New 2005 C6 infinitely better, but still a Corvette

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

MILFORD, Mich. --- If it had been one of those typical summer days with just scattered showers where outdoor activities are possible in-between the cloudbursts, everything might have gone as planned.

Instead, it was one of those rare July afternoons when the rain never stops. One of those days when Mother Nature teases with occasional periods of drizzle only to dump buckets about the time you think there may actually be a break.

The rainfall that day was measured in inches, not tenths. The downpours surely left Michigan farmers smiling, but they put the test track at General Motors’ proving grounds under water. And that meant that about 50 journalists had to drive the all-new 2005
Corvettes on the highways and county roads in southern Michigan farm country.
The bad news – no track time. The good news - we still got plenty of seat time in the first all-new Corvette since the introduction of the C5 in 1997. More bad news, we were warned the cops were keeping a close eye on the fleet of Corvettes rolling in and out of the GM  facility.

The thing that most pointed up the sophistication of the new Corvette for the two of us that afternoon of adventure was back-to-back drives in a 2005 version and a 2004 Z06.

Both sports cars are endowed with 400 horsepower. The new ‘vette, courtesy of an all-new small block 6.0-liter LS2 V-8, comes with 400 ponies as standard equipment. The Z06 is a performance-enhanced version of the standard 350-horsepower ‘04 Corvette.
The Z06 actually generates 405 horsepower, and we figured the comparison would be interesting. It was more than interesting; it was eye opening.

We knew we were in for a treat before the drive started following a spirited discussion by Corvette’s Chief Engineer Dave Hill. Hill who was enthusiastic about his new baby, and he spoke with a passion for the car despite the fact he had probably given the same overview to more than a dozen groups of journalists over the past few months.

The new Corvette, that reached dealerships in September, is actually 5 inches shorter although the wheelbase is an inch longer and, indeed, it feels smaller, trimmer and more agile.

It’s stiffer with greater torsional rigidity, and it was readily apparent. That’s not to say that the Z06 is a bucket of bolts, it’s far from it, but the difference in the structure was noticeable.

At the same time the ride is softer, more compliant than the previous Corvette. In fact we found it almost too civilized (but not quite civilized) for a red-blooded all-American sports car. Have no fear, Corvette fans. This guy is still a bad boy.

The Z06’s performance is more raw, more muscle-car loud and rumbling. The new ‘vette has a more cultivated feel, but the power is right there in about the same doses as the 2004 performance model.

Corvette engineers squeezed 50 more horsepower out of the small-block LS1 V-8 thanks to a larger 101.6-millimeter bore raising displacement from 5.7 liters to 6.0 liters. The compression ratio has increased from 10.1 to 10.9:1 and the red line has moved from 6,000 to 6,500 rpm.

Estimated 0 to 60 times for both the Z06 and the 2005 standard-issue Corvette is a quick 4.2 seconds. And Corvette officials claim the C6 is the fastest Corvette in history with a top speed of 186 miles per hour.

One of the biggest differences we found was in the 6-speed transmission. The new shifter is a marvel with short, precise throws, a definite improvement over the sometimes-balky previous edition. A footnote here - the aggravating first-to-fourth feature is still there.  For the uninitiated, under normal rpm the transmission forces you from first gear into fourth gear. It’s a gas mileage thing.

If you prefer, the same 4-speed automatic as found in the 2004 model is available. The big difference is that for ‘05 the 6-speed manual is standard equipment and the automatic is optional. It was just the opposite for ‘04.
One other dramatic accomplishment that came through from our back-to-back drive was the lack of interior noise in the new C6 compared to the C5. A new level of interior isolation has been reached. And it’s welcome, especially when trying to carry on a conversation at 70 miles per hour.
What were not as obvious at first glance are the new styling cues. When you catch your first look at the new Corvette, you might say, “What’s the big deal? It looks like the old Corvette.” And that points up the truly remarkable job the Corvette design team, led by
Tom Peters did when designing the C6. While it still looks like a Corvette, it’s different in nearly every detail.

Distinct styling changes include more sharply peaked front fenders, a large horizontal grille and the use of fixed headlights – the traditional pop-up headlights are history.

Other not so obvious changes include a boat-tail shaped glass hatch, a more pinched waist, smaller front and rear overhangs with the wheels pushed further out to the corners, and rounder taillights and exhaust tips.

The new Corvette looks lean and trimmed down especially in the rear. It has better proportions, more athletic proportions.

The interior look carries over from the C5 but with classier switchgear and a generous use of aluminum accents particularly in the streamlined center stack.
The new Corvette will have several options previously unavailable including heated seats and navigation. XM Radio will also be on the option menu.

The Corvette convertible will be out in a few months and it will have an optional power top. The standard top is so easy to drop and stow it makes you ask how many people will invest the 2,500 bucks for the convenience of hitting a button.

The Z06 performance edition will be on hiatus for a year. An all-new Z06 will be introduced at the North American International Auto Show in January. And we are promised that it will measure up in performance to the Dodge Viper, but without a V-10.

The Corvette team says they will unveil a so-called LS7 engine developing at least 500 horsepower and 500 pound feet of torque in a package that will be considerably more drivable than the Viper.

In the meantime, the new Corvette will start at virtually the same price as the 2004 model, $44,425. The convertible, likewise, is priced at 2004 levels beginning at $52,245.

The all-American sports car lives on in a package that is at once familiar and infinitely better.