America's Sports Car storms into 2008 with a bigger engine, up 195 CCs (13 cubic inches), 30 horsepower and 24 lb-ft of torque over last year's 'Vette. With prices starting just over $46k, the 2008 Corvette may well be the cheapest way to get from 0 to 60 in less than 4½ seconds. But is it a world-class sports car? Read on. $46,110 base, $57,140 as tested, EPA fuel economy 15-16 city, 25-26 highway.
First Glance: No more 'Vette bashing for me
To many car enthusiasts, the Chevrolet Corvette is an institution -- but for every car buff who looks up to the Corvette, there's another that looks down on it. Vette-bashers call it the Plastic Pachyderm, a pseudo-sportster suited only to men and women in the throes of mid-life crises.
I have two confessions to make. First, I used to fall into the Vette-bashing camp. Second, before testing the Corvette for this review, I (like most Vette-bashers, I'm sure) had never spent more than a few minutes behind the wheel of a modern Corvette.
Now that I've spent a week with a Corvette, I want to apologize to Chevrolet and to Corvette fans everywhere, and make a public declaration that my Vette-bashing days are over. I solemnly swear that I will make no more jokes about Corvette owners, gold jewelry, Members Only jackets and chest toupees.
Because the Vette really is a very good car. I'd stop short of putting it up against a Porsche 911 or an Audi R8; the Vette doesn't quite have that level of refinement. But it is incredibly fast and a hell of a lot of fun, and it has something that most German and Japanese supercars lack: A sense of humor and the ability to let its (mechanical) hair down.
The current Corvette, known among aficionados as the C6, dates from 2005. Updates for 2008 include the aforementioned new engine as well as improvements to both manual and automatic transmissions. The look is unchanged, which is fine with me -- it's a handsome car, though I miss the pop-up headlights from the previous-generation 'Vette.
In the Driver's Seat: Looks big from the outside, feels bigger from the inside
In keeping with tradition, the Corvette's body is made from composite panels attached to a steel skeleton. The fact that many of the body panels flex when you touch them doesn't exactly inspire confidence in the 'Vette's build quality, but this method of construction keeps weight down -- the Corvette weighs only a little over a ton and a half.
The Corvette looks big from the outside and seems even bigger from the driver's seat. The bulging hood and fenders make the Corvette feel wider than it is; in truth it's only a tenth of an inch wider than an Audi TT roadster. The quality of the interior materials is beyond reproach, and I found all the controls easy to find and use, though the electric door latches -- which require pressing a button (link goes to photo) rather than pulling a handle to open -- threw some of my passengers for a loop.
Standard equipment is plentiful: the Corvette comes with power windows, locks, mirrors and driver's seat, leather upholstery, CD/MP3 player, dual-zone climate control and cruise control -- everything I need to keep me happy. But not everything I need to keep me safe: Antilock brakes and electronic stability control are standard, but side impact airbags are optional, and only available in a bundle with other equipment.
One feature I especially liked was the removable plastic roof panel. It's light enough to be removed by one person and it stores neatly in the trunk. It's painted body color as standard; my test car had the optional transparent panel, which I quite liked, but there's no sunshade to block out the rays.
On the Road: The power! The fury!
I can't say enough good things about the Corvette's new 6.2 liter 430 hp "LS3" V8 engine. Every time I floored the pedal, I was blown away by how quickly the Vette accelerates. And I mean every time, even if I'd just done it ten seconds before. The 6-speed manual is wonderful and no huge bother in traffic -- if you go for an automatic 'Vette, you're missing out.
And the sound? Oh, man! My Corvette had the optional dual-mode exhaust system with vacuum-operated flaps that close off the center pipes under low power. Get on the gas and the flaps open, allowing the Corvette to bellow at the top of its lungs -- and what an amazing sound it is, ferocious and melodic. (The flappy exhaust also adds 6 horsepower and 4 lb-ft of torque.) Despite flooring the pedal every chance I got, my fuel economy an was impressive 19 MPG -- compare that to the 15.7 MPG I averaged in the 420 hp Audi RS4.
My Corvette had the optional Z51 handling package, with a stiffer suspension and cross-drilled brake rotors. Even so, the Corvette was still a handful on the About.com Top Secret Curvy Test Road, mostly because it feels so wide -- I didn't feel I had much room for mistakes. The electronic stability control system is great; it allows a little power-induced tail-slide action before smoothly catching the back end and bringing it back into line. But my test car shuddered under hard braking and juddered over rough patches of road. Overall, I just didn't feel as connected with it as I have with many other sports cars. Still, a day of hard driving left me with a ringing in my ears and a big grin on my face.
Journey's End: Our country, our sports car
A colleague once opined that cars reflect the personality of the people who make them, and I think that holds true for the Corvette. Americans have always had a rebellious streak, and so does the 'Vette. It's a little brash, a little brutish, and a little unrefined -- as are we. To an outsider, our view of the world may seem a bit twisted, but spend some time with us on an individual basis and it's pretty hard not to like us. Same deal with the Corvette.
Which is good, because financial justification is a bit harder to make. The base Corvette is a great deal, but adding options really slams the brakes on the value equation. From my test car's sticker: Z51 braking and handling package, $1695. Flappy exhaust, $1195. Clear roof, $750. 6-disc CD changer, part of a $4,500 option package. Chevy even took a cue from the Europeans, charging between $300 and $750 for metallic paint. My test car stickered for $57k -- still a bargain, but for that price I could go for the similarly fast (though admittedly more minimalist) Lotus Elise, and $1k more would get me a Porsche Cayman S. The Infiniti G37 isn't nearly as fast, but it's easier to drive, more fun in the curves, and ten grand cheaper.
That said, if you really have your heart set on a Corvette, you probably don't want anything else. Truth is, there really is nothing quite like the Corvette. Perceptions of the Corvette may not have changed, the car itself sure has. America's Sports Car isn't the best in the world, but it's a hell of a lot of fun. -- Aaron Gold