Monday
Sep242012

Test Drive: 2013 Corvette Grand Sport 60th Anniversary Package

It’s been a good couple of years for Chevrolet. They celebrated their 100th Anniversary in November 2011 and by the end of last year had set a new record for worldwide sales, with over 4.7 million bowtie-badged cars and trucks going out the door. Sales have continued to be strong in 2012, driven by models like the new Cruze compact and Malibu midsize cars, and let’s not forget that Corvette Racing won Le Mans last year and the ALMS GT championship this year, which is possibly the most competitive GT championship in the world. They may get most of their sales from the more mass-produced cars and trucks, but the heart and soul of Chevrolet resides in models like the Corvette and Camaro. Louis Chevrolet himself was a racer that would probably like to take the ALMS Corvette out himself if he were still around. For our own celebration of Chevy’s 100th anniversary (a little late) and Corvette’s 60th anniversary, we got our hands on two of the hottest models in the Chevy lineup, the Corvette Grand Sport 60th Anniversary coupe, and the Camaro ZL1. First up, the Corvette.

The Corvette has become an automotive icon in the 60 years since it was introduced, with brand recognition that ranks up there with Ferrari and Porsche. There have been many very special Corvette’s built over the years (one of my favorites is the 1963 split-window coupe), but the current generation may go down in history as some of the best ever. Corvette buyers today can choose among seven different coupe and convertible models, from the base Corvette coupe ($49,600) to the ZR1 ($112,600). There are three V8 engines that span the seven models, with the 6.2-liter LS3 that puts out 430hp in the base and Grand Sport coupes and convertibles, the 7-liter LS7 that puts out 505hp in the Z06 coupe and 427 convertible, and the 6.2-liter supercharged LS9 that puts out 638hp in the ZR1. For our test drive, we spent a week in the model that may have the best balance of usability and performance, the Grand Sport coupe.

Put simply, the Grand Sport has the mechanicals of the base model but the bodywork from the Z06. Our car also came with the 60th Anniversary Package, which features Arctic White paint with racy Pearl Silver Blue stripes, grey-painted brake calipers, the ZR1 rear spoiler, and special badging on the wheel caps, steering wheel and seats, as well as on the Corvette logo itself. In any form, the current generation Corvette is one of the coolest-looking sports cars on the planet, and the anniversary package adds to the appeal. I’ve always thought the current Corvette looks best in white and though I’ve never been a fan of racing stripes, they work on this car, giving the car a striking appearance. Slide into the seat and you’ll find a cockpit with a sensible dash layout along with well-placed pedals, gear lever and steering wheel, but Corvette could improve on a few things for the next generation. The fabric curtain that hangs down to hide the rear storage area flaps around annoyingly when the windows are open even the slightest, there’s too much creaking from the removable center roof panel when it’s in place and the little buttons you have to push to open the doors should be replaced with manual levers (which are on the floor in case the electric ones don’t work). Also, the area around the center storage bin between the seats gets way too hot for a road car and could use a little more heat insulation from the exhaust. It gets so hot after thirty minutes of driving that you could use the storage bin as a food warmer.

Push the starter button and the big V8 rumbles to life with a noise that is pure American muscle. If you really like the muscle car sounds coming from the exhaust, you can remove a fuse from the fuse box in the passenger side foot well (which should be a button on the dash – another improvement Corvette can make) that will keep the dual-mode exhaust baffles open all the time, making the Corvette sound like a race car on the road, with pops and bangs on overrun that add to the experience. I kept the fuse out for almost the entire week I had the car, but also understand the benefit of plugging it back in for long highway drives. The Corvette is easy to drive around town, though you do need to get used to its width and a rubber front spoiler lip that scrapes on just about any speed bump or angled driveway you may encounter. It’s also nice having the magneto-rheological shocks, which allow the driver to choose between the more comfortable “tour” setting for daily driving, or the stiffer “sport” setting for hitting the backroads.

On the backroads, the Corvette Grand Sport is a lot of fun to drive, with a great balance of power, handling and brakes. I test almost all the cars I drive on a long route that runs through the woods and farmland of northwest New Jersey which has a good mix of slow and fast corners, as well as straights where you can open the car up, and the Corvette was one of the more involving cars I’ve driven there. You can open up the throttle on the straights and get that bellow from the exhaust providing a great soundtrack, brake deep into corners with the fantastic brakes and then use the power from the big V8 to power out of corners. There’s also good balance on corner entry, with just a touch of understeer, but you can really put the power down with a lot of confidence with the sticky Goodyear Eagle F1 tires and the positive feedback from the suspension. The only issue I really had with the car in fast driving is that the shifter sometimes wants to go into second gear when you really wanted fourth.

We had a chance to talk with Corvette Racing driver and new ALMS GT driver champion Tommy Milner about the Corvette road cars that he’s driven on a few occasions, though GM doesn’t give the drivers Corvette road cars to use. “My first chance to really flog them all was when I worked with Road & Track on a story last year,” he says. “The first thing that came to mind when I drove the base model was that it had a lot of power, which I didn’t really expect. It had street tires, so that was the biggest limiting factor for that car. I went from that to the Grand Sport, which has the wider bodywork and stickier tires, and I noticed the difference in grip level right away and the balance of the chassis was a bit better. The ZR1 was a big step up, with the tires again making a big difference and the power level was massively different. I drove the Z06 last and only did three laps in it, but right away I was a second and a half faster than in the ZR1. The ZR1 has extra weight in the front with the supercharger, so the Z06 has a little better balance on a handling track. They were all a lot of fun to drive!”

The Corvette Grand Sport isn’t perfect, but it’s a pretty damn good sports car and it’s an event every time you take the car out, whether it’s to the grocery store or to the race track, and that’s what makes it a very special car. With the new C7 Corvette on the horizon, we can expect to see a similar and instantly recognizable design, as well as better fuel economy with similar performance levels, which may come from reduced weight. We’re hopeful that GM will make the right decisions when it comes to the future of their iconic sports car, and can’t wait to drive the next one. We’re also hopeful that Corvette Racing will be an integral part of the new and as of yet unnamed new road racing series that will come out of the Grand Am and ALMS merger in 2014. One key element of Corvette being in the GT class in the 2014  series is that it has ties to the 24 Hours of Le Mans, which is still the most important single race on the calendar for Corvette Racing. 

More info: http://www.chevrolet.com/corvette-sports-cars.html

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