It has been raining hard most of the afternoon, a fall rain that knocks the leaves off the trees. Seems like the perfect day to swap cars for a new Corvette Convertible, right?
Sure is, when it is the latest wonder-car from GM’s Chevrolet Division, the Corvette that is earning platitudes from every corner.
Dusk also is approaching, so a cursory overview of the Corvette’s interior and controls will have to suffice, as I point the Stingray north from Newcastle and head for home. Route 1 traffic is moderate at this hour, but it feels prudent to leave the rain spray and commuter congestion for the open space and windy curves of Route 235 to Unity and Belmont.
From the get-go, the new Stingray offers impressive acceleration as well as a powerful soundtrack to go with it. My Shark Gray Convertible is equipped with the optional multi-mode performance exhaust (adding five hp, to reach 460 hp) plus the ZF-1 performance package; eight-speed automatic with paddle shifters and rev-match, tunable suspension, steering and throttle, plus video recorder in the nav system. There is a constant V-8 thrum under throttle, yet the powertrain is almost completely silent at a steady setting. Dip into the throttle for just a small burst of power and the wide Michelin Pilot Super Sports squirt out from under the rear end.
Other first impressions include how good the new seat is, with thigh and upper torso adjustable support, plus the great details and finishing in the revised cabin. The latest C7 features a completely new cabin and the effort exceeds any previous Corvette — by far. Soft-touch surfaces, controls that are more fluid, multiple information screens, plus reconfigurable instrument gauges all add to a more premium feel. With the HID heads-up screen relaying pertinent data just below your normal line of sight, the driver can concentrate on what is going on — without distraction.
As the wipers maintain their constant motion, and the upgraded Bose audio system plays out the fitting soundtrack of “Boys of Fall,” Kenny Chesney’s salute to football players, the Corvette almost seems like a docile coupe, flirting in and out of traffic with ease. After a short respite in the torrential rain running through Orland, the fire hose comes back on at the Ellsworth line. A few miles ahead, two men are running, side-by-side, in the dark of night, in the pouring rain, with an apparent death wish. Considering that a full 10 percent of traffic earlier in the day was illegally running without their headlamps on, some driver may grant their wish.
While the Corvette’s headlamps are better than most, for a car with this potential — I would want even more retina-burning candlepower.
With the skies still drizzling, and the mercury at only 48 degrees, the Stingray pushes down a deserted Black Woods Road. We do not have a Tail of the Dragon, or the Natchez Trail or Skyline Drive locally, but Route 182 has a few miles of circuitous pavement that suffices for exploring a car’s handling and grip. The Corvette dispatches this damp pavement with aplomb — and confidence. The car tracks as if it is on rails, the steering feel giving constant reports on what is happening below the grippy tires. Smooth and composed, the Corvette no longer beats you up as you push it over less than perfect pavement. No rattles, no squeaks, nothing but silence as the reinforced aluminum sub-frame and beefy chassis take care of irregularities that can upset a trip.
Day Three dawns clearer and drier and offers a chance to wash the road grime off the Stingray. Surprisingly, the dark gray metallic paint masks much of the accumulated filth; not until the sponge explores the car’s nooks and crannies, fins and gills, and other interesting lines does one get to see how purposeful the new body is to the car’s overall performance. All of those fins, the big splitter up front, the air outlets at the back, as well as the hood-scoop up front — everything has a purpose to move air into or out of the car while improving aerodynamics.
Washing the car reinforces a repeated sentiment shared by all who viewed the new Stingray — it is a lot better looking in person than mere pictures reveal. Powerful looking, the C7 has great street presence. With the LED running lamps active, the car captures your attention on the road too.
With the power soft top lowered, I employ the Stingray as a — pickup truck. Four 8-foot cedar boards are needed at Kathy’s project this day, and she already has the family pickup. Looking like a surfboard sticking out of the front seat, we motor up to Aurora — with a certain authority — as well as cementing the belief that yes, sports cars can be versatile. Dry pavement gives me the first opportunity to truly explore the Corvette’s traction — and acceleration.
In Sport-mode, the default of three — Touring is “softest”, Sport is the mid-setting, and Track is for maximum track performance — the C7 moderates wheelspin while allowing peak acceleration. Like our 427 Convertible of two years ago, the current 6.2-liter V-8 Stingray reaches 60 mph all in first gear, the tires fighting to maintain grip and the exhaust note a snarling ripping sound at redline (like a Ferrari) as the automatic masterfully pulls the next gear and your velocity increases. The second-gear shift occurs at 90 mph (sorry, officer) and the momentum continues unabated. It is clear that the Corvette’s performance has been finely tuned for closed-course track use, a two-person rocket with license plates.
Switch over to manual mode to run the shifts yourself, and the rev-match feature automatically blips the throttle at every downshift on the paddle shifters, creating more mechanical fury while opening the adjustable plates in the quad-performance exhausts outback. IF you dare, the traction control can be deactivated and 70-mph burnouts are added to the repertoire.
Day Four initiates another trip along the rural routes to Aurora. With the top down, I inadvertently hit the SOS button on the auto-dimming mirror. In five seconds, a representative from OnStar is filling the cabin with requests if I am all right. I am doing great, thanks for asking.
The C7 Stingray is a placid and calm touring convertible when you behave. Cruise at 55-mph and stay out of the throttle, and this sports car is as quiet as a hybrid. However, click the shift lever back into ‘M’ for manual mode, and your own burly NASCAR racer comes to life, booming and belching its fire as the V-8 engine comes to life. With stop-me-now brakes, and quick responses in the chassis, the Corvette is a never-ending arcade of performance entertainment. Whew!
That is one of the joys of the new Corvette. Convertibles start at $58,000 very well equipped. Powerful, fast, and so composed, the C7 Stingray can run with the Euro-bred sports cars that cost two and three times as much.
Day Five takes the C7 to Bucksport, then down through Penobscot, Brooksville and over to Blue Hill for business. At several stops, I return to the car to find people taking pictures of the Stingray. During the Stingray’s visit, it was not uncommon to have lots of double-takes and finger-pointing as the car motored around. Even walking around the Corvette in my own garage, I often did my own double-take; one to take in another angle of the attractive two-seater, but to pinch myself as a silver Corvette used to sit in this space 25 years ago.
This is good for Chevrolet and the industry as the worries about future generations of drivers not being interested in this type of car has been a concern. There is an obvious interest in this latest Corvette.
Its striking good looks, as well as its performance, helps to explain the threefold growth in sales over the previous edition. This new Corvette is out-selling its competitors — Porsche Boxster, Porsche 911, Nissan 370Z and Jaguar F-type — combined.
By now, the car is becoming more familiar. Initially, the Stingray’s tall front fenders and restricted rear views created some visual dynamics that made the car feel wider and larger than it truly is. Add the wide thresholds on entrance, and super-large center tunnel, and the Stingray has some interesting proportions when compared to its rivals.
Yet on these twisting rural roads, the Stingray settles into a nice rhythm and the car’s width is no longer a problem. It feels secure and stable and handles the undulating pavement with grace. I would state that a Porsche Boxster still feels more nimble, more tossable at speed, yet the Corvette definitely packs more motor.
Stopping at Bucks Harbor to soak up the autumn view, it is easy to recognize the market emphasis for a power top, however the multiple levers, motors and necessary tensioners create extra weight and complexity. Early editions of the C5 and C6 convertibles came with a manual top; click the underdeck button to release the hard tonneau and then just fold the roof into its dedicated well. Yes, you had to get out of the car to execute, but how much of a hardship is that?
The power top moves smartly, seals well, but robs more trunk space than previously. A concession to convenience forced by our luxury lifestyles.
A 55-degree day with the sun shining is very comfortable with the Stingray’s top stored. A 55-degree day with clouds requires the seat heaters and an adjustment of the cabin heat as some swirling air enters the cabin around the waterfall between the seats.
Day Six, and the Corvette is headed to Middleboro, Mass. Outside of Hampden on the interstate, I reel in an early edition Z06 Coupe. We exchange glances and waves and you know what happens next; the C7 shows what it can do. The 6.2-liter V-8 never balks as it rips off another splendid display of its potent performance. Did you know that a slightly detuned version of this engine is now available in Denali, Escalade, and premium versions of GM’s pickup trucks — with a different version of this eight-speed automatic? Did you know that this engine uses synthetic motor oil with a two-year/24,000-mile change interval?
Final thoughts: the big Michelins can be noisy on older pavement, especially at highway speeds. If you use (abuse) the Stingray as sampled, you will become well acquainted with the local tire store, or, Tire Rack. Cost of ownership, having fun.
The Stingray’s power is intoxicating. The brakes are stunning. The ripping exhaust note is addicting, a soundtrack that you will relish more than the audio system. The level of finish and detail is impressive, and very welcome.
The latest Z06 Corvette will soon be on sale, with over 600 hp. It also will come in a convertible package. Pierre, can we get one of those too?