The calendar year 2021 marked technically a second 12-month period for Chevrolet to score a knockout with the eighth-generation Corvette, making it one our favorite cars of 2021. But only modest changes followed 2020’s ground-up redesign that transformed America’s favorite sports car into a true mid-engined supercar, with additional color options and Apple CarPlay hitting the C8, as well as more trim levels receiving the popular Magnetic Ride suspension system.
And yet, the C8 Corvette still takes home the top prize from HotCars for Best American Sports Car of 2021 because no other manufacturer could compete with a mid-mounted, naturally aspirated V8 in a lightweight package all starting at a price tag right around $60,000. To be fair, halfway through 2021, GM bumped the price tag up by $1,000 to $60,995—still, all the various Mustangs, Chargers, Challengers, and even Chevy’s own Camaro fall short of the performance potential of the 2021 Corvette.
Second Year Of The C8
Mounted behind the passenger cockpit, the C8’s naturally aspirated 6.2-liter V8 engine pumps out 490 horsepower and 465 lb-ft of torque (or 495 horses and 470 lb-ft when equipped with the Z51 package that adds more cooling components and sport exhaust) . That grunt routes to the rear wheels only through an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic with paddle shifters.
Sure, a peak of 495 ponies sounds pretty tame compared to Dodge’s Challengers and Chargers in Hellcat Redeye spec, with their supercharged Hemis pumping out a ludicrous 797 horsepower and 707 lb-ft of torque. But even the two-door Challenger weights more than 1,000 pounds more than the low-slung Corvette, while the benefits of mid-engined weight distribution result in more predictable performance during acceleration, cornering, and braking.
A Modern & Mid-Engineered American Icon
The only two potential gripes that anyone levels at the C8 Corvette involve that dual-clutch gearbox—or, more specifically, the lack of a manual transmission—and the car’s angular exterior design. To be completely fair, the C8 looks like an entirely new car with very little harkening back to its C7 and earlier front-engined predecessors, so Chevy might have avoided some controversy by just naming it something else. But after so many different mid-engined concepts bearing the Corvette nameplate over the decades, the eventual production car needed to hit public roads before electrification removed the potential to install a classic V8 engine amidships—and yet, a clearer through-line to the Corvette’s strong design history still would have gone a long way.
C8 tuning and modding
The incredible price point makes the eighth gen popular among tuners and modders who want that mid-engined layout and see the LT2 V8 as a mere starting point for true performance in the new chassis. A quick trip to SEMA proves just how lust-worthy Chevy’s recipe ended up for the aftermarket industry, where another slammed, bagged, widebody, turbocharged, or supercharged C8 appeared in almost every booth.
But few achieved the same kind of fame as Emelia Hartford, a YouTube influencer who set numerous world records throughout the course of 2021 in her twin-turbo C8 nicknamed Phoenix. Many of her videos revealed the massive struggles involved with cranking reliable power out of the LT2, though, which explains why more mass-produced twin-turbo builds from the likes of Hennessey Performance took (or are still taking) longer than expected. ECU coding and reliability for the dual-clutch gearbox sound like the major concerns.
The Z06 Finally Appears
And GM never planned to let the C8 sing a swansong for the Corvette without more powerful variants hitting the road—the challenges of a global pandemic simply delayed any factory supercharged, twin-turbo, hybrid, or all-wheel-drive Corvettes almost indefinitely. But as 2021 dwindled to a close, Chevy unveiled the new Corvette Z06 to the public, which will debut as a 2023 model year with a smoothed-out exterior hiding the highest specific-output naturally aspirated V8 ever put in a road car.
The new 5.5-liter LT6 sourced from Chevy’s C8.R racecar (which really served as a testbed for the Z06’s many performance enhancements) pumps out a stunning 670 horsepower with a waiting 8,600 RPM redline. Again, no manual option will be available, but all of a sudden, the Corvette Z06 looks set to eclipse not just previous ZR1 trims in performance terms, but even the Ford GT supercar.
As electrification rears its head and renders 0-60 times obsolete thanks to instantaneously available torque, Dodge looks set to abandon internal combustion for muscle cars altogether. And so, the serious question remains whether the LT6 might go down in history as the world’s greatest V8 ever built—especially if Chevrolet can figure out how not to lose money with every unit sold below $100,000 (good luck finding one at that price point, though).
Runner Up: Ford Mustang Shelby GT500
Even with all the 2021 Corvette’s accolades and the prospect of bigger and badder versions from both aftermarket builders and future factory Chevrolet projects, the C8’s Best American Sports Car of 2021 title still almost went to Ford’s Mustang Shelby GT500. And that’s because the new GT500 received a supercharged 5.2-liter V8, making it the most powerful Mustang ever—once again, have we reached peak Mustang before the transition to strictly Mach-E production?
Shelby American took things one step further with the recent reveal of a new King of the Road, which will go on sale in 2022 for only the third time ever in Shelby or Ford’s long and storied partnership, building on the popularity of the 1968 and 2007 /8 editions. Maybe someday in the future, looking back 54 years (or even 14, if this pace keeps up), the auto industry will consider right now as the pinnacle of both Corvette and Mustang—we couldn’t leave the GT500 out, so we gave it our Best Muscle Car of 2021 award alongside the C8 as Best American Sports Car of the Year.
Sources: chevrolet.com, ford.com, and shelby.com.
This C8 Corvette Pulls Off The Front-Engined Look With Ease