Iconic Corvette drop top still the American dream in 2005 and better than ever

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

The Corvette convertible was made for late spring and summer nights as the soothing softer air mixes with the rumble of a passionate V-8 and the lyrics of some classic rock takes one home to day’s past.

At least that’s how it felt when we slid behind the wheel of a 2005 ‘Vette, flipped open the header latch and powered the top back in about 20 seconds exposing some delicious-feeling 75-degree air that sent us back to our impetuous youth and our version of “American Graffiti.”

With the sun setting into yellows and oranges in the western sky, we cruised out of the subdivision and hit the highway with a breath-taking urgency, slamming the six-speed into second gear and watching the rpm needle race toward redline

For all of General Motors’ problems, perceived or real, the Corvette is a shining example of what the big, oft troubled automaker can achieve — near perfection in a sports car, especially sans a top

The General has got the latest edition of its Chevrolet All-American icon just right.

It carries classic Corvette lines in a modern suit of clothes. It is smoothed out with a slimmed-down look. The big bubble butt 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 Gone are the out-of-date pop-up headlights in favor of a triangular enclosure for projector beams.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 is still propelled by a rumbling goose bump-producing pushrod engine that will rival anything in the world liter for liter. The old 350-horsepower LS-1 5.7-liter V-8 has been replaced with a 6.0-liter LS-2 engine generating 400 horsepower and 400 tire-shredding pound-feet of torque. And this is the mild mannered powertrain.

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. And to that end the ‘Vette is also available with DVD-based Navigation and XM satellite radio.

The convertible edition for the first time this year can be purchased with an optional 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 found on the 2003 and 2004 Corvette. It was a simple process — up or down — that could be accomplished in less than a minute. We (being as cheap as we are) would keep the $1,995 — the cost of the optional power roof — in the bank and stick with the manual top. Maybe for some people it’s not cool to get out of the car to raise and lower the roof. But when the car is sitting in the driveway, who’s watching?

Unlike Corvettes and most other drop tops of the past, the body structure is rigid. There’s no cowl shake in the new ‘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 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.

All 2005 Corvettes are propelled by the new 400-horsepower V-8 that brings the muscle-car era into modern times. For all of us who are now on the AARP mailing list, there simply is nothing on the planet that can take the place of the rumble and feel of a small-block Chevy V-8. (Come to think of it at our age maybe the power top isn’t such a bad idea).

We know many people will opt for the four-speed automatic, but there’s a special thrill in driving the six-speed manual transmission. It’s not a transmission you can speed shift on a throttle-to-the-floor romp to 100 miles per hour without the skill of a race driver, but its slick enough for the level of aggressive driving prudent on the police-patrolled streets and highways of America.

How fast is fast? In the Corvette, fast is very fast. By the numbers, the convertible will climb from 0 to 60 in 4.3 seconds and finish off a quarter mile in 13.1 seconds at 112 miles per hour.

And that kind of muscle is at your command with the prospect of getting 19 miles per gallon in the city and 28 on the highway with more sedate driving or interstate cruising.

We had hoped that Chevy would have retired its aggravating first-to-fourth shift feature. But, alas, it’s an albatross that Corvette owners must wear. For the uninitiated, under normal rpm conditions, a gate blocks the shift from first to second and sends the transmission into fourth gear. The goal is to raise the fuel economy rating.

It can be defeated by running up the rpm before shifting to second. But, it seems at the most inconvenient times, you find yourself stuck in fourth gear at about 1,000 rpm.

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 work. Scary? Yes indeed. But remember, everything operates once the shifter is placed in reverse.

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. The doors will lock as you walk away.

Note that there are safeguards in place in case of a dead battery or other malfunction.

The Corvette is a safe car for those who go beyond the limits. An Active Handling System can sense loss of control and apply individual brakes or cut power to help maintain stability.

The standard Corvette convertible probably offers the most bang for the buck of any two-seat open-air car in the world. Without options, the Corvette comes with everything you need for the good life at $52,245. But if you are tempted by stuff such as the power top, navigation, automatic transmission, magnetic ride control and optional wheels you can run the price toward 60 grand in a hurry.

Our test car, which included the power top and navigation among other items, had a sticker of $59,155.

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 and wind in your hair (oh that we had some) driving pleasure for the money (oh, that we had some).