Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport — Z06-like on a budget

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

The iconic American sports car has sold on average more than 30,000 copies a year for most of the 21st Century. An all new iteration in 2005 spurred sales for 2005 and 2006 to an average 34,000 annually.

But the Chevrolet Corvette has fallen on the same hard times that have afflicted nearly every segment of the North American and European automotive market. The Corvette, which still delivers more bang for the buck than any sports car in the world, fell to 27,000 sales in 2008, and based on the first ten months of 2009, the Vette will slump to an astonishing 14,300 sales in 2009.

With no all-new product in the immediate future, Corvette engineers rely on continual improvements to keep sales up. And for 2010, a new Grand Sport edition brings many of the high-performance Z06 attributes to the base Vette, but at a fraction of the high cost of the Z06.

Corvette will always be there — we fervently hope — and we are delighted that returning customers as well as newcomers to the brand will have more selection to choose from.

The standard Corvette, a delightful high-performance vehicle, is enough for most people. Where else can you get a head-turning sports car that can hit 60 mph in just a tick or two over four seconds, eat up a curving mountain road like it was mounted on rails, deliver gas mileage in the upper 20s, and carry two sets of golf clubs or enough luggage for two people on a month-long road trip! Imagine that sports car thrill for only $49,880 including destination charges.

Granted, if you want to add an automatic transmission — the shifter of choice for most these days — and a few other goodies, your cost will climb into the low 50s. But you’ve got your dream car, even suitable as an every-day driver.

For those driving enthusiasts who want more power, more grip and world-class track credentials, Corvette has your number — for a price: the raucous, high-performing Z06 edition delivers raw performance measured at 505 horsepower starting at $74,285, and the ZR1 super car rivals just about anything in the world with an out-the-door sticker of $106,880.

Now for 2010, Chevrolet has released a Grand Sport (GS) edition available as a coupe or convertible. The coupe starts at $55,720 including destination and the convertible begins at $59,530. That’s about a six grand premium over the base car.

Here’s what you get for the extra cash outlay — a sport-tuned suspension that replaces last year’s Z51 suspension option, front fender stripes and vents, wider front and rear fenders, a Z06-style front splitter and tall rear spoiler, unique alloy wheels, Z06-size brakes and tires, specific manual-transmission gear ratios, and a specific rear axle ratio on automatic-equipped models.

In other words, you get a lot of Z06 detail for just a few thousand more. And Corvette officials are forecasting that the new GS could gain nearly 50 percent of standard Corvette sales, enticing people who want the handling and performance enhancements without the limitations of the Z06’s coupe-only and manual-transmission-only limitations.

We might argue that estimation, but there’s no denying we enjoyed our seven days in a Grand Sport with manual transmission and the optional dual-mode exhaust that raises horsepower from 430 to 436. And we can see the allure in purchasing a convertible in Grand Sport clothes.

This power comes in a GS 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 standard Corvette and the GS are powered by a 6.2-liter V-8 that cranks out the aforementioned 430 or optional 436 horsepower and 424 pound-feet of torque mated to either a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic with paddle shifters.

All 2010 Corvettes equipped with the six-speed manual get launch control. With launch control, slam the accelerator to the floor (rpm will go to a predetermined number), drop the clutch and the ABS control module goes to work creating a perfect takeoff. It allows just about anyone to gain a 0-to-60 time of 4.2 seconds with a quarter mile time of 12.3 seconds at 116 mph.

Chevrolet has elected since 1989 to engineer a “skip shift” feature into its Corvette manual, forcing the driver to shift from first to fourth under leisurely (stoplight to stoplight) acceleration. It’s an abomination, designed to save fuel. Hey, let the driver determine his fuel savings. But it can be defeated simply by shifting to second before reaching 15 mph or after exceeding 20 mph.

A lot of writers over the past few years have groused about the so-called cheap materials used in the Corvette’s cockpit. But, frankly, we think fit and finish is good and materials are acceptable although we agree with others that for the money and the prestige of Corvette the materials used should be first class.

The switchgear is easy to use and the stuff you need to reach is right at hand. Gauges are large, and there is still nothing better than Corvette’s head-up display, which gives the driver constant access to speed, rpm, and g-force.
And we like the long-distance feel of the Corvette seats.

And most remarkable is the incredible 22 cubic feet of storage under the hatchback.

We do wish for less interior noise. The current-generation Corvette is certainly quieter than the previous iteration, but for a car in this class and price range we wish for a little more solitude and a bit less road racket.

While our test coupe came in at a base price of $55,720, options can push the bottom line into another tax bracket. Unfortunately, for the average buyer many of these options are very desirable.

For instance, our test car came with the premium equipment group for (gasp) $7,705; head-turning aluminum wheels; navigation with upgraded audio system that includes Bluetooth; and the dual-mode exhaust system. That brought the bottom line to $68,660.

Corvette shoppers now have another model to choose from. And the Grand Sport is worthy of consideration. One thing is certain — America’s sports car has never been better and there have never been more performance choices.

Base price: $55,720; as driven, $68,660
Engine: 6.2-liter V-8
Horsepower: 436 @ 5,900 rpm
Torque: 424 foot-pounds @ 4,600 rpm
Drive: rear wheel
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Seating: 2
Wheelbase: 105.7 inches
Length: 175.6 inches
Curb weight: 3,311 pounds
Turning circle: 39 feet
Luggage capacity: 22 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 18 gallons (premium)
EPA rating: 26 mpg highway, 16 mpg city
0-60: 4.2 seconds (Road & Track)
Also consider: BMW Z4, Porsche 911, Chevrolet Camaro SS

The Good:
• Tremendous performance
• Comfortable cockpit
• Large luggage capacity

The Bad:
• Skip-shift manual transmission

The Ugly:
• Options can run price into stratosphere