We're behind the wheel of the 2008 Chevrolet Corvette, and right over there is the assembly plant in Bowling Green, Kentucky, where a lot more of them will be coming off the line shortly. It's the center of the Corvette universe.
Will Cooksey is riding in the passenger seat of this new 2008 Chevrolet Corvette and he's remembering when he came home from Vietnam, and one of the first things he did was buy a 1969 Vette. He was sufficiently impressed with the car that he went to work for General Motors, hoping that someday, maybe he could build Corvettes.
Now Cooksey is the manager of the Bowling Green plant, where his 1,200 employees crank out about 20 Corvettes an hour, as well as about six Cadillac XLRs a day. Cooksey himself owns five Corvettes, plus a full-blown drag-racing Corvette that will, he says, "run 9-second quarter-miles all day." Cooksey says he owns an XLR, too. "I'm probably one of the few plant managers who buys his own products," he tells us.
Of course, would he have so many if he was, say, plant manager of the Chevy Cobalt plant? "Umm, I doubt it," he says, laughing.
On the Road in the '08 It seems like only moments ago when the Corvette C6 was introduced — a new, leaned-down package filled to the brim with the latest high-performance technology developed by the small group of Vette-dedicated engineers. But that was 2005, and since then the Corvette has twice won its class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans since then (and might another time this June), so it's time for what General Motors calls a "midcycle enhancement."
It's a pretty good enhancement, too, because it begins with the new LS3 V8, now standard equipment for both the Corvette coupe and convertible. In a nutshell, the 2008 V8's displacement is bumped from 6.0 liters to 6.2 thanks to an increase in cylinder bore from 101.6mm to 103.3mm. This 6,162cc V8 also gets new cylinder heads derived from those for the 7.0-liter LS7 V8 featured in the 500-horsepower Corvette Z06, with low-restriction, large-capacity intake ports plus lightweight, hollow-stemmed intake valves that are about 9 percent larger.
Once you add a strengthened block, a new high-lift camshaft, a revised valve train and LS7-style fuel injectors plus a new intake manifold, the bottom line is 430 hp at 5,900 rpm, some 30 hp more than before. Torque output is 424 pound-feet at 4,600 rpm.
If you're after every last bit of power from the LS3 V8 (plant manager Cooksey is encouraging us here), you'll want to consider the new, optional, Z06-style exhaust system. At maximum load, butterfly valves open in two of the four exhaust runners to reduce back pressure, and the result is six more hp and 4 pound-feet of torque, for a total of 436 hp and 428 lb-ft of torque.
Top speed is a cool 190 mph.
The Corvette engineers have also done their best to get you up to speed quicker than before with some transmission improvements. The six-speed manual transmission has an improved shift linkage with a more positive, direct feel and stronger, spring-loaded action from gate to gate. No more navigation exercises required when going for a gear in a Corvette. Meanwhile the six-speed automatic has some new hardware and a new calibration that delivers quicker shifts, so the car feels more responsive when you use the steering wheel-mounted shift paddles. Chevy says the 2008 Corvette automatic now gets to 60 mph in 4.3 seconds, quicker than ever before.
Exterior Enhancements? Not So Much. Most of the visual updates for the 2008 Chevrolet Corvette lie in the cockpit. There's a metal sill plate to greet you as you open the door, then some new brightwork on the center stack and the center console. Most important, there's a new, optional two-tone leather trim package that finally drags the Corvette's interior out of the 1980s at long last. "We kept hearing complaints that the styling of the Corvette's interior wasn't on par with the exterior," says Tom Wallace, the Corvette's chief engineer, "and I think we've addressed that."
One thing Wallace's team also addressed, but to no good end, is the '08 Vette's exterior appearance. There are new split-spoke wheels derived from the Corvette pace car that will appear at the 2007 Indianapolis 500, plus some handsome-but-generic five-spoke alloys sourced from a new offshore supplier. But otherwise there's nothing to tell your friends that you're driving a cool, new 2008 Corvette instead of an old, ratty, outdated 2007 model. No difference in exterior badges, even.
How come? "Well, we definitely looked at it," Wallace says, "and we even tried some changes. To the taillights, the nose, several other places. But everything we did, the consensus was that what we have looks better."
At least there are two new colors: Jetstream Blue Metallic Tintcoat and Crystal Red Metallic Tintcoat.
The Carefully Calibrated Dynamometer The introduction of the 2008 Corvette took place near the National Corvette Museum, right across the road from the Bowling Green assembly plant. It's a great place, with lots of exhibits that trace the development of the Corvette since those first few fiberglass cars were hand-built in Flint, Michigan, then the years of production in St. Louis and finally modern history here in Bowling Green. You can even arrange to have your new Corvette delivered here at the museum in a special ceremony.
Unfortunately this introduction to the 2008 Corvette included only a short driving loop of 40 miles. Thanks to a drive during the morning in a 2007 model, the carefully calibrated dyno in the seat of our pants did find the extra 36 hp in the 2008 Corvette. Even though this represents just a 9 percent horsepower improvement in the 3,217-pound coupe, the midrange punch definitely seems more potent.
It's hard to say if the quicker-shifting automatic really amounts to a difference you can feel, though. And while the Corvette guys have applied a new, more precise machining process to the rack-and-pinion steering and made some of the internal components more rigid, we can't say that we felt a dramatic improvement.
But given the fact that the main enhancement for the 2007 Corvette over the 2006 model amounted to a larger glove compartment, we'll take what we can get.
When, and How Much? Cooksey tells us that one day late in June, his plant will make a rolling change from the 2007 to the 2008 model with no plant downtime. By August, the new 2008 Chevrolet Corvette coupes and convertibles should appear at a Dealer Near You.
There are, however, virtually no changes to the 2008 Corvette Z06, as we await the ultrahigh-performance 2009 Corvette model that no one here at the center of the Corvette universe denies is coming. They do, however, worry about the likelihood that most of these super Vettes will end up in the hands of collectors. "I'm not sure you'll be able to touch one for under $150,000," one executive lamented.
Pricing for the 2008 Corvette has not been decided, but any increase will be, we're told, "modest." The current base price of the coupe is $44,250. And the optional 2008 exhaust system should be about $1,000, give or take a little.
We look forward to a full test of the 2008 Chevrolet Corvette. But then again, we look forward to a full test of any Corvette, and always have.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.