My personal history with the Corvette goes back many, many years. Back when I was an only child, my parents bought a new white 1980 Corvette. Did that mean that I’d stay at home with a babysitter? Of course not! I rode in the back, under the glass, playing with various cubbies (I remember that the battery was in one of them – I didn’t like that compartment as much as I did the others). That car didn’t stay in the family fleet for long. Years later, I borrowed a white 1985 Corvette to go to my senior prom. I assisted in the cosmetic restoration of a beleaguered 1978 Silver Anniversary edition (I’m sure that chemical paint remover was healthy to be around). I spent some miles behind the wheel of a mint 1998 C5 (four speed auto, but it was a Corvette). I’ve been to Corvettes at Carlisle several times, I’ve been to Bowling Green once, and I’ve had some seat time in newer C6 Corvettes (the ZR1 simply rules). But I’ve never had extended time behind the wheel of one until this summer.
I and my Autosavant colleagues typically shoot for the moon and settle for low earth orbit when we request cars for review. Sometimes, we get lucky (BMW ALIPINA B7, Jaguar XF, Lexus LS 600hL) and sometimes we don’t (the previous-generation Kia Sportage comes to mind.) I’d been asking about a Corvette loaner for years, so was pretty excited for the opportunity to see off the sixth generation car with a 60th anniversary special edition Grand Sport coupe.
Given the close association between the Corvette and Americana, I had to do something all-American with the car. No, I didn’t refinance my house and take out a giant home equity loan to buy a new Corvette for myself. Instead, I planned a road trip. Fifteen years after graduating from college, I reached out to my senior-year roommate, and asked him if he’d be up for a road trip in a Corvette to Cooperstown, New York. What’s in Cooperstown? Clearly you aren’t a baseball fan if you have to ask that question. It’s been the home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame since the 1930s. It is hallowed ground for any fan of baseball, and Dave is a serious fan. He spent a few years as the official scorekeeper for a minor league (AA) team. Even better, he’d never been to Cooperstown before and had never ridden in a Corvette before.
We agreed on a central meeting point, set the date of our trip (which was to be one week after the 2012 induction weekend, when Barry Larkin and Ron Santo became the 296th and 297th inductees), made a hotel reservation in scenic Binghamton, New York (hotels in Cooperstown were sold out but for a single motel whose online reviews mention “gray sheets” and a lack of cleanliness, plus B-Ton gave us a head-start on our return trip the next morning).
Leading up to the trip, I was enjoying daily life behind the wheel of a Corvette. I did my best to scan oncoming traffic for fellow Corvette drivers so I could pretend that I was a member of the fraternity, and do the “wave.” Well, after some 800 miles covered, I saw three, and only got two waves back. I’ll be sad if that tradition fades away. Though I enjoyed driving the Corvette to the office every day, I’m also glad that I listened to my head rather than my heart in 2008 when I was seriously considering a new Corvette instead of the Cadillac CTS I ended up with. The Corvette is very, very fun to drive, but the road noise, rattles, cheap interior, poor visibility, and bad seats made me realize that I probably would have fallen out of love with the notion of daily-driving a Corvette about 3 months into a 60-month loan.
Forget about commuting to a desk job in traffic in a Corvette, though, and use it as an escape pod from the daily grind, and the car’s virtues shine more clearly. When the targa roof is removed and stored (a pretty simple exercise that can be done gracefully with two people, semi-gracefully with one) and the windows are down, there is no man-made sound I think I’d rather hear than the Grand Sport’s hand-built 6.2 liter V8 with NPP performance exhaust in second or third gear. (First gear is too frantic, and higher gears are too muted).
Savant’s Corner: The magic fuse
In Corvettes equipped with the $1,195 dual-mode performance exhaust, there is a small, red fuse in the bottom right corner of the Corvette’s passenger footwell-mounted fuse box that has a big impact on the way it sounds. Removing the fuse disables the butterfly valve in the Corvette’s exhaust so that it’s always open (and always loud). Ordinarily, with the fuse installed, the valves are closed until the engine reaches about 3500 RPM. Without the fuse, the car is louder within and outside the cabin. It may annoy your neighbors, particularly when you release the accelerator and burbles and pops come from the pipes. It might annoy you with an unpleasant drone at highway speeds. But it’s fun to play with. You could also get the best of both worlds with any of a number of aftermarket add-ons that leverage the Corvette’s visor-mounted HomeLink controllers to kill and activate the fuse without the annoyance of lifting the passenger floormat and using a fuse extraction tool.
The Corvette is really and easy car to drive. To be sure, you can get yourself into a hell of a lot of trouble in a 3,200 pound, 436 horsepower sports car, and could even kill yourself and others quite easily. But thanks to plenty of electronic nannies, a clutch with easy, progressive takeup, accurate steering with excellent on-center feel, and very strong brakes, the biggest challenges when driving are visibility (you are very low in a Corvette) and just controlling your inputs. A little throttle (particularly lower gears) goes a long way and can make the tires break loose.
Our tester featured the $9,495 4LT Premium Equipment group, which is headlined by the “custom leather wrapped interior package,” but also includes Bose premium audio and nine speakers, navigation system, sport seats, universal remote, Bluetooth phone connectivity, and head-up display. The newest Corvettes do have better seats than the abominations installed in earlier C6s, but they still aren’t nearly as good as the seats in competitive cars like the Porsche 911, or even the Recaros that are optional in the Cadillac CTS-V. The Corvette’s seats are just a bit too soft and a bit un-bolstered. I’m sure that typical buyer demographics play a big part in the size and shape of the seats (meaning, old, fat guys buy most new Corvettes), but something with more lateral support and a greater range of adjustment (particularly in the bolsters) would be great. I was not a big fan of the diamond blue interior; it looked just a little too “1980s” for my taste.
One thing that may surprise you about the Corvette (at least cars equipped with the $1,695 Magnetic Selective Ride Control option) is that it really has a compliant ride. We’ve discussed the virtues of magnetorheological shocks on these pages a number of times, but they really are the closest thing that we have to active (vs. reactive) suspension today. Reading the road every few milliseconds and adjusting each shock’s firmness on the fly allows the car to dial back the firmness a bit without sacrificing performance and body control. There’s a selector knob on the center console to choose between touring and sport modes, but it was all but impossible to discern any difference between the two.
With the $1,425 60th Anniversary Package, you get special stripes, special “60th anniversary” logos, and smoked headlight covers. The stripes are perhaps a bit too much. However, the Grand Sport package is highly recommended. With the Grand Sport, you get a hand-built version of the LS3 with dry-sump oiling, a wider body (shared with the Z06 and ZR1), revised gearing, and revised suspension. The Grand Sport is the most capable Corvette you can get other than the big-boy Z06 and ZR1, yet it costs thousands less. What’s more, you can’t get a convertible or even removable roof in the Z06 or ZR1, and let’s face it: outside of a racetrack, there is no place in the United States where you can use even half of the Grand Sport’s capabilities, so why spring for the even more expensive models?
The Corvette is America’s original and longest-serving sports car. It caters to a different audience than do its named competitors (911, Boxster/Cayman, Z4, 6-Series, V8 Vantage) and provides an incredible bang for the buck in terms of performance. It’s nowhere near as refined as most of those other cars, and the only ones that are even close to it in performance cost tens of thousands of dollars more. It’s strange that a car that stickers for $70,785 could be considered a bargain (and it’s easy enough to see where the Corvette’s creators had to build the car to a price, unlike the R8, for instance), but that’s really what the car is. That it can get 26 miles per gallon on the highway (about 21 MPG observed during the road trip to Cooperstown, New York) makes it just about the most fuel-efficient high performance car that you can buy. It gets those numbers because of its light weight and tall overdrive ratio, but don’t expect to see anything like that if you start using its capabilities. In our video review below, I have no doubt that the car’s average fuel economy was in the single digits during the entire shoot. But man, is it fun to drive the car like that.
The question that Kevin answers at the end of the video is a good one to consider: with an all-new C7 on the horizon within the next year or so, is it worthwhile to buy a new C6 now? As he said, it depends on your priorities. If you like the Corvette and are happy with the current car, then buy all means, buy one of those. Expect a much better interior, a more modern design, state-of-the-art infotainment, and better economy from the new car, but also expect a higher price. Seventy grand isn’t cheap for a car, but it’s pretty cheap for a supercar.
Chevrolet provided the vehicle, insurance, and a tank of gas for this review.