Some cars need no introduction. The Chevrolet Corvette almost certainly comes in that category. First launched in 1953, 60 years ago, the early Corvettes promised much but did not deliver, and sales were so disappointing that the car barely survived. Fortunately, Chevrolet did keep the faith and modified the car such that it did not take long for this all-American sports car to become the thing of dreams, the sort of car that every young man, and many an older man, and woman aspired to own. The name has been in continuous use since 1953 and six distinct generations of car have born the moniker, with the seventh generation model having been revealed early in 2013. It is still some months before that model goes on sale, so anyone who wants to get behind the wheel of the King of American Sports cars will for now be driving a C6 model. There are quite a lot of different variants available, starting with the standard models, if you can call any car that has a 6.2 litre engine that puts out 430 bhp “standard”. Next up comes the Grand Sport. Both these variants are offered as a Coupe or a Convertible, and come as standard with a 6 speed manual gearbox, a 6 speed automatic being optional. Grand Sports get heavy-duty engine cooling, wider tyres, a sport suspension, and a revised axle ratio. Base and Grand Sport hatchbacks have a removable roof panel that stores in the boot. Should these not seem fast enough, then there are the ZO6 and the ZR1 models, available only in Coupe configuration, and only with a manual ‘box. The Z06 has a more-powerful 505 bhp 7 litre engine, performance brakes, and a heads-up instrument display. The ZR1 is the fastest Corvette ever produced, thanks to its 638 bhp 6.2 litre supercharged engine. In addition, it gets high-durability carbon-ceramic brake rotors, a performance suspension with GM’s Magnetic Ride Control, and ultra-sticky tires. New for 2013 is the 427 model, available only as a Convertible. It has the Z06’s engine and ZR1’s suspension and tyres. It also includes a navigation system, which is optional on all other models, including the Z06 and ZR1. Some years ago, Hertz had a series of specially created Corvettes built for them, the ZHZ, all painted in bright yellow, with a black stripe, and I managed to secure a week’s rental of a Coupe model. After these cars left the fleet, they have had regular Corvette models available, now offered as part of their Adrenaline Collection, and I have had my eye on sampling one. When I saw a bright red example parked up in the “upgrade” part of Gold Choice, at Phoenix Airport, and my name at the time sitting above a Dodge Avenger, it seemed like the time to go and secure a deal. Minutes later and the Corvette was mine to go and enjoy.
There is no danger of forgetting that you are driving a Corvette, or indeed that this is its 60th anniversary, as well as the usual sort of badges on the outside of the car, the inside has them aplenty. The word Corvette is moulded into the dash in front of the passenger, and there are some nice kickplates on the doors that have the 60th anniversary logo. This also features on the rear bulkhead, on the steering wheel boss and a miniature version is in the larger instruments, and it is also on the back of the seats. It sounds a lot, but in fact it is quite tastefully done.
When I collected the Corvette, it was another of those glorious cloudless days that happen so often in Arizona, so my first inclination was to put the roof down. I had previously read that standard on all 2013 Corvette Convertibles is a manual roof, but the start of the process looked easy. There is a large release clip in the centre of the car above the header rail. Pull and twist and this allows you to pull the roof away from the top of the windscreen area. So far so good, but what next. Somewhere there had to be a release button for the tonneau cover under which the roof was to be stowed, but despite searching high and low I could not find it. I even asked a couple of the Hertz delivery drivers and they did not know. Luckily there was a handbook in the glovebox, so I consulted that. The answer is that it is underneath the edge of the tonneau cover itself, behind where the driver sits. You would never ever find it by chance, I have to say! However, now I had my instructions, it was simple to complete the procedure. You lift the rear of the roof up so it is vertical, then press that hidden release button, swivel the tonneau cover up, then drop the back of the hood into the well, then fold in the rest of the hood, and shut the tonneau. It turned out probably to be the easiest roof ever to open, and you can do it from one side of the car. I can’t imagine why anyone other than the terminally lazy would wish for an electric motor, as I would imagine that the manual operation is quicker. With the roof down, you do lose a bit of boot space, but nothing like to the extent that you do in say a Chrysler 200 where it all goes. Corvette Convertibles are meant to be driven with the roof down, as they look far better this way, and with the side windows erect, there is no buffeting at all, so they are fine on the freeway, with the sun beating down, as I found out when I looked at one side of my neck later that evening. It almost matched the Torch Red paint of the car. So, how does it drive?
First you have to get in. Again there is a knack to this, as the Corvette is low and there is not that much clearance between the seat and the steering wheel, but I quickly learned how to avoid banging any part of my anatomy on the car, and was able to hop in and out with ease. It does pay to be a bit agile, though. The door release is actually a microswitch in a recess on each door, and to get out, there is also a microswitch button on the inner door casing, which proved a lot easier than a conventional lever, as you just press it and the door springs open. Keyless starting features, so as long as the key fob is in proximity, you can fire up and head off. First, though it was a case of adjusting the seat, mirrors and wheel. 6-way electric adjustment of the seat is standard, and there is a power tilt to the steering wheel, so it was no problem to get a comfortable driving position. And then, I pressed the large Start button to the right of the wheel, and as I was still in the enclosed space of the Hertz garage, revelled in the sound that ensued. There really is something magic about the noise of a potent V8 such as features in the Corvette, and I never tired of hearing it every time I fired it up during my tenure.
The first few yards were, of course, from the parking stall to the exit gate, and then down the ramp off the rental car facility and onto my first bit of open road, but with a 40 mph speed limit and a place where I have seen Arizona Police. Mindful of the fact that a bright red Corvette will attract attention, I had to be restrained until I got to the ramp up onto the 10 freeway. Then……….. well, actually, there was too much traffic to be able to floor it, but at least I could accelerate far harder than I had in the past few minutes. Be in doubt that this is a quick motor car. A very quick car, and it could you get you into trouble with The Law very quickly. It is also remarkably docile, so in traffic, it will potter along just like everything else, with no ill effect, but once out on the open road, I could try a little harder. If you want the full sound effects, even with the roof down, you will have to try quite hard, as this is quite refined at lower speeds, but hang onto lower gears, which you can do with the paddle shifters which are mounted just behind the steering wheel, and you can really enjoy the LT3 engine at its best. There is a conventional transmission lever in the centre console, and you can, of course, just put it into Drive and let the gearbox do the rest. Even in this mode, it will disappoint, and the gear changes are very smooth. No-one who selects a Corvette is going to have fuel economy at the top of the list of things that matter to them, but with gas now at $3.80 a gallon in Arizona and $4.35 in California, it is more of a consideration than it used to be. What you can achieve will, inevitably, depend to an extent on how hard you drive the Corvette, but as there are speed limits to obey, and traffic to get in the way, in ordinary motoring, it may well turn out not to be quite as thirsty as you fear. Indeed, I averaged 21.7 mpg US, 25.9 mpg Imperial. One reason for this has to be that at 65 mph, the engine was turning over at just 1700 rpm. Whilst the enjoyment from large capacity engines in American Muscle Cars over the years has never really been in doubt, things have always tended to fall apart when you considered the other dynamics. Thankfully, things have got an awful lot better in recent years, and I am pleased to report that I did not find the Corvette wanting, based on my road experience. A track may, of course, be another matter, despite what the intensely patriotic (or is it just “biased”?) American motoring press would have you believe. The steering is well judged, with apposite weighting, and plenty of feel, and the Corvette seemed to be able to cope with bends and corners about as well as it could handle straight roads. There is masses of grip, and the cornering, at least at the speeds which I could achieve, is very flat, with no body roll at all. It even did not ride too badly, and pleasingly for a Convertible, the whole car felt rigid with no discernible scuttle shake at all. The brakes are good, as they would need to be to stop the car from speed. A central pull up handbrake is fitted. With the roof down, visibility is clearly excellent, though you do need to be aware of the fact that the front extends quite a lot further than you can see, or indeed than you imagine. The door mirrors are on the small side, so you have to be attentive. This model did not feature the backup camera that you get in the Camaro. With the roof up, things are not quite so good, as there is a lot of roof around you, and not that much glass, but I have encountered far worse. The Corvette won’t win prizes for noise suppression, but then that’s not really the point. Thankfully, though, wind noise is well muted with the roof up, and the road noise is far less evident than the engine, which is surely what everyone would wish for.
Where American machines like this have generally been torn apart by the European press is in the quality of the interiors, which historically have been truly dreadful. That in the Corvette, whilst never likely to trouble the good burghers of Audi or Porsche is far better than what I have seen in the past and is acceptable, especially when you consider the price of the car. There is a mixture of grained plastic, nicely textured leather and a carbon fibre effect weave on the centre console. There are silver trim rings around the spokes of the steering wheel, the cupholders, the gearlever surround and each of the instruments. Everything else was black or dark carbon fibre. The fit of everything seemed quite good, which is not something that was always true in the past. There is a single binnacle covering all the dials of which there are 6. The larger duo of speedometer and rev counter find themselves with a pair of smaller gauges on either side. Oil pressure and water temperature on the left and ammeter and fuel level on the right. Irritatingly, the one that you probably want to consult the most often, the fuel gauge is the only one that proved hard to see. A line of buttons go down the right hand side of the binnacle edge, and these allow you to cycle through various facets of the trip computer, showing everything from instant and average fuel consumption to trip miles and oil life. This information is presented in the central display area between the main dials, using some rather elderly looking digital graphics. The centre of the dash contains the audio unit which sits just under the central air vents, and then beneath this are the air conditioning controls. Column stalks operate the wipers, indicators and lights. There are quite a few buttons on the steering wheel hub, for the cruise control and repeater buttons for the audio system. The On Star functions are mounted in the lower frame of the central rear view mirror. It is quite a neat looking set up, and everything feels substantial enough.
Corvettes are unequivocal two seaters. Those two people could probably go touring for several days with a reasonable amount of luggage, though. The boot is like a rectangular box, with its opening on the top surface. There is no external release, so access is either by pressing the button on the dashboard or on the key fob. I did find that you had to shut it quite hard for it to close properly. Thanks to that horizontal opening, you do have to lift stuff up quite high to get it in there in the first place, but once you do, it is reasonably spacious, and there are two deep but quite small underfloor wells on either side at the back of the compartment as well. I had the Corvette in the middle of a week’s stay, so my luggage was safely at the hotel, but I have little doubt that the suitcase would have fitted with ease. You may be able to squeeze a few thin things behind the seats, depending on the angle of rake that is selected, and there is a bit of a shelf under the tonneau cover that could be used for a couple of small bags. There are some rather meagre door bins, a modest glove box and a very shallow cubby under the central armrest. Twin cupholders are on the centre console.
Standard and Grand Sport Corvettes are offered in 4 trim levels, or packages, which are called 1LT, 2LT. 3LT and 4LT. The test car was the cheapest of these, the 1LT. All models have standard leather upholstery, keyless entry/pushbutton engine start, dual-zone automatic climate control, and xenon headlights. For $2145, the upgrade to a 2LT includes the head up display that I experienced when I drove the Coupe and in the Camaro (and which I think is fantastic), a Bose sound system and a navigation system. The 3LT brings with it a memory package for the seats and mirrors, and in the case of the Convertible, power operation for the roof. This costs $7995. The 4LT adds a custom leather interior package, though I should point out that even in the 1LT the seats and part of the dash are already leather trimmed. There are also a number of trim packages for the ZO6, the ZR1 and 427. In addition, there are a whole array of other options, including the ability to collect the car from the factory in Bowling Green, Kentucky, and to assemble your own engine under supervision (!). .Corvettes have traditionally been far more affordable than their European competitors and that is still true, at least to a point. A base 1LT Coupe starts at just $49,600, which is barely more than you would pay for a BMW 528i or Mercedes E350 in America. However, the high end ZR1 is far from cheap, retailing at $113,575. That does take it into Porsche 911 and Audi R8 territory.
Be in no doubt that I loved the Corvette Convertible. For sure, I had it at its best. The weather was such that I could drive it everywhere with the roof down, and even in urban Phoenix I could enjoy the sound of that V8 no matter what speed or revs it was doing. Out on the open road, it was a blast to drive. It still turns heads, too. I looked out of my hotel room window to see people posing by it and taking pictures before getting into their rental Impala and Altima, and I was asked questions about it almost everywhere I stopped. It does still feel so terribly American, but I think that is a massive part of the appeal. For $75 a day more than the cost of renting a Corolla or a Nissan Sentra, it is even pretty affordable as a rental machine. I’ve always said that the Camaro SS Convertible is my favourite US rental car, and that’s probably still true, even without the need for seats 3 and 4 which it has, but be clear that this Corvette runs it surprisingly close. Assuming that the C7 Corvette is a significant advance on this generation – and we only have Chevrolet’s word for it at present – it is going to be quite some car.