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2005 Chevrolet Corvette Convertible

Good Medicine

    There are certain things people should experience in life. Things so utterly enjoyable that they will temporarily mask the deepest worry and eliminate all stress. Driving a new Corvette convertible is among these things. In fact, the new C6 and its 400hp can work wonders for almost any ailment.
     Some have criticized the new Corvette for slowing the evolutionary development of America’s Sports Car, in essence, looking too much like the last generation. I’m worried about these critics eyesight, because this, my friends, is no C5-and-a-half. The difference with the C6 is in the details, and there are plenty of details. Most obvious among these are the fixed headlamps that replace the outdated pop-up units on the C5. They not only save weight, improve aerodynamics and provide better lighting courtesy of Xenon HID technology; they also look great doing it. Some purists despise these headlights, and we ran into a few during our week with the vehicle, but with all those benefits the Corvette team would be insane to ever go back. In addition, designers refined every inch of the Corvette using the latest computer assistance, but Chevrolet is proud to note traditional clay sculpture was extensively used in the earliest design stages. Data gathered from the Corvette Racing team was combined with more than 400 hours of wind tunnel testing to polish the Vette to a slippery 0.28 coefficient of drag—the most aerodynamic Corvette ever. When the design was all said and done the C6 measured in 5 inches shorter and an inch narrower than the previous generation. This reduction, combined with larger wheels and smooth surfaces (thanks to Keyless Access), gives the latest Corvette a taut and athletic look that was missing from the C5.
     Since our test car was a convertible model we should mention that, thankfully, with the top down, the hard tonneu cover still “waterfalls” into the cockpit between the seats as it did in the C5. This is easily the best top-down look on any convertible in production. Another first on the C6 is the availability of a power convertible top, which our car had. For $1995 you get the luxury of staying in your seat while you release a single header latch and press the dash mounted rocker switch. Twenty seconds later and you’re enjoying the Corvette convertible the way it is meant to be enjoyed—top down. But when the weather mandates your fun is done, you’ll be happy to know the five-layer fabric top looks good even when it is up. The top is also decent at keeping out wind noise but an automatic car wash proved it’s less effective at keeping out water. We had a minor leak at the driver’s side A-pillar near the windshield header in one wash.
     Even the staunchest critics will admit the new interior is a huge improvement over past Corvettes. The C6 uses vastly better materials throughout the cabin, especially on the doors where a cast-skin foam-in-place trim is used to great effect. It is both soft to the touch and rich in texture and Chevrolet claims it has double the life of other trim materials. The center counsel is finished with silver painted plastic that, unfortunately, scratches rather easily. Our car did not have the optional DVD navigation system but the standard radio faceplate is easy to use, as are the dual-zone climate controls. We thought the steering wheel was a bit too big—Chevy will fix this for ’06—though it is adjustable for tilt and telescope, so finding a good driving position is easy. All drivers praised the gauge cluster for its design and easy to read markings. Similarly, every driver loved the Head Up Display system that is part of the Preferred Equipment Group. The display shows the vehicle speed and tachometer in street mode, and in track mode adds a lateral-G meter. Storage space inside is limited to the glove box, a ridiculously shallow center counsel compartment and some carved out space behind the seats. The trunk, however, is larger than one might expect to find on a sports car, with 11 cubic feet of space available when the top is up, although that number shrinks to five cubic feet when the top is stowed. A few other notable options including heated memory seats, auto dimming rear view mirror, and seven Bose speakers were part of the $2955 Preferred Equipment Group that bumps up the luxury quotient inside the Vette.
     The performance quotient is bumped up to world-class levels by the new 6.0-liter LS2 all-aluminum V8. A series of high-performance features make the LS2 the most powerful standard small-block ever offered in the Corvette. These features include the C5 ZO6’s cylinder head design, increased camshaft lift, 34 percent lighter exhaust manifolds, and increased compression to 10.9:1 all combined to produce 400hp at 6,000rpm and 400lb-ft of torque at 4,400rpm. We were hoping for the standard 6-speed manual but our car was optioned toward the luxury side of things and therefore had the no-cost option 4-speed automatic. It’s here where the Corvette finds its singular mechanical disqualification from world-class status. To its credit the 4-speed shifts firmly and kicks down easily but there is a substantial performance drop-off from 1st to 2nd gear thanks to a wide step in the ratios. On the positive side, smoky burnouts have never been easier, but a 4-speed automatic just doesn’t belong in America’s latest and greatest sports car. Luckily, there’s a fix on the way, but we can’t talk about it just yet. With the automatic the Vette is rated at 18mpg city and 26mpg highway. Chevy claims impressive performance numbers including 0-60mph in 4.2 seconds and a top speed of 186mph.
     The C6 continues on the hydroformed steel rail backbone chassis pioneered in the C5 although most all suspension and steering pieces have been redesigned. The steering is still a speed sensitive rack and pinion setup with good weight at all speeds and it combines with the new Goodyear run-flat tires to allow crisp, instantaneous turn-in. All Corvettes ride on 245/40ZR18 front tires and wider 285/35ZR19 rear tires. Our tester had the optional $1295 polished aluminum wheels. They are beautiful and hard to pass up.
     All Corvettes are available with 3 suspension setups. Base uses traditional suspension components to blend ride and handling characteristics while the optional F55 Magnetic Selective Ride Control uses magneto-rheological dampers to adjust to changing road and driving conditions. Our tester had this $1695 system and we found that when left in “Tour” mode the ride was quite good, handling remained sharp and body roll was kept well in check. “Sport” mode tended to be overly stiff for Michigan’s highways as the ride got jittery even though it virtually eliminated body roll and brake dive. We kept the car in “Tour” mode most of the time, far preferring its more natural feel and more than adequate handling. For hardcore performance junkies a Z51 option is available that is more extensive than just chassis tuning and takes the C6 to near C5 ZO6 levels of performance.
     It’s clear to us that the C6 is a dramatic improvement over the previous-generation Vette. The style has been refined, power is up, acceleration is even quicker, there are more features befitting a car in this price range, and, for $61,205 as-tested, there is just nothing that can match the Vette’s overall package. Oh, and as long as you’re in the driver’s seat with the top down, you’ve got a clean bill of health.

The Good:
Crisp styling, decent trunk space, plenty of power, head up display.
The Bad:
Exhaust note is too smooth and quiet, still room for interior improvement.
The Verdict:
The Corvette remains America’s (best) Sports Car.

Photos by Jason Muxlow

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