What's New for 2009
The big news this year is the late introduction of the Corvette ZR1, which boasts a supercharged 6.2-liter V8 producing 638 horsepower. It's the most powerful (and expensive) road-going Corvette ever. The rest of the Corvette lineup heads into 2009 with just minor changes, the most significant of which is the availability of Bluetooth phone connectivity.
If you tell the average person that you bought a new 2009 Corvette, they'll likely scrunch up their face, as if they'd just gotten a whiff from a bad carton of milk. "Really, a Corvette?" they'll say. It seems there's a certain stereotype associated with America's sports car, one that involves a midlife crisis and gold chains on exposed chest hair, possibly accompanied by visions of the hideous Vette Mark Hamill drove in "Corvette Summer." However, you can reply with this: "Corvette Summer" was 21 years ago, gold chains haven't come back into fashion yet and the 2009 Chevrolet Corvette has nothing to do with the stereotypes -- it's simply a fantastic sports car.
While there are certainly historical kernels of truth in this stereotype, most of them were excised with the debut of the model's sixth generation (the C6) for 2005. Last year, Chevrolet made further improvements, including more power and a better interior. Even the stats for the base Corvette are enough to drool over. The 6.2-liter V8 cranks out 430 hp, just 50 hp shy of the almighty Porsche 911 Turbo. The track-ready Z06 model puts out even more power (505 hp) and weighs less than 3,200 pounds.
If this isn't enough, there's an additional model being added to the 2009 lineup: the ZR1. The ZR1 moniker was last seen from 1990-'95 (when it was spelled "ZR-1") and represented the ultimate in Corvette performance. The new ZR1 starts with a hand-assembled, supercharged 6.2-liter V8 that cranks out 638 hp and 604 pound-feet of torque, making it the most powerful production Corvette ever -- and one of the most powerful cars ever, period. Naturally, there are further modifications, such as a strengthened transmission, specialized wheels and tires, Brembo carbon-ceramic brakes, unique suspension tuning with adaptive dampers and additional carbon-fiber body panels for weight reduction.
Even if "all" the 2009 Corvette provided was performance equal to high-dollar exotics but at half the price, it would still be high on our list of recommended cars. But a surprising level of utility comes along for the ride, too. The Corvette offers a massive amount of luggage space and a user-friendly cockpit, along with enough ride compliance for daily-driving duty. There's also a convertible body style for those who want to catch more rays (or hear more from that voracious V8), and even fuel economy isn't too shabby -- a standard Corvette has an EPA highway estimate of 26 mpg, the same as an upscale Chevy Malibu.
Our quibbles with the 2009 Chevrolet Corvette are few, though they may be significant for those who expect world-class refinement at the Vette's elevated price point. Although the interior features a soft-touch dashboard material, it still looks rather plain and there are too many chintzy plastics. Nor can the Corvette provide the nimble and engaging handling offered by European sports cars, or the brutal effectiveness of Nissan's new GT-R. But for many shoppers in this segment, these will likely be minor issues. Put down the gold chains and don't worry about the scrunched noses -- the stereotypes are long gone for America's sports car.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2009 Chevrolet Corvette is available as a two-seat coupe or convertible. Trim levels include the standard Corvette, Z06 and ZR1. The standard Corvette coupe is actually more of a targa, as it comes with a removable body-color roof panel. Like Corvette roadsters before it, the convertible features a hide-away top.
Standard on the 1LT coupe and drop top are 18-inch front alloy wheels and 19-inch rears, xenon headlamps, cruise control, keyless ignition/entry, full power accessories, OnStar, leather seating, a six-way power driver seat, a tilting steering wheel and dual-zone automatic climate control. The standard seven-speaker audio system includes a CD/MP3 player, satellite radio, steering-wheel-mounted controls and an auxiliary audio jack. The 2LT Package adds Bluetooth and upgraded leather seating with a power passenger seat. The convertible gets a power-operated top with the 2LT Package. More equipment can be found on the 3LT; it includes a head-up display, a power telescoping steering column with manual tilting, heated front seats, driver-seat memory settings and a Bose audio system. The top-level Corvette 4LT is very similar to the 3LT but includes an exclusive two-tone leather interior (with leather covering the dash top, console top and armrests).
The Z06 (coupe only) largely mirrors the standard model in terms of feature availability, but gains a more powerful V8, a fixed roof, a lighter frame and body panels, larger wheels and tires, a more stiffly tuned suspension, upgraded brakes and special sport seats. Compared to the Z06, the ZR1 boasts a more powerful supercharged V8, plus larger wheels, high-performance carbon-ceramic brakes, an exclusive suspension with adaptive dampers and additional lightweight body panels.
Major stand-alone options, depending on the model, include a navigation system, a transparent roof panel for the coupe, a two-tone interior, a dual-mode exhaust and different wheels. There are also suspension options for the standard Corvettes: the Magnetic Ride Control suspension (which automatically firms up and softens the suspension according to how the car is being driven) and the Z51 performance handling package (which adds extra cooling, stiffer suspension calibrations, bigger brakes, specific tires and shorter gearing for the six-speed manual). Also available are custom color and trim combinations, plus delivery to the Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky.
Powertrains and Performance
Both the base coupe and convertible Corvettes feature a 6.2-liter V8 that makes an impressive 430 hp and 424 lb-ft of torque. The optional dual-mode exhaust adds another 6 hp and 4 lb-ft. The Z06 boasts an exotic-class 505 hp and 470 lb-ft from its 7.0-liter V8, while the ZR1 has an otherworldly 638 hp and 604 lb-ft of torque.
All 2009 Chevrolet Corvettes have a six-speed manual gearbox as standard, while a six-speed paddle-shifted automatic is available for the base coupe and convertible. Regardless of which Corvette you choose, you'll get stunning performance. In our testing, a base coupe went from zero to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds. The Z06 will knock that down to 3.9 seconds. GM estimates the ZR1 does the 0-60-mph sprint in 3.4 seconds. EPA fuel economy estimates stand at a laudable 16 mpg city/26 mpg highway and 19 mpg combined for a manual-transmission Corvette. Opting for the automatic drops these numbers down by 1 mpg. The Z06 checks in at 15/24/18 mpg, and the ZR1 is still respectable considering its performance with a 14/20/16 EPA estimate.
Antilock disc brakes are standard, as is a superb stability control system known as "Active Handling." The latter provides noninvasive assistance and allows a "competitive" driving mode that gives the expert driver more leeway while still maintaining a safety net. Side-impact airbags are optional on 1LT models and are standard with all other LT packages. Head curtain airbags are not available.
Interior Design and Special Features
Chevrolet has made big strides in terms of interior fit and finish since the debut of the current-generation Corvette. Still, poke around a bit and you'll find some flimsy plastic panels. Overall, the interior is a step or two behind class leaders, particularly at the rarefied price points of the ZR1 and Z06, though the pricey 4LT leather package does help considerably. Large gauges, simple controls and remarkable cargo capacity (22 cubic feet in coupes and 11 cubes in the convertible) make the Vette a sports car that's easy to live with on a day-to-day basis.
Thanks to a snarling V8 and an engaging view of the raised front fenders through the windshield, the 2009 Chevrolet Corvette is a sports car that never ceases to put a smile on your face. On a deserted twisty road, the driver will likely run out of talent before the Corvette runs out of capability. The brakes are strong and fade-free and there's massive grip from the tires. In tight corners, however, the Vette doesn't feel as nimble as, say, a Porsche Cayman due to its lackluster steering feel and propensity to get unsettled when driven over midcorner bumps.
Around town, the Corvette is an easy and comfortable car to drive. Even the Z06 or models equipped with the Z51 suspension have a respectably compliant ride, and even manual-shift Vettes are surprisingly docile in stop-and-go traffic, with a forgiving clutch and a reasonably sporty shifter. Wind and road noise can occasionally be a bit intrusive, but it's nothing out of the norm for this type of car.