It's Not a Halo, but the '08 Corvette Is Divine in Its Own Way
With all the feverish excitement surrounding the Corvette Z06 and the absurdly powerful Corvette ZR1, you'd almost believe that the standard Corvette had virtually ceased to exist.
Indeed, it has not. And the 2008 Chevrolet Corvette we've just tested proves that while the standard Vette might sit in the shadow cast by its more publicity-friendly brethren, it has received something more valuable than media attention: performance.
We're going to run as many stories as we can about those two crazy-fast Corvette specials once they appear. But this page is devoted to the decidedly less sexy world of continuous improvement — the year-to-year ministrations that keep the Corvette viable. After all, there would be no Z06 and certainly no ZR1 without the standard car.
And considering that Chevy sells roughly one Corvette for every 10 Accords that Honda sells (and 10 times the number of S-Types that Jaguar sells), we're talking about a pretty impressive automobile.
Small Block, No Extra Charge
And there would be no Corvette without the small-block V8. True, there have been moments of great embarrassment in the long history of the Corvette and its pushrod V8. There was the disgraceful 1970s small-block that wheezed out a total of 165 horsepower. And all by itself, the 1982 Corvette V8 represents some kind of low.
Yet aside from these instances plus the occasional sniping from those who insist on having cams on top of their valves, the small-block Chevy V8 has been the Corvette's greatest asset. And what an asset that motor has become in the form of the new-for-2008 LS3. Bored out to 6.2 liters (from last year's 6.0), the new-generation Corvette engine pumps out a rousing 430 hp at 5,900 rpm. That's 30 hp more than last year. Just as important, the new motor churns up 424 pound-feet of torque at 4,600 rpm — 24 lb-ft more than the LS2.
This 6.2-liter V8 constitutes the basis of the large explosive device called the LS9, which will power the forthcoming Corvette ZR1 with more than 600 hp. It's a sturdy, thick-wall block, nicely suited to the supercharging that will vault the ZR1 over the 600-hp barrier. But there we go talking about the ZR1 again.
There are a lot of good pieces from a lot of good Chevy V8s in the new LS3 V8. The cylinder heads are similar to the heavy breathers from the Z06's LS7 motor. Its high-flow fuel injectors are straight from the 505-hp LS7. For good measure, Chevrolet has also added an intake manifold that flows more air and then rammed in a high-lift cam to actuate intake valves that are 9 percent larger in diameter (2.2 inches vs. 2.0 inches). The result is a "standard" engine that makes 25 more horses than the most powerful power plant of the last-generation Z06.
As we measured on the test track, some worthwhile side effects include a 4.5-second run to 60 mph and a quarter-mile pass of 12.8 seconds at 114.8 mph. And this car won't quit until you reach 190 mph. It simply humiliates would-be rivals. All right, "humiliate" might be too strong. But this Vette is slightly quicker to 60 mph and through the quarter-mile than a Porsche 911 Carrera S. It's also quicker than a Ford Shelby GT500, a Nissan 350Z and the last-generation Z06.
Part of the secret of excellent performance lies in our test car's horsepower and torque figures. The standard Vette is available with an optional two-mode exhaust system that premiered on the current-generation Z06. The 2.5-inch-diameter exhaust has two outlet valves (one for each side of the exhaust system). Under normal operation, the valves are closed to control the level of exhaust noise. Under high throttle loads, though, the valves open and let the small-block roar.
This LS3 might not have the hellacious rip of the Z06 engine's high-revving, large-displacement V8, but it sounds loud and unapologetic, just as a V8 should. A further description of the noise we cannot provide, as we were usually looking well down the road for cops or cranking in a little countersteer at those moments when the exhaust note got good and tasty.
Oh, and this $1,195 option liberates an additional 6 horses and 4 lb-ft of torque. It's well worth the money (certainly when it's your money and not ours) for the exhaust sound alone. Plus the little control arms that operate the exhaust flaps are clearly visible at the back of the car. And that's just cool. And they're a lot cooler than the so-yesterday polished wheels that were also on our test car and cost $1,295 more than the less flash-and-trash standard wheels. (Attention GM: Corvette guys aren't into chest hair and medallions anymore, so let's lose the chrome.)
Honestly, the thing we like most about the new Vette compared to any previous Corvette is the shift lever. Our car came equipped with the Z51 Performance Package and it featured a standard six-speed manual transmission that does not actively try to discourage you from shifting.
It's fair to say the former Tremec six-speed transaxle (remember, it's behind you, where's it's integrated with the rear-end gears to help deliver better weight distribution) proved recalcitrant at best. The old six-speed had the same kind of shift action that you'd expect in some kind of big old lever in a railway switchyard. It would do the trick, but it wasn't going to be easy and it wasn't going to be fun.
This new unit feels like the precision-built piece of machinery we've always expected from a Corvette but never got. Its slick action proved to be such a pleasure that we sometimes shifted a gear when there was no compelling reason to do so.
Another aspect of the $1,695 Z51 package that enhances this car's forward progress is the use of shorter ratios for the transmission's first four gears. The additional speed is nicely complemented by stiffer suspension rates, high-performance tires and drilled brake rotors. Make sure you check off the Z51 option box when you order your Corvette.
Some Other Things That Move
Chevy also claims that it has made some improvements to the Corvette's steering system, which we've always felt to be a consistent weak point. And though it's been a little while since we last spun the steering wheel of a Corvette C6, we suppose this one feels better.
Specifically, Chevy says that more precise machining of internal components, a stiffer intermediate shaft and calibration changes have unlocked a big box of "feel," that most esoteric of dynamic traits. Sure, OK. Maybe it is better.
But the Corvette still has some room for improvement here compared to the likes of a car like the Porsche 911. Though maybe it's not quite fair to compare two cars with engines at opposite ends, it's fair to say that a lack of steering crispness is one of the prime reasons that a Corvette has always seemed like such a large and unwieldy car when you're behind the steering wheel. And this impression continues in the C6, despite its reasonably trim dimensions (shorter in overall length than a 911) and admirably low curb weight (3,272 pounds).
Corvettes have taken some justified knocks for their interior quality over the years — or rather the lack of it. And the big news for 2008 is an optional leather-wrapped interior package. Our car was not equipped with it, but did feature the shiny "bright surrounds" for the shift lever and cupholder and a nicer-looking center stack. All things considered, it looks fine. Our only real problem with the interior is the flimsy feel of the seats and the shockingly short seat cushions. A Corvette must have great seats, even as just an option or something.
Also, we were surprised to find that the Corvette has a heated cupholder. This is the Vette's one similarity to the regrettable Chrysler Sebring. Then we realized it was simply the heat radiating up from the transmission tunnel. Think of the cupholders as passively heated. So remember to wedge your Frosty between your thighs in the time-honored fashion. (Later, we realized our luggage had been nicely heated as well.)
Initially the 2008 C6's translucent plastic roof looked a little disco to us. But once we figured out it was easier to look through the roof at stoplights than to strain our necks to look at them through the low windshield, we liked it just fine. Of course the blue-tinted roof also makes you feel as if you live in a plastic bottle of soda, and who wouldn't pay $750 for that? We mean, other than us.
Wedges Never Go Out of Style, Girl
Aside from its new wheel designs, the exterior of the 2008 Chevrolet Corvette is identical to previous model years of the C6. A sharper, trimmer version of the soft form created with the C5, the shape of the new car is wearing surprisingly well with us. Certainly, no one will mistake this pointy-nosed, flat-butted sportster for anything but a Corvette.
And such consistency of design character nicely telegraphs the consistency of the driving experience. Each new generation of the Corvette — heck, each new year of the car in this case — further refines the basic Vette driving formula: half powersliding hooligan ride and half genuine sports car. And certainly the '08 improvements justify the $1,035 increase in the car's base price.
And now back to nonstop coverage of the Z06 and the super-double-throwdown Corvette ZR1 motivated by a force roughly equal to the output of a nuclear power plant. Thanks for listening.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
Vehicle Testing Assistant Mike Magrath says:
"A Corvette? You know it still has leaf springs, don't you?" If you drive a Corvette, be prepared for a lot of this. I drove one for a few hundred miles and I'm already sick of it.
There are two things you need to know about the Vette haters: 1) They won't race you, because they know they'll lose; 2) They have a point.
Yes, the Corvette has leaf springs and a pushrod V8, but so what? The transverse leaf springs are a clever suspension packaging solution and are made from composite, while the pushrod engine valvetrain is another packaging solution that has been massaged by the GM guys in lab coats to help combine incredible power, a broad power band and nearly 30 mpg. If Porsche can still put an engine in the trunk of the 911, Chevy can still use OHV technology.
Chevy's science isn't restricted to things mechanical. Take the electronic stability control, which features a setting described as "Competition Driving Mode." I think GM should badge it "Jan Magnussen Mode" in honor of the Danish racing driver who washed out of Formula 1 because he drove too sideways and has been a hero in the Corvette racing program ever since.
Perfectly equal 50 percent front/50 percent rear weight distribution and suspension calibration that's (truth to tell) not quite up to the job of containing the power that thunders from within the Vette means this car is perfectly willing to spin 180 degrees on its center axis in a flurry of fluffy white tire smoke. It's fun on a closed course, but not so much on a freeway on-ramp.
Flipping to Jan Magnussen Mode allows just the right amount of wheelspin for a nice launch and just enough slip angle on the tires in the corners to make you feel like a pro. You feed in close to the right steering corrections while staying on the go pedal and the stability program helps you stare down the oncoming road through the passenger-side window while maintaining a near-perfect drift. Without the assist from the electronics, this scenario would end in a stinky cloud of tire smoke with you trying to figure out which way is up.
Corvette owners, unless you happen to be Jan Magnussen (if you are, a signed C6.R poster would be awesome!), make sure you engage the Competition Driving Mode and show those who vilify the Vette what a 6.2-liter V8 in a fiberglass body is all about.