The new 2020 Corvette Stingray is an impressive new mid-engine sports car from General Motors. While the 2020 model year is new in almost every way, the fact that the car is mid-engine is not new. Corvettes have been mid-engine cars for generations. Some in the automotive media don't know this is not the first mid-engine Corvette. Because they don't know what a mid-engine car is.
What Is a Mid-Engine Car?
A mid-engine car is one in which the major drivetrain components are located between the vehicle's front and rear wheel centerlines, or between the axles if you will. That means that the engine is located not in the front engine bay ahead of the wheels as in many family cars like an Accord or Camry, but rather someplace else between the front wheels and the rear wheels. In the case of the 2020 Corvette, the engine is now located just ahead of the rear wheels. Thus, GM is marketing the car as a "mid-engine sports car." The image above shows a 2015 Corvette downward view of the running gear.
Mid-engine cars are generally preferred (but not always) by sports car fans because the layout usually translates to a 50-50 weight distribution over the two sets of wheels, front and rear. This layout offers advantages in both real-world and also on-track performance driving.
Without going into a diatribe on handling, cars with engines ahead of the front axle tend to understeer. In other words, they will plow ahead in the event they are sliding. Imagine turning on snow and the car does not turn, but instead continues in the same path despite you having turned the steering wheel. That is real-world understeer. The reason it is bad is that it makes the car feel less fun in performance driving. Automakers prefer it for safety reasons since it is less likely than oversteer to kill you if you lose control of the grip of the vehicle. As many muscle cars have proven, front-engine cars can be fun for enthusiasts. Cars with engines located behind the rear axle are much less common. The Porsche 911 is a classic example. As this example proves, mid-engine cars are not the only layout that enthusiasts like.
Mid-engine cars can be tuned to slide neutrally more easily by designers. This is good for many reasons on a track and they are also fun to drive in real-world situations. They also tend to brake better than cars in which the engine is ahead of the front axle.
Types Of Mid-Engine Cars
The new Corvette is a rear-mid-engine car. That means that its engine is between the wheels, but located closer to the rear wheels. In this case, behind the driver. The second kind of mid-engine car is a front mid-engine design. Examples of this are the Mazda Miata, and guess what, the past few generations of the Chevrolet Corvette. That's right. The new 2020 Corvette is not the first mid-engine Corvette. It is not even the second generation of mid-engine corvettes. Need proof? Pop the hood on any Corvette built since the 1980s and look where the engine resides.
Like the new Corvette, the old Corvette, Mazda Miata, and Porsche Boxter/Cayman all have a 50-50 weight distribution. All have neutral handling. All are a blast to drive. And all are mid-engine cars.
Related Story: Pre-owned Porsche Boxster vs. New Mazda MX-5 Miata
3 Mid-Engine Cars Under $30K
The best new mid-engine car under $30K is the current Mazda MX-5 Miata. It can be purchased at any Mazda dealer in its Sport trim for under $30K new. If you would like to spend around $12K for a great mid-engine sports car the NC generation Miata that preceded this one (2015 back to 2006) was also fun to drive and had outstanding performance for the dollar.
A used Porsche Boxster is easy to find for under $30K. It won't be as new or as reliable as a new Miata, and it may not even be as fast. But it is a great mid-engine vehicle. If you prefer a hard-top get the Cayman version. Used Corvettes under $30K with a mid-engine layout are also easy cars to find.
If you need four-doors and want a mid-engine design, check out the 2020 Infiniti Q50. We just drove one this past month. When we popped the hood, we found the engine was behind the front wheels. A mid-engine sedan? Sure, why not. There is nothing magical about mid-engine layouts.
John Goreham is a life-long car nut and recovering engineer. John's focus areas are technology, safety, and green vehicles. In the 1990s, he was part of an academic research team that built a mid-engine race car from scratch. For 20 years he applied his engineering and sales talents in the high tech world and published numerous articles in technical journals such as Chemical Processing Magazine. In 2008 he retired from that career and dedicated himself to chasing his dream of being an auto writer. In addition to Torque News, John's work has appeared in print in dozens of American newspapers and he provides reviews to many vehicle shopping sites. You can follow John on Twitter, and connect with him at Linkedin.