Sometimes being third in line is the right place to be. Why? Because when Frank Markus, the first hand-raiser, was unable to make the cross-country trip, and then Scott Evans was called away on other business, the “job” of getting driving impressions of the all-electric Genovation GXE Corvette on a race track in the California desert fell to yours truly.
This is how I found myself behind the wheel of the second-generation Genovation GXE, a C7 Corvette Grand Sport converted to all-electric propulsion. The first GXE, a prototype C6 Z06 with a manual transaxle went 186.8 mph on a Florida space shuttle landing strip, later 205.6 mph, and most recently, it went 209 mph breaking their own world record(s) for street-legal electric car. The goal of the C7 GXE is in excess of 220 mph. But that’s not why we’re here. This time it’s to get a feel for the manners of the new car, now with an eight-speed automatic. “But I thought electric cars have only one gear,” you say? Despite the GXE’s electric motors’ (more on those later) 10,000-rpm limit, from 6,500 rpm and beyond, the motors enter a constant-power regime, and that’s where gears come in.
With Aaron Bambach, one of the car’s development drivers, riding shotgun and answering questions, we silently wait our turn on the race track at the Thermal Club. With noisy Porsches, BMWs, and other Corvettes racing past the pit exit, I suddenly feel like I’m driving in the future. We get our wave on and glide into traffic. With more than 800 horsepower and 700 lb-ft of torque at my disposal, I’m at first gentle with throttle—or is it rheostat? Yes, I’ve driven every Tesla (except for the original Roadster) and know what to expect from quick EVs, yet with an automatic transmission silently shifting gears, I really didn’t know what to expect. There was very little motor whine, and acceleration was very linear. Was it even shifting? “Must be,” I concluded. I went to the brakes for the first corner, felt a familiar, firm pedal from the carbon-ceramic brakes, and torqued the steering wheel. Zing! It turned in incredibly quickly. Too quickly?
Well, at least quicker than the unmodified system does in other Grand Sports. And, because the replacement coil-over dampers are active (more on those later, too), there was no squat, dive, or roll as I leaned on the car harder and harder. It’s a bit disorienting to not have that bit of information we largely ignore or tolerate in other cars. Hitting the curbs, something that can really upset leaf-sprung Corvettes, did nothing to disturb this suspension or the GXE’s direction. The oval-shaped rear-end oscillation I’ve come to expect in Corvettes was missing. As my confidence grew, I started going earlier and harder on the throttle when exiting corners. There was no wheelspin or lurid sliding. Indeed, there was a momentary delay I put down to the transmission programming not shedding gears while the car was slowing on the brakes, instead waiting for me to ask for acceleration before downshifts occurred. In a normal car, a driver can hear the engine revving with each downshift, but in this car, I couldn’t hear a thing. I tried using the paddle shifters to demand lower and lower gears earlier, but with a non-op tachometer (Genovation is working on the GXE’s bespoke digital dash), I was paddling around blind. I spotted fifth gear once at the exit of a corner. That didn’t seem right, so I reverted to drive again. Despite the electric motors’ ability to provide regenerative braking, there was very little to be had. The straight on the North circuit has an almost half-mile straight where I floored it, and like all electric cars that don’t make a sound, the sense of acceleration and speed are heightened. I easily reached 150 mph with plenty of room for braking—and to put Aaron at ease. We wheeled into the pits to debrief. I peeked at the remaining charge. What began at 95 percent had dropped to 65 percent in four medium hot laps around the 1.2-mile course. That’s a lot of juice.
So That’s Why You Did That
I told my hosts about the too-quick turn-in, and we concluded it was due to the active dampers and ultra-light carbon-fiber wheels. It would take reprogramming the electric-assist power steering to tone it down, and given more time, I’d surely get used to it—even take advantage of it. When I brought up the lack of regen braking, they told me that was purposeful. I had been driving in Sport mode and there are six other modes from which to choose with increasing amounts of regen. Whereas other EVs that try to be as efficient as possible, recouping otherwise lost energy to the brakes, the GXE is simply tuned for maximum performance in the sportier modes. I was asked if I liked the active dampers, and I said I’d noticed hardly any body motions—especially those the Corvette is known for. I also learned how remarkable that feat is considering the car weighs 4,500 pounds, a full 1,000 pounds more than the last eight-speed Grand Sport we tested. I never would have guessed that.
Finally, we got to the transmission programming and lack of snap off the corners. It might be a programming thing, but it was more likely the traction control in concert with the transmission making sure their baby stayed safe in the hands of this first-timer. (They were expecting a potential client later in the day.) Next time, I’d like to try different drive modes and see an operational tachometer to see what’s going on and what it’s truly got. Because of that half-mile straight, my intentions that day also included recording quarter-mile runs and braking performance. As friendly as my hosts were, we couldn’t work out a time during the scheduled open track day to do it. They’ve promised me a return trip when we can test the car properly at our usual facility. There has also been talk of getting Randy Pobst behind the wheel to see if the GXE can shatter some preconceptions and lap records. Our interest is piqued. We’re ready when you are, Genovation. You know where to find us.
Under the Skin
Genovation first caught the attention of MotorTrend’s technical director, Frank Markus, at the 2018 CES where he sat down and got the nitty-gritty on the car. If you want to learn more, you really owe it to yourself to read Frank’s thorough piece. In a nutshell, Genovation starts with your new or lightly used Corvette Grand Sport (with either a seven-speed manual or eight-speed automatic), removes front/rear fascia, hood, side-view mirrors, the engine, leaf-spring suspension, wheels, gas tank, and interior. What comes next is nothing short of a complete rebuild to convert it into an electric supercar.
Power comes from five separate packs of Lithos Energy nickel-cobalt-aluminum/nickel-cobalt-manganese batteries (optimized for power delivery rather than density) strategically placed throughout the chassis. The 800-volt system goes through F1 supplier Rinehart Motion Systems inverters under the direction of powertrain control designed by Stafl Systems before feeding a pair of 300-kW/475-Nm AMRacing electric motors delivering, in series, a combined 800 horsepower and 700 lb-ft of torque to a single output shaft. The batteries, inverter, and motors are all liquid cooled, and the stock transaxle and beefed-up rear differential send power to the rear wheels with Genovation’s traction-control, which is 100 times quicker to react than the stock system. With 11 dedicated control modules, Genovation’s bespoke CAN bus piggybacks onto the Corvette’s stock system with about a million lines of painstakingly written code. Although suspension duties are given to four active and programmable coil-over units supplied by DSC Sport, and 17-pound front and 20-pound rear carbon-fiber wheels come from Carbon Revolution, the steering system and Brembo carbon-ceramic disc brakes remain stock.
Genovation replaces the grille with its own 3-D-printed unit and a carbon-fiber splitter. The glowing “fangs” show the state of charge of the 61-kW-hr battery pack. Because the exhaust system is gone, the underbelly is sealed smooth and feeds an enormous carbon-fiber rear diffuser. The Corvette’s notoriously flimsy rear fascia is replaced with carbon-fiber and 3-D-printed circular taillights, and topped with a motorsport-sized adjustable/programmable rear wing that works in tandem with the suspension to optimize the downforce-to-drag demands. The aero package was developed in the University of Maryland’s state-of-the-art wind tunnel.
All of these top-tier racing parts and their development add up—and I haven’t even touched on the huge leap the custom Lotuff leather and Alcantara interior takes over a factory Corvette, the 10-speaker Harman Kardon audio system, the Genovation-designed 10.4-inch color touchscreen that replaces the center console, or the mirror-like tri-coat paint. It’s really something you have to see to appreciate. All of which almost, almost justifies the $750,000 conversion from Grand Sport to GXE. Come to think of it, having never driven a Bugatti, Koenigsegg, or Pagani, this was the most expensive car I’ve ever driven. Thank you, Genovation.
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