For a few years now, electric drive has been on just about everyone’s lips in the automotive domain. With the choice of available vehicles types ever-expanding (everything from the Nissan LEAF to the Tesla Model S to the new Chevrolet Bolt, among others), the plug-in hybrid is here to stay, and this time for keeps. But even as this trend continues to grow, at the other end of the spectrum the automotive manufacturers continue to peddle a dream. A most distinctly American dream.
As you can see from the photo that accompanies this article, the Watkins Glen Gray-coloured beast is one of the most perfect illustrations of this dream. The Chevrolet Corvette is considered by many, yours truly included, to be the ultimate American sports car.
In order to squeeze the most profitability out of the very expensive platform the Corvette is built on, Chevrolet has had no choice but to offer multiple versions of its flagship model – similarly to what Porsche has done with its 911, and Ford with its Mustang. This explains the Z51 options package of the base model, the slightly insane top-end Z06, the highly anticipated upcoming ZR1, and the Grand Sport version that occupies the middle ground in the lineup. Like the sixth-generation of the Corvette (the C6), the new GS is likely to take home the lion’s share of sales of the C7 model, for the very simple reason that it’s probably the best Corvette in the current family.
The lines of the Z06, the heart of the Stingray
The Grand Sport retails for a few dollars more than the Corvette Stingray equipped with the Z51 package; but even at a starting price of $75,895, the coupe is actually a good deal. To be sure, the model I used for my road test came in at over $100,000 – a tidy sum, I’ll grant you – but it’s an entirely reasonable amount to pay for a car that rivals the world’s best sports cars, which it does despite “settling” for the 460 hp produced by the 6.2L naturally aspirated V8 LT1 engine of the base model.
Now, the Corvette Stingray is an exceedingly attractive car, but with all that gear it inherited from the Z06, the Grand Sport declares that it means business. Its carbon-fibre skid plates, as large as footboards, and its front and rear spoilers show it cares little for subtlety. The clear intention is to provide the car with additional aerodynamic support at high speeds.
Packed in under the fibreglass and carbon-fibre chassis are some high-level components. There are carbon-ceramic disc brakes, for starters, operating on 19-inch front and 20-inch back alloy wheels. The smooth-sole Michelin Pilot Super Sport Cup 2 tires that envelop these wheels are so wide that the engineers at Chevrolet were compelled to add a plasticized band to the outside of the wheel housings. These tires come with the Z07 package, and they stick to the tarmac like velcro. When Mother Nature gets involved, however, it’s wise to take it a little easy on the accelerator pedal, if you catch my drift! For the majority of drivers who will never take their Grand Sport on to the track, in other words, it’s probably best to stick with the standard tires. And there’s more to the Z07 package: the magnetic suspension not only gives the driver the ability to adjust the rebound via a control knob, it makes said driver’s life just that much easier.
A world-class interior
Once the well-deserved object of criticism for its interior, the Chevrolet Corvette has thankfully left behind the days when it had to conceal the mediocrity of its cockpit. No longer is it saddled with a steering wheel borrowed from the Cobalt, and no longer does it have plastic components worthy of a minivan. Since 2014, the seventh generation of the model has managed to change motorists’ perceptions by incorporating better materials and upgrading the quality of assembly.
From the leather surfaces to the carbon fibre that frames the dashboard, not to mention the optional competition seats that literally envelop occupants’ curves, the materials are near-uniformly of high quality. True, some of the buttons and knobs have been spotted in other GM models, but the similarities with the manufacturer’s other, more mundane models end there.
This Corvette also comes equipped with the Grand Sport Collector Edition package, which clearly delineates the driver’s space with a blue band, and identifies the serial number on a special plate placed near the gear shifter.
5 different character traits
A knob located on the central console allows the driver to choose the type of Corvette they want. Let’s agree that the Eco and Weather modes are probably not applicable to this iconic American muscle car, but they’re there if you want them!
The Tour mode is tailor-made for daily driving; the steering isn’t too heavy, and the suspension is pretty comfortable – perfect for navigating through a city like Montreal with its infamously bumpy streets. The Sport mode adds some spice to the recipe by making the performance parameters more dynamic, while the Track mode is altogether too demanding for the average driver, as the steering is uncommonly heavy and the mechanics are significantly more nervy. In my view, the Sport mode is the porridge that’s not too hot, not too cold and will deliver a unique driving experience.
Fans of large-cylinders know that the ginormous sound produced by a V8 and the Corvette’s bloc is every bit as exhilarating as those generated by the many other entrants in the performance-car category. The engines revs up effortlessly, while the 8-cylinder orchestra produces a sound designed and guaranteed to attract attention.
The manual gearbox is a pleasure to handle, this despite the heaviness of the lever – a heaviness that also applies to the clutch. The Corvette is a sports car that demands the active engagement of its driver. So if you’re thinking you’ll find any kind of autonomous driving systems on board this car, you can forget about it!
The grip the new Grand Sport has on the road is nothing short of phenomenal, thanks in large part to the wider tires and the ever-vigilant suspension. The carbon-ceramic discs, meanwhile, ensure that braking is instantaneous.
Much more than a Stingray
This Chevrolet Corvette is a car that merits healthy respect. By which I mean, place it in the hands of a novice driver and it could wind up in the ditch! Before you get too alarmed, however, keep in mind that the presence of various electronic assist modules and of the Z07 package, as well as of mechanics that are more civilized than those of the Z06, mean that this most performance-geared of Chevrolets remains eminently controllable.
Basically, the Grand Sport is a Stingray with greatly improved road grip, which is far from being a bad thing…