How 2020’s hottest car, the mid-engine Corvette, compares to rivals from Audi, McLaren, Lotus, and Acura

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The C8 Corvette, Acura NSX, Lotus Evora GT, McLaren GT, and Aud Kristen Lee (C8, Evora, McLaren, R8), Hollis Johnson (NSX)
  • I drove four mid-engine cars this past year: the 2020 Chevrolet Corvette, the Audi R8, the McLaren GT, and the Lotus Evora GT. Last year, Insider’s Matt DeBord reviewed the Acura NSX.
  • All of them offered a mix of cylinder counts, horsepower ratings, and price points.
  • For me, the Corvette beat out the Audi but fell behind the McLaren and the Lotus.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Few cars in recent memory arrived with as much pomp and anticipation as the mid-engine Corvette. Rumoured for decades, the thing finally became real in July of last year.

As the first model year of the new eighth-generation Corvette, the 2020 Corvette — known as the C8 — is significant because of its engine placement. Whereas every single Corvette model that preceded it placed its engine in front of the driver, the C8’s engine is tucked behind the driver and between the car’s front and rear axles.

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2020 Chevrolet Corvette. Kristen Lee/Business Insider

Doing this ideally would give the new Corvette mid-engine driving and handling characteristics. Because the engine is now located in the middle of the car, it should lend to a more ideal weight distribution and improved traction, since more weight is now sitting over the rear tires.

Historically, all of the best-performing sports cars, super cars, and race cars have been mid-engined. Moving the Corvette’s engine would finally make it a true competitor against other mid-engined greats. (A separate argument can be made about how the front-engine Corvettes have been long-standing thorns in the side of mid-engine competition; that’s how great they were.)

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2020 Chevrolet Corvette. Kristen Lee/Business Insider

But anyway! Here we are.

I had the opportunity to not only review the new C8 Corvette this year, but also got some seat time with other mid-engine sports cars and supercars such as the Audi R8, McLaren GT, and Lotus Evora GT. Last year, Matt DeBord reviewed the Acura NSX, which we obviously had to include as well.

By happy accident, this turned out to be a pretty diverse bunch. All of the cars had various cylinder counts, were either rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, had either automatic or manual transmissions (a rare godsend in 2020!) and were priced between about $US80,000 to $US240,000.

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2020 Chevrolet Corvette. Kristen Lee/Business Insider

Of the group, the C8 Corvette is the newest. It has the newest engine (a naturally aspirated, 495-horsepower V8) and the newest chassis. Paired with its eight-speed, dual-clutch automatic, America’s Sports Car has all the ingredients of modern performance. How does it stack up against the competition?

Read on to find out.

The $US80,000 C8 Corvette versus the $US208,000 Audi R8

The Corvette and the R8 are the only two mid-engine cars I tested with naturally aspirated engines — meaning that they don’t make their power with the help of turbochargers or superchargers.

With its V10 engine, the 602-horsepower R8 delivers its power to all four wheels. It’s far louder than the Corvette and it sounds much better. Few things shout as well as a naturally aspirated, 10-cylinder engine as it’s screaming up to redline.

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2020 Audi R8 V10 Performance Coupe Quattro. Kristen Lee

The R8’s steering is wonderful and tight; its interior is far airier than the Corvette’s claustrophobic one. But in the Performance Coupe Quattro trim, which is what my tester was, the sport-tuned suspension was non-adjustable and affected the Audi’s daily ride comfort.

And I found the Audi just too powerful and fast for normal usage. It wasn’t a matter of it feeling out of control, it was more like wasted potential. The R8 makes you want to dip into its power and hear its V10 sing. But to do that satisfactorily is to break about half a dozen traffic laws.

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2020 Audi R8 V10 Performance Coupe Quattro. Kristen Lee

Verdict:Despite its aural goodness and the glory of driving something with 10 cylinders, I have to lean toward the Corvette here. It’s just more comfortable and more usable in the most general sense. If you live near a track or take cars on track often, the R8 is probably a dream. But if you want something you can sometimes track but more often commute around in, the Corvette is the one you want.

And it’s a fraction of the price of the Audi.

The C8 Corvette versus the $US200,000 Acura NSX

Acura’s hallowed NSX returned for its second generation in 2016. Instead of a lightweight body, a naturally aspirated V6, and a manual transmission — all beloved features of the original — the new NSX instead gives us a turbocharged and hybrid V6, all-wheel drive, a nine-speed automatic transmission, and a 3,878-pound curb weight.

But don’t let any of that perceived anti-enthusiast hardware fool you. The new NSX is fantastic.

Acura NSX

Not only does it look understated, but it also handles and rides beautifully. Cruise down the highway and you’d swear you were riding in a comfortable sedan this side of sporty. But lean into the throttle and the acceleration is instantaneous. Breathtaking, even.

With 573 horsepower available, the new NSX produces nearly 100 horsepower more than the 495-horsepower Corvette. It could easily be a very lazy 573 horsepower, but, thankfully, it is not. Accelerating in the NSX has that extra burst of spontaneous power that can only come from electric motors. My main takeaway with the Corvette’s power delivery was that it was quite tame. The NSX’s has a ferocity that the Corvette does not.

Granted, you won’t get to tow much along with you — the NSX only has one trunk it’s pretty tiny. On this front, the dual-trunk Corvette has it beat.

Acura NSX

Verdict: In terms of sheer excitement and ride comfort, the NSX comes out on top. (“The NSX is so much better!” DeBord insisted on a Wednesday morning video conference.) True, it’s also more expensive, but you get a little slice of the weird automotive in-between we have going on right now: hybrids.

There aren’t many hybrid sports and supercars, but you can count the NSX as one of them. Cars used to be completely gasoline-driven. One day, all cars will be entirely electric, but the NSX will be remembered as one that was once both.

The C8 Corvette versus the $US240,000 McLaren GT

Similarly to the R8, the 612-horsepower McLaren GT has the Corvette beat on power. With a twin-turbocharged V8, the GT is rear-wheel drive and looks like nothing else on the road (though some readers have pointed out that it looks like the C8). Its up-swinging dihedral doors grab attention every single time.

True, the Corvette sounds better than the McLaren, but the GT’s chassis and steering cannot be beat. The carbon-fibre monocoque is both lightweight and extremely stiff, meaning that the GT returns virtually no lean in the corners.

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2020 McLaren GT. Kristen Lee/Business Insider

And the electro-hydraulically assisted steering is a dream to use. Even the smallest inputs return a reaction in the front wheels, the steering wheel feeding road information into your fingers all the while. The Corvette’s chassis and steering were good; they weren’t this good.

As it is meant to be the grand-touring, daily driveable McLaren, the GT offers two trunks and a combined cargo volume of 20.1 cubic feet, which is greater than the Corvette’s total cargo volume of 12.6 cubic feet.

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2020 McLaren GT. McLaren

Don’t let your eyes fool you; the Corvette’s trunk might look long and the GT’s wide and flat, but the McLaren does technically fit more.

I should know. I’m the one who took the supercar to Costco.

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2020 McLaren GT. Kristen Lee/Business Insider

Verdict: I’m a punk for saying this, but the McLaren GT beats out the Corvette for me. It seems too obvious, too easy, and too cliché to say you prefer a car that starts at $US215,000 over one that starts at $US60,000, but for that astronomical leap in price, you get a supercar that is otherworldly to drive and sit in.

Despite its increase in power, the GT feels just as daily-driver friendly as the Corvette, with an interior that offers far more breathing room. All of its switchgear feels machined to perfection, too.

The C8 Corvette versus the $US106,000 Lotus Evora GT

The 416-horsepower Lotus Evora GT is the lowest-powered of this band of cars. But it’s also the only supercharged one — with a V6 sourced from the Toyota Camry, no less. It’s the only one with a manual transmission, too. And as far as modern manual transmissions go, it’s utterly superb.

The Lotus weighs about 260 pounds less than the Corvette, but the weight differences might as well be 1,000 pounds. Everything great about the Lotus is like the McLaren, just miniaturized: the same incredible handling, the same epic suspension and chassis feel, absolutely elfin on its feet.

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2020 Lotus Evora GT. Kristen Lee/Business Insider

But the Lotus also offers a few party tricks of its own, like a deliciously linear power delivery and exhaust valves that open up with a trumpeting howl of V6 fury. Contrary to its big noise, though, nothing on the Lotus is more than it needs to be. The car is perfectly balanced with itself. I couldn’t think of one thing that needed more or one that needed less. It did not require more power or any less curb weight.

Compared to the Lotus, the Corvette felt big, hunkering, and bloated. This is truly saying something because the Corvette drives very precisely by itself. That’s just the power of perspective, I guess.

Lotus Evora GT and Chevrolet Corvette
Lotus Evora GT and Chevrolet Corvette. Kristen Lee

In the Corvette, I was annoyed that outward visibility wasn’t better. I was irked that I couldn’t raise the seat high enough to comfortably see. The Lotus was no better, but it forced me into a new headspace that modern cars do not force me into.

I accepted that I couldn’t fully reach the pedals, so I supplied my own cushion. There was no rear visibility to speak of, so I just learned to use my wing mirrors better.

Why? Because the trade-off was just too wonderful to pass up.

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2020 Lotus Evora GT. Kristen Lee/Business Insider

Verdict: I gave the Lotus back at the beginning of September and not a day goes by that I don’t think of it. It brought skill back to the act of driving and was one of the few loaner cars I’ve taken out that I could genuinely see myself owning.

It might seem ludicrous to charge nearly $US100,000 for so little car, but if you love driving at all, get yourself into one. The Evora GT will warp your perceptions to fit around itself, just like it did me.

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2020 Lotus Evora GT. Kristen Lee/Business Insider