2008 Chevrolet Corvette ZHZ (USA)

In the “real” world, what could be more exciting than driving a Corvette for a week? That’s what I was thinking, as I boarded a plane to Los Angeles, eagerly anticipating a week at the wheel of the latest version of America’s long running sports car. Following the popularity of the Shelby GT-H Mustangs, Hertz did a 2 year deal with General Motors to produce a series of 500 “unique” Corvettes, branded ZHZ. All of them are finished in bright Hertz yellow paint, with a black stripe along the bonnet and over the roof. They are fitted with 7 spoke chrome alloy wheels and special ZHZ badging. Distinctive they certainly are. I’ve seen these cars at some of the larger Hertz facilities for a year or so, and looked into the costs of renting one. Not only were they expensive, but they always seemed to have a mileage limit of 100 miles a day, which is nothing in the Los Angeles area. Finally, I figured out a way to get around this so I could both enjoy a ‘Vette for myself and could bring you this rather special Road Test.


When sold in the UK, the cars are simply branded “Corvette”, with no reference to Chevrolet. That is not the case in the US market, though there are no Chevrolet badges on the car, but there are some very small “GM” items in front of the rear wheels. There is absolutely no chance of mistaking the fact that you are driving a Corvette. It starts with the key fob, which has the Corvette emblem emblazoned on it, and there are various badges on and in the car, even going as far as to sport a large Corvette logo on the underside of the bonnet.


Under the bonnet is a good place to start with when you are assessing one of these cars. The ZHZ models are based on the standard car, and muster 436 bhp from the LS3 6.2 litre V8. This is a very slight increase over the regular production model, made possible, Hertz say, because of the special dual mode exhaust system. That ought to be ample to give the car rather better than average performance, and so it proves. Lack of go is not one of the Corvette’s problems.


First though, you have to start it. And to do that, you have to get in it. The door handles appear recessed, but I struggled to locate a latch or lever. There is simply a micro-switch in the recess much like you find to open the boot of many cars. Once installed, I found the “key” abandoned in the central cup holder, which is unusual, as you typically find rental car keys in the ignition. Once I had put my luggage in the boot, I then looked in vain for the ignition key slot. There is none. As long as the key is in the car (in your pocket is good), you can fire the engine by pressing the large switch to the right of the column. And what a glorious, and rather loud sound ensues!


Once underway, sadly, things don’t get better. Frankly speaking, the ride in this car is so terrible that I could not possibly live with it on a prolonged basis. In fact, it is worse than terrible, it is also frightening. On the less than smooth surfaces of the Los Angeles freeways, it scared me more than once, as if the Corvette hits a rough patch, the whole of the back of the car jumps around, to the point that I could see how you all too easily lose control. Even when the wheels are just propelling the car along the ground, the ride is pretty terrible, and the road noise that goes with it is also unacceptable. There is a switch on the centre console which allows you to change the setting of the “magnetic selective ride control” from “touring” to “sport”. Given my experience on the “touring” setting, I dread to think what the “sport” option is like. Whilst we are on negatives, the numerous and frequent creaks and groans, most of which came the roof, proved somewhat irritating, as well.


Other facets of the driving experience, thankfully, were rather more positive. There is more than enough power, for sure. Indeed, this car is fast. I never really managed to find out just how fast, as you would need somewhere with a smooth surface, no traffic and away from the risk of the LAPD’s attentions being attracted. Official figures cite a 0 – 60 time of 5 seconds, which may be a tad optimistic, but a lack of power is not a criticism of this car. And this is only the “entry level” Corvette, of course. When the car is idling, especially when it is stopped at the lights, it really does feel like you are barely holding onto the leash of some caged animal ready to make a bid for freedom. There is a very smooth 6 speed automatic gearbox, which shifts completely seamlessly between the gears. There are manual paddles to either side of the steering wheel for those who think that they can do better gearchanges than technology can.The huge disc brakes provide for confidence inducing stops. There is a pull-up lever handbrake in between the seats, though as the test car was an automatic, it is rarely called for. Be in no doubt, though, that still comes across as a rather crude machine. The steering and handling are miles off the sort of standards you would expect from class best, with little real feel in the steering and a back end of the car that feels like it could all too easily take the car where you did not want to be, in an uncontrolled fashion. Everything points to this being a car designed for straight and flat roads. Surprisingly, it is actually pretty docile when caught up in the legendary LA traffic, where it handles the stop/start queues and the need to switch lanes with ease. Apart from the sound emanating from under the bonnet, you almost forget that you are in a sports car at this point, as the Corvette becomes quite docile and manageable.


Much has been made of the recent improvements to Corvette interior quality. I am glad these have been made, but the ‘Vette still scores no better than mediocre. There’s nothing wrong the basic layout. The dash comprises a large cowled binnacle containing the main instruments – complete with Corvette logo which lights up when you fire the engine – covering speedometer, rev counter, and gauges for fuel, water, oil pressure and ammeter. Column stalks do most of the rest, and these have moved on a generation from the dreaded once ubiquitous GM item where you had to push on a paddle to operate the wipers.  The dash itself is moulded from a hardish plastic, but it is of reasonable quality and the fit of the different trim elements is acceptable. There is a carbon fibre effect around the centre of the dash, but this is quite subtle. Not a word that occurs to often when describing the Corvette, it has to be said.


Oddments space is limited to some very small door bins, a cubby between the seats which is so shallow that is almost useless and a small glovebox. An XM satellite radio is standard, and it proved easy and intuitive to use, and generated sound that was audible through good enough speakers that the volume did not have to be increased even when cruising on the freeway with the roof panel off. Satellite navigation is not standard, so the test car came with the rather bulky Hertz “Never Lost” attached to the side of the centre console. The air conditioning and climate control did an excellent, if rather noisy job at dispersing the heat that built up while the car was parked up at lunchtime in Palm Springs, when the temperature exceed 100 Degrees.


There’s ample room in the cabin for two people. This is definitively a two seater, with no pretence at all of any form of rear seats. There is a small amount of space behind the seats and then there is the luggage platform. Official figures quote this at 22 cubic feet, which is frankly laughable. What you get is a flat shelf, which is longer than it is high, on which I could easily place my suitcase and lap top and not a lot else. There is a very high sill over which you have to lift luggage, as it is only the rear window that opens. The hatch is released by a button on the dash, or on the key fob. Closing it is another matter, and it frequently required two or three hefty slams, and even then I was not sure it was properly closed, with a rather poor fit around the edges of the boot lid.The cabin itself is rather better. You do sit down low, but that is part of the attraction of a car like this. The leather seats – with a mix of electric and manual adjustments – proved very comfortable, which is just as well given that I drove 450 miles in the first day of the test! Getting in and out is not too difficult, though there is not a lot of clearance between the seat and the steering wheel, even though I had the wheel set as high as it would go. I would have like an adjustment in/out as well as up/down, as the wheel was too close to my chest when I had the seat in the optimum position.


You sit low in the ‘Vette, so you might expect that visibility would present some issues. Chevrolet have tried hard to address these as best they can. Looking forwards, there is no issue, and indeed the sight of that curving front of the bonnet s just tremendous. The door mirrors are quite small, but they are augmented with an additional round concave circle towards the lower and outer part of the mirror, which provide a decent field of view of what is behind you. At night, though, these proved to be something of a challenge, as reflections from headlights made it very hard to be sure there was nothing almost alongside you. Rear visibility is limited because of the shape of the rear window and the fact that it is very high on the car. However, I found it easier to manoeuvre the car in and out of parking spots than I was expecting – thankfully.


Although Chevrolet will sell you a full Convertible, the regular coupe also allows you to get that fresh air feeling, and my slightly pink forehead is testament to the effectiveness of this arrangement letting the sun get to you. There are two substantial release levers under each of the sun visors, and there is a simple latch in the centre of the rear of the panel. Release these, and then you can just lift the entire panel off. It can be stowed in the luggage area, and there are special locating lugs to secure it in position. There is a very small amount of luggage space still available under the panel, but not much. There were more than a few squeaks and rattles from the roof while in this position, it has to be said, and also although one person can undertake this transformation, it is a little awkward to manhandle the roof, especially getting it over the very high sill in and out of the boot. Maybe that is why there were several odd black marks on the roof of the test car.


Be in no doubt, I did enjoy my week with the Corvette. It was even worth the rather sizeable rental premium over what our corporate expense policy will reimburse. The sound of that V8, every time I fired it up was tremendous, and the engine is definitely the best part of the car. However, be in equally no doubt that this is not really a very good car. The dreadful ride, bouncy back end, unforgiving handling and feel-less steering make it hard to conclude otherwise. Coupled with still rather mediocre standards of fit and finish, and it is clear that this car has been built down to a price, and maybe that price point is simply too low. At this point, l would also go on to point out that it maybe that I am guilty of judging the Corvette, a very American institution, through European eyes, as all the major American motoring magazines have always managed to score the latest C6 model Corvette well in their Group Tests, frequently awarding it pole position, claiming that it is better (in its higher powered variants) than the 911, Mercedes SL and the like.


However, the very latest (July 2009) issue of “Car & Driver” has a test of the convertible ‘Vette, and compared against the Boxster, new Z4 and Audi TT, the Corvette is relegated to last place, and many of the failings that I have pointed out are used to justify this ranking. Acknowledging weakness is an essential pre-requisite, usually, to fixing the problems. Perhaps now the US Press have started to relate that there are some shortcomings to the Corvette, then the C7 model will fix them? Of course, given GM’s imperiled financial position, it is by no means clear that there will be a C7 generation Corvette, or that there will even be a GM in the future. And if there is not, that would be a real pity.


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