After decades of prototypes, speculation and hype, it’s finally happening: the Chevrolet Corvette is going mid-engined. Set for a debut this summer on July 18th, the up-and-coming 2020 Corvette C8 is poised to storm onto the sports car scene with an all-new platform that breaks from seven generations of tradition, marking a pivotal moment for the nameplate. And that brings the question: why, exactly, is the Corvette switching to a mid-engine layout?
Before we answer that, we should review what “mid-engine” actually means. Essentially, the term describes where the engine is mounted in relation to the front and rear axles. A mid-engined car places the engine centrally between the axles. By comparison, a front-engine layout – like the one used in the previous seven generations of the Corvette – places the engine closer to the front axle, while a rear-engine layout – like the one in the Porsche 911 – puts the engine closer to (and sometimes over) the rear axle.
A mid-engine configuration is generally considered the ideal type of layout for a high-performance vehicle such as a sports car. For that reason, the application is used extensively in motorsport and racing. The reasoning behind doing so originates from physics and motion dynamics, specifically as it relates to vehicle balance and weight distribution.
Now, the single heaviest component in a vehicle is the engine. Where in the vehicle the engine is placed determines a lot about how that vehicle will behave in various driving scenarios.
When the majority of a vehicle’s heft is placed centrally in the chassis – such as in a mid-engine car – the car’s weight is, in theory, perfectly balanced between the front and rear axles. That creates an even weight distribution front to back, resulting in linear, neutral and predictable handling. Now, the Corvette C7 – despite being front-engined – already features a perfect 50-50 front-rear weight distribution. Hence, one could make the argument that the current C7 is already a “mid-engine” vehicle… and they would not be entirely wrong. But then we would start getting into the weeds of “front mid-engine” vs. “rear mid-engine,” and we would be digressing. So, let’s get back on track.
In the case of a mid-engined car like the Corvette C8, the vehicle will likely place more of the car’s weight toward the rear axle, for something along the lines of a 45-55 front-rear weight split. That additional weight toward the rear end would push the car’s rear tires into the pavement and provide greater amounts of traction, resulting in better grip when applying the throttle, and consequently, quicker acceleration. The extra rear-end weight created by the mid-engine layout also enables the rear brakes and rear tires to do more work under heavy braking, rather than relying on the front brakes to do most of the work when stopping.
Furthermore, a mid-engine layout enables a vehicle to quickly change direction thanks to what’s known as a lower polar moment of inertia. Here’s what that means: when the majority of a vehicle’s weight is located centrally between the axles, the vehicle is more eager to rotate, doing so evenly and predictably.
Think of a slalom test: a car with a high polar moment of inertia will resist quick steering inputs, which means it will be slower through the slalom. Conversely, a car with a lower polar moment of inertia will eagerly slither through the cones.
But not all is perfect with a mid-engine layout. When the engine and cabin occupy roughly the same location, passenger room and cargo space suffer. A mid-engine platform also creates new exterior proportions along with the associated changes in vehicle shape and style compared to a front-engine layout. This is especially noticeable on the Corvette C8 when compared to the first seven generations of the Corvette before it, with the mid-engine car featuring a much shorter hood and a less pronounced, sharklike appearance. Finally, mid-engine vehicles can be more challenging to drive. A chassis that’s eager to rotate can be a joy on the track, but it can also result in unwanted spin if one isn’t prepared, or adequately trained in driving such a mid-engined car.
But all those drawbacks hardly matter with the upcoming 2020 Corvette C8, because the thing is all about performance – full stop. And performance is what the mid-engine Corvette will deliver.
So, the switch to a mid-engine layout for the Corvette C8 will deliver a more capable sports car, with higher levels of performance, particularly in spirited driving applications and especially on the track.
Relocating the engine to the middle of the car has been a long time coming for the storied Corvette nameplate, and will be an affirmation of the model’s rightful place among the best performance machines in the world. This is Zora Arkus-Duntov’s dream come true, and we just can’t wait.