I'm beginning to think that the Chamber of Commerce lured me to Texas on false pretenses, leading me to believe that this area has a semi-arid climate where the sun almost always shines. People who like open-air motoring, as I do, choose places like this to live so we can drive our convertibles year-round, even in the winter when nighttime lows might be in the 30s, but daytime highs in the 70s.
But I've been severely challenged by all of the rain we've had the past couple of years.
It's been particularly bad this winter, as I've been attempting to try out a bunch of new convertibles that came on the market for 2005, including this week's test-drive, the all-new Corvette ragtop.
During my week in the driver's seat of the 'Vette, I had maybe a total of a day's worth of sunshine and balmy weather in which to cruise with the top down, and that's just not enough for a car such as this one.
We're in the Sun Belt, for cryin' out loud, so enough of the rain! I think that the automakers who send me convertibles for the standard one-week test drive should do like the car washes, and give me a raincheck if I don't have sufficient sunshine to make the experience worthwhile. I asked, but they said they'd have to get back to me on that one. Even with the rain and cool weather that forced me to keep the top up most of my week in this wonderful sports car, I enjoyed it anyway. I just want more time to drive it with the top down. What with the alimony payments and the daughter in college, I really can't afford a new 'Vette right now, particularly the convertible, whose starting price is about $8,000 more than that of the coupe.
The base price of our test car was $51,445 plus $800 freight, but with options, it rang up to a total of $60,735 - enough for about three new Silverado pickups at the price I paid for one last week. One can dream, though.
Last summer, I got to test the new 'Vettes on the GM test track at the Milford (Mich.) Proving Grounds and on country roads around the area, and that was enough to convince me that this is the best Corvette yet.
Representing the sixth generation of America's sports car, the all-new C6 went on sale this past 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 last year's 350-horsepower LS1, took 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. I didn't get it nearly that fast though, even on the test track.
With all of that power, it's hard to imagine driving the new Z06 coming out later this year, which was unveiled at the Detroit auto show in January. It will have a 500-horsepower engine.
The 400 hp. is good enough for me; while no pricing has been announced yet for the new Z06, I've heard speculation that it will begin somewhere above $70,000. Although the convertible is the most fun, the base coupe is more affordable and within reach of more consumers. Even with all of the improvements, including the additional horsepower, the 2005 coupe has a lower price than the 2004 model. Base price is $44,245, including freight, which is $1,305 less than the 2004 model. But even the convertible's starting price is $305 less than the '04 price.
The 400 horsepower engine delivers great performance, but there is no federal gas-guzzler tax because its EPA fuel-economy rating are quite respectable at 18 miles per gallon city/28 highway.
The convertible is remarkably stable for a car with its top missing, with a bare minimum of the body shakes and shimmies usually association with open-top cars. For this new generation, the Corvette's styling hasn't changed radically - just enough to tweak the areas where the C5 was lacking, although there is one pretty big change: the hideaway headlights are gone for the first time since 1962.
Chevy says that owners of C5 models had complained that that vehicle's tail end was too high and ungainly looking, so the rear of the new car is lower. The C6 is five inches shorter than the C5; three inches was taken from the hood and two inches off the rear. The C6's hood is 15 percent smaller than that of the C5, and weighs 33 percent less.
Even with this trimming of the body, though, the passenger compartment, which still holds just two people, is slightly roomier, correcting another complaint of C5 owners. Inside, there is much more storage than before. Women can stow their purses behind the seats; and there are cubbyholes - including one in the new, larger center console that can hold six CDs. The glovebox and door pockets are larger, as well.
Particular attention was given to the instrument panel, which has a backlit gauge cluster with white LEDs. The center stack has liquid-crystal displays. Even the convertible models come with the keyless entry and start system.
Among the options are a GPS navigation system with a 61/2-inch screen, and two audio systems are offered, including 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 $1,995 extra, and this was one of the options included on our test car.
Other extras on our car included a "preferred equipment group" ($2,955), which added a heads-up speed display, universal garage/gate opener, a seat/mirror memory package, automatic-dimming rearview mirror with compass, heated seats, the upgraded audio system with six-disc, in-dash CD changer, and a power-telescoping steering column; and polished-aluminum wheels ($750. We also had the "Z51 performance package" ($1,295), which tacked on larger, cross-drilled brake rotors, as well as performance-tuned tires, stabilizer bars, springs, shocks and gear ratios. That gave our car most of the extras from the '04 Z06.
The new LS2 6.0-liter small-block V-8 turns out 400 foot-pounds of torque and comes with a stiffer, stronger aluminum block, cast-iron crankshaft, and aluminum heads. 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 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 testing showed that a 2005 Corvette equipped with the Z51 suspension almost equaled the lap time of a C5 Z06.
Our tester came with the six-speed manual gearbox, which is now the base transmission on Corvettes. For many years, the base transmission was an automatic. This Tremec six-speed manual is available with two sets of ratios; the one with the more aggressive acceleration characteristics comes in the Z51 package.
Also available is the Hydra-Matic 4L65-E automatic, which has been strengthened and revised to accommodate the LS2's greater torque.
Other standard features on our car included active handling with traction control, four-wheel antilock brakes, speed-sensitive power rack-and-pinion steering, run-flat tires with pressure-monitoring system, front and side air bags, theft-deterrent system, power windows and power heated outside mirrors, dual-zone electronic climate control, cruise control, leather six-way power sport seats, tilt leather-wrapped steering wheel, and remote trunk and fuel-door releases.
The car comes with 18-inch front and 19-inch rear wheels. 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.
G. Chambers Williams III is staff automotive columnist at 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. You may contact him at (210) 250-3236; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cars.com Expert Reviews
|Jim Flammang||Cars.com National||April 7, 2004|
|Anita And Paul Lienert||The Detroit Newspapers||May 11, 2005|
|G. Chambers Williams III||Star-Telegram.com||April 8, 2005|
|Larry Printz||The Morning Call and Mcall.com||January 28, 2005|
|Dan Neil||Los Angeles Times||January 19, 2005|
|Royal Ford||Boston.com||December 5, 2004|
|G. Chambers Williams III||Star-Telegram.com||November 18, 2004|
|Tom Strongman||KansasCity.com||October 23, 2004|
|Jim Mateja||chicagotribune.com||October 17, 2004|
|Anita And Paul Lienert||The Detroit News||August 18, 2004|
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