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Expert Reviews 1 of 12
By Tom Strongman
June 23, 1998
I didn't realize just how visually arresting the Corvette convertible was until my sister-in-law and I stopped at a small-town fast-food drive-through for a soda. Two young guys stared at us intently, but it took a minute for us to realize that the
object of their attention was our electric-blue Corvette convertible. Now, it is axiomatic that Corvettes attract young guys like wildflowers attract bees, and our experience only reinforced this notion. We cranked out a 250-mile round trip that
Sunday with ease. Our emotions were spent from saying our final farewell to a favorite uncle who might well have chuckled had he seen us in such a flashy car, but the car didn't wear us out at all. A few more days with this handsome roadster
confirmed my first impressions: Chevrolet's latest version of its famous sports car is one of the hottest two-seaters you can buy. Its rounded-wedge styling is both aggressive and smooth. The forward-leaning nose rises to a chopped-off tail that
symbolizes high-speed efficiency. The non-functional side scoop harkens back to Corvettes of the 1960s. The wheelbase is 8 inches longer, and most of the extra room can be found inside the cabin. Although it not as spacious as a family sedan,
occupants no longer feel crowded, and the trunk will actually hold two sets of golf clubs or enough luggage for a week's vacation. Situated in a large pod behind the steering wheel is a handsome instrument cluster. Large simple dials are mounted at
a slightly different levels to create a strong three-dimensional effect. The gauges for all functions are easy to read, and each time you start the car you're treated to a show as the needles do a complete sweep of each gauge. If a convertible is
not easy to use, it rarely will be. Although this one is manual, it took only a few seconds to unlatch, fold and store it under a handsome plastic cover with two small headrests molded into it. It intrudes on luggage space a little, but not enough to
force changes in your packing for weekend trips. A heated glass rear window is a nice touch for winter driving. The body structure is four times stiffer than the previous car and accounts for the Vette's solid feeling. A convertible was planned
from the beginning so the structure was designed to be rigid even without a top. Squeaks and rattles are nil, and the ride is reasonably supple, despite the fact that our test car was equipped with the optional Z51 suspension package of stiffer springs,
larger stabilizer bars and bigger shocks. The Z51 is designed for competition use and the driver who wants the ultimate in handling. The ride was firm, to be sure, but far from punishing over some of the worst stretches of I-70 in Missouri. The
test car was also equipped with Active Handling, a computer-controlled electronic stability program that works in concert with traction control and anti-lock brakes to keep the vehicle from sliding out of control in turns. When
I accelerated around a turn in the rain it kicked in to keep the car from fishtailing. While this item is most useful in slippery conditions, it is also beneficial in dry conditions should you get too vigorous with the throttle. Using the throttle
is something you want to do a lot because the heart of the new Corvette is an all-new Las aluminum 5.7-liter V8. Even though this engine does not have overhead cams or four valves per cylinder, it is a delight to drive. Throttle response is immediate, and
it snaps to attention when you want to go. When mated to the six-speed manual transmission it leaps to 60 mph in 4.7 seconds, according to Chevrolet. Horsepower output is 345, yet the energy level is so high it feels like more. The fully
electronic, "drive by wire" throttle is one of the first on a production car and has both traction control and cruise control integrated into it as well. The automatic transmission is standard, while the six-speed manual is an $815 opt
n. Our test car was so equipped. The manual allows the driver more control of the vehicle, but it has one maddening feature. If you drive slowly, it automatically skips second gear and makes you shift from first to fourth. This skip-shift program is
intended to raise fuel efficiency, but what it raised most was my ire. Run-flat tires, mounted on 17-inch wheels in front and 18 in back, require no spare because they can be driven without air for up to 50 miles. A pressure sensor in each wheel
signals any loss of air. Convertible sports cars are enjoying a renaissance. BMW, Porsche and Mercedes-Benz each have one, and others are rumored to follow. The Corvette's performance, however, gives it a distinct advantage. For 1999, a
hardtop coupe, priced in the neighborhood of $35,000, will be one of the performance bargains of the year. Price The base price of our test car was $44,425. Options included the Z51 handling package, six-speed manual gearbox, adjustable bucket
seats for driver and passenger, dual-zone air conditioning, fog lamps, active handling system, AM/FM stereo with CD player, floor mats and memory system for the keyless remote. The sticker price was $48,294. Warranty The standard warranty
is for three years or 36,000 miles. Vehicles for The Star's week-long test drives are supplied by the auto manufacturers. Point: Corvette's convertible is delightful. Its top drops in seconds, the aluminum LS1 V8 is strong and smooth
and the optional Z51 performance suspension gives it the reflexes of a go-kart without a punishing ride. Counterpoint: The skip-shift feature of the six-speed transmission is aggravating and almost enough to force me to select the automatic.
SPECIFICATIONS: ENGINE: 5.7-liter, V8 TRANSMISSION: Six-speed WHEELBASE: 104.5 inches CURB WEIGHT: 3,246 lbs. BASE PRICE: $44,425 PRICE AS DRIVEN: $48,294 MPG RATING: 18 city, 27 hwy.