differ is that one is considered rather pricey and is aimed at a more exclusive audience, while the other is a bargain-priced bluecollar sports car for the masses. Despite this, we decided to give the F-Type what is perhaps its toughest challenge: Would it be good enough to overcome the significant price difference?
What's the difference? The C7 Corvette with Z51 Package has an MSRP of $53800, while the F-Type tips the scales at a whopping $92000. That's one hell of a chasm for any vehicle to overcome, but the Chevy has the reputation as a brash upstart with poor manners and questionable build quality, so how hard could it be?
What's more, the specification of our test cars narrowed the gap somewhat, with the Corvette reaching $68375 as tested, while the F-Type crept up to $104770. So now the Brit only had to be $36935 better! Piece of cake...
The fly in the ointment was the Stingray's rave reviews. They didn't completely overshadow the F-Type, but suggested the fight was going to be intense. The aforementioned Z51 Package was a further problem since it added uprated wheels, tires, brakes, cooling, gearing and aero.
We'll admit that perhaps the Jaguar's greatest asset was that we wanted it to win. We often start these tests with a Euro bias (the clue is in the name!), but always seek fair play in the end. Just to be sure, we again enlisted the help of Motor Trend magazine's Mike Febbo to provide some balance, if needed.
This was going to be easy. Park the cars together and the Jag wins. Next!
Hang on. Maybe it was the Vette's Torch Red paintwork and black Z51 wheels. Or maybe it was the elements of Ferrari 458 and Dodge Viper styling, but the new C7 was turning heads. It was getting as much attention as the F-Type, with its home court advantage definitely a factor.
And while the front-end is generally successful, the Corvette's Transformer-style rear-end, with its "dripping mascara" tail light surrounds, quad tailpipes and giant rear diffuser were less convincing. It brings a slightly juvenile aspect to an otherwise commendable update of the Corvette DNA, preventing it from being a home run.
The C7's angularity was contrasted by the F-Type's sinuous curves that hypnotize the eyes. It's a more sophisticated exterior that places 20" wheels firmly at each corner, with very little fat on the bone.
Dipped in Firesand Orange, with a Black Pack exterior trim kit and matching Cyclone wheel upgrade, it was both menacing and elegant.
Unlike the enlarged Z51 rear spoiler on the Stingray, The Jag's discrete wing is invisible until you exceed 60mph, after which it rises to add downforce. There's a button to operate it if you're vulgar, but you'd be spoiling the Cat's delicate design by keeping it erected.
The Jag's hood dips down to make parking difficult, as does the Vette's. Although the Chevy's forward view is dominated by the high fenders that sweep up on either side of your vision, framing the road ahead and creating an impressive vista.
In fact, the more time we spent with the two cars, the more we were attracted to the C7. Much of it is wrong, yet somehow feels right, especially in low light, where the Jaguar's paint appeared slightly muddy in comparison to the Little Red Corvette.
Febbo muddied the water by suggesting, "The C7 is good looking for a Corvette, while the F-Type isn't as good as a Jag should be..." I'm not sure that helped, because he's reiterating that both fall slightly short, yet each will attract attention quicker than a streaker on Main Street.
In many ways, the Jaguar may be too restrained for its own good. It's being politely British by not wanting to draw too much attention to itself, but a car this good should perhaps be less reserved.
One thing in the F-Type's favor was its electric convertible roof, which operates in just 12sec at up to 30mph. It was vastly more convenient than the Vette's composite roof panel, which must be released and stowed. Admittedly, it takes seconds to pull the catches, and the panel is light enough for one person. The fully convertible Stingray will be a better solution for open-top motoring.
At the end of the day, the F-Type is an object of desire, perfectly proportioned and exquisitely detailed. Whereas the Corvette is flawed, yet charms you with its exuberance. As Febbo again stated, "The Jaguar looks as if it was designed by an artist while the Corvette was penned by an engineer with all its scoops and vents."
The Corvette will probably look dated long before the F-Type ever does. Time will judge which is the better design but our money is on the Jag. However, the C7 could blossom once the uprated variants arrive...
The best thing about the Corvette styling is that it's totally irrelevant once you're behind the wheel. Admittedly, you're aware of it thanks to the sweeping fenders, small mirrors and rear wing, that all obscure visibility to an extent. In fact, both cars have small rear windows and suffer terrible rear-quarter visibility, making it hazardous to maneuver on busy freeways. At least the Jag has larger mirrors and our test car was fitted with blindspot detection.
The cars share something else: excellent seats. Both were figure hugging, with optional lumbar and side bolster adjustment. They allowed you to find the perfect seating position but, more importantly, kept us fresh and limber during our 18-hour enduro, their perfect support providing exemplary comfort. The Vette also had the best seat cooling system we've ever experienced.
The Corvette is slightly noisier on the road, yet there was no fatigue after driving. And if you did start to lose focus, hitting the loud pedal soon remedied any maladies.
The Chevy's angular design themes were reflected inside, but it's better executed than the exterior. The company pulled out all the stops for the Stingray and it's a huge improvement over its predecessors. The fit and finish is excellent but can't quite match the double-stitched glory of the Jag's leather trim, or its more expensive materials. We also preferred the Meridian sound system over the Bose in the Vette, which had too much bass for our taste.
The only blot on the F-Type's copybook was the central air vents that rise and fall on demand. We're told it's to improve visibility when not in use, but it's a little gimmicky for an otherwise stellar interior.
While it's interesting to compare packaging, the purpose of these sports cars is to entertain at high speed with stability and safety. It's not an easy balancing act, but both succeed to a high degree.
The F-Type is the most powerful, with 495hp, but also the heavier at 3671 lb, despite its aluminum construction. Yet it felt lighter and more agile. This was thanks to more responsive controls - the steering, brakes and throttle responding to the slightest input.
The eight-speed ZF transmission is used across the industry and recognized as world class. It delivered crisp shifts and seemed to sense your requirements, with almost instantaneous downshifting. It can also be manipulated by paddle shifters that offer direct input to the powerband. However, selecting Dynamic Mode recalibrates the driveline, further sharpening throttle response, increasing steering weight, providing quicker gear changes at higher revs, and allowing greater slip angles before the stability control intervenes. It also prevents automatic upshifts when the transmission is in manual mode.
The car lets you know this is happening by opening the exhaust valves and unleashing the gods of war. The valve is also accessible by a button on the console that takes the aural experience to 11.
It seems hard to believe that the pops and bangs are legal, never mind the sheer volume of the exotic exhaust note. It's a symphonic mix of mechanical sounds that create a glorious cacaphony, making the radio redundant. You can witness it in our video at www.europeancarweb.com where we contrast it with the Corvette.
The supercharged V8 delivers maximum torque of 460 lb-ft from 2500rpm, so it's constantly on the boil, ready to light up the rear Pirellis with little provocation. It propels the car with a force that almost seemed to test the capability of the chassis, as the supercharger provides linear power delivery.
At high speed, the car becomes more sensitive to all inputs. The quick steering rack allows you to turn-in with precision, although there's a numbness common to most modern systems.
The suspension remains surprisingly compliant thanks to the Adaptive Dynamics that control body movement, roll and pitch rates via variable damping. This keeps the car incredibly flat in the turns. However, we were disappointed at a slightly fidgety ride quality on broken surfaces, even in the standard setting.
Both cars have incredibly powerful brakes, with the F-Type using six-piston calipers up front on 15" rotors. However, these were difficult to modulate, seeming snatchy at low speed and occasionally locking up at high speed. It adds to the Jaguar's on/off temperament that encourages you to get on the throttle or brakes hard, but this affects its fluidity.
And while the V6 models get a mechanical limited-slip diff, the V8S has an e-diff that's better able to respond to different conditions and demands, allowing a surprising amount of slip angle and wheelspin before unobtrusively interrupting.
As a result, the Jag is incredibly easy to drive very fast. Its quick responses and adaptive electronics mean anybody can get this car close to the limit and survive to tell the tale. Its performance is instantly accessible and enormously rewarding, accompanied by a wonderful soundtrack.
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)