Last year, the new 2020 Chevrolet Corvette was revealed — and the eighth-generation model was most notable for, at long last, being the first-ever iteration of the car to put the engine behind the driver. It’s a mid-engined sports car that punches up against exotics like the Audi R8, but with a starting price under $60,000 for the coupe (or $67,500 for the hardtop convertible seen above, which was announced on October 2nd).
Once the initial hype and surprise died down, though, a pointed discussion of the interior developed. Quite a bit of online discussion focused on the long, sloping vertical strip of buttons extending down the center console. The main point of contention: does the interior call to mind a fighter jet cockpit, built for hands-on convenience? Or is it a wall of controls needlessly slung between driver and passenger?
As it turns out, interior design manager Tristan Murphy would like you to understand one thing before you rush to judgment: it was imperative from the start that the C8-generation Corvette have a very low dashboard.
“The whole point of [getting] that engine behind you is it allows you to have a much lower cowl…you no longer have to sit above the engine, and you can get these really great sightlines,” Murphy said. “And that’s what a mid-engine car does. The last thing we want to do was have this amazing downvision, then have this typical tall instrument panel. It was about, how do we change the game and how do we reconstruct a dashboard here to be as low and as thin as possible? That was the mission statement of the whole car.”
A close inspection of the interior reveals Murphy wasn’t kidding about keeping things low and thin. Take the air vents for an example. “[The C8] has the thinnest air vents in the production world,” Murphy said. “We’re 19 millimeters tall, and we had to invent that. Then we had to do a brand new HVAC system that controls that velocity [at that vent height]. Normal vents are usually about 36 to 40 millimeters tall, but every single millimeter that goes up the instrument panel, the dash has to go along, right?”
“For your typical stack — I use the Toyota Supra as a good example — they’ve got a big bank of buttons with your knobs and your HVAC, that’s about 30 millimeters tall,” Murphy said. “Then, you have an audio bank, that’s usually 15–20 millimeters tall. Then you have your screen. Before you know it, [the dashboard] is almost an inch and a half or two inches taller because of those decisions of how you stack up audio and HVAC button controls.”
“[Corvette designers] discussed very early, “Okay, how do we remove [audio and HVAC buttons] off the center line and still have some hard controls?” Murphy said. “And that’s when we went to looking back at jet cockpits. These guys literally have controls wrapping around them.”
There is an alternative to hard controls, of course: putting controls in the touchscreen. Murphy said this wasn’t up his alley.
“If we would’ve buried [controls] in the screen, you would now be going through menus to get them, which is really annoying. The reason that works for Tesla or the new Volvos is they have a tall portrait screen,” Murphy said. “We wanted to do a low, wide-aspect ratio screen.”
Murphy says there were months of discussions, design reviews and clay models that helped them reach this conclusion. He and the design team also sat in a number of cars, including LaFerraris, Porsche 918s and McLarens, for inspiration.
“Obviously, these are million-dollar hypercars,” Murphy said. “But you just get in and it feels special, right? So that was the whole thing: how do we make [the C8] feel special?”
“I never felt confined [by other departments]. If anything, we felt very intimidated…we need to still come in and surprise people. They need to get inside this thing and be like, ‘Holy shit.’”