I’m not going to get into the long and illustrious history of the Chevrolet Corvette, in continuous production since the 1950s and now into its seventh generation. You can look it up.
Suffice it to say that we really, really like Vettes. The C7 Stingray was our 2014 Business Insider Car of the Year. It set a whole new standard for this most American of vehicles (still bolted together with patriotic care in beautiful Bowling Green, Kentucky).
Since we got behind the wheel of the glorious Stingray with a 7-speed manual transmission, we’ve sampled the same car in a convertible version with an automatic — and outfitted with Apple CarPlay — and taken a rocket-ship ride on the supercar-defying Zo6, a 650-horsepower monster of a machine.
We thought we’d seen it all, Vette-wise. And then an Arctic White 2017 Corvette Grand Sport Convertible paid us a brief visit. Too brief — we had it for only about a day and half. But we lucked out on the weather in the Northeast, before some harsh winter conditions set in.
There aren’t too many cars available right now that are this good. And there are none that are this good for a base price of about $A91,175. Ours stickered at $111,897, and it was nicely appointed (the “Black Suede Design Package” alone added four grand) .
Here’s what we thought:
The seventh generation of Corvettes was inaugurated by the exquisite Stingray and its 460 horsepower V8.
We later sampled the convertible version and got a taste of how happy the Vette's engine is when paired with an automatic transmission. It's actually FASTER than with the manual.
Then cometh the almighty Z06, a 650-horsepower beast -- and easily the best value in supercars on the planet.
A little history. The original Grand Sport Corvettes were created by the car's first chief engineer, Zora Arkus-Duntov, in 1963. They were intended to be race cars, designed to run in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
There haven't been that many Grand Sport versions in Vette's lineage. This is the third time around.
This is cool. A small silvery detail on the center stack behind the shifter evokes the GS's history.
The seventh-gen Vette is very much a sloping wedge, shape-wise. The motorised convertible top stows in about 15 seconds.
The leather, top-stitched seats in our tester were relatively comfy, but they had enough bolstering to make me feel secure during spirited driving.
What the driver sees when he takes the wheel is fairly straightforward. Analogue gauges with some useful controls on the steering wheel: audio system (it's a dandy Bose unit), cruise control, phone, voice activation.
I forgot to snap a photo of the infotainment screen, but it's the same as what's on the Stingray. You have CarPlay, plus Sirius radio, Bluetooth connectivity, USB ports, navigation -- and of course 4G LTE wireless connectivity managed through OnStar.
Woof. It's the 6.2-litre LT1 V8 that we find in the Stingray, making 460 horsepower. No supercharger, as on the Z06. But the GS gets a bunch of the Z06's performance goodies, making it the better track car than the Stingray. That's the key difference among the three versions of the this Vette.
The combination of this 8-speed auto with the GS's V8 is the best tranny-engine marriage that can currently be bought with money. It's simply brilliant, enabling a Chevy-claimed 0-95km/h sprint of 3.6 seconds, as long as you're outfitted with the Z07 performance package.
And these Brembo calipers clamp down on the discs to provide ample stopping power. The setup is taken from the Z06.
... and downshift yourself, but actually, I didn't do that very much. If I have one complaint, it's that these paddles feel kind of plasticky. I didn't like it. So I just let the car shift gears for me. More on that in a moment.
Wet, for when it's you know, wet. Unsurprisingly, 460-horses piped to the rear wheels can make for a slippy rear end.
Tour, for when you want to cruise around listening to Jethro Tull with the top down. By the way, you can get 26 mpg from the GS in highway driving.
Now we're talking! Sport is the gateway drug. It starts to bring the Grand Sport to life. Most notable is the exhaust note, pumped through four trumpet-shaped pipes. It begins to get ferocious. Everything firms up. The steering becomes alarmingly precise.
Track! Sweet lord. The engine note moves into Ferrari 458 territory: a demonic rumble that gives way to an unholy scream. The full song of a big old V8. The suspension becomes deliciously stiff, and the steering reads your mind.
This is the greatest Vette ever. True, the Z06 is mind-bogglingly impressive, and the Stingray is wonderful.
But I grew rapidly addicted to the combo of the 8-speed, the V8, and the suspension dynamics. Over and over again, I let the revs climb slowly north on the tachometer, feeding in a flow of throttle, then abruptly increasing my input. BOOM! The back end LOCKS DOWN, the front rises slightly, and you're off like you've been fired from a howitzer. The power is sweet and honey smooth, but there's so much of it.
And unlike with the 650-hp Z06, where it's well-nigh impossible to get into all that oomph, with the Grand Sport you can sense it enveloping you, challenging and protecting in equal measure.
The handling is sharp and direct, and your sense of the road is immediate. This car feels very much like a Vette, too, with that edge of backwoods wildness that you don't get from a Porsche or Ferrari or Lamborghini. That said, all the Z06 tech on loan means that the Grand Sport is a genuine sports car. Sure, you can haul arse in a straight line all day. But you can also carve into corners. Blissful.
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