If you follow the automotive world at all, then you’ve likely heard of the all-new, 8th generation Chevrolet Corvette, which debuted at a special event just last night. Arguably the greatest talking point of this new machine is the completely revolutionized layout of the car – whereas in the first 7 versions of this car the engine was placed at the front of the car, the new model, set to go on sale in early 2020, has its engine behind the driver in order to improve performance and break the former limitations of the front-engine layout. Although the move is controversial, there is no doubt that with this drastic change to the accepted formula, the handling performance and subsequent lap times of the car should dramatically improve – but why is that?
Before we explore that, we should discuss the different possible layouts found in cars today. The first of these is the front-engined layout, which is used in the vast majority of cars today, including the current C7 Corvette. As can be implied by the name, the front-engined layout is a layout in which the engine is in the front of the car – this layout is hugely popular for one reason: price. Particularly in the case of front-wheel drive(FWD) cars such as the Honda Civic, a front-engined layout is much simpler to design, build, and repair and as such, is less expensive. In addition, for FWD cars and potentially some four/all-wheel drive(4WD/AWD) cars, the extra weight in the front leads to greater traction, while the engine itself can serve as a form of protection in a crash. However, in terms of sheer handling dynamics, the nose-heavy nature of front-engined cars, particularly those that have the engine in front of the axle, the layout hurts more than it helps. This is largely due to the fact that under heavier braking and cornering, the car’s weight shifts to the front, wearing out brakes more quickly and worsening their performance over time. On top of that, under acceleration, the car’s weight shifts to the back, resulting in understeering(wider turning).
Next, we come to the complete opposite end of the spectrum – rear-engined cars. These are the rarest of the bunch, with the only modern example of these being the Porsche 911 and its variants. These are essentially the opposite of front-engined cars, with better traction for rear-engined cars, resulting in generally better acceleration. Furthermore, due to the great amount of weight in the back, these cars have a tendency to potentially oversteer and get into a slide while cornering, although modern suspension technology has more than been able to remedy that, and as such 911s are easily some of the fastest and best-handling vehicles on the market and are renowned for their driver engagement and performance.
And finally, we get to the new C8 Corvette and all the other mid-engined cars in existence. These are often among the most expensive, most well-crafted, and most desirable cars out there, in addition to being some of the best handlings. As you may have guessed by now, the name of the game here is weight distribution. A mid-engined car, with the engine in front of the rear axle, has most of its weight in the center, which allows for more agile cornering on account of a lack of any distinct weight imbalance. Modern race cars, particularly Formula 1 and Le Mans Prototype cars are mid-engined for this very reason and are among the fastest in existence. Despite the many practical disadvantages of the mid-engined layout, it continues to be a staple in super and hypercars today, and now, the Corvette will certainly be punching far above its weight with the new setup – if Chevrolet decides to make a C8 ZR1, you may expect to see a few track records broken.