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What a daunting task, redesigning the Corvette — a true American legend. Millions of rabid and critical fans, eager to see what you've come up with, ready to judge it with the utmost harshness. No amount of marketing hype or fat rebates will get you out of this one if you screw it up. And simply creating a great performance car just won't cut it — this thing has to perform just as well on the street as it does at the track. It has to be luxuriously comfortable, easy to drive, wickedly fast and up to its competitors' standards of quality and refinement.
The Corvette was last redesigned in 1997, and designated the C5, which stands for Corvette, fifth-generation. The C5 was a radical departure from the C4, which had been around since 1984. A success, the C5, but not perfect. It was fraught with squeaks and rattles, so-so ergonomics and a clunky shifter that was more Chevette than Corvette. Rather than start over with a clean slate, the engineers wanted to take the best of the C5 and create a car that does more things well than any other performance car. They set about infusing massive amounts of refinement and performance, while also addressing every single imperfection they could find. At first glance, the C6 appears to be little more than a styling refresh. Dig deeper, though, and one quickly realizes that the C6 is much more.
Blah, blah, blah, you say. Bottom line, is it still a chick magnet? We must honestly say that yes, the latest Vette is still a chick (and guy) magnet. The C6 looks muscular and classy at the same time, without seeming overwrought. The convertible, in particular, is downright sexy. Exposed headlamps, not seen on a Corvette since 1962, combine with a lean grille to create a distinctive "face." The jury's still out on the new headlamps, though. The look is a slight bit fussy to our eyes. The back end looks like a C5 rump after careful liposuction. The new look is tight, but we can't help but wonder why Chevy didn't follow the latest trend toward "retro" style, and bring back more styling cues from the past.
Pure joy resides under the C6's hood. The new 6.0-liter LS-2 V8 powers the new Vette, and sweet it is. We're talking 400 horsepower and 400 pound-feet of torque. Now, big numbers can do big things, and it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that this is one fast car. According to Chevrolet, zero to 60 mph happens in an adrenaline-rush of 4.2 seconds, and if you keep yer foot in it, you'll soon see a top speed of 186 mph. The sound of the engine is very "big-block" with a distinctive roar that builds progressively, and the deep exhaust note is pulse-quickening without being obnoxious. Power delivery is silky-smooth, and amazingly linear. The optional automatic transmission is a willing player, and well programmed to provide firm and timely shifts. The standard six-speed manual, however, is the big shocker here. The clutch is smoother and lighter, and the shift feel is — dare we say — "Miata-like" in its snick-snick shift quality. Even the shift knob is perfectly shaped. The overall visceral impression is uniquely American, quite addictive and just plain hot.
OK, so she's fast. There's gotta be a catch, and it's probably in the handling department. Sorry, the Chevy folks did their homework here, too. Out on the track, the C6 is downright thrilling. Most telling, however, is how easy it is to pilot at speed. The traction and stability control systems have been carefully programmed to extend a very gentle helping hand, and only when truly necessary. The chassis successfully rides that fine line between capable and forgiving, and makes for a fun companion regardless of your skill level. The steering doesn't have quite the intimate feel of some of the Corvette's competitors, but most drivers will never find fault with it.
Three suspension setups are available, and it's important to note that not one single suspension part was carried over from the C5. The standard setup provides an amazingly comfortable and controlled ride, while also retaining precise handling abilities. The optional F55 Magnetic Selective Ride Control suspension is able to detect road surfaces and adjust the shock damping rates almost instantly. The result is an even more comfortable ride than the base suspension, and better control during aggressive maneuvers. The Z51 package is your ticket to "Z06-like" performance. This package includes more aggressive dampers and springs, larger stabilizer bars, shorter transmission gearing and larger cross-drilled brake rotors. Though each package feels distinctly different, all three still provide amazingly good ride quality. Even in Z51 form, the Vette would make a perfectly acceptable daily driver.
Luckily, there's more to the C6 than a big engine, slick suspension and pretty face. The interior is better — shockingly so. Everything from materials quality to overall ergonomics is vastly improved. The seats provide great support while also remaining supremely cushy for the tushy. There's plenty of headroom, which helps the cockpit feel open and airy. The straightforward climate control setup is one of the best we've ever seen — and light-years ahead of anything else in the General's parts bin. Likewise, the optional touchscreen navigation system is a cinch to operate. The gauge cluster is a veritable work of art with dials that appear to float before you. Our only gripe with the cockpit is with the button clusters that flank the aforementioned gauges. They're almost totally hidden by the steering wheel rim, and not exactly lined up with it, either. Thankfully, these buttons control rarely used functions, such as head-up display adjustments and the trip computer.
The standard removable top is — and you may want to make sure you're sitting down for this — easy to remove and install, and can be handled by one person. Gone are the days of erector-set tools and ill-fitting connectors. Even the top storage brackets in the rear hatch were carefully engineered to keep a firm — and quiet — grasp of the stowed top. The doors click shut with a firm solidity, and the ride is much quieter than before, with nary a squeak or rattle to be heard.
Whether you're sitting at a traffic signal, or kissing the apex of a curve on a deserted back road, the new Corvette just feels right. The handling is spot-on, the powertrain is smooth and scary-fast, the look is classy and the ergonomics are top-notch. Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the new Corvette is that the base price is actually less than last year's. The team charged with creating the C6 mixed good 'ol American ingenuity and tenacity with a heartfelt respect for a legend. The result is a world-class automobile worthy of the name Corvette.