Overview

The Corvette is the great American sports car. It's thrilling to drive, with breathtaking acceleration performance and excellent grip for hard braking and high-speed cornering.

Value isn't the first thing that comes to mind when talk turns to the Chevrolet Corvette, but the Corvette is one of the best bangs for the buck when it comes to high performance. For the price of a midsize luxury sedan, the Corvette delivers supercar performance. It's easy to drive on a daily basis, and maintenance costs are not exotic.

2008 brings an all-new V8 engine for the Corvette Coupe and Convertible. The new LS3 V8 is larger, at 6.2 liters versus the previous 6.0-liter LS2 engine. Output is now 430 horsepower, an increase of 30. An optional dual-mode exhaust system raises horsepower to 436.

Indeed, the 2008 Corvette can lap a racing circuit nearly as quickly as the previous-generation Z06, a legendary car. The new LS3 engine rumbles wonderfully, and the acceleration it produces is intoxicating.

We love the standard Coupe, with either the manual or Paddle Shift automatic. It quickly infuses a driver with confidence. Its brakes are fantastic. And, it's blazingly fast. The six-speed automatic transmission works great and lives up to the advanced technology in the rest of the car; it can be shifted manually with levers on the steering column.

And the convertible is plain wonderful. Drop the top on a nice day, pop in your favorite CD, and you might have what psychologists call a peak experience, a moment where you revel in being alive. It's a fantastic feeling, and at those moments the Corvette more than justifies its price. The aural sounds of the burbling V8, the body-colored trim that surrounds the cabin, the feel of power beneath, it's automotive heaven.

The Corvette can be a reasonably comfortable daily driver in most locales, for at least three of the four seasons. The latest-generation Corvette is not a crude car, and its performance does not exact a painful toll on driver or passenger. It gets an EPA-rated 26 mpg Highway, better than most SUVs.

The Corvette Z06 is a true supercar for a price that's merely expensive, as opposed to insanely expensive. The Z06 gets the 505-hp LS7 V8, a lightweight chassis, and upgraded brakes. If any $70,000 car can be called a bargain, this is the one, at least in terms of raw performance. The Corvette Z06 accelerates faster, grips better and stops shorter than European sports cars that cost twice as much. And we find it easier to drive than a Viper. It takes an expensive machine to compete with a Z06.

For 2008, Chevrolet Corvette gets more standard features, including OnStar tele-aid service, XM Satellite Radio, an auxiliary audio input jack, and auto-dimming mirrors. A more luxurious leather package has recently been added as well.

Model Lineup

The 2008 Chevrolet Corvette is available as a coupe or convertible, with either a manual or automatic transmission. The Z06 model is available only as a fixed-roof coupe.

The Corvette coupe ($45,170) and convertible ($53,510) are powered by a 6.2-liter V8 with 430 horsepower. A six-speed manual transmission is standard; a six-speed Paddle Shift automatic ($1,250) is optional. An optional dual-mode exhaust system ($1,195) raises horsepower to 436.

The Corvette coupe features a one-piece removable roof panel in body color (standard) or transparent plastic ($750). The dual-roof option ($1,400) includes both. The convertible comes standard with a manually operated soft top; a power soft top is part of the 3LT option package ($5,100) and has a heated glass window in back.

Standard features for the Corvette include leather seating surfaces, dual-zone automatic climate control with a pollen filter, power everything (including seats), cruise control, tilt leather-wrapped steering wheel, remote keyless entry and starting, AM/FM/CD stereo with auxiliary input jack, XM satellite radio, auto-dimming rearview mirror, automatic headlights, alarm, fog lights, xenon headlights, OnStar telematics, and P245/40ZR18 front and P275/35ZR19 rear run-flat tires on alloy wheels. The Convertible adds sport seats with adjustable lumbar support and side bolsters. The sport seats are included with Preferred Equipment Group 2LT ($1,495) for the coupe, which also adds six-way adjustments for the passenger seat, side airbags, a rear cargo net and luggage shade.

Two suspension options are offered for both coupe and convertible. The Z51 Performance Handling Package ($1,695) is designed for track events, while Magnetic Selective Ride Control ($1,695) automatically switches from extra-firm to more comfortable touring settings with electronically controlled variable damping.

Preferred Equipment Group 3LT ($4,505) includes a head-up display, heated seats with position memory, a premium Bose stereo with 6-disc CD changer, redundant steering wheel controls, a power telescoping steering column, universal garage door opener, and rearview mirror with compass. Preferred Equipment Group 4LT includes 3LT and adds custom leather upholstery on the top of the instrument panel, upper door panels, and console cover, as well as extra armrest padding, crossed flags seat embroidery and a special console trim plate.

Options include DVD navigation ($1,750), which includes the Bose audio and voice recognition; chromed aluminum wheels ($1,850); polished aluminum wheels ($1,295); and dark gray painted wheels ($395). Customers can also opt to take delivery of their cars at the Corvette Museum ($490). The event is broadcast on the internet and customers receive a plaque, special door badges, and a one year membership to the museum.

The Corvette Z06 coupe ($70,175) comes with a 7.0-liter V8 producing 505 horsepower, with dry-sump lubrication and coolers for the power steering pump, gearbox and rear differential. Beyond the engine, the Z06 package includes a host of high-performance components, starting with hydro-formed aluminum frame rails (rather than the hydro-formed steel rails used in the standard Corvette). The Z06 hardtop is fixed in place. Its brakes are upgraded, its tires are huge (P285/35ZR18 fronts and P325/30ZR19 rears), and it's offered only with the six-speed manual transmission. The head-up display comes standard.

Two option packages are available for Z06. The 2LZ Preferred Equipment Group ($3,045) has side airbags; power telescoping steering column; steering wheel audio controls; heated seats; memory for the seats, mirrors and steering wheel; the Bose audio system; universal garage door opener; cargo net; and cargo cover. The 3LZ Preferred Equipment Group ($6,545) has the 2LZ equipment plus the 4LT package items. Polished aluminum wheels are available ($1,495).

Safety features that come standard on all models include dual-stage front airbags, ABS, tire-pressure monitor, traction control and electronic stability control. Side airbags are standard on the convertible, but optional on the coupe. We recommend them, but there's a rub. The side bags are included in the option packages, but not priced individually. You have to get some extra stuff if you want them.

Walkaround

The C6 (or sixth-generation) Corvette is now in its fourth year of production. The 2008 Chevrolet Corvettes look the same as the 2007s, in spite of their bigger engines.

The Corvette is low and sleek. From some angles it's almost pretty, and it shows a bit of Italian flair. Throughout the car, functional elements dictate design and the result is a forward motion that implies performance.

The lines of the bulging hood, the shape of the fenders, and the cat's eye headlights all point forward to a subtle beaklike shape. A pair of fog lights flank a wide air intake below.

Vents behind the front tires let hot air out of the engine compartment. The sculpted fenders, sharp creases that sweep dramatically up to the planed rear deck, call to mind race cars as well as jet fighters. At the back, four round taillights recall Corvette's past and make the car look like an F-18 taking off in full afterburner mode. On the functional side, the optics of the reverse lights magnifies the light they throw out to help when backing up in this beast. To move weight from the front of the Corvette, the transmission is mounted behind the seats and connected to the differential, rather than being attached directly behind the engine.

In the Z06, this quest for front-rear balance extends to the weight of the battery, which is relocated in the rear cargo area.

The Z06 is distinguished from other Corvettes by lots of subtle appearance tweaks, starting with the roof. It's fixed rather than removable, adding an extra element of structural stiffness for track driving. You'll never see a transparent roof panel on a Z06.

In front, the Z06 has a wider, lower grille and a separate, unique air scoop above the bumper to shove more intake air under the hood. Its fenders are wider front and rear to cover massively wide tires and rims (the rear wheels are fully 12 inches wide or two inches wider than those on the standard Vette). In back, brake scoops are located in front of the rear wheels, the Z06 spoiler is slightly more prominent, and its exhaust outlets are wider, too (four inches in diameter at the tips).

Several Z06 body and chassis changes are not visible. The frame is made entirely of hydro-formed aluminum (the standard Vettes have steel rails), with a magnesium engine cradle, and its fenders are formed from ultra-light carbon fiber. As a result, and despite a much heavier engine and drivetrain, the Z06 weighs 50 pounds less than a standard Corvette coupe.

Interior Features

The Corvette cabin features premium soft surfaces, nice grain in the materials and elegant tailoring. The dashboard is finished in a soft material that feels rich to the touch. Real metal accents are used, but they don't generate glare. The electronics displays serve the driver without getting in the way.

The steering wheel is relatively small, measuring just 9.4 inches in diameter. It feels good in the hands, and it affords a good view of the instruments.

The seats are comfortable and fairly easy to adjust, though moving the manually operated backrest forward is a problem because your weight is invariably resting on it when you want to adjust it. Sitting in the Corvette evokes that feeling of sitting deep down in a massive machine. There's plenty of headroom and the windshield doesn't seem too close to the driver's face. Hefty side bolstering on the optional sport seats, even more so with those in the Z06, makes it more difficult to slide in, but the bolsters squeeze around the thighs and torso and hold the driver like Velcro.

For 2008, the Corvette is available with a special two-tone leather package that adds leather upholstery to the top of the instrument panel, upper door panels, and console cover. The effect is a more elegant, higher end look than the Corvette has had in the past.

The instruments are big analog gauges, easy to read at a glance. The Z06 gets a unique cluster with more gauges. The Corvette is, thankfully, devoid of a lot of digital readouts. One exception is the head-up display, which projects speed, rpm and even g-forces onto the windshield, a handy and entertaining feature. The upgrade Bose stereo system includes redundant controls on the steering wheel hub for most functions.

Cubby storage is decent. The glovebox is roomy, and in the coupe, there is 22.0 cubic feet of storage space under the glass behind the rear seats. That's more than the trunk space in a sedan, with plenty of room for golf bags. You need to be careful when loading to avoid scratching the bodywork, however, and the liftover height is high; this is not a sedan or everyday hatchback.

There's no need to take the key out of your pocket to unlock the Corvette or start its engine. Simply walk up and pull the door handle. With the keyless start feature, sensors detect your key and unlock the door. Climb in, buckle up, and press the starter button. We're not sold on the benefits of keyless starting, but it can be convenient.

The convertible's five-layer fabric top is available in four colors, and it offers power operation. The power top operates with a single-button control and completes its cycle in 18 seconds. An easy-to-operate manual top is standard.

The convertible looks good with the top up, and it looks terrific with the top down, with body-color trim that gives it the racy appearance of an open-cockpit Le Mans prototype.

The convertible gives up some cargo capacity. It offers 11 cubic feet of storage with the top up, which isn't bad for a roadster, and 7.5 cubic feet with the top down.

Driving Impressions

The Chevrolet Corvette is a lot of fun to drive in any iteration. The LS3 V8 engine sounds great, and its low, throaty roar is accompanied by thrilling acceleration. Stand on the gas and even the automatic will chirp the rear tires when it shifts into second.

The LS3 V8 has been updated for 2008 from last year's LS2. It now displaces 6.2 liters (376 cubic inches) and generates 430 horsepower and 424 pound-feet of torque. To put this in perspective, that's 25 hp more than the previous-generation Z06 engine.

The Corvette can accelerate from 0-60 mph in 4.2 seconds and cover the standing quarter-mile in 12.5 seconds. That's quicker than a Porsche 911 Carrera or Jaguar XK8 and comparable to a Ferrari F430. There's lots of torque at all engine speeds, and throttle response is even more willing for 2008. Stand on the gas and the Vette goes. The 2008 Corvette can lap a racing circuit nearly as quickly as the old Z06, and it boasts a top speed of 190 mph. We haven't experienced 190 mph, but on a tight racing circuit we found the current Corvette much easier to drive than older models. Today's Corvette is easier to drive hard in the turns, braking hard, then powering out under hard acceleration.

The Corvette is happy cruising around, as well. It gets an EPA-rated 16/26 mpg City/Highway with the manual, 15/25 mpg with the automatic.

The six-speed automatic and six-speed manual are each appealing in their own right, so choosing between them comes down to priorities and personal preference. We're here to tell you the manual is a viable option as a daily driver. It shifts easily and the clutch is easy to operate smoothly. For fuel economy purposes, Chevrolet includes a mechanism that forces you to shift from first to fourth gear when accelerating slowly. We find this annoying, but adjusted to it. This fuel-economy strategy can be avoided by revving higher and waiting longer to shift. Fifth and sixth gears are both overdrives, again to improve fuel efficiency. Shifting through the gears is a lot of fun and it's easy to brake and downshift using the heel-and-toe method when approaching a corner (actually by braking with the ball of the foot and blipping the throttle with the right side of the foot). In short, it's a modern, easy-to-operate manual; we'd own one.

The automatic is best for commuting in stop-and-go traffic, and it gives up little to the manual in performance. The Paddle Shift automatic offers manual shifting via steering-wheel levers and an electronic controller with more computing power than the typical PC had 10 years ago. The relatively close ratios offer good performance and smoothness by allowing the engine to run at optimal rpm more often. First gear has a high ratio, delivering impressive acceleration off the line. Yet both fifth and sixth are overdrive gears, allowing quiet cruising and good highway mileage. If ever a sporting car were suited for an automatic transmission, it's the Corvette, with its big, torquey V8. The automatic does not sap all the fun out of driving the way automatics do in small sports cars with small engines. It's responsive to the driver's intent, shifting hard and fast when you're getting with the program, but shifting smooth and soft when cruising.

In the handling department, the Corvette is agile and easy to toss around, benefits of its light weight, trim proportions and refined suspension. The coupe weighs a trim 3,217 pounds. Three suspensions are available.

We liked the standard suspension and would not hesitate to order a Corvette so equipped. Ride quality of the C6 is firm but quite pleasant, not harsh. It offers great handling, even on a racing circuit. There's almost no body lean when cornering hard. In short, the cheapest, most basic Corvette is a great car.

The Z51 package makes the Corvette even more fun on a race track. Z51 is a substantial upgrade that includes special brakes, shocks, springs, anti-roll bars, gear ratios and tires. The Z51 setup offers excellent grip in fast sweepers, with just the right amount of body lean. We found it easy to roll on the power coming out of the turns. It can generate 0.98g on the skid pad, quite a bit more than the standard suspension's 0.92g. With the Z51, you feel and hear bumps more (Thwack!) and there's more road vibration in the cockpit, but it's quite livable. Around town, we found it handled bumpy neighborhood streets well and didn't feel harsh. For competition or hard driving on back roads, a serious enthusiast would prefer the Z51, but most drivers will be perfectly happy with the standard suspension and will never feel like they're missing out.

The F55 Magnetic Selective Ride Control covers both ends of the spectrum, offering the best of both worlds. The driver can switch between Touring and Sport modes, each of which adjusts shock damping automatically according to driving conditions. In the Touring mode, the suspension varies damping from very soft when poking along to something close to Z51 stiffness when driven hard. These adjustments in damping happen very rapidly; and a similar setup is used on Ferrari's most expensive models. Touring mode felt a little softer to us than the standard suspension on a country road. It filters vibration well, but it verged on feeling a tad floaty in some situations. Switching to Sport mode raises the floor (but not the ceiling) in terms of firmness, so you feel road vibration more. Still, it's not harsh. All in all, Magnetic Selective Ride Control is a great setup. It comes with fade- and moisture-resistant cross-drilled brake rotors. Choosing between the standard and electronic suspensions is stressful only because they give us a choice. If they gave us one or the other, we'd be perfectly happy. True performance junkies will prefer the Z51 setup.

The brakes are smooth, progressive and easy to modulate. The Corvette is very stable under hard braking and it doesn't get unsettled when braking and turning at the same time. Be advised, however, that the engine has so much power that the rear end can break loose if the gas is applied too hard in a turn.

The Z06 is the most powerful production Corvette ever, boasting 505 horsepower. Its LS7 V8 displaces 7.0 liters, or 427 cubic inches, just like the famous 427 Vettes of the late '60s. Yet the original 427s were big-block engines. While the LS7 generates big block torque (470 pound-feet), it's actually a small block V8, so it's lighter and much more compact than the original 427s. Yes, it's still an overhead-valve engine, and in certain respects it has more in common with a heavy-duty Silverado pickup than a Ferrari. Yet the LS7 is impressively tuned and highly refined. The Z06 features a host of racing technologies that enhance durability, including dry sump engine lubrication and separate cooling systems for the oil, power steering, rear axle and six-speed manual transmission.

The springs and shocks in the Z06 suspension are about 15 percent stiffer than those with the optional Z51 performance suspension for the standard Corvette. The cross-drilled brake rotors are larger, with high-performance six-piston calipers in front and four-piston calipers in the rear. The Z06 has a fixed roof, rather than a removable panel like the standard coupe, for a bit more overall structural stiffness. Its frame is made entirely of lightweight aluminum and magnesium, rather than high-strength steel, and its fenders are lightweight carbon fiber rather than fiberglass. As a result, the Z06 is substantially lighter than the standard Corvette coupe, even though its engine, transmission and other super high-performance components are substantially heavier.

The Z06 might be the best supercar value in high-performance automotive history: 0-60 mph in 3.7 seconds, 11.7-second quarter mile, 200-mph top speed, and 1.04 g constant lateral grip, according to Chevrolet. These numbers surpass those generated by European sports cars that cost twice as much as the Z06 during clearance sales, and all but a handful of low-volume, $500,000-plus specials built in small workshops around the world. And here's the real stunner: The Z06 does all that with nothing more than a slightly stiff ride on really bad roads when driven around town. There's nothing finicky in this monster. Yet, with impressive EPA mileage numbers of 15 mpg city and 24 highway, the Z06 doesn't even get a Gas Guzzler Tax.

Still, the standard Corvette is easier to live with every day than the Z06, with a smoother ride on rough roads and a lighter clutch pedal.

Summary

Chevrolet Corvette is easy to live with, easy to drive and more fun than a Sony PlayStation 3. The ultra-high-performance Z06 model pushes the envelope for off-the-shelf production cars to limits hard-core enthusiast drivers wouldn't have imagined a decade ago. For everyday driving, our choice is for one of the standard models, though we'd lie awake at night deciding between coupe or convertible, manual or automatic, before we even got to the whole color dilemma.

NewCarTestDrive.com editor Mitch McCullough filed this report from Los Angeles; with Jeff Vettraino in Detroit, and Kirk Bell in Chicago.

 

Copyright © 1994-2007 New Car Test Drive, Inc.

New Car Test Drive

Copyright © 1994-2009 New Car Test Drive, Inc.

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