Chris Walton, Chief Road Test Editor
It's a sound product-planning formula to follow, and we endorse it: a special, limited-edition car with the looks and the hardware of an almost unattainable top-shelf model but for less cash.
The problem with the 2010 Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport is, it's not really a limited-edition car (no special VIN is assigned), it doesn't perform any better or worse than a base-model Corvette, and finally, the price of the Grand Sport comes within striking distance of the car it emulates — the brutal Corvette Z06.
This test car arrived in our garage with just under 1,000 miles on the odometer and with $13,790 in total options, taking its price to within $6,000 of a Z06's base price. At $69,510 as tested, our Grand Sport is also $9,535 more expensive than a 2010 BMW M3.
The Difference Between Good and Great
As much as the 2010 Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport seems like an interesting idea, we question Chevrolet's decision to put the sanctified "Grand Sport" name on this car to begin with. The original 1963-vintage Corvette Grand Sports were thoroughbred racecars, the most recent of which failed to sell on the auction block when its reserve was not met with a bid of $4.9 million. Even when the Grand Sport label was applied to a production Corvette in 1996, only 1,000 examples with specific VINs were made.
To be sure, the 2010 Corvette Grand Sport does have a legitimate place in the sports car world, and it follows an established pattern. In much the same way that you can buy a Porsche 911 Carrera 4S with the 911 Turbo's wide-body fenders, upgraded brakes and chassis but minus the Turbo's engine, you may now buy a 2010 Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport (base MSRP of $55,720) with the look and much of the hardware of a Corvette Z06 (base MSRP of $75,235), but without the totally mental, hand-built, 505-horsepower 7.0-liter V8 that often makes the Z06 almost undrivable on anything but an arrow-straight piece of highway.
Besides the Grand Sport coupe we tested, Chevy now offers four other distinct Corvette models ranging from a $50,000 base coupe to the $110,000 Godzilla-slaying ZR1. That's quite a range. The midpack GS is also available as a convertible for about $3,800 more and either the coupe or soft-top model is available with a six-speed automatic ($1,250).
A Civilized Z06
OK, so the 2010 Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport is Z06 Lite. The Grand Sport model offers aggressive looks, big ol' wheels and tires, giant brake hardware (same size discs as the Z06, but not the exact same brakes), functional brake cooling ducts, and specific manual-transmission gear ratios.
Power comes from the base Corvette's pushrod 6.2-liter LS3 V8 with a Z06-style dry-sump oiling system and it's rated at 430 hp. If you pay $1,195 for the two-mode performance exhaust, the exhaust note changes character dramatically at about 3,500 rpm, which we like perhaps even more than the 436-hp output rating for the engine that comes with it.
At the test track, we discovered to exactly nobody's surprise that the 2010 Corvette GS produces essentially the same acceleration as the last 2009 Corvette with a manual transmission and optional exhaust we tested. The benchmark of 60 mph arrives in 4.4 seconds (4.0 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip). The quarter-mile is consumed in 12.4 seconds at 115 mph. Yeah, it's fast and sounds great, but aren't Corvettes supposed to be fast and sound badass?
We tried the new-for-2010 launch-control system (select Competition mode, clutch in, 1st gear, whack the throttle to the floor, then dump the clutch), and while it is very consistent, it's also about three-tenths slower than a test-driver with a calibrated butt. Although we never ran into it during performance testing, on more than one occasion during our test-driving we found the infamous Corvette "mystery gear" on the way to 3rd gear. The shifter sometimes felt as if it was in 3rd gear, but wasn't.
The standard 14-inch front discs with six-piston calipers and 13.4-inch rear discs with four-piston calipers help bring the car to a halt from 60 mph in just 106 feet, but the feedback through the pedal is always vague and wooden.
A Typical Corvette
Corvette owners would also be familiar with the ambiguous messages coming from the Grand Sport's chassis. Test driver Josh Jacquot said of the GS after lapping the skid pad at an impressive 0.96g: "Massive grip, but not intuitive balance." After a pass through the slalom at 68.8 mph, he said, "Again, unnatural steering feel in quick transitions — not completely numb, but also not talkative — doesn't make me want to attack the slalom like other cars do."
Such empirical numbers certainly demand respect, but our test-driver's subjective impressions don't measure up to those from tests of equally accomplished cars, where the comments are more like, "Very easy to maintain control at the limit. Steering delivers excellent feel and response for the inputs given. The ratio, assist and feedback are all spot-on."
To make matters worse, our track-testing session managed to dislocate the right rear suspension's toe adjuster. Our in-house suspension guru found the eccentric cam mechanism had shifted about 90 degrees out of spec. Any road imperfection made the rear of the car very unstable and prone to jerk and wander. Luckily, we have a go-to guy at Stokes who straightened things out in less than 5 minutes.
After the fix and out in the real world, we will say that the 2010 Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport's suspension setup is better than that of the discontinued Z51 handling package, but still not as multitalented as the F55 package with its magnetorhological dampers. By the way, you cannot order the F55 option on a Grand Sport. You get what you get, and you get a lot of grip, decent compliance and a good freeway ride at legal speeds.
Probably there would be an easy way to make this car less pricey. Our test car's options included the $7,705 Coupe Premium Equipment package, or Group 4LT, including lots of comfort and convenience features like a head-up display, leather-upholstered power seats with heat and memory, a power telescoping steering column (manual tilt), various leather-clad interior bits and special embroidered logos, plus Bluetooth and seven speakers for the Bose audio system. We'd skip it.
Speaking of superfluous options, we know the flashy, chrome cast-aluminum wheels ($1,995) and Velocity Yellow paint ($850) make for pretty photos, but the exhaust note draws enough attention as it is. The DVD-based navigation system with CD player ($1,750) seems reasonably priced, but the touchscreen interface and LCD display already look and feel out of date.
What we can't fault at all are these Z06-style body panels, which really make the Grand Sport coupe a uniquely attractive Corvette. Also all the scoops, ducts, vents and spoilers on the GS are functional! Because all the bits are rendered in fiberglass instead of carbon-fiber, plus the GS has a removable-panel roof instead of the Z06's fixed roof, this car weighs 3,311 pounds, 150 pounds more than the Z06.
We particularly like the GS's bulging rear wheel arches that barely contain the ultra-wide 325/30ZR19 Goodyear Eagle F1 Supercar run-flats. And that black wicker bill on the trailing edge of the rear deck does the rest of the Coke-bottle design justice, putting a sharp exclamation point on the swoopy body.
Once you skip the 4LT, navigation, gaudy wheels, look-at-me yellow paint and $295 pedal covers (seriously), you're left with a $56,915 Corvette with a thundering exhaust that'll consistently lay down 12-second quarter-mile runs, go around corners faster than most people would ever dare, and convert rear tires to smoke all day long.
Put it that way and the 2010 Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport makes sense. We get it, we like it and we support it. But GM can keep all the price-inflating doodads; we'll take the bargain American sports car, please.
Perhaps the silver lining to the Grand Sport story is that all 2011 Corvettes will start as 2010 Grand Sports and only get better from there, just like the 2009 Mustang Bullitt foreshadowed the improvements made to the 2010 Mustang line. We just wish they would do something about those unsupportive seats and generic-looking steering wheel.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
Photo Editor Kurt Niebuhr says:
I imagine the ghost of Zora Arkus-Duntov walking around the 2010 Corvette Grand Sport. As you know, Duntov was the spiritual father of the Corvette, the ex-racer who transformed it from a clumsy styling exercise into a real sports car. It was Duntov who secretly commissioned the original Grand Sport, a factory-built lightweight coupe, late in 1962, evading General Motors' ban on factory-supported racing. GM's boardroom got a whiff of the project and shut it down in 1963, but not before five Grand Sports had snuck out the door and begun terrorizing racetracks across the country. The program might have been stopped, but the legend had begun.
So there stands Duntov.
Lifting the hood of the 2010 Grand Sport, he probably wouldn't understand the need for the silly plastic valve covers, but I bet he'd nod in appreciation of the 436-horsepower 6.2 liter V8. The Corvette guys were just starting down the road to aluminum engine blocks and cylinder heads back then, and he'd appreciate the all-aluminum LS3, and the dry-sump oiling system would no doubt garner praise, too. Ditto for the fully functional intake ducts, because he was working with aerodynamics back then as well.
But this isn't Zora's second opinion, this is mine.
Compared to the Corvette C5 parked in my garage, this Grand Sport is much more of a Corvette in the way Duntov had envisioned. The engine is massively powerful and its response is crisp. The transmission is robust, even if the shift action and clutch feel seem a bit light for my taste. And though the handling is a bit vague, the cornering grip is very strong and the car's overall limits are high. And that sound from the exhaust! The bottom line being, if you want a better-performing coupe, you're going to have to pay a lot more money, and have a lot more explaining to do. This is a true Corvette — a Corvette that the ghost of Zora Arkus-Duntov would approve of.
But why on earth does this thing cost nearly $70,000? The Grand Sport should be the basic Corvette — a powerful, well-sorted and truly potent sports car infused with racing technology. Leave the chrome wheels, inadequate seats, silly stripes and the badge as options. And leave those options for the old guys who want to wear bad Hawaiian shirts and spend their Thursday nights parked outside some burger joint.
Let the tacky luxury items be the options. Performance like this should be standard.
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