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TEARING IT UP!

This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!

Published on Mon, Aug 22, 2005

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

TEARING IT UP!

By Contributing Editor CHRISTOPHER HUDDLESTON

Let's get this straight right away. I, for one, had some preconceived notions about this new Corvette ragtop well before I sat down and pushed the start button. After all, I oned a pristine 1989 Corvette Coupe automatic (C4) and my father currently owns a 1999 Corvette Coupe 6-speed (C5) that I've spent quite a bit of time in. Those preconceived notions weren't necessarily all bad, but I always thought I knew what Corvettes were, what Corvettes are supposed to be, and how Corvettes should ride and drive. I love Corvettes, but like many Corvette enthusiasts, I had to accept the, uh, idiosyncrasies that have always come with this storied American sports car. Boy was I up for a wake-up call of grand proportions with this new C6 Corvette, the latest iteration of "America's Sports Car."

I don't care if you're a die-hard Ford guy, a devoted Porsche fanatic, or a Hollywood millionaire with a warehouse full of exotic cars: If you don't take a chance to get behind the wheel of Chevrolet's latest superstar, you'll be missing the experience of driving one of the finest sports cars, make that cars in general, that exists in the marketplace today. And the fact that this car is a product of General Motors makes it all the more intriguing.

What makes the new Corvette such a surprise? To put it bluntly, Chevrolet has developed a sports car that lives up to its heritage in every single way (this car screams "Corvette"), but doesn't make the discerning driver put up with the more frustrating aspects of owning a Corvette (or sports car in general).

Think about it this way: Combine the spine-crushing thrust and hair-raising sound of yester-year's big-block V8 Corvettes with the ride, drivability, and ergonomics of your basic imported sport sedan. This car, my friends, is a superb daily-driver that just happens to rocket from 0-60 mph in 4.3 explosive seconds, cover the quarter mile in less than 13 seconds at 112 mph, and pull 0.95 g's on the skid pad, according to published accounts.

Does the preceding paragraph imply that the Corvette has gone soft? Hardly. Any car that can produce those kinds of acceleration, handling, braking, and lap times could never be called soft. But times are changing and Chevrolet realized that they had to reach to a new level of driver appeal with the C6. Pure muscle just won't cut it anymore. The competition is obviously getting better, and that competition is more fragmented now than ever before. When you are talking about consumers spending $50K, $60K, and up for a performance car, you are not just talking about two-seat sports cars. BMW (with its upcoming M5 and M6) and Mercedes-Benz (with their AMG cars) are producing luxury coupes, sedans, and wagons that can run with the market's hottest sports cars and Porsche, for goodness sakes, builds a sport-utility vehicle (the Cayenne Turbo) that will embarrass many early Corvettes in the stoplight grand prix.

At first blush, what's most apparent about the new Corvette Convertible is the aggressive, new front-end with exposed xenon headlamps and the noticeable reduction in overall length. Whereas the C5 Corvette almost looked too long (especially the Convertible with its short cloth top and smooth deck lid) the new C6 looks like its proportions have been finally perfected. And somehow, the Ferrari-like front-end appearance still somehow manages to be instantly recognizable as the beloved "Plastic Fantastic" sports car (even without the signature exposed headlamps). There's real attention to detail in the exterior design as well with a minimum of cut lines, close panel gaps, and small but neat features such as the door-mounted rearview mirrors, hidden (touch-pad) door handles, and the traditional forward-hinged hood. I am amazed at how much attention our bright red convertible garners as we cruise around typically car-jaded Southern California. The Corvette has certainly earned a newfound level of respect in a market that sells higher levels of luxury and exotica than any other automotive market in the world.

Corvette fans also get to enjoy an interior that is finally world-class and a great place to spend time behind the wheel. Dash and door panel plastics are soft and seem expensively grained. It's the kind of stuff you expect to find in higher-end imports. Plus, it's so encouraging to see General Motors refuse a cost-cutting temptation by wrapping the same soft material around the lower parts of the dash and console, places where many manufacturers (GM included) would typically save money by putting less-expensive, harder plastics. Switchgear, radio, and HVAC control feel are an all-time high for a General Motors product. They feel solid and move with a reassuring heft (I can still remember my '89 Corvette's turn signal lever with its crunchy "wine-stem snap" action when activated).

About the only quality gaffe I can offer is the cheesy appearance of the plastic silver trim adorning the center stack and console. This interior deserves far better, maybe carbon-fiber trim or actual aluminum trim. Finally, the seats are more comfortable and supportive - and are covered in leather that looks like it won't show signs of wrinkle-wear after just a few driver changes. Adding to the comfort are the six-way power seat adjustments, power lumbar adjustments, and power side-bolster adjustments (a very nice feature). One surprising omission to the Corvette's creature-comfort roster is the lack of steering wheel-mounted audio and cruise controls, something pretty basic in today's marketplace, even in far less expensive vehicles.

The optional power convertible top is nicely insulated and folds back under the hard tonneau cover with a twist of a release lever and a push of the power top button located on the left hand side of the dash. As nice as the top is, it is quite disappointing that Chevrolet couldn't offer us a $60,000 convertible with a one-touch power top. The manual release lever can be somewhat clumsy to use when latching the top back down in place after raising it.

Of course, just about all of the above is quite nice. But the real deal is how it drives. In a word, this car is remarkable. You're probably already familiar with the performance numbers this vehicle can produce. What you probably aren't familiar with is the cultured way it goes about putting all that power down to the pavement. For once, the Corvette is just as enjoyable tooling around town or down PCH as it is at cutting up a racetrack or traffic-free freeway onramp. The clutch and shifter have near perfect weighting and it feels so strange to shift a six-speed Corvette that closely mimics the short-throw snick-snick you find in many imported sports cars. Of course, the gear linkage requires more muscle than the shifters on competing makes, but it is never any less precise and missed shifts are a rarity. Chevrolet has also done a fine job massaging its variable-effort power steering system to provide a relatively light effort around town with nice weighting as speeds increase and you begin to throw the Corvette through some curves.

Power delivery with the 6.0L OHV pushrod V8 is intoxicating to say the least, but not exactly what I expected. Oh, it's faster than hell, that's to be sure. However, the almost obnoxious off-the-line grunt of older Corvettes is strangely missing. Instead, you get a smooth and rapid build up of power in first gear followed by a pull in second gear that makes you think "uh-oh this mother really flies..." and finally a third-gear feast of revs and speed that makes you think "oh crap this thing is really fast and I'm going to be in so much trouble!" This car just keeps pulling and pulling without the apparent lack of breath at higher speeds and higher revs that you frequently encounter in older versions of Chevrolet's small-block V8.

Probably the single most impressive aspect of the C6 Corvette is the ride-and-handling engineered into this newest generation. I expected this Corvette to handle as if it was on rails - and it does. Saw at the wheel at freeway speeds and body roll is pretty much absent as you can expect. The Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar tires included with our Z51 tester have seemingly endless grip. On my favorite low-to-no traffic on-ramp the Corvette pulled 1.06 g according to the head-up display and was easily controllable at the limit. And, even at that level, I did not detect the standard Active Handling System intervening. When you do overcook a corner, the Active Handling System reacts quickly to pull the car smoothly back into line. On a deserted road (with an almost 90-degree kink) that I usually test at-the-limit oversteer and/or understeer, I threw the car into the corner in second gear and promptly shoved my right foot to the floor at the entry to the corner. As you can expect, the surge of engine response overpowered the available grip and just as I began to feel the back end swing around, the Corvette's electronics woke up and quickly quelled the oncoming oversteer with a combination of anti-lock brake and traction control activation to straighten my line through the corner. The good news is that most of us don't abuse the car that way - and when driven quickly but smoothly and efficiently, the Active Handling System rarely spoils the fun. However, you can activate a "Competition Mode" which raises the threshold of intervention, or you can turn the system completely off. Chevrolet feels that the decision should be yours, which is the way I think it should be.

How about the "ride" portion of the Corvette's ride-and-handling? This is the real shocker, especially for anyone used to previous Corvettes (even the C5). I am absolutely shocked how comfortable this car is in daily driving on L.A.'s varied freeway surfaces and in town on local roads. When you consider that our test vehicle is equipped with the Z51 Performance Package (Corvette's stiffest set-up) it's even more amazing.

I'm impressed with how nicely the Corvette deals with small bumps, ridges, and pavement irregularities. Sure, larger potholes still bring somewhat of a crusty thud to your backside, but overall, I'd say that this new Corvette's ride quality is more comparable to say, a high-end European sport sedan . It's certainly way more relaxed than you would ever expect. Yes, you heard me right. This car feels more like a well-engineered sport sedan than it does a pavement-pounding muscle car. To still have the handling prowess to back up the Corvette name is all the more incredible.

Of course, no car is perfect and there are some aspects of the new Corvette that are frustrating and in some cases, simply silly. Right away, I'd do away with the electronic overload in this car. Perhaps consumers drawn toward a vehicle like the Cadillac XLR (Corvette's platform mate) like these kinds of toys but in a more overtly sporting vehicle such as the Corvette, they tend to detract from the overall enjoyment of the vehicle. I can do without touch-pad electronic door handles. The funny part is, GM still had to engineer "normal" manual door releases inside the vehicle (in case the battery goes dead.) Why not just use the manual door releases? What is frustrating with this setup is that there is invariably a slight delay as you touch the pad (inside or outside) and wait for the electronics to "click" open the door. Manual releases are simpler, cheaper, and quicker to use. While I do like the keyless entry and start, in the Corvette, you are required to shift the transmission into reverse when shutting off the vehicle. If not, the battery will be drained (for some inexplicable reason). This is one more (albeit small) action that has to be taken to accommodate the electronic overkill. No more pulling into the garage in first or second gear and simply shutting off the car, pulling the handbrake, and getting out.

And why does GM still install the "skip shift" system in the Corvette? This system, under certain conditions, will force a shift at low speeds from first gear to fourth gear. This is done (according to GM) to help Chevrolet avoid a gas-guzzler tax with the Corvette. However, the system is so easy to sidestep (either by slightly delaying the release of the clutch, or revving the engine over 2.500 rpm) that it's really not that intrusive to the driver at all. Finally, every time you "click" open the door, or push the keyless ignition to start or stop the car, you hear a cacophony of whirs, clicks, and electronic buzzes as the various systems respond to your commands. It just seems somewhat annoying and unrefined for a $60,000 car.

There are a few annoyances, but in no real way do they detract from the immense enjoyment that comes from driving GM's jewel. It's an understood fact that you simply cannot get this kind of acceleration, looks, and handling unless you spend the amount of money normally associated with the down-payment on a nice Southland house. We've always known the Corvette to be a damn fine value. Now, however, it's got the refinement, luxury, and attention to detail that we've never been able to enjoy in Corvettes before. All of this seemingly without losing any of the true nature of what makes a Corvette. What's my ultimate verdict on this car? I've just ordered an '06 Corvette Convertible and I'll pick it up at the Corvette Assembly Plant and Museum in October! I can't wait! - Chris Huddleston

SIDEBAR

I have to admit it; I do love this Chevy. For those who think domestic manufacturers have a problem making cars the public actually wants, they need to spend some seat time in this rocket.

The Corvette is much more than a pretty face; this is a driving machine. The Z51 package should be called the Area 51 package, as this indeed becomes an unidentified flying object. First gear alone will yield speeds in the mid forties, and there are still another five gears to engage above that! Copious amounts of power endlessly flow from the 400 horsepower motor. Our vehicle sprints to hyper legal speeds effortlessly. The toughest part is keeping the speed down to a discreet level. The overabundance of ability is enough to make me blush.

All of the massive power is brought to bear with a proper feeling six-speed manual. The effort is well-suited for most drivers. The clutch and shifter require a moderate amount of pressure to engage, but nothing that one might find suitable for a gym. The 2005 Z51 model handles like the tires have super glue on them, and the brakes slow us down as if we threw an anchor over the side.

Puttering around an all too familiar beach city in The OC while in first gear is a visceral experience. The hearty power plant simply rocks with a low rumble that seeps its way into every cross-street and house residing along the boulevard. I have to curtail all this low speed antics when I notice the instant fuel gauge informing me that all this fun is costing us a bundle generating a breathtaking 3-mpg!

Inside, I am pleased to see that the materials are on par with what one would reasonably hope for. I also notice there is small room for improvement in the functionality department as the lock operation for closing the convertible top is awkward in how it behaves and the switch to operate the top is located in a near blind spot on the dash behind the steering wheel. The GPS is also very difficult to make out with the top down. And the touch screen functions are tough to hit when driving as the hard suspension bounces the occupants just enough that the fingers have a frightful time of clicking the onscreen buttons. When the list of sore spots is becoming this minimal, you know Chevrolet is on the right track.

The Corvette chassis is bullet proof. Even as other journalists have undoubtedly punished this vehicle, I didn't hear even a minor squeak, or rattle even over some badly distressed roads. The engineers on this deserve some brownie points on their efforts.

As the miles melt away in the heat of day, I realize this doesn't leave me wanting for something else, be it in overall functionality, performance or in attitude. Chevrolet has succeeded in producing an American sports car that is both exotic and within the means of many to afford. General Motors nailed this one square on the head. This is the great American success story! - John Grafman

SUMMARY JUDGMENT

The stunning 2005 Chevrolet Corvette Z51 Convertible shows the world over why General Motors can be the world's most talented automaker, when it wants to.

For more information on the Chevrolet Corvette please go to www.chevrolet.com

SPECIFICATIONS

Price: Base $51,445, as tested $62,805

Engine Type:6.0 liter OHV, 16-valve, V8 w/aluminum head and sequential multi-port fuel injection. Aluminized stainless-steel exhaust system.

Horsepower:400hp @ 6,000rpm

Torque:400lb-ft @ 4,400rpm

Drive Configuration:Front engine/Rear-Wheel Drive

Transmission:Rear-mounted 6-speed manual transaxle w/short-throw shifter

Suspension:Front - Independent, control arms, transverse fiberglass leaf springs, anti-roll bar. Rear - Independent, control arms, transverse fiberglass leaf springs, anti-roll bar.

Wheels and Tires:Front - Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar, P245/40ZR-18, polished 5-spoke aluminum wheels, 18" X 8.5". Rear - Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar, P285/35ZR-19, polished 5-spoke aluminum wheels, 19" X 10".

Brakes:Front - Vented cross-drilled disc with anti-lock control. Rear - Vented cross-drilled disc with anti-lock control.

Active handling system, full-function traction control system

Dimensions:Length - 174.6 inches Width - 72.6 inches Height - 49.1 inches Curb Weight - 3,199 lbs

EPA mileage estimates City/ Highway:18/28

0-60mph - 4.3 seconds 0-100mph - 10.1 seconds Top Speed - 180 mph (est.)

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