Name any auto technology, and chances are there are rumors that it will be included in the next Corvette. As more and more supercar builders switch to all-wheel drive to handle increasing power and improve handling, it begs the question: How far can the Corvette go before it will have to follow suit?
How Much Power is Too Much?
Choosing a drivetrain is a balance of traction and weight: all-wheel drive’s extra driveshafts make it heavier than rear-wheel drive, but they double the total tire contact patch available and allow power to be applied to each wheel individually.
How much power can AWD handle? The designers of the Bugatti Veyron say they’ve had to detune the car’s engine from a maximum of 1,500 hp to an output that the tires can handle. As they’ve continued development, they’ve raised that limit from 1,000 to 1,200 hp. The balance of power between the wheels means the car can stay stable right up to the limit.
With Porsche using AWD on their most powerful street cars, that means the most powerful RWD cars have a front-mounted engine. Apply too much power, and the rear will break loose, causing massive understeer. Twenty years ago, the Dodge Viper was uncontrollable at the limit because of its unheard-of 400 hp, but improvements in tire technology and the addition of electronically-controlled differentials and traction control have let both the last generation Corvette ZL1 and Ford’s Shelby 500 Mustang handle around 650 hp while maintaining their track prowess. However, there isn’t any traction-improving technology on the horizon putting a damper on RWD’s future: with the next Z06 expected to have have 600 hp, that doesn’t leave much room for the ZR1.
Is the Stingray Already Losing Ground?
The Nurburgring mix of curves and straights has made it the benchmark for track capabilities, and under this light, the Corvette doesn’t look so good.
With 93 more hp and almost 500 lbs. less weight to move around, the old ZR1 seems like it would handly beat a Nissan GT-R around the track, but thanks to the GT-R’s advance all-wheel drive system, it’s currently a half-second ahead of the Corvette’s best lap time. Without room to grow, the C7 Corvette will have a hard time keeping up with AWD sports cars through its design cycle.
People may have laughed when GM President Mark Reuss casually mentioned a hybrid Corvette in an interview, but suddenly an electric-assisted through-the-road AWD system doesn’t look like a bad idea.
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