Last redesigned in 2005 for only its sixth generation since the original iteration premiered in 1953, the venerable Chevrolet Corvette continues to hold up strikingly well for a middle-aged Baby Boomer. While some sport coupes have gone the retro route, the ‘Vette remains a forward thinking, completely contemporary high-performance coupe.
The Corvette’s basic formula remains the same as it ever was, which means it delivers high performance capabilities in a stylish fiberglass-bodied package that offers reasonable comfort at a relatively affordable price. Added trim levels, special editions and performance upgrades have kept the line fresh, especially in the face if added competition in-house from Chevy’s own Camaro. The two-seater is offered in both removable-top coupe and convertible base and Grand Sport versions, with a fixed-roof higher-performance Z06 Corvette also available. A near-exotic ZR1 rendition is reviewed separately.
Nominal updates for model-year 2011 include larger cross-drilled brake rotors available on the base coupe and convertible models, new wheel designs, a USB input included with the optional navigation system, and the Magnetic Ride Control (see below) is newly available on Grand Sport versions. The Z06 now includes Goodyear F1 Supercar 2 tires, which are likewise standard with the manual trans-mission-equipped Grand Sports. A new Z06 Carbon limited-edition model includes the Magnetic Ride Control suspension, upgraded brakes, wheels and tires, a carbon fiber hood and black trim items, black wheels, and a specific leather and suede interior with body-color stitching.
A special Chevrolet Centennial Edition package will be offered for the 2012 model year on all Corvette models to celebrate the brand’s 100th Anniversary. The package includes Carbon Flash Metallic paint with satin-black graphics and lightweight cast-spun aluminum wheels with red brake calipers. It also features special badges that signify Chevrolet’s racing history, along with the otherwise optional Magnetic Selective Ride Control system (see below).
At 0.28 coefficient of drag, the current Corvette is the most aerodynamically efficient Corvette ever, with improved anti-lift characteristics that enhance its high-speed stability. Inside, the car’s traditional dual-cockpit styling features aluminum accents and makes bold use of color; it’s fairly roomy inside and affords easier entry and exit than owners of previous-generation models might expect.
But looks aren’t everything in the sports car market, and fortunately Chevy delivers the goods in terms of performance. The car’s LS3 6.2-liter small-block V8 engine in the base coupe and convertible delivers a pleasing 430 horsepower and 424 pound-feet of torque (436/428 with the optional exhaust system), making it the largest and most powerful standard small-block offered in a Corvette. Zero-to-60 mph times clock in at just over four seconds.
A short-throw slick-shifting Tremec six-speed manual gearbox is standard, and is the transmission of choice for driving purists. It includes a Launch Control feature that optimizes brisk full-throttle starts. Alternately offered is an electronically controlled six-speed gearbox that gives the driver a choice of two fully automatic modes (“drive” and “sport”) or manual-shift capability via racing-style steering wheel-mounted paddles.
Buyers can also opt for a dual-mode performance exhaust system that adds both a roaringly aggressive exhaust note, but an additional six horsepower to the base engine in the process.
Those with deeper pockets who seek to flex even larger muscles can upgrade to the Corvette Z06. Riding on a lightweight-yet-rigid aluminum frame, this version includes an LS7 7.0-liter V8 engine that produces a rip-roaring 505 horses with 470 ft/lbs of torque and can propel the car to 60 mph in less than four seconds (and in first gear, no less). Top speed is 198 mph. The LS7 also includes a dry-sump lubrication system that’s designed to keep engine oil fully circulating throughout, even during extreme high-speed cornering maneuvers. A beefed-up version of the six-speed manual is the only gearbox offered with the Z06.
The Corvette tenaciously holds the corners with the assistance of a four-wheel independent suspension, with massively wide 18-inch wheels and run-flat high-performance tires in the front and 19 inchers at the rear that simply do not like to let go of the pavement. The Grand Sport and Z06 models include stiffer racing-bred suspensions for added handling prowess. All-speed traction control with active handling and stability enhancement, and four-wheel-disc antilock brakes are standard for added safety and control, especially around the curves.
An optional Magnetic Selective Ride Control system governs wheel and body motion via “magneto-rheological” fluid in each of the car’s shock absorbers – this is oil that’s infused with lots of tiny metal balls, the viscosity of which (and, in turn, the stiffness of the shocks) is affected by a magnetic current. This further aids handling or maintains a smoother ride, according to a choice of driver-selectable settings. This system also includes larger cross-drilled brake rotors.
For model-year 2012 Z06 buyers can ratchet their cars’ performance up a notch via an option package that bundles the Corvette ZR-1 model’s performance traction management system, Magnetic Selective Ride Control, Brembo Carbon Ceramic brakes and Cup-style wheels and Michelin PS Cup tires.
Steering-wheel audio controls, keyless access with push button start and the OnStar communication system are standard, and a power pull-down feature is included with hatchback models. An optional custom-wrapped leather trim package adds a richer look, overall. Available high-tech features include a Bluetooth hands-free cell-phone interface, premium Bose audio system, a reconfigurable head-up display that projects various readouts onto the windshield in the driver’s line of sight and a voice-operated GPS navigation system.
While the Z06 gets pricey (and for those looking to impress there’s little aside from a distinctive front fascia, functional hood scoop and rear spoiler to cosmetically distinguish the Z06 from a base Corvette that costs nearly $25,000 less), the basic Corvette formula remains a winning one, namely to deliver the most performance for the money, and in this regard the car does not disappoint.
Chevrolet Corvette Quick Facts
Engine: 6.2 Liter V8, 7.0-liter V8
Horsepower: 430 @ 5,900 rpm, 505 @ 6,300 rpm Torque 424 @ 4,600 rpm, 470 @ 4,800 rpm
City/Highway: MPG 15/24-16/26
Transmission: 6-Spd Manual, 6-Spd Automatic
Wheelbase: 105.7 in
Overall Length: 174.6 in
Width: 72.6 in
Height: 49.0 in
Curb Weight: 3,208 lbs
MSRP: $53,600 – $74,305
Did You Know?
The Chevrolet Corvette was unveiled as a concept model for General Motors’ 1953 Motorama new-vehicle showcase in New York City, and was designed by the legendary Harley Earl. “Corvette” was chosen from among nearly 300 names considered for the car. It’s defined as “a type of small, agile 19th century warship,” and is intended to imply speed, strength and maneuverability. The Corvette made such a sensational impact as a show car it was rushed into production within months. Unfortunately, the first edition was dismissed as being more poseur than performer, and the so-called “plastic bathtub” was nearly axed from the Chevrolet lineup. Fortunately, the venerable ‘Vette developed a raw sporting nature during the formative years of rock-and-roll, and would get its kicks on Route 66. The Corvette would truly come into its own, both on the road and at the racetrack, during the go-go space age Sixties, peaking with the legendary Sting Ray models. It would, however, become only a shadow of its former self when inaugural fuel economy and emissions regulations in the late 1970’s would force General Motors to cut the Corvette’s horsepower down to what are now economy-car levels. It would make a comeback during the late 1980’s, particularly with the first iteration of the top-performing ZR1, and what’s still known as “America’s sports car” would be reborn in the late 1990’s as a technologically advanced performance machine for the new millennium, and enjoy a well-earned resurgence in popularity.