There used to be a joke that if Microsoft made cars, your car would crash twice a day for no reason at all. But the reality of software-defined cars (that is, vehicles in which clever coding has as much say as masterful machining in determining a car’s characteristics) is demonstrated by the 2024 Chevrolet Corvette E-Ray, whose smart software lets the car’s new electric motor deliver supplemental power to the front wheels so imperceptibly that the driver would have trouble guessing that the latest version of America’s sports car has all-wheel drive.
That’s because the Corvette’s signature 6.2-liter, overhead-valve, LT2 small block V8 is still roaring, powering the rear wheels with its 495 horsepower, just like in the base Stingray model. But now there’s that 160-hp electric motor up front, running off a 1.9 kilowatt-hour array of LG lithium-ion batteries deftly tucked into the car’s central tunnel.
This $104,295 vehicle is a regular hybrid-electric, with no external power plug, so the battery is small and gets its juice entirely from the gas engine and from regenerative braking that turns the electric motor into a generator when the car slows. Having that extra 160 hp and 125 lb.-ft. torque on tap is “like having a nitrous oxide tank that fills itself,” remarked chief engineer Josh Holder, referring to the “NOS” gas made famous by The Fast and the Furious movie franchise for giving combustion engines a burst of extra power.
The quickest Corvette ever
But rather than the explosive power delivery from NOS, the E-Ray’s omnipresent electric motor “torque fill” just makes the car constantly more muscular. This power, combined with the traction of all-wheel-drive, makes the E-Ray the quickest Corvette ever, with a 0-60 mph acceleration of 2.5 seconds and a 10.5-second quarter mile time.
Those times are achieved using the E-Ray’s Performance Launch mode, which uses the car’s various software-controlled systems to optimize power delivery from the gas and electric motors to deliver the fastest possible acceleration.
The driver can keep the E-Ray’s battery topped off so that it is ready to deliver that boost by pressing the Charge+ button. If you ever watch Formula 1 races, you’ll see a car’s rear light flashing when the driver is building the state of charge in its battery in preparation for a passing attempt on a car ahead. The E-Ray’s Charge+ button on the center console, down by the driver’s right thigh, ensures that the battery’s virtual NOS tank is fully topped off with electrons.
The Corvette Z06 we tested last year is nearly as quick, but that car produces its power with more noise and drama. The E-Ray appeals to the enthusiast who wants a comfy ride that also happens to be ludicrously fast. And if you need to sneak out of your neighborhood in the morning without annoying the neighbors, let the small block V8 sleep late and cruise out on electric power alone using Stealth mode to reach speeds as high as 45 mph.
Other driving modes with pre-set performance parameters include Tour, Sport, Track, and Weather. Each of those optimizes the car’s sound, power delivery, stability control, traction control, and dynamically adjustable magnetic suspension damping to match those conditions. Additionally, drivers can select their own preferences in My Mode and Z Mode.
Driving the Corvette E-Ray on and off the track
The E-Ray rolls on the same wide wheels wrapped in meaty Michelin rubber and enclosed by the same 3.6-inch wider fenders as the Z06, but the rubber on those wheels is Michelin’s Pilot Sport all-season tire to make the E-Ray compatible with rain and snow. I didn’t encounter those conditions on the roads around Denver or during my track drive at Pikes Peak International Raceway, but I could feel the E-Ray’s stability and surefootedness.
In addition to the all-weather tires, the E-Ray is also available with the same Michelin Pilot Sport 4S summer tires as are used on the base Stingray version. And as on that car, these excellent tires provide the consistent grip, comfort, and durability drivers want in everyday driving. And as I found track testing the Stingray, these tires are really not at home on the track, where they quickly turn hot and greasy compared to true track tires, losing their grip after thrashing through just a few hard corners.
No matter, that’s not the E-Ray’s purpose. Yes, it is fast, but the similarly priced Z06 ($111,295) is the weapon of choice for track rats. The E-Ray is for drivers who want that kind of speed in a car they can enjoy every day in comfort.
Even with its all-wheel-drive traction, the E-Ray is not penalized by sluggish steering response on corner turn-in, as is typically the case with cars that route power through the front wheels. That’s because the computer is smart enough to know when and how much power to send from the electric motor to the front wheels.
It can even let the driver induce a drift in corners, spinning the rear wheels without the front-drive power interfering with the sideways-sliding fun. That car-straightening front power is welcome when driving home from work in bad weather, but it can spoil the fun on the track, so the E-Ray knows when to have the electric drive step back and let the V8 do the work.
A weighty issue
Just as the E-Ray rolls on the same wide wheels as the Z06, it also packs the same Brembo carbon ceramic brakes inside them to help slow the car. This is in addition to the E-Ray hybrid-electric regenerative braking, which does much of the car’s stopping.
But the big brakes are important, because while the hybrid system adds braking power, it also adds mass. Chevrolet says the E-Ray weighs 3,774 pounds as a coupe and 3,856 pounds as a convertible, which means that it is about 350 pounds heavier than the Z06 and 400 pounds heavier than the Stingray.
This is in spite of a huge effort by the car’s engineering team to minimize the weight penalty of the electric motor and battery pack. “We put the highest bounty on weight of any car we’ve ever done,” recalled Holder. Even with that effort, electric motors and batteries are still heavy. “It is the heaviest Corvette we’ve ever done,” Holder acknowledged, adding, “but it is the lightest hybrid we’ve ever done.”
The E-Ray matches the slower Stingray’s EPA fuel economy rating of 19 mpg in combined driving, with a score of 16 mpg city and 24 mpg highway. The Z06’s rating depends on the exact equipment, but it is either 14 mpg or 15 mpg in combined driving. City driving in either case is a dismal 12 mpg.
The added mass is low in the chassis, with the electric motor between the front wheels and the battery pack in the central spine running between the seats in the cockpit, so the center of gravity is low. Engineers mask that weight with savvy chassis control with the magnetically controlled adaptive dampers and the aforementioned massive brakes, so the E-Ray never feels heavy on the road.
As with the seamless power delivery, credit the brainy calibration by the Corvette team’s programmers in creating the reality of their choice rather than the one suggested by physics. It turns out that software-defined vehicles are far better than the old Microsoft joke predicted.
Take a look at my track drive, below: