Click for Larger Image

Story by Dubspeed Driven Associate Editor, Carl Modesette
Photos courtesy of General Motors

Arguably, no other car in American history has a legacy as rich as the Chevrolet Corvette. From humble beginnings in 1953 with a 150 horsepower inline-six engine, to today’s 505 horsepower world-assaulting Z06, the Corvette has run the full spectrum of sports car ideology. However, recent years have seen the demise of many storied nameplates, while others have been resurrected. Looking forward, can the Corvette continue to capture enthusiasts’ hearts in a performance-rich, horsepower warmonger market?


Click for Larger Image

Nearly every automotive journalist has already accurately reported on the C6 Corvette’s performance prowess. A 400 horsepower LS2 engine propels the ‘Vette to 60 mph in about four and a half seconds, and through the quarter mile in about thirteen seconds flat, if not a shade faster. With a relatively low curb weight just shy of 3300 pounds, and maximum cornering grip a hair’s breadth away from 1.0 g’s, the Corvette offers an overall performance package that few cars can compete with. The fact that it’s reasonably comfortable, gets great fuel mileage, and can swallow a weekend’s worth of luggage (or a pair of golf bags) is icing on the cake. The true strength of the Corvette, however, has traditionally been found on the window sticker. Offered at a price point significantly undercutting its cross-Atlantic rival, the Porsche 911, the ‘Vette is, and continues to be, a value among world-class sports cars.


Click for Larger Image

New to the 6th generation Corvette is the 6-speed Paddle Shift automatic transmission, which we recently had the opportunity to sample. Representing nearly 2/3 of overall Corvette sales (growing to nearly 3/4 excluding the Z06), the automatic transmission is fundamental to the success of the Corvette. This new gearbox adds two cogs to the outgoing C5’s aged 4-speed unit, making better use of the LS2’s torque curve, and at the same time adds a pair of shift paddles to the steering wheel. Rather unconventional in their operation, these paddles are mirror images of one another – pull either one with your forefingers to downshift, and push the top of either one with your thumb to upshift. Typically, these shifter paddles are independent – one for upshifts, the other for downshifts. Seemingly great in theory, these paddles are a bit cumbersome in practice. The small size of the thumb-operated “+” buttons make them difficult to locate quickly, and essentially force the hands into a 9-and-3 position. In addition, pushing forward to upshift is counterintuitive, if not awkward whilst being propelled forward by those 400 horsepower at wide open throttle. The immediacy of shifts commanded by the paddles is also a bit disappointing – one must plan ahead to achieve shifts at the desired instant. Thankfully, use of the paddles is optional, as this slushbox offers both standard and Sport Drive modes. Adaptive electronics are employed to soften shifts under normal acceleration, and stiffen them up under hard acceleration. Performance in the Sport Drive mode should satisfy any “enthusiast” demanding an automatic transmission in the first place, relegating the paddle shifters largely to the realm of conversation material on the way to the golf course.


Click for Larger Image

Despite this author’s quibbles over the new Paddle Shift transmission, make no mistake – the C6 Corvette is still a phenomenal performance automobile. It’s rare to see a successful marriage of performance, comfort, and practicality – much less with the relative economy and value that the Corvette offers. 27 miles per gallon on the highway from a V-8 making 400 horsepower doesn’t happen every day. This is an attainable driver’s car that can actually be driven daily.


Click for Larger Image

And yet, there are other dimensions to the Corvette that most fail to comment on, dimensions easily overlooked when overwhelmed by the knowledge that such performance can be had at so relatively low a price. Those dimensions are quality, longevity, and staying power. It’s tough to argue the numbers: in 2005, the C6 Corvette’s introductory year, sales grew nearly 10% over the C5’s final year of production. 2006 sales should show even stronger gains, with the addition of the aforementioned 6-speed automatic transmission and the fire-breathing Z06 model. But will this trend continue?


Click for Larger Image

Undeniably, Chevrolet has gone to great lengths to ensure that the Corvette can compete with the Porsche 911 on paper, leveraging their tradition of powertrain prowess. Lay their respective spec sheets side by side and dare someone not to choose the Corvette, when price plays into the decision. However remove price as an object, and the decision becomes tougher. Quite frankly, the Corvette can’t compete with the 911, much less many other cars both foreign and domestic, when it comes to judging overall quality. While the look and feel of interior materials have improved in the C6 iteration, the overall package still looks – and feels – just like any other pedestrian Chevrolet. It’s a bit disheartening to climb inside the Corvette and find a standard-issue Chevy Malibu steering wheel staring you in the face. Shut the driver’s door and begin to get comfortable, and you’ll notice that the center stack housing the audio and climate controls will flex alarmingly when you rest your knee against it. Scan around the interior and you’ll notice that the textured aluminum trim on the door-release buttons and shifter knob doesn’t match the painted silver trim on the center stack, dash, and steering wheel. That’s a lot to stomach from a car whose sticker starts upwards of 40-large, no matter how fast it might be. While driving, there also remains a difficult to quantify rough-around-the edges feel that’s absent in a Porsche, much less other cars in the same price range as the Corvette – in fact, some cars costing half as much as a Corvette exhibit better overall quality and feel.


Click for Larger Image

So what is it about the Corvette that makes it so popular? It’d be easy to dismiss it as value advantage, but in this writer’s humble opinion, that doesn’t fully capture the essence of the Corvette’s appeal. The demographics of Corvette buyers are what one would expect: predominantly middle-aged males with a median income of around $150K (about the same demographics as the 911, except triple the salary). No surprises here, really. Yet consider the historical significance of such buyers – these are people who were in their teens during the 1960’s and early 1970’s. This was the era of the musclecar, when horsepower was king and the Corvette was that upper-echelon car that everyone dreamed about, but few could afford. Back then, the European sports cars were far rarer and Japanese sports cars had yet to enter the scene. Fast forward to now, and those then-teenage dreamers can finally afford the car of their dreams – and it’s actually halfway practical to own one.


Click for Larger Image

But take heed Chevrolet, because the clock is ticking and Baby Boomers are aging. Backs are getting bad, and the need to fulfill visceral rushes of acceleration is waning. A new generation of buyers is coming of age and buying power – a generation who’s grown up on the quality of Honda Accords and Toyota Camrys, and the performance of highly-tuned Japanese and German sports cars. Gone are the days of the adage “there’s no replacement for displacement.” The fact that more than one automaker can reliably extract over 100 horsepower per liter from smaller displacement engines makes even the Z06’s 505 horsepower, 7.0 liter engine seem, well, rather underachieving.


Click for Larger Image

The fact is that tomorrow’s Corvette buyers will be inundated with a dizzying array of attractive alternatives, and to them, the Corvette won’t hold the same symbolic appeal, for the emissions mandates of the 70’s and 80’s weren’t so kind to performance cars. Merely competing on paper won’t be good enough; tomorrow’s Corvette will need to compete in the flesh. That is, the Corvette will need to be a paragon of quality as well as performance. If The General can raise the bar on quality (and I truly hope they will), they’ll ensure the Corvette will be around for years to come.

We want to know YOUR thoughts, so please leave a comment!

About author View all posts

Zerin Dube

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *