Hairy, brash, loud, and overdecorated, you can spot them coming a mile away. Yes, Corvette drivers have traditionally been a special type of person. They want loads of performance, look-at-me styling, and bargain pricing.
But following the launch of the 2005 Corvette, perhaps that’s about to change. With the advent of the new C6 model — the first major redesign of the car for more than seven years — Chevrolet has focused on refining the car. Maybe the customers will follow the same route.
Starting with the exterior, the first major change is the swapping of fixed headlights, in place of the once-trademark pop units. This and the reductive approach to the main body shell’s curves give the ’Vette a mainstream super car, almost Ferrari-like appearance.
There’s still that sheer cliff face trademark ’Vette rear end and the four plate-sized taillights blinking out at you through the veil of tire smoke that seems to follow this car everywhere. But the whole thing just flows together harmoniously.
Quite a lot of people who are paid for their opinions expected, or at least wanted, something more radical than the C6. On first look, you might agree. But after you’ve lived with the car for even a few days, you begin to appreciate the clean and classic form.
No point radically changing something — particularly a sports coupe — without any major step-up in performance, particularly when so much has been done beneath the skin to make this car more modern.
Rather than only stiffen and brace the C5 chassis, the Chevy engineers created a stiffer, stronger chassis to form the core of the car. The hydroformed steel structure, also used as the basis for the exotic Cadillac XLR, reduces all the things that make driving some sports cars a chore: things like chassis twisting and vibration. Hit a bump in the old ’Vette, and the aftershocks through the car’s structure — and your teeth — carried on for seconds. In the new car, there’s a brief, muted thud and nothing else.
Other than this new chassis, add in a new interior that, at last, moves it up and out of the 3-year-old rental-car category and you start to believe that you are driving something you might be able to live with for more than an hour. There are some genuinely nice touches to the cabin.
All main controls are adjustable to a point where you feel the car was made for you. There’s a head-up display — also borrowed from the XLR — that includes childishly pleasing features such as a lateral g-meter, so you can measure your cornering heroics. And there are push-button door handles that, rather than feel gimmicky, in use feel like a step forward. Add in a fully spec’d DVD, satellite navigation, keyless entry, and a stereo capable of drowning out wind noise and passenger screams and you have a fine perch from which to watch the world rush by. Perhaps it should have a Bluetooth connection for your phone and maybe a rear-parking sensor would be sensible, but what’s already here is great progress, so I’m not complaining.
If you want more fresh air in the cabin, the magnesium and polycarbonate roof panel detaches and stows surprisingly quickly and easily. You flip three latches and lift it off and stow it in the storage rack under the rear hatch door. Driving in that configuration doesn’t leave much room for anything else in the trunk, but then if you are thinking of carrying much more than an attitude, the ’Vette is not the car you should be driving. If all this talk of levers and manual labor leaves you unimpressed, you should take a look at the convertible. This is push-button simple, but comes with hurricane strength in-car vortices, so make sure you pull that cap well down before applying any serious throttle.
Because when you do that, you will really find out where the engineers have been spending all their time. While the old C5 would rattle and roar its way to some highly illegal speeds in very short order, the new C6 is in a different league altogether. Apart from the disappointingly anemic-sounding exhaust idle, the C6 roars forwards in a massively entertaining way on request. Gone are the old cars’ thrashing valve gear noise, replaced by a more operatic bass tone that rapidly swells into a grin-inducing bellow the longer you leave your right foot down.
Flip the hood and you’ll see this C6 is not a cursory makeover of the old car. In place of the venerable LS1 sits the more capable LS2. This motor offers an even 400 horsepower and 400 pound per foot of torque — 50 more of the first and 25 more of the latter. In a ’Vette-rans’ mind, more is always better. Too much is never enough. What this translates to on the road is immediate power, which makes warping past cars and other slower-moving vehicles a simple and, yes, safe pleasure.
But for all its sophistication, the C6 still feels a bit crude at times. Hitting midcorner bumps at high speed has the back end jumping around — and your heart with it. And the tire noise on the freeway can have you taking the long way home just to break the metronomic dinging of the tires on the pavement slabs.
But when you look at the price tag, most of the main criticisms go away. Where else can you get a 180mph, 4.5 seconds to 60, super-sleek sports coupe for $45,000? You can’t. Maybe the owner profile will melt a little more into the mainstream, but maybe it won’t. Whatever, you should give the ’Vette a go. Just make sure you don’t forget your sunglasses.