By Scott Bourne
Growing up in middle America in the 50s and 60s, I had one dream… to own a Corvette. The iconic American television show called “Route 66″ featured a Corvette roadster and two young men exploring the open road looking for adventure. What could be better?
Fast forward about 40 years and I am finally living my dream. I have two Corvettes – well one in the garage and another on the way. So that I don’t keep you in suspense, I’ll make this simple – there’s nothing like a Corvette. Yep the car snobs will attack this car for various reasons. It’s not new – it’s not liked by Clarkson and therefore it is not cool. But I thought long and hard before adding one to my stable, and I can tell you – while there are lots of great sports cars, there’s nothing like the Vette. Nothing. So now I am adding another – within a year of getting the first one!
My Grand Sport coupe is now a race car. I’ve converted it (with the help of Hennessey Performance) into a 611 horsepower beast best left on the track. But that left me wishing for more of a touring car, so I went to my dealer and was able to get a loan of a new Grand Sport convertible for a day. How much did I like it? I ordered one that afternoon.
Having driven everything from Porsches, Audis, Maseratis, Lambos to Ferraris I have high expectations from sports cars. The Vette hasn’t disappointed – even though I admit it wasn’t always the first car that came to mind when I thought “performance.”
When researching the Corvette, I kept hearing people say things like “bang for the buck” and “wicked fast.” So I investigated further and was surprised to learn that the 2011 Corvette may be the finest sports car available today, at least on a dollar-for-dollar basis. Not only did I open my mind, I opened my wallet. My new Carbon Flash Metallic Centennial Edition 4LT model will be built in Bowling Green, Kentucky in early November, 2011. I’ll be there to take delivery of the 2012 model in person as it comes off the line. This review is based on my day testing a dealer car that was similarly equipped.
I really wanted a convertible so my choices were limited to the standard Coupe or the Grand Sport. Turns out – the Grand Sport is the real bargain of the bunch. It costs $6000 more than the basic Coupe, but it gives you a hand-built car that offers most of the driving experience of the Z06 minus the extra $20,000 price. The Z06 starts at just under $75k and the pure Corvette ZR-1 race car starts at $110,300.
My car had an MSRP of about $78k but was sold for around $8000 less than that, including $3000 dealer rebate. For a high-performance convertible, a price of $70k is without a doubt one of the best deals out there today.
The Grand Sport build quality is first rate. Looking at reported problems for the standard Coupe v. the Grand Sport, the latter records fewer problems. It’s a hand-built car whereas the Coupe is more of a production-line car. It’s not a big deal, but it’s worth noting.
The Grand Sport is essentially the same car as the Z06 minus the aluminum frame and the bigger motor. You get the same wheels, tires, brakes, some of the ground effects, suspension, etc. You don’t get the aluminum frame. That costs you 100 pounds *not money but weight, i.e., the Grand Sport weighs about 3300 pounds and the Z06 3200 pounds.* You don’t get the 7.0 liter motor. The 6.2 liter is about two seconds slower on the track at the Millford Proving Grounds.
On the road, the Corvette is both nasty and refined – depending on how you drive it. And at my advanced age, I want a car that looks and drives like a race car, but drives and rides like a comfortable sedan. The Corvette Grand Sport convertible is such a car.
In reality, few people can drive any of these cars at close to their limit. My car came with the upgraded Chevy stock exhaust. This, coupled with the 6.2 liter engine delivers 436 horsepower off the showroom floor. To put that in perspective… this same combo is offered in the up-level SS Camaro which weighs approximately 1200 pounds more. So the horsepower to weight ratio is already off the hook on the Grand Sport.
The engine is smooth and powerful. In second gear it’s a fire-breathing monster, but still smooth. The torque is there when you want it but if you roll-on the throttle, you’ll get a smooth application of power that won’t leave you with a broken neck. I love it.
There’s a surprising amount of room once you get into the cockpit of the Corvette. It’s not the easiest car to get into and out of if you are a large person, but once inside, pretty much anyone will have enough leg and head room. Getting in and out is the only problem, and that’s a problem common to most sports cars. There’s always a trade off.
The components on the Grand Sport Convertible are first rate. Let’s talk brakes. The GS comes with 14-inch front rotors with six-piston calipers and 13.4-inch rear rotors with four-piston calipers. The Grand Sport also has functional ductwork to keep this high end braking system cool. There is a race-capable suspension but it’s somewhat less firm in the GS than the up models. I have pulled 1g on the track in my stock 2011 car.
The build quality and paint are also top notch. Everything fits well together. The car is solid and I hear no rattles. There is a fair amount of road noise, in part because you are so close to the ground and the big Goodyear F1 racing tires are a tad noisy. Convertibles are also by nature more noise-prone. One way to solve the road noise issue is to simply put the peddle to the metal and then you hear that lovely, throaty LS3 engine.
What will that powerful engine do for you? I’ve had my car at both a road course and a drag strip. On the challenging Spring Mountain Motorsports track near Las Vegas the Vette stuck to the road like it was flypaper. The car’s brakes never faded and the engine never tired. I didn’t know the course that well so I can tell you that the car was more capable than I was as a driver, but it never failed me. My Zero-to-60 time on the drag strip (with me driving) was 4.34 seconds. Remember this is a stock time before the addition of the supercharger.
The interior of the 2012 4LT Corvette is as nice as some of the interiors you’d find on notable super cars like the Lambo, but at a fraction of the cost. The seats in the 2012 model are also bolstered better and there’s a new steering wheel that makes competition driving more fun.
The convertible part of the new car is brilliant. It’s simple, effective, push the button and watch it work. There is no cowl flex at all when driving the convertible. The visibility is obviously improved over the other models and the ride is nice and tight and fun. An optional wind deflector installed in the back of the driver’s seat makes the experience even more enjoyable.
Things I don’t like? There’s not much to complain about at this price point. Visibility with the top up can be a bit tricky. I wish the car came with a back up camera. It’s hard to know where the front end is so parking requires careful patience. Other than that, for this money, I wouldn’t expect anything more.
Chevrolet has spent more than 50 years refining the Corvette. It’s at a place in automotive history where I am convinced that it will be remembered as one of the best performance cars for the money ever made. Whether you want a race car or a daily driver, the Vette can serve both purposes. It’s one of the few sports cars I’ve ever driven that I can say that about. One more thing, the Corvette is attainable. While a bunch of kids in high school can dream about this car or that, chances are they can’t afford 99% of them. But at prices starting at just under $55,000 US street price, the Corvette convertible is very affordable, especially given what that money delivers to you.