Tuesday
Aug032010

Test Drive: 2010 Chevy Corvette Grand Sport

With a pedigree that goes back nearly 60 years, the Chevrolet Corvette is the quintessential American sports car. Even if you’re not necessarily a fan of American cars, it’s hard not to be captivated by the sight and sound of a Corvette when it passes by, or thrilled when the black and yellow cars of Corvette Racing thunder down the Mulsanne Straight at Le Mans or battle with the Europeans in the ALMS GT class. Corvette buyers have more model choices today than ever before, with coupe and convertible options as well as hopped up performance models for drivers that want more performance than what is found in the base model Corvette.

With pricing starting at $55,720 (including destination freight charge), the Corvette Grand Sport coupe is slotted between the base model Corvette coupe ($48,930) and the Corvette Z06 ($74,285). To create the Grand Sport, Chevy combined elements of the Z06 with the base model Corvette and blended them together into a unique car that stands out more than the base model but doesn’t push the performance envelope as much as the Z06. The Grand Sport is available as a coupe with a standard removable roof panel or a convertible, while the Z06 is available only as a fixed roof coupe. Automatic and manual transmissions are also both offered in the Grand Sport, while the Z06 comes only with the manual, so the Grand Sport will appeal to a broader range of customers.

With flared fenders, a front air inlet and rear brake cooling ducts, the Grand Sport is very similar in appearance to the Z06. Our test car was painted in Jetstream Blue Metallic and had the optional “Heritage Pack,” which includes the hash marks across the front fenders. Mechanically, the Grand Sport is powered by the same 6.2-liter V8 engine as the base Corvette, which is no slouch, as it puts out 424hp and 436 lb-ft of torque. Our test car also had the optional dual-mode exhaust ($1,195), which frees up an additional six horses and four lb-ft more of torque. The Grand Sport has other beneficial performance upgrades, especially for buyers that plan to take the car to track days. Grand Sport’s come standard with the bigger brakes from the Z06 that feature larger rotors with six-piston monoblock calipers up front and four-piston calipers out back. Manual transmission versions also come with a dry-sump oil system that insures constant oil flow to the engine in demanding driving conditions.

The Corvette is an attractive car in base form and the styling cues from the Z06 add to its curb appeal with the Grand Sport, giving it a more aggressive and menacing look, though our test car had the optional chromed wheels that we would just as soon do without. Body pieces on our Grand Sport test car fit well enough, but Chevy still needs to work on the quality of work and materials in the cockpit, which is one reason the car costs much less than some of its European competitors. The removable roof panel creaked during our entire week with the car, the fitment of the passenger door to the dash was noticeably off, and the cargo area cover flaps around when the windows are down or the top is off.

Chevy continues to put sub-par seats in the Corvette that are entirely unsuitable for a performance car that has well over 400hp and can pull over 1g on a skidpad. The seats in the Camaro SS are much more comfortable and supportive than those in the Corvette, so we’re not sure why Chevy hasn’t figured that out. The windows have no one-touch up function, which is odd in a car that costs north of fifty grand, and the push-button door releases are a novelty that doesn’t seem to have any benefit. This is one of those cases were more technology is not necessarily a good thing – sometimes its better to just stick with what works, like manual door levers (which are actually installed on the floor of the Corvette in case the electronics go out). On the plus side, the Corvette does have a full set of gauges, with oil pressure, water temperature and battery voltage displays, and the leather-covered dash is a nice touch.

When it comes to performance, we have no complaints with the Corvette’s 6.2-liter V8. It’s a fantastic motor that pulls strong and hard, and its pretty amazing that it can deliver 26mpg on the highway while other competitors with smaller V8’s such as the BMW M3 can only manage around 20mpg. The sound from the optional dual-mode exhaust is incredible at all engine speeds, as it pops and cracks on overrun at low speeds and wails like a banshee when you get hard on the throttle. It’s odd that you have to open a cover on the firewall and pull a fuse to open all four exhaust manifolds with the dual-mode exhaust, but if you’re buying this car its worth the money.

The Grand Sport also handles corners well, with a dose of understeer on corner entry that can then be adjusted to neutral or oversteer with the throttle. This car is very wide so you always feel like you’re taking up a lot of road, which lends itself more to a “slow-in, fast-out” style than flinging it into corners and carrying high speed the whole way through. You also get the strange feeling at times that the body is not attached to the chassis as tightly as it should be. You can even see the front body panels flex around when going over bumps, which exacerbates that feeling.

The ride is surprisingly compliant for a low slung sports car, though the rear can get out of shape when putting power down on bumpy pavement. One complaint we had with the lowness of the car is that the front spoiler lips rubs on just about everything, even when you think you have plenty of clearance. With the hardware from the Z06, the braking performance of the Grand Sport is exemplary, with great pedal feel and no fade, even after repeated hard stops. We’re not sure what spec the brake pads are, but the rest of the braking system felt like it would have no trouble dealing with track days. Speaking of track days, the Grand Sport also has a “Competition Mode” that allows more of a slip angle while still maintaining control if that angle gets too severe, though we didn’t get a chance to try it out on a track. Gearchanges are precise, though the lever can sometimes get hung up between first and second gears.

The Corvette Grand Sport is a great car. If deciding between the various Corvette coupe models, this is the one I would pick to own, as it combines an extra dose of performance over the base model, but has greater everyday usability than the Z06 or ZR1. As much as I liked the Corvette Grand Sport looks and performance, there are things Chevy could do to make it even better. It could use better fit and finish, more supportive seats, and normal manual door levers. Chevy should also get rid of the luggage compartment cover with its free-flapping drape and the rubber front spoiler extension that rubs on everything. I’d also like to see a fixed roof option for the coupe, instead of the standard removable roof panel. These are things that could be done without significantly jacking up the price, which is one of its primary advantages.

Driving a Corvette also gets you admission into a fraternity of ‘Vette drivers that is pretty cool. During our week with the car we had several other Corvette drivers flash lights and give a thumbs up as we passed. The turnout of Corvette drivers to ALMS races to support the Corvette Racing team is also something that the other marques in the series, Porsche and BMW included, can only dream about. Corvette Racing is having some bad luck in the ALMS this season, but there’s no one in the paddock that doesn’t think they’ll turn it around. In addition to the racing efforts here in the U.S. with Corvette Racing in ALMS and privateer teams in Grand Am Rolex GT and Speed World Challenge, Corvette’s are racing very successfully in the FIA GT3 series in Europe, as Callaway Competition drivers are sitting one-two in the driver’s championship with eight rounds completed. 

More info:  www.chevrolet.com/corvette/

MSRP $55,720 (including destination freight charge)
Engine 6.2-liter V8 (LS3)
Power 430hp @ 5,900rpm
Torque 424lb-ft @ 4,600rpm
Suspension Upper/lower A-arms, transverse leaf spring, tube shocks, anti-roll bars
0-60 4 seconds
Brakes 14-inch drilled front rotors with six-piston monoblock calipers 13-4 inch drilled rear rotors with four-piston monoblock calipers.
Fuel economy 16 city, 26 highway
Curb weight 3,311 lbs.
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