On the test track at General Motors' Milford Proving Grounds or on the country roads around the area, the 2005 Chevrolet Corvette shows that it's at home wherever it goes.
Representing the sixth generation of America's sports car, the all-new C6 goes on sale this fall in coupe and convertible forms, sporting a new chassis, new exterior and interior styling, and perhaps most important of all, a new, 400-horsepower V-8 engine.
The LS2 engine, replacing this past year's 350-horsepower LS1, takes the base 2005 Corvette up to the level of the 2004 Z06 performance edition, with enough power to propel this baby up to 186 mph - where legal, of course.
Even with all of the improvements, including the additional horsepower, the newest version of the Corvette rings up at a lower price than the current models. Base price for the '05 Coupe version will be $44,245, including freight, which is $1,305 less than the 2004 model; for the convertible, the starting price will be $52,245, $305 less than the '04 price.
The drop in price is part of the Corvette promise to deliver great value in the package, along with "passionate design and state-of-the-art performance technology," Dave Hill, Chevrolet's chief engineer for the Corvette , said during a recent media introduction of the vehicle at the Milford Proving Grounds.
And even with its 400 horsepower, the new Corvette won't come with a federal gas-guzzler tax, as most other high-performance cars do. That's because its combined EPA city-highway fuel-economy rating is a respectable 22.6 miles per gallon.
Styling is very similar to that of the C5 model it replaces, but there are some significant changes, including a lower rear end. Owners of C5 models had complained that that vehicle's tail end was too high and ungainly looking, Hill said.
The rear window of the new coupe version, while not exactly bearing a retro look, has some of the styling of the Stingray models of the 1960s and '70s, Hill said.
Overall, the C6 is five inches shorter than the C5, with three inches cut off the front and two inches off the rear. The passenger compartment, which still holds just two people, is slightly roomier, however.
More than 400 hours of wind-tunnel testing helped designers and engineers tweak the new car's exterior to give it the best aerodynamics possible. At 0.28 coefficient of drag, the '05 Corvette is the most aerodynamically efficient Corvette ever, improving its anti-lift characteristics to give the car improved high-speed stability.
All-new Xenon headlights are 80 percent brighter than the C5's headlights. For the first time since 1962, the Corvette has permanently exposed headlights, with no mechanism to conceal the lights when not in use.
The hood, which has always been quite long on Corvettes , is 15 percent smaller than on the C5, and 33 percent lighter. It still is hinged at the front.
And because "some people like to drive their Corvettes very fast, even in the rain," the windshield wipers have been designed to work efficiently at speeds up to 150 mph, Hill said. The removable top on the coupe model weights just 20 pounds, so it is very easy to handle. Inside, there is much more storage than before. Women can stow their purses behind the seats; and there are cubbyholes and such throughout the cockpit - including in a larger center console (which can hold six CDs), larger glovebox and door pockets.
The coupe model actually is a hatchback, and the glass lifts up for limited loading of cargo in the trunk area.
Instruments have been redesigned; the instrument cluster is backlit, with white LEDs, and the center stack has liquid-crystal displays. These changes are designed to give instruments better readability in sunlight, since the majority of Corvettes sold are convertibles, and people like to drive in the sun with the top down, Hill said.
As with some 2004 models, the 2005 comes with a complete keyless entry and start system. With the key fob transmitter in his or her pocket, the driver can open the door or the trunk lid at the touch of a button. Once inside the car, the key fob can remain in the driver's pocket; a pushbutton on the dash is used to start the car.
When the driver walks away from the car with the fob, the doors automatically lock six seconds later.
An optional GPS navigation system with a 61/2-inch screen can be purchased for the center instrument stack.
Two audio systems are offered - the base system, or an upgraded Bose system. With each one, the speakers are set up to direct sound optimally to both the driver and passenger, even with the top down at highway speeds.
The base convertible comes with a manually operated soft top, but a nifty one-touch power top is available for $2,000 extra.
Under the hood, the new LS2 6.0-liter small-block V-8 powerplant turns out that 400 horsepower and 400 foot-pounds of torque, and comes with a stiffer, stronger aluminum block, cast-iron crankshaft, and aluminum heads. It is the largest, most powerful standard small-block engine ever offered in Corvette .
The oil pan has been redesigned for more-efficient oil flow at odd vehicle angles, and oil capacity has been reduced by one quart from the current LS1 engine.
The new chassis has a unique hydroformed steel rail that runs from front to rear, part of the redesign's emphasis on stiffness.
A Z51 performance package is offered for an additional $1,495. It gives the vehicle much the same upgrades as those offered on this year's Z06 model. Included are more-aggressive dampers and springs, larger stabilizer bars, and larger, cross-drilled brake rotors for optimum track performance capability.
Chevy says that extensive track testing showed that a 2005 Corvette equipped with the Z51 suspension almost equals the lap time of a C5 Z06, "marking a major advance in the overall performance of a Corvette Coupe by nearly approximating the extreme performance capabilities of the vaunted Z06 at a remarkable value."
The sixth-generation Corvette "blends technical sophistication with expressive style," the company says, and that's probably an understatement.
Performance, styling and practicality are better than ever in the 51-year history of this car, although styling of some of those very early models still is quite compelling. The company had a perfectly restored example of the original 1953 model on display for the visiting journalists to see.
"The C6 is more competition-influenced, given our championship experience with Corvette Racing, than any previous Corvette ," Hill said. "Our goal was a performance car at home in virtually any environment. That means more than just raw performance. It calls for improved ride comfort, a precisely built and technically sophisticated interior, and a sleek new body that is fresh and contemporary, while still instantly recognized as the new Corvette ."
Revisions to the manual and automatic transmissions were geared toward improved performance, and for the first time, the manual gearbox is available as standard equipment, not an extra-cost upgrade.
This Tremec six-speed manual is available with two sets of ratios, one with more aggressive acceleration characteristics reserved for the Z51 package.
The Hydra-Matic 4L65-E automatic is an upgraded version of the C5's 4L60-E, strengthened and revised to accommodate the LS2's 400 foot-pound of torque. It automatically selects the best gear for every driving condition, and it shifts at higher revolutions to take advantage of the higher engine output, Chevy says.
The car comes with larger wheels (18-inch front, 19-inch rear).
An optional Magnetic Selective Ride Control system can read road surfaces and adjust damping rates to those surfaces almost instantly for optimal ride and body control.
This system debuted on the 2003 50th Anniversary Edition Corvette , and is the world's fastest-reacting suspension, Chevrolet says. The system has been improved for the 2005 model, allowing drivers to choose between touring and sport settings.
Doors are stiffer and easier to close, with a more refined sound.
Best of all, though, the car is a real kick to drive. Anywhere, anytime.
G. Chambers Williams III is staff automotive columnist for the San Antonio Express-News and former transportation writer for the Star-Telegram. His automotive columns have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 1995. Contact him at (210) 250-3236; email@example.com.
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