Posted on: 16th Jan 2013
Think of an American sportscar and the chances are you're picturing this one, the Chevrolet Corvette. For over sixty years, this has been the dynamic definition of the US motor industry, a car that demands to be treated with respect. Trouble is, this side of the Atlantic, it rarely has been. Over the years, European and Japanese enthusiasts have largely dismissed the 'Vette as powerful but ponderous, brawny but bulky, likeable but low-tech and, most importantly, though swift on the straightaways, comparatively slow through the corners.
As a result both of this and continuing left hand drive-only production, the charms of this C6 generation Corvette have been ignored here by all but a very knowledgeable few, even though Chevrolet has never stopped trying to improve it. Since 2008, the standard 437PS model has been joined by two variants that take this Chevy into supercar territory - the 512PS 7.0-litre Z06 and the even faster ZR1 with its 647PS supercharged version of the 6.2-litre V8. Race cars for the road that might be a little much for the 911, XKR or Audi R8 set. In which case the most recent Corvette arrival, the Grand Sport derivative we're looking at here, might prove a better fit, with the standard engine matched to Z-car dynamics. Ultimately though, a Corvette is what it is, whatever guise you happen to like. A very serious sports car in its own right.
Though sixty from rest is just 4.3s away, there are faster Corvettes than this one. The 7.0-litre Z06 variant with 512PS on tap, or the supercharged 6.2-litre ZR1 with its 647PS output, the fastest Chevy ever made. But straightaway speed was never the issue with this car, which is why I think that the best Corvette to choose is the Grand Sport version I tried. True, it has the same 437PS V8 engine as the standard C6 V8, but what's important is that it gains the 'Z16 Performance Package' handling tweaks than make the two extreme flagship Z-car models so satisfying. That means stiffer springs and stabiliser bars, specific shock absorbers, larger brakes, specific tyres and a more responsive manual transmission, if that's the gearbox you select.
All of this makes a massive difference to what this car will do when presented with a corner. Which might surprise those who disparage the so-called 'ancient' leaf spring rear suspension which you might expect would pitch this Chevy around the bends about as elegantly as John Sargeant does the foxtrot. You might think that: but you'd be wrong. Yes, the Corvette does have a leaf spring rear suspension, but it's nothing like as primitive as most cynics will suggest. In fact, this transverse composite single leaf spring set-up offers independent articulation of each wheel, with less un-sprung weight than many rival set-ups, better durability, a lower centre of gravity and, on this sixth generation model, the whole thing even doubles as an anti-roll bar.
On top of this, one of the other advantages of choosing this Grand Sport model is that it adds the option of specifying the clever Magnetic selective ride control system so that you don't have to put up with the standard rather hard set-up when you don't want it. Selective Ride gives you 'Tour' and 'Sport' settings that enable you to match the suspension and the feel of the car to the road you're on and the mood you're in. If all of that doesn't sound like smart engineering to you, then you're probably better off propping up the bar with the guys who reckon Japan will never be able to build its own sports cars and that all Italian cars rust.
Design and Build
Walk round the C6 and there's really not a bad angle. True, I do miss the pop-up headlamps of previous generation 'Vettes, but otherwise there's a lot to like about the styling of this car with its steeply raked roofline, voluptuous compound curves that wrap the wheels and sharply truncated rear end with its quartet of circular tail lights that reference the original C1 version of 1953. The Convertible model is one of those rare drop-tops that looks good with the hood up or down, although the purist in me would still prefer a solid roof over my head.
And inside the two seat-only cockpit? Well you've to adjust to the left hand drive-only layout of course, something that behind the wheel, makes this Chevy feel a lot wider and less wieldy than it actually is, especially on narrow country roads. Still, at least the level of fit and finish is now closer to the modern day standards of the supercar set, the cabin no longer feeling cheap and plasticky in the way that it used to. And who doesn't love a head-up display, even if this one projects its graphics in a particularly garish bright green. It can even show you G Force readings via 'Street' and 'Track' modes. Brilliant.
Out back, the Coupe version's 634-litres of boot space seems generous, but you'll decimate that every time you stow the roof panel there. This Convertible can offer only 144-litres roof-down but a more acceptable 295-litres roof-up.
Market and Model
Find yourself an official Corvette dealership (not easy since there's only one in the whole of the UK) and you'll find that pricing starts at around £50,000 for the standard C6 manual Coupe model, with a premium of just over £2,500 if you want the six-speed automatic. If funds allow though, I'd want to find another £17,000 and stump up just over £66,000 for this Grand Sport model with its lower ride height and beefed-up suspension. This variant, also offered with manual or automatic transmission, also adds the full-house Bose audio system and satellite navigation that most owners will want.
At Grand Sport level, you get a couple of other advantages too. First that you can order the Convertible bodystyle I tried, assuming you've the requisite £72,000 or so. And second that you can specify the clever Magnetic selective ride control system that really improves this car's ride and handling package. As for rivals, well this Grand Sport is, in Coupe form, around £25,000 less than a similarly powerful Audi R8 4.2-litre V8 or Aston Martin V8 Vantage.
Also there to tempt would-be Corvette owners is the long equipment list. This includes lovely alloy wheels (curiously 18-inch at the front but 19-inch at the rear), heated six-way power-adjustable leather bucket seats, cruise control, air conditioning, a head-up display to project key information onto the windscreen in front of you that even includes a G-Force meter and a nine-speaker USB and iPod-compatible stereo system.
Cost of Ownership
You probably expect to get a sinking feeling when you pull into a petrol station in a Corvette, but it's really not as thirsty as you might imagine, thanks in part to the 100kg weight saving this C6 generation model enjoys over its predecessor. Or at least it isn't if you resist the temptation to drive the car flat out all the time. That's surprisingly easy to do, for this is a languid and relaxing thing just to cruise along in. In fact, it's one of the very few cars where I'd be confident of approaching the standard model's stated 21.2mpg combined cycle fuel economy figure if I was going gently. The fuel tank is a pretty feeble 68.8-litre thing, so if you take the Corvette on a track day, you'll be making frequent visits to a filling station but in day to day use, I'd bet that this Chevrolet would generate smaller fuel bills than an old big-engined hot hatch, say something like an old 2.5-litre Ford Focus ST.
Residuals will be rather painful: expect to get around 30% of the original asking price back after a standard three year/60,000 mile ownership period. As for insurance and emissions, well it's probably best not to ask. You have to know? All right: a top-of-the-shop group 50 and a CO2 best of 316g/km for the standard C6 V8 and a worst of 355g/km for the ZR1. You could hardly annoy Greenpeace more if you strapped a whale harpooning gun to the bonnet.
All right, so it's still about as American as the 3,000 calorie breakfast, trousers with elasticated waistbands and not knowing where Canada is but the Corvette has come of age, even if it's taken its time about it. This late C6 model is now a properly rounded and enjoyable sports car that can meet and match the best European cars head on. The entry-level version looks great value for money against costlier BMW M3s and Mercedes C63 AMGs, while this Grand Sport seems equally well priced against top Porsche 911s and V8 Audi R8s.
Of course, there are plenty of drawbacks, the left hand drive-only set-up being the greatest of them. Nor is this the subtlest of things and although much improved, the interior quality still isn't on a par with most of its rivals. But 'Vette fans care little for any of that. How many sports cars are there, they'll ask you, that for this kind of money can lap the Nurburgring in under eight minutes, yet which will also do the Grand Tourer thing returning respectable fuel economy? Answer. There aren't any.
Overall? Well, there's a simplicity about the Corvette which is refreshing and, yes, progressive in the way it takes the best of the old ways and melds them with modern thinking. It doesn't overpromise and under-deliver. And there's a lot to be said for that.