Chevrolet Corvette convertible — The sweet rush of joy

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

The biggest Corvette unveiling in years occurred at the 2008 Detroit Auto Show when the new super-Vette ZR1 was revealed to the automotive press. It has drawn considerable attention since it hit the fast streets last year with its 638-horsepower supercharged V-8 together with the necessary run-fast accouterments to make it one of the world's premier sports cars.

With the 2009 ZR1 gracing the cover of nearly every automotive magazine and the subject of hundreds of newspaper and online stories, it's easy to overlook the improved standard-issue 2009 Corvette.

We can understand that talk is all ZR1. But right now residing in showrooms across the country is the best standard-issue Corvette ever built.

The Corvette has been steadily upgraded over the years gaining improved driving dynamics, a more upscale cockpit and new styling flourishes in 2005. The Vette was awarded a new infusion of horsepower and perceptibly improved steering feel in 2008 along with a new 6.2-liter V-8 raises horsepower from 400 to 430 accompanied by an impressive 424 pound-feet of torque. An optional exhaust system raises horsepower to 436. 2009 Chevrolet Corvette Convertible – the sweet rush of joy

Stunning performance, whether it be through a six-speed automatic or a six-speed manual transmission, is measured in 0-to-60 time of less than five seconds with a quarter-mile time of around 13 seconds. That's a couple ticks faster than the previous Corvette with the 400-horsepower 6.0-liter V-8.

This power comes in a sports car that feels glued to the road at ungodly speeds through the back-road twists and turns. Steering feel is exceptional and unless you are hell-bent on defying the laws of physics, you will be hard pressed to find a better companion for driving hard and fast

For all of General Motors’ considerable problems, the Corvette is a shining example of what the big automaker can achieve — near perfection in a sports car.

The General has got the latest edition of its All-American icon, now in its fourth model year, just right. It carries classic Corvette lines in a modern suit of clothes. It’s smoothed out with a slimmed-down look. The big bubble butt of the previous iteration has been put on an exercise regime. Gone are the out-of-date pop-up headlights in favor of a triangular enclosure for projector beams. The taillights retain the Corvette look, but are now large and rounded, not oval-shaped.

The Corvette cockpit-like interior has been upgraded with more attractive pieces while retaining great seats and the capability of keeping its passengers comfortable cruising from coast-to-coast.

Now available is DVD-based Navigation and XM satellite radio and new-for-2009 Bluetooth connectivity.

The Corvette continues to come in coupe and convertible formats. The hatchback coupe in addition to being one of the most entertaining cars on planet earth is one of the most useable with 11 cubic feet of storage under the rear glass.

But ultimate fun, albeit with considerable less storage space, is the convertible. And it now comes with a power top. Unlatch the header and press the button and the top will be neatly stowed under the rear tonneau cover in just seconds.

We never had a problem with the manual top. It was a simple process — up or down — that could be accomplished in less than a minute. And it can still be purchased as standard equipment.

Chevrolet offers the power top in three difference equipment packages. Our test convertible came with the $6,550 option, which includes premium Bose audio, head-up display (don't leave home without it), side impact airbags and power adjustable steering wheel. Chevrolet has bundled a lot of good things into the package, many of which we would want on our convertible. Also included are satellite radio; power telescoping steering wheel; heated seats and steering wheel controls. There's a more expensive package at 10 grand and a lesser package at $3,540. We’d pony up for any one of the packages. A leathered-up interior comes with the extra cash outlay.

Unlike Corvettes and most other drop tops of the past, the body structure is rigid. There’s no cowl shake in the Vette. Wind is relatively well managed — at least on a par with most of the competition — even at higher speeds. And higher speeds are instantly possible and hard to stay away from.

With the top up, the interior is reasonably quiet, thanks in part to the bulkhead that now separates the cabin from the trunk area. Getting the most out of the excellent stereo system or carrying on a conversation in a normal tone of voice is taken for granted.

The Corvette has entered the electronic age. For the most part that’s good. But perhaps at times it’s not so good. Like the time we cut off the engine and the push-button electronic door handle would not open the door. Scary, indeed! Remember, everything works once the shifter is placed in park.

We do enjoy Corvette’s keyless access system. Sensors detect the presence of the keyfob in your pocket and unlock the doors as you approach. There’s no ignition key. Just push the starter button.
Safety includes antilock disc brakes, Active Handling stability control and the OnStar system. As noted above, side-impact airbags remain an option.

Everything a person really needs comes standard at reasonable prices considering this is one of the premier sports cars in the world starting at $49,415 for the coupe and $54,070 for the convertible including destination charge.

But, alas, there are so many mouth-watering options available that the starting price is just that — starting. How you finish it off is up to you and your pocketbook. Some things such as the six-speed automatic with steering-wheel paddle shifters are necessities for a lot of people. That's a $1,250 option. Such things as the power convertible top with the load of extras may be necessary for a lot of folks. Then there's goodies that are hard to avoid such as magnetic selective ride control that allows the driver to dial in suspension stiffness, navigation and polished aluminum wheels.

For instance, our convertible test car came with enough options to take the bottom line to $67,405. But regardless of the extras you add to your Corvette, there’s simply nothing else out there that will deliver the perfect combination of performance, great looks, driving pleasure and neighborhood envy for the money.
Base price, $54,070; as driven, $67,405
Engine: 6.2-liter V-8
Horsepower: 436 @ 5,900 rpm
Torque: 424 foot-pounds @ 4,600 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Drive: rear wheel
Seating: 2
Wheelbase: 105.7 inches
Length: 174.6 inches
Curb weight: 3,246 pounds
Turning circle: 39 feet
Luggage capacity: 11 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 18 gallons (premium)
EPA mileage: 25 mpg highway, 15 mpg city
0-60: 4 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Ford Mustang GT, Audi R8, BMW Z4

The Good:
• World-class performance
• Great bang for the buck
• Gas mileage exemplary for big horsepower

The Bad:
• Despite great strides, dashboard materials could stand further upgrades

The Ugly:
• Options can send moderate base price into the stratosphere