2011 Chevrolet Corvette Expert Review:Autoblog
While Ford has been introducing a countless string of Mustangs that appeal to nearly every enthusiast on the planet, Chevrolet has had to make due with only three versions of the Corvette (five if you count both coupes and convertibles). Well, for 2010, Chevrolet is adding a new model to the mix, the Corvette Grand Sport. Bridging the gap between the base Corvette and the track-focused Z06, the Grand Sport – unlike the aluminum chassis Z06 and ZR1 – is available in both coupe and convertible form, giving 'Vette lovers another way to enjoy motoring al fresco.
After spending a few hours at General Motors' Milford Proving Grounds wringing out the GS on track back in August, we finally managed to snag some significant street time in a Crystal Red Grand Sport convertible. Lo and behold, when we looked inside we found a manual transmission, meaning this particular Grand Sport is packing the new-for-2010 launch control system. So now it's time to find out if this newest 'Vette variant is as livable on the road as it is fun on the track.
There's no mistaking the Grand Sport for anything but a Corvette. The long hood, arching fenders and bulging wheel wells show a lineage that goes back to the late C1 models of the early Sixties. Adding to the classic lines of the stock C6, the Grand Sport receives the front fascia, hood and fenders from the Z06. Everything is supported by the surprisingly strong hydro-formed steel structure, including the rear fenders, which are unique to the Grand Sport as the Z06 isn't available in a convertible and the track rat's rear arches won't fit.
Like all recent Corvettes, the 19-inch rear wheels are an inch larger than the fronts, while the slim, five-spoke design is unique to the GS. Rather than rolling on the standard painted wheels, our tester came equipped with the chromed versions, which are a bit too bling for our tastes. Thankfully, there's a third option: a sinister set of dark gray competitions wheels inspired by the C6.R. Yes, please.
On the topic of tires and wheels, while we expect most Corvette owners to hand-wash their rides, sometimes you just don't have the time or inclination. Unfortunately, the 12-inch wide, P325/30ZR19 Eagle F1 Supercar run-flats mounted on the rear simply don't fit through the guide tracks of most automatic car washes. In a vain attempt to run the GS through our local auto-wash to prep it for a photo shoot and check for leaks, the 275 mm front rubber barely fit, so we backed out and gave it a proper bath at home.
Fortunately, there wasn't much grime to hose off as the weather cooperated during most of our time with the Grand Sport. That also meant the top was dropped whenever we were behind the wheel. Lowering the roof is as easy as twisting the large single latch at the center of the windshield and then holding the switch to the left of the steering column. The power mechanism handles the rest, lifting the hard tonneau and stowing the lid underneath. Unlike a handful of modern convertibles, the Vette's top can't be raised or lowered while in motion, so when the sky finally opened, we made a mad dash to the side of the road to close up the fun.
While the Corvette isn't a particularly quiet car under the best of circumstances, the convertible doesn't seem to be appreciably louder than the coupe. Noise levels seem to be in check whether puttering around town or hitting the highway at speed, but when it comes to noise, one suggestion: check off the dual-mode exhaust on the option list. If you're going to drop the coin on something with a large displacement V8, you need to be able to enjoy it, and when the Grand Sport's rev counter sweeps past 4,000 RPM, a bypass valve opens up and... BAM! You're back in 1967.
The Grand Sport's interior is pretty much standard issue Corvette, from the base model to ZR1, it's essentially the same. Our convertible tester had the optional premium equipment group which tacks nearly $10,000 onto the price tag and brings with it a two-tone leather covering for the dash and door panels, memory seats, power telescoping steering column and the heads-up display, among a raft of other options. For a vehicle that can gobble up pavement at such a prodigious rate, the HUD is a major plus, allowing the driver to keep his eyes on the road while diving deep into corners. It's also customizable, offering a number of different information pages, including our favorite: a simulated analog tachometer with a digital speedo and lateral acceleration bar graph.
In the past, we've complained about the weak lateral and thigh support offered by the C6 seats, but the position is good, and the overall ergonomics inside are sound. With the top down, visibility to the rear is outstanding, and unlike recent high-beltline designs, you don't feel like you're sitting in a coffin peering out of a tank slit. With the top up, rear visibility remains decent, but it's best to double- then triple-check blind-spots before making lane changes. And while some drop-tops suck up all the trunk space when they're down, the Grand Sport is packing 11 cubic feet – just one cubic foot less than the much larger, more stately Lexus LS600h.
While the manual transmission GS coupe gets a dry sump version of the 6.2-liter LS3 V8, the convertible has to make do with the wet sump setup regardless of transmission choice -- not really an issue, as anyone who's talking sumps plans to play at the track and will take the coupe in the first place. Regardless of lubrication details, the LS3 is a marvelous piece of work. Granted, it's an architecture with a storied history, but that doesn't mean GM's powertrain boffins have let it languish. Given its small size and comparatively light weight, this latest generation makes tremendous power, and the one thing that matters in a Corvette: torque. While the GS is certainly no ZR1, 424 pound-feet of twist is nothing to sneeze at, and when the 2011 model rolls out, don't be surprised to find the LS3 replaced by a new small block equipped with direct injection to improve both power and fuel efficiency.
The convertible may not get the trick dry sump, but like all 2010 Corvettes with a manual gearbox, launch control is also part of the package. When we first tried the LC in the ZR1, the LS9 held the revs at about 4,000 RPM before letting its supercharged wrath out onto the tarmac. In the Grand Sport, enabling the stability control Competition Mode and then flooring the throttle takes the engine to a steady 4,500 RPM. Side-stepping the clutch allowed us to rip off consistently perfect launches with just enough wheel spin to hit 60 MPH in a few ticks over four seconds on a less than perfect surface. Admittedly, you won't create a billowing cloud of smoke in the process, but burn-outs don't get you moving fast – although they are fun and the GS is easily up to the task.
Back in the mid-Eighties when the C4 first arrived on the scene, the Z51 version was roundly criticized for being tuned to generate huge numbers on the test track at the expense of your spine when you ventured outside the fence. In the intervening 25 years, GM's chassis engineers have learned a lot about mechanical grip. The GS convertible does an excellent job of maintaining its composure on the worst roads Michigan has to offer without causing vertebrae misalignment. Sure, the magnetic ride in the ZR1 does a better job, but the GS has come a long way, filling in the handling and ride gap between the base Corvette and the Z06, while coming across as more useful on the road than its 7.0-liter sibling.
Chevrolet now offers a quartet of Corvette variants spanning the price range from under $49,000 to over $100-grand, giving buyers a multitude of ways to answer the age-old question: "Speed equals money. How fast do you want to go?" As the price increases, so does performance. So if a base 'Vette isn't enough to keep your better demons at bay, and you want the looks of the Z06 without the track-tuned dynamics, the Grand Sport is for you. And if you can't deny the allure of open-air motoring, for $74,170, the GS Convertible is just the ticket. Just avoid the auto wash and invest in a good sponge.
Going into the 2010 model year, the Corvette lineup is growing to four models with the revival of the Grand Sport nameplate that slots in between the base and Z06 models. This is the third iteration of the Grand Sport, the first being a run of just five race-ready cars built by original Vette chief engineer Zora Arkus Duntov. The second batch was a run of 1,000 cars built in 1996 to close out the C4 generation. This time around, the Grand Sport is a regular production model and General Motors promises to make as many examples as customers demand.
The first customer bound production examples should be arriving at dealers this week, and the Corvette crew invited Autoblog out to the Milford Proving Ground for a tasting session. Thankfully, when Corvettes and Milford mix, that usually means a visit to the Milford Road Course (MRC), better known as the "Lutz 'Ring." MRC was completed five years ago at the south end of the company's proving grounds and as you might imagine, it's a suitably wonderful place to evaluate Corvettes. We spent the better part of an hour thrashing the Grand Sport around the MRC and came away impressed with this middle child. Read all about it after the jump.
Photos copyright ©2009 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.
The GS also gets the bigger brake package from the Z06 consisting of cross-drilled rotors all around spanning 14 inches in front and 13.4 inches in the rear. The front discs are squeezed by massive six-pot calipers while the rears get four-piston units. Shift-it-yourself GS manuals also get shorter gearing that helps cut about two-tenths off their 0-60 mph times, bringing the stopwatch to a halt in about 3.95 ticks. Given that some 70% of all Corvettes are sold with automatic transmission, it warms our hearts to see the three-pedal Vettes get upgrades that those other folks miss out on.
The Grand Sport borrows from its big brother, the Z06, to offer Vette drivers something a bit less hardcore but with similar visual appeal. The front fascia with the center mounted scoop and wider rear fenders are common to the Z06. The front fenders, however, get a new side scoop design unique to the GS with a chrome badge along the top edge. Unlike the Z06, the GS retains the standard steel frame of the base model, meaning it is available in both removable roof coupe and retractable roof convertible bodystyles.
Filling up those wider wheel wells are the same size Goodyear Eagle F1s fitted to the Z06 – 275/35ZR18 in front and 325/30ZR19 at the back. However, the GS gets a unique five spoke wheel design to show off bigger brakes also borrowed from the Z06. The alloys are available in the usual silver and chrome finishes, but the real winner is probably the Competition Gray, especially when contrasted against the white or silver body colors.
GS buyers who fondly remember the 1996 edition will also be able to get the Heritage package that includes a pair of contrasting fender top hash marks in either white, red, gray or silver. Unlike the last version that only got the stripes on the drivers side, the new model sports the markings on both flanks. Heritage pack buyers also get two-tone leather seats with the Grand Sport logo embroidered on the head rest, which is a deal at just $1,195.
For those more interested in functional upgrades, the big news comes with the manual transmission coupe. The GS retains the LS3 engine designation for its 430-horsepower 6.2-liter V8, but three-pedal coupes get the dry sump used on the LS7 (Z06) and LS9 (ZR1). When the lateral Gs start to really build as they do on the MRC, this system really helps to ensure that all of the engine's moving bits in the engine stay well lubricated. Aside from the cast aluminum pan and the reservoir, the only other internal changes are to the front of the crankshaft and the inclusion of a wider two-stage gerotor oil pump, which is needed to scavenge the pan and then pump oil back from the reservoir. The dry-sump LS3 for the GS will henceforth be hand-built on the same line at the GM Performance Center in Wixom, MI that builds the LS7, LS9 and LSA for the Cadillac CTS-V.
The last of those improvements and one that actually applies to all Corvette models with a clutch pedal is launch control. We'll describe our experience with launch control separately, but suffice it say that Corvette chief engineer Tadge Juechter emphasized the fact that using the new launch control system "WILL NOT VOID YOUR WARRANTY" – unlike a certain Japanese sports car.
After getting the lowdown on the Grand Sport, it was time to drive. The MRC is a three-mile long, 17-turn road course where, according to test driver and track designer Jim Mero, 97% of every lap is spent under lateral acceleration. To keep things under control, GM had us come into the pits every lap so they could set up a cone chicane on the back straight. The course is designed as an engineering test facility rather than a racetrack and includes two off-camber turns, increasing and decreasing radius turns and even two "jumps" to unload the suspension.
The complaints about the Corvette's interior are well known and don't really need to be re-hashed – but hash away we will. In general, the layout of the controls is fine and the relative position of everything works well. The problem is the materials that, especially in base form, come off as decidedly cheap looking and feeling for a $50,000 car. Compared to a Lexus or Audi of the same price point, the Corvette doesn't stand up. However, it must be remembered that this is not a mid-level luxury sedan, but rather a giant among sports cars. When compared to cars of like performance, the Vette remains an outright bargain. Clearly GM had a budget and a price point to work with and the engineers and designers decided to put the money where it counts first for a sports car. Despite our complaints, it's no Aveo inside, so for the most part we'll give the interior a pass.
The reason we say "for the most part" is the seats. Simply put, they are the one functional aspect of this car that is unacceptable. For a vehicle with the ability to sustain 1 g cornering loads, the bolsters are just not up to the job. We asked Tadge Jeuchter why they don't offer the wonderful Recaros from the CTS-V as an option and it turns out that they simply don't fit. The structural center tunnel doesn't leave enough room for any current off-the-shelf performance seat to fit in the C6 and fixed race seats are out of the question for a production car. Presumably, now that we know a C7 will be coming in just three years, this "little" problem will be addressed.
Once we got all settled in and adjusted so that our helmets cleared the roof, it was time to fire up the LS3. Certainly, compared to a ZR1, the LS3's mere 430 hp and 424 lb-ft of torque might not seem all that impressive. But looking at what else is out there, the GS pretty much matches the twice as expensive Porsche 911 GT3 in performance and most specs, ensuring that it has nothing to be ashamed of. The more modest torque curve means the GS doesn't need a dual plate clutch, but the effort to release the left-most pedal is still relatively light. Take-up is fairly progressive and smooth launches are easy even without engaging the launch control. Operating a Corvette in stop-and-go traffic is generally not a problem, as this is not a car that requires excess slippage of the clutch or a lot of revs to get moving.
The only other car we have driven on the MRC is the ZR1, and that was a year ago. Right off the line coming out the pits and aiming for turn one, the maximum speed we were able to hit before braking is several miles per hour slower than the supercharged supercar. That said, this is still one seriously fast automobile and there's just nothing like the sound of a big American V8 at wide-open throttle. Slowing into turn one, the brakes offered plenty of assurance they were up to the task of dissipating this much kinetic energy, with a firm pedal and precise modulation ability.
The challenges start right from the first turn at MRC as the radius gradually tightens before heading into a drop away left-right combination. The GS makes its massive grip easy to use, even for a someone with limited track experience. Unlike the Z06, which has often been accused of having very abrupt and twitchy breakaway behavior, the Grand Sport does more of a tiptoe over the edge of adhesion. It's easy to feel the back end slide if you give it gas a bit too early coming out of a turn, and backing off brings the tail right in line. If you stay in it, the stability control will eventually nudge the car back into position. Fortunately, the Corvette engineers have worked with Bosch engineers to make sure the stability control allows enough slip even in normal mode to have plenty of fun before it intruding, and even then it doesn't beat you over the head with its heavy-handedness.
The six-speed gearbox in the Vette isn't the slickest unit on the planet, but it gets the job done as long as you don't try to force it. Third gear in particular on the car we drove seemed hesitant to engage if pushed too fast. The steering feel, on the other hand, was superb and gave a precise accounting of the forces building and diminishing at the front wheels as the car changed direction. The Corvette is generally a very well balanced sports car that allows amateur drivers to approach its outrageously high limits without biting them if they make a mistake. But even more experienced drivers can switch the stability control to Competitive mode or even turn it off entirely to truly test their car handling skills.
Corvette buyers who want that extra bit of juice that the Grand Sport offers can get the coupe starting at $55,720 with the convertible going for $59,530. That's only about $6,000 more than the base car and nearly $20,000 less than the Z06. This may be one of the best performance bargains on the road even if its seats do suck. Zora would be proud.
Photos copyright ©2009 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.
New Car Test Drive
The great American sports car.
The Chevrolet Corvette is the best bang for the buck when it comes to serious performance. For the price of a midsize luxury sedan, the Corvette delivers supercar performance. It's easy to drive on a daily basis and maintenance costs are not exotic.
We love the Coupe, with either the manual or Paddle Shift automatic. It's blazingly fast yet it quickly infuses the driver with confidence. Its brakes are fantastic. The 6-speed automatic transmission works great and lives up to the advanced technology in the rest of the car; it can be shifted manually with levers on the steering column.
The Convertible on the other hand is plain wonderful. Drop the top on a nice day, pop in your favorite CD, and you might have what psychologists call a peak experience, a moment where you revel in being alive. It's a fantastic feeling, and at those moments the Corvette more than justifies its price. The aural sounds of the burbling V8, the body-colored trim that surrounds the cabin, the feel of power beneath, it is automotive heaven.
The Corvette can be a reasonably comfortable daily driver in most locales, for at least three of the four seasons. The latest-generation Corvette is a sophisticated car, and its performance does not exact a painful toll on driver or passenger. And, with all that performance, it still gets better fuel economy than most SUVs. The standard Corvette with 6-speed manual gets an EPA-rated 16/26 mpg City/Highway, 15/25 mpg with the 6-speed automatic.
The Z06 version is a true supercar for a price that's merely expensive, as opposed to insanely expensive. The Z06 is powered by the 7.0-liter 505-horsepower LS7 V8, has a lightweight chassis and is fitted with upgraded brakes. If any $75,000 car can be called a bargain, this is the one, at least in terms of raw performance. The Corvette Z06 accelerates faster, grips better and stops shorter than European sports cars that cost twice as much. And we find it easier to drive than a Viper. Indeed, it takes an expensive machine, well driven, to compete with a Z06. Fuel economy is an EPA-estimated 15/24 mpg with the manual, 14/20 mpg with the automatic.
Moving even further upward is the ZR1, a limited-production extremely high performance iteration that boasts a 6.2-liter V8 that's supercharged and cranks out 638 horsepower and 604 pound-feet of torque. It is the most powerful, quickest, fastest, most capable and highest-performing production car ever built by General Motors, which also makes it the highest-performing Corvette ever built, and carries a hefty price tag.
For 2011, Chevrolet has improved the Corvette with some modest changes. Most significantly, the Z06 has been upgraded with standard Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar Gen 2 tires and revised exhaust tuning. A new Z07 option adds Brembo ceramic brakes, Magnetic Selective Ride Control, larger Michelin Pilot Sport 2 tires, and Competition Gray 20-spoke wheels (19-inches in front and 20 on the rear). A new Carbon Fiber package (code CFZ) adds a black carbon fiber splitter, rockers, and roof panel; plus a body-color, ZR1-style full-width rear spoiler. Larger, cross-drilled brake rotors are now offered on base models (and come standard with the Magnetic Selective Ride Control suspension). A handsome new five-slim-spoke wheel design distinguishes the 2011 Corvette from last year's. Contrasting-color headlamp housings (in Cyber Gray, Black or Blade Silver) and color-stitched interiors are available across the board, and all navigation-equipped Corvettes now come with a USB port.
The 2011 Chevrolet Corvette is available in two body styles, Coupe or Convertible, with either a manual or automatic transmission. The Z06 and ZR1 models are available only as fixed-roof Coupes.
The Corvette Coupe ($48,950) and Convertible ($53,600) are powered by a 6.2-liter V8 with 430 horsepower. A 6-speed manual transmission is standard; a 6-speed Paddle Shift automatic ($1,250) is optional. An optional dual-mode exhaust system ($1,195) raises horsepower to 436 hp. There are four trim levels; 1LT, 2LT, 3LT and 4LT, with increasing levels of features.
The Coupe features a one-piece removable roof panel in body color or transparent plastic ($750); the dual-roof option ($1,400) includes both. The Convertible comes standard with a manually operated soft top; a power soft top, with a heated glass rear window, is standard on 2LT trim levels and above.
Standard features for the Corvette include leather seating surfaces, dual-zone automatic climate control with a pollen filter, power everything including seats, cruise control, tilt leather-wrapped steering wheel with redundant audio controls, remote keyless entry and starting, AM/FM/CD stereo with auxiliary input jack, XM Satellite Radio, auto-dimming rearview mirror with compass, automatic headlights, alarm, fog lights, xenon headlights, OnStar telematics, and P245/40ZR18 front and P285/35ZR19 rear run-flat tires on alloy wheels. The 2LT and above models add sport seats with adjustable lumbar support and side bolsters, plus Bluetooth connectivity.
For a suspension option, the Magnetic Selective Ride Control ($1,995) automatically switches from extra-firm to more comfortable touring settings with electronically controlled variable damping. The package now includes cross-drilled brake rotors that are also available as a stand-alone option ($500). These rotors are larger than standard (13.4 vs. 12.8 inches up front, and 13.0 vs. 12.0 inches in the rear), but not quite as large as the 14.0/13.4 front/rear rotors on the Z06.
Options include DVD navigation ($1,795), which now comes with a USB port as well as the Bose audio and voice recognition. There are a variety of wheel options in a wide range of styles and finishes. The 3LT package for the coupe ($4,205) and convertible ($6,200) includes a head-up display, heated seats with position memory, a premium Bose stereo, a power telescoping steering column, and a universal garage door opener. The 4LT package includes the 3LT and adds custom leather upholstery on the top of the instrument panel, upper door panels, and console cover, as well as extra armrest padding, crossed flags seat embroidery and a special console trim plate.
The Grand Sport Coupe ($54,790) and Convertible ($58,600) are equipped the same as the base models but with wider-body styling to cover their wider track, racing-tuned suspension, and Z06-sized tires and brakes.
Corvette Z06 ($74,305) comes with a 7.0-liter V8 producing 505 horsepower, with dry-sump lubrication and coolers for the power steering pump, gearbox and rear differential. Beyond the engine, the Z06 package includes a host of high-performance components. The Z06 hardtop is fixed in place. Its brakes are upgraded, its tires are huge (Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar P275/35ZR18 fronts and P325/30ZR19 rears), and it's offered only with the 6-speed manual transmission. Options include the Z07 Ultimate Performance package ($9,495) with ceramic brakes with dark gray calipers, Competition Gray aluminum spider wheels, Michelin PS2 tires (P285/30ZR19 front, P335/25ZR20 rear), Magnetic Selective Ride Control and enhanced cooling. The CFZ Carbon Fiber package ($3,995) features a black-painted carbon fiber roof, rocker panels, and splitter, plus a body-color ZR1-style spoiler. The 2LZ package ($2,665) includes a power telescoping steering column, heated seats, memory for the seats, mirrors and steering wheel, Bose audio, universal garage door opener, cargo net, and cargo cover. The 3LZ package ($7,170) has the 2LZ equipment plus power sport seats and a premium leather package similar to the 4LT. There is a variety of wheel choices, including painted aluminum and chrome finishes.
Corvette ZR1 ($109,800) has a supercharged 6.2-liter version of the Z06 V8, utilizing an Eaton four-lobe supercharger. To deal with the additional stresses and loads, every appropriate piece of the engine has been upgraded. The ZR1 is available only as a coupe, and only with a heavy-duty 6-speed manual transmission. The ZR1 gets huge Brembo brakes, 15.5 inches in front and 15.0 inches in the rear, and made of special heat-resistant carbon-ceramic material. The tires are Michelin Pilot Sport 2 ZP run-flats, sized 285/30ZR19 in front and 335/25ZR20 in the rear; the rims are 10 inches wide in front and 12 inches in the rear. The ZR1 also has the lighter-weight aluminum chassis components of the Z06, and carbon fiber for the roof, hood and front fenders. In addition, the ZR1 hood has a transparent panel.
Safety features that come standard on all models include dual-stage front airbags, side airbags, ABS, tire-pressure monitor, traction control and electronic stability control.
Low and sleek, today's Corvette shows a bit of Italian flair. This sixth-generation Corvette, called C6, was introduced as a 2005 model.
From some angles, it's almost pretty. However, functional elements dictate the design and the result is a forward motion that implies performance. The lines of the bulging hood, the shape of the fenders, and the cat's-eye headlights all point forward to a subtle beaklike shape. A pair of fog lights flanks a wide air intake below.
Vents behind the front tires let hot air out of the engine compartment. The sculpted fenders, with sharp creases that sweep dramatically up to the planed rear deck, call to mind race cars as well as jet fighters. At the back, four round taillights recall Corvette's past and make the car look like an F-18 taking off in full afterburner mode. On the functional side, the optics of the reverse lights magnify the light they throw out to help when backing up in this beast. To move weight from the front to the rear, the transmission is mounted behind the seats and connected to the differential, rather than being attached directly behind the engine.
In the Z06, this quest for front-rear balance extends to the weight of the battery, which is relocated in the rear cargo area.
The Z06 is distinguished from other Corvettes by lots of subtle appearance tweaks, starting with the roof. It's fixed rather than removable, adding an extra element of structural stiffness for track driving. You'll never see a transparent roof panel on a Z06: it would add weight and increase the height of the center of gravity.
In front, the Z06 has a wider, lower grille and a separate, unique air scoop above the bumper to shove more intake air under the hood. Its fenders are wider front and rear to cover massively wide tires and rims (the front wheels are 9.5 inches wide and the rears are fully 12 inches wide, or two inches wider than those on the standard Vette). In back, brake scoops are located in front of the rear wheels, the Z06 spoiler is slightly more prominent, and its exhaust outlets are wider, too (four inches in diameter at the tips).
Several Z06 body and chassis changes are not visible. The frame is made entirely of hydro-formed aluminum (the standard Vettes have steel rails), with a magnesium engine cradle, and its fenders are formed from ultra-light carbon fiber. As a result, and despite a heavier engine and drivetrain, the Z06 weighs only 3,175 pounds.
Take the Z06 and move the theme further along and you arrive at, generally, the ZR1, which has some of its own distinctive features. Chief among them is probably the transparent section in the hood, which allows the proud owner to show off the engine without having to actually do anything except point, as if even that will be required, once one of these things gets parked in a crowd of Corvette enthusiasts.
The Corvette cabin features premium soft surfaces, nice grain in the materials and elegant tailoring. The dashboard is finished in a soft material that feels rich to the touch. Real metal accents are used, but they don't generate glare. The electronics displays serve the driver without getting in the way.
The steering wheel is relatively small. It feels good in the hands and affords a good view of the instruments.
The seats are comfortable and fairly easy to adjust, though moving the manually operated backrest forward is a problem because your weight is invariably resting on it when you want to adjust it. Sitting in the Corvette evokes that feeling of sitting deep down in a massive machine. There's plenty of headroom and the windshield doesn't seem too close to the driver's face. Hefty side bolstering on the optional sport seats, even more so with those in the Z06, makes it more difficult to slide in, but the bolsters squeeze around the thighs and torso and hold the driver like Velcro.
The Corvette is available with a special two-tone leather package that adds leather upholstery to the top of the instrument panel, upper door panels, and console cover. The effect is a more elegant, higher end look than the Corvette has had in the past.
The instruments are big analog gauges, easy to read at a glance. The Z06 gets a unique cluster with more gauges, and the ZR1 has a supercharger boost gauge. The Corvette is, thankfully, devoid of a lot of digital readouts. One exception is the head-up display, which projects speed, rpm and even g-forces onto the windshield, a handy and entertaining feature. The upgrade Bose stereo system includes redundant controls on the steering wheel hub for most functions.
Cubby storage is decent. The glovebox is roomy and, in the Coupe, there is 22.0 cubic feet of storage space under the glass behind the rear seats. That's more than the trunk space in a sedan, with plenty of room for golf bags. You need to be careful when loading to avoid scratching the bodywork, however, and the liftover height is high; this is not a sedan or everyday hatchback.
There's no need to take the key out of your pocket to unlock the Corvette or start its engine. Simply walk up and pull the door handle. With the keyless start feature, sensors detect your key and unlock the door. Climb in, buckle up, and press the starter button. We're not sold on the benefits of keyless starting, however.
The Convertible's five-layer fabric top is available in three colors, and it offers power operation. The power top operates with a single-button control and completes its cycle in 18 seconds. An easy-to-operate manual top is standard. The Convertible looks good with the top up, and it looks terrific with the top down, with body-color trim that gives it a racy appearance.
The Convertible gives up some cargo capacity. It offers 11 cubic feet of storage with the top up, which isn't bad for a roadster, and 7.5 cubic feet with the top down.
The Chevrolet Corvette is a lot of fun to drive in any iteration. The LS3 V8 engine sounds great, and its low, throaty roar is accompanied by thrilling acceleration. Stand on the gas and even the automatic will chirp the rear tires when it shifts into second.
To put the Corvette's performance in perspective, understand that the least-powerful engine available makes 430 horsepower. The Corvette can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 4.2 seconds and cover the standing quarter-mile in 12.5 seconds. There's lots of torque at all engine speeds, and throttle response is very willing. This thing goes, and it boasts a top speed of 190 mph. We haven't experienced 190 mph, but on a tight racing circuit we found this latest-generation Corvette much easier to drive than older models. Today's Corvette is easier to drive hard into the turns, braking hard, then powering out under hard acceleration.
The Corvette is happy cruising around, as well. With all the impressive performance it gets an EPA-rated 16/26 mpg City/Highway with the manual, 15/25 mpg with the automatic.
The 6-speed automatic and 6-speed manual are each appealing in their own right, so choosing between them comes down to priorities and personal preference.
We're here to tell you the manual is a viable option as a daily driver. It shifts easily and the clutch is easy to operate smoothly. For fuel economy purposes, Chevrolet includes a mechanism that forces you to shift from first to fourth gear when accelerating slowly. We find this annoying, but adjusted to it. This fuel-economy strategy can be avoided by revving higher and waiting longer to shift. Fifth and sixth gears are both overdrives, again to improve fuel efficiency. Shifting through the gears is a lot of fun and it's easy to brake and downshift using the racer-style heel-and-toe method when approaching a corner (actually by braking with the ball of the foot and blipping the throttle with the right side of the foot). In short, it's a modern, easy-to-operate manual; we'd own one. Launch Control optimizes performance for full-throttle starts for all manual-transmission Corvettes by monitoring engine torque 100 times per second and maximizing available traction. As such, the system is capable of approaching a skilled driver's very best efforts, and does it with consistency.
The automatic is best for commuting in stop-and-go traffic, however, and it gives up little to the manual in performance. The Paddle Shift automatic offers manual shifting via steering-wheel levers and an electronic controller with more computing power than the typical PC had 10 years ago. The relatively close ratios offer good performance and smoothness by allowing the engine to run at optimal rpm more often. First gear delivers impressive acceleration off the line. Yet both fifth and sixth are overdrive gears, allowing quiet cruising and good highway mileage. If ever a sporting car were suited for an automatic transmission, it's the Corvette, with its big, torquey V8. The automatic does not sap all the fun out of driving the way automatics do in small sports cars with small engines. It's responsive to the driver's intent, shifting hard and fast when you're accelerating quickly, but shifting smooth and soft when cruising.
In the handling department, the Corvette is agile and easy to toss around, benefits of its light weight, trim proportions and refined suspension. The Coupe weighs a trim 3,208 pounds.
We liked the standard suspension and would not hesitate to order a Corvette so equipped. Ride quality is firm but quite pleasant, not harsh. It offers great handling, even on a racing circuit. There's almost no body lean when cornering hard. In short, the cheapest, most basic Corvette is a great car. No need to step up any further.
The Grand Sport package makes the Corvette more fun on a race track. It uses the standard powertrain, but has wider-body styling, a wider track and a racing-tuned suspension. It also has wider wheels and mounts 275/35ZR18 tires in front and 325/30ZR19 tires in the rear, and has 14.0-inch brake rotors with six-piston calipers in front and 13.4-inch rear rotors with four-piston calipers. The manual transmission has specific ratios, and, with the automatic transmission, the rear axle ratio is specific. This combination delivers excellent grip in fast sweepers, with just the right amount of body lean. You will feel and hear bumps more, but it's quite livable. Around town, it will handle bumpy neighborhood streets well and not feel terribly harsh. For 2011, Grand Sports are now available with Magnetic Ride Control, and the package includes Goodyear F1 Supercar Gen 2 tires when ordered with a manual transmission.
For competition or hard driving on back roads, a serious enthusiast would prefer the Grand Sport, but most drivers will be perfectly happy with the standard suspension and will never feel like they're missing out. Still, Chevrolet reports that in 2010 half of all base coupes and 70 percent of Convertibles sold were Grand Sports.
The F55 Magnetic Selective Ride Control covers both ends of the spectrum, offering the best of both worlds; a very similar setup is used on Ferrari's most expensive models. The driver can switch between Touring and Sport modes, each of which adjusts shock damping automatically according to driving conditions. In the Touring mode, the suspension varies damping from very soft when poking along to something close to the Grand Sport's stiffness when driven hard; these adjustments in damping happen very rapidly. Touring mode felt a little softer to us than the standard suspension on a country road. It filters vibration well, but it verged on feeling a tad floaty in some situations. Switching to Sport mode raises the floor (but not the ceiling) in terms of firmness, so you feel road vibration more. Still, it's not harsh. All in all, Magnetic Selective Ride Control is a great setup. It comes with fade- and moisture-resistant cross-drilled brake rotors. Choosing between the standard and electronic suspensions is problematic only because it gives us a choice. If they gave us one or the other, we'd be perfectly happy, but true performance junkies will probably prefer the Grand Sport setup.
The brakes are smooth, progressive and easy to modulate. The Corvette is very stable under hard braking and it doesn't get unsettled when braking and turning at the same time. Be advised, however, that the engine has so much power that the rear end can break loose if the gas is applied too hard in a turn.
The Z06 has 505 horsepower from its LS7 V8, which displaces 7.0 liters, or 427 cubic inches, just like the famous 427 Vettes of the late '60s. Yet the original 427s were big-block engines. While the LS7 generates big-block torque (470 pound-feet), it's actually a small block V8, so it's lighter and much more compact than the original 427s. Yes, it's still an overhead-valve engine (as are all Corvette powerplants), and in certain respects it has more in common with a heavy-duty Silverado pickup than a Ferrari. Yet the LS7 is impressively tuned and highly refined. The Z06 features a host of racing technologies that enhance durability, including dry-sump engine lubrication and separate cooling systems for the oil, power steering, rear axle and six-speed manual transmission.
The Z06 is a great supercar value in high-performance automotive history: Zero to 60 mph in 3.7 seconds, 11.7-second quarter mile, top speed in the neighborhood of 200 mpg, and 1.04 g constant lateral grip, according to Chevrolet. These numbers surpass those generated by European sports cars that cost twice as much as the Z06 during clearance sales, and all but a handful of low-volume, $500,000-plus specials built in small workshops around the world. And here's the real stunner: The Z06 does all that with nothing more than a slightly stiff ride on really bad roads when driven around town. There's nothing finicky in this monster. Yet, with impressive EPA mileage numbers of 15 mpg City and 24 Highway, the Z06 doesn't even get a Gas Guzzler Tax.
On the other hand, driving the ZR1 hard has been likened to an exercise in trying to stay about two corners ahead of the thing. Chevrolet says it will accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 3.4 seconds, from 0 to 100 mph in 7 seconds, with a quarter-mile acceleration time of 11.3 seconds at a speed of just over 130 mph, and continue on from there to a top speed of 205 mph. Perhaps most impressive is a claimed time for the somewhat-well-known exercise of 0-100-0: From a standing start, to 100 mph, and back to a dead stop. Chevrolet claims it will make that little endeavor in 12 seconds flat, which is far, far better than any ride you're going to find at an amusement park.
The ZR1 is extraordinarily quick from point-to-point on a race track, or getting down a curvy road. In all probability, the number of drivers in the world who could use up all that a car like this has to offer is not a very big number, and would not include anyone what has either not had some serious racing experience, or some serious car-testing experience. The problem is that if you use a car like either the Z06 or the ZR1 (or even the regular Corvette, for that matter) to anywhere near the edges of its capabilities, you are going very, very fast. The corners come up very quickly, the requirement for saving the situation becomes a very difficult thing to do and the consequences of a mistake are enormous. The ZR1 is not a car for the faint of heart or for those without the highest of skill levels.
However, it is possible for the ZR1 to be driven in a more sensible manner and, in this way, it behaves quite civilized. It's comfortable and fairly quiet.
Still, the standard Corvette is far easier to live with every day than either the Z06 or ZR1, with a smoother ride on rough roads and a lighter clutch pedal. And it has 430 horsepower.
The Chevrolet Corvette is the great American sports car. It's thrilling to drive and delivers breathtaking acceleration performance and exceptionally tenacious grip for braking and cornering. Yet it's fairly easy to live with and relatively easy to drive. The ultra-high-performance Z06 and Grand Sport models push the envelope for off-the-shelf production cars to incredible limits. For everyday driving, our choice is for one of the standard models.
NewCarTestDrive.com editor Mitch McCullough reported from Los Angeles; with Jeff Vettraino in Detroit, and Kirk Bell in Chicago.
Chevrolet Corvette Coupe ($48,950); Convertible ($53,600); Grand Sport Coupe ($54,790); Grand Sport Convertible ($58,600); Z06 Coupe ($74,305); ZR1 Coupe ($109,800).
Bowling Green, Kentucky.
Options As Tested
3LT package ($4,205) includes rear area cargo convenience net, luggage shade, heated sport bucket seats with perforated leather, adjustable lumbar and side bolsters and position memory, power telescopic steering column, head-up display, Homelink universal garage door opener, driver-side auto-dimming exterior rearview mirror, premium Bose audio.
Chevrolet Corvette coupe ($48,950).
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