The price you pay for power is cramped quarters, roller-coaster ride, and in general, the feeling you've just been tossed from a bull when you slip out from behind the wheel of that long, low, sculptured zero-to-60-m.p.h. screamer.You leave the car bruised, but beaming. For 1997, Chevrolet threw out the rules in coming up with its fifth-generation Corvette. It had plenty of time to write a new set of rules, because this car was to have appeared in the 1993 model year. But at the time, GM didn't have the funds to pull it off, so it put it off. We've driven the '97 Corvette coupe and, for the first time since 1953, when the 'Vette appeared, the car finally offers performance without sacrificing room and comfort. You can drive long distances without feeling you've just gone 12 rounds. The new 'Vette is civilized without being sanitized, a refined sports car you can drive all day without aching all night. There's room for hips, thighs, legs, feet--and even golf clubs. You can sit in it, not fall and hope the bucket catches you. The new car is larger than its predecessor. The wheelbase was extended 8.3 inches so the body would absorb most of the ride motion before reaching the occupants. Another major change finds the passenger's foot well 6.3-inches wider; the driver's foot well is 3.1 inches wider. You no longer need to place one ankle over the other to accommodate both feet. Mounting the transmission in the rear helped increase cabin room. The traditional 'Vette virtues--noise and discomfort-producing shake, rattle and vibration--that were overlooked for the ability to go fast, have been replaced by smoothness and quietness, thanks to a stiffening of the old tank. "It's a car for people who expect more than physical abuse, for those who don't want to have to have someone pull them out of the car when they've finished driving," said Dick Almond, Corvette brand manager for Chevrolet. We tested the new fifth-generation Corvette last fall in Bowling Green, Ky., where it is built, and in Gainesville, Ga., home of Road Atlanta. Styling is pure 'Vette. Scoops in the doors, concealed headlamps and four oval taillamps. Leaf springs replace coil springs so the hood is even lower to improve vision. The underbody was stiffened to reduce movement, read vibration, shake and rattle. And each car's suspension is adjusted for height at the factory based on equipment content to optimize ride and handling. To increase driving stability, especially in tight corners, the car sits on a 4.3-inch wider track upfront (17-inch tires), 3-inch wider track in the rear (18-inch tires). There are three suspensions: base, F45 and Z51. Base is independent front and rear. F45, an expected $1,500 option, offers touring, sport or performance settings with selective real-time damping. Sensors "read" the road surface at each wheel ever y millisecond to adjust shock damping to provide a flat, stable ride as well as to counteract roll in turns and lift and dive when accelerating or braking. Sensors provide continuous soft-to-firm settings. Z51, expected to be a $350 option, is designed mostly for those who opt for autocross racing with the stiffest springs and largest stabilizer bars and shocks. The heart of the system is the new aluminum small-block LS1 5.7-liter V-8, boasting 345 horsepower at 5,600 r.p.m. and 350 foot-pounds of torque at 4,400 r.p.m., more than the LT1 or the LT4 engines offered in 1996. The LT1 V-8 in 1996 delivered 300 h.p. at 5,000 r.p.m and 335 foot-pounds of torque at 3,600 r.p.m., and the higher-performance LT4 delivered 330 h.p. at 5,800 r.p.m. and 340 foot-pounds of torque at 4,500 r.p.m. There's no 5.7-liter, 400-h.p. King of the Hill V-8 because, for now, Chevy doesn't want to offer a $60,000 car that scares folks away. Dave Hill, vehicle line execut ve for Corvette, as well as chief engineer, said the LS1 is destined for other GM cars that offer the LT1, such as the Camaro Z28. The LS1 boasts a zero-to-60-m.p.h. time of 5 seconds with 6-speed manual, 5.4 seconds with 4-speed automatic. It is limited to 175 m.p.h. The LS1's quickness fools you because the car is so smooth and quiet. In the Bowling Green countryside, the engineer in the passenger seat frowned when the speedometer read 85 m.p.h. only moments into our journey. Sure "felt" like 55 m.p.h. At Road Atlanta, the engineers vacated the cars. There's one turn you accelerate out of and, if you have faith nothing will be in front of you over a little incline at the beginning of the straightaway, you can throttle up to 140 m.p.h. on that stretch. Our faith tested by that incline--just high enough to hide a car--we accelerated to only 110 m.p.h. with quiet, smooth, vibration and rattle-free operation. And kudos to the engineers who untangled the knots in the old 6-speed manual, so up- or downshifting can be performed smoothly without balkiness. The course had ample twists, turns, bends and dips. As the driver got braver on each lap, the 'Vette got bolder, the times got quicker and the car never ran out of breath, hesitated or bounced around. Best suspension was touring for smoothest vertical movement, Z51 for horizontal hold. Regardless of suspension or setting, handling is precise and predictable without wander. Chevy general manager John Middlebrook calls the 'Vette "the one true remaining American-built sports car that has never strayed from its sports-car heritage. Take the Ford Thunderbird, for example. In 1954, Thunderbird was Ford's answer to the 'Vette, but in 1958 Ford put an extra seat in back, and it ceased being a purist's sports car." It would be difficult to call this 'Vette a purist's machine because of the refinements. No item was too small to be overlooked. Consider: - Each body is cleaned with ostrich feathers to remove dust before painting. - There's noticeably less tire and road noise coming back into the cabin, in part from added insulation, in part from glass that's 25 percent thicker. - Run-flat tires are used so there's no need for a spare, jack or lug wrench. Unlike the '96 model, which had a pressure-warning light that told you a tire was low, the '97 warning system tells you which tire is low and by how much. - The hand brake was moved to the center console from the driver door sill so you don't have to trip over it getting in or out of the cabin, and power-seat controls were moved to the lower left of the driver's seat from the center console and out of the way. - Doors are lighter, openings are one inch higher and step-over height is 3.7 inches lower for easier entry/exit. - The deck lid and rear window open together so you can store two sets of golf clubs in what serv es as a trunk. In the past only the rear window opened, hatch-style, with no hope of carrying a putter much less a set of clubs. - Dual air bags are standard along with four-wheel anti-lock brakes and traction control. Oddly, there is no cutoff switch to disable the passenger-side bag. Chevy said the hardware and switch would have had to go in the ashtray spot. - You can have a body-colored or transparent removable roof panel. Body-colored looks better. - The glove box lights and locks for the first time since 1993. - A Bose/Delco sound system makes your pant legs dance. - The '97 has 1,500 fewer parts, which means 1,500 fewer chances for something to go wrong. The new Vette initially will be offered only as a coupe, with about 15,000 to 18,000 copies for '97. A '98 convertible will be added this summer and a lower-priced '98 coupe in the fall.
|Anita And Paul Lienert||The Detroit News||January 8, 1998|
|Terry Jackson||The Miami Herald||February 24, 1997|
|George Moore||IndyStar.com||January 26, 1997|
|Tom Strongman||KansasCity.com||January 24, 1997|
|Paul Dean||Los Angeles Times||January 17, 1997|
|Jim Mateja||chicagotribune.com||January 12, 1997|
|Tony Swan||Detroit Newspapers||January 6, 1997|
|Larry Printz||The Morning Call and Mcall.com||November 2, 1996|
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