The change to an eight-speed automatic transmission makes the fast, comfortable, beautiful Chevrolet Corvette an even more approachable everyday sports car.
As long as there have been Chevrolet Corvettes there have been convertible versions, and the latest Stingray is no exception. There have been only a few changes to GM’s flagship sports car, which has been on sale for two years now. There are some updates to the multimedia system, plus a new, optional eight-speed automatic transmission developed by GM itself. See how the 2016 model stacks up against the 2015 here.
That just means the Corvette convertible remains an amazing achievement for Chevrolet: a convertible that offers identical equipment and options as the sporty hardtop coupe. Performance Z51 suspension? You can have that. Sport seats? Performance Data Recorder camera? Fire-breathing Z06 high-performance model? It’s all available on the droptop, with no weight or stiffness penalties. We took a spin in the 2016 model to see how the company’s new eight-speed automatic fits with the sports car’s amazing athleticism — or if it’s worthy of being called a slushbox.
The convertible shares the same styling as the coupe version of the Vette, with lots of exotic-car influence in its lines. Losing the low coupe’s fastback top, though, makes the convertible seem less dramatic than the hardtop. But it’s still seriously good-looking, and just as good with the top up, too — a rare thing in the convertible world.
The top is a lightweight piece that’s power-operated and completely automatic. There are no latches to flip, catches to snag or anything other than a single button to push. You can push that button at speeds up to 30 mph, too, which makes departures from the driveway a bit faster and helps you get the top up if it starts to sprinkle while driving. Instead of sitting there while the top goes down, just get in, start up, pull away and drop the top while you’re rumbling through your neighborhood.
Alternatively, you can point your key fob at the car and lower the top completely while standing outside it — handy when you’re walking up to the Stingray in a parking lot on a hot summer day and want to air it out before you get there (or perhaps just impress admiring onlookers). Unfortunately, GM’s lawyers have killed the remote top-up feature, worried that somehow Little Billy might be standing in the car and get his fingers pinched if it’s raised remotely. This is unfortunate, as I would think putting the top up from inside a restaurant in the event of a sudden rainstorm would be far more useful than remotely putting it down.
When Chevrolet insists the convertible is exactly the same car as the coupe, it’s not joking. The Corvette Stingray is stiff and flex-free, without rattles or shakes, and it goes topless with no penalties at all. The car is only about 50 pounds heavier than the coupe and doesn’t feature much in the way of significant additional bracing, brackets or stiffening bars. Its structure was engineered from the start not to need any. That’s an extraordinary accomplishment, and it shows in how the Stingray convertible drives — which is almost exactly like the coupe.
The same brutally quick acceleration, amazingly accurate and communicative handling, and strong and fade-free brakes are all here exactly as they were in the coupe. The big difference comes in the car’s soundtrack, which now arrives at your ears directly from the quad tailpipes without having to filter through any fiberglass or aluminum. It’s a glorious noise: the music of a 6.2-liter LT1 V-8 engine pumping out 460 horsepower and 465 pounds-feet of torque.
Just like in the coupe, the engine is matched up to a seven-speed manual transmission or an eight-speed automatic. The new eight-speed is a high-performance model developed specifically by GM for use with high-output engines. A version also resides under the skin of GM’s full-sized pickup trucks, but it doesn’t feel the least bit trucklike in the Corvette. It’s smooth as silk, with seriously quick shifts in either fully automatic or paddle-shifted modes. Depending on the mode you’ve selected, it can be either an eco-minded, early-shifting unit that keeps the V-8 on burble, or a super-aggressive, race-ready unit that keeps the V-8 on boil. The versatility is impressive, and the engine matches up well with either the coupe or the convertible.
The convertible really lends itself to the automatic, however. The coupe’s mission, first and foremost, is to be a sports car. With its Z51 adjustable suspension package, it goes from street to track with ease. You can get the Z51 on the convertible, but you’re not going to take a convertible on a track (most tracks require a roll bar if you have a soft-top). So the convertible’s mission is to be more of a street sports car. That means it’s just as likely to see traffic and low-speed cruise duty as it is a high-speed mountain canyon, making the automatic and base suspension better choices.
Regardless of transmission, cruising in the convertible at any speed is a remarkably serene experience. Wind buffeting is impressively absent — a testament to the car’s aerodynamic work — and even when temperatures dropped on my test drive, putting the windows up and pumping up the heat a bit kept me comfy in my shirtsleeves. The base suspension also matches up well with the convertible, with a supple and amazingly well-damped ride for a dedicated sports car, with no penalty in handling or steering sharpness. The ride and handling balance in the base Corvette is simply fantastic.
The audio highlight comes when the sonorous exhaust note reverberates off concrete freeway walls, echoes down to your ears from all sides, and encourages you to press harder, push faster and give the Vette some serious gas. You know the car is something special when you turn off the sound system to focus on driving, so as not to dilute the aural experience of that amazing pushrod V-8.
As in the coupe, there’s a Drive Mode Selector that allows you to choose between five settings, adjusting 12 attributes of the car to your environment. Tour is what most people will keep it in, but Sport opens up the exhaust pipes for a much more visceral sound. Track is best left for the track, as the harder suspension settings and throttle mapping make for unpleasant around-town driving. Eco maximizes cylinder deactivation when cruising — great if you want to save a little gas on a highway road trip. Weather helps you get around in rain or snow, optimizing traction control and stability program settings.
Each setting comes with a different display on the Corvette’s central gauge cluster and head-up display, providing different information to the driver. It borders on information overload, but younger buyers aren’t likely to be dissuaded by this kind of presentation.
Just as with the driving dynamics, the interior carries over from the coupe with few changes except the loss of the top. A hard tonneau cover with the Corvette logo now resides behind the seats, eliminating some storage room but opening up the Vette’s significantly improved cabin to the elements. Material quality is a world away from where the last-generation Corvette played, making all the Playskool jokes obsolete. Fully competitive materials abound, with genuine leather and real aluminum covering the seats, doors and dash. No longer do you sit in a Corvette and think, “This costs sixty grand?” It’s more spacious, more comfortable and feels like a proper brand halo.
It’s not perfect, though. The touch-pad buttons that open the doors, also used on the outside, may save weight and space, but they’re still awkward and unusual. The optional sport seats will be a bit too narrow for wider folks, but the base seats are plenty comfortable. Aside from those few minor quibbles, Chevrolet did a wonderful job updating the interior.
I’m still amazed at the electronics in the Corvette, despite them being two years old. The Vette features everything from Chevrolet’s latest MyLink system and newest head-up display on the windshield to a reconfigurable LCD replacing most gauges in front of the driver. MyLink is one of the better multimedia systems on the market, with clear and relatively intuitive operation and decent recognition of voice commands. Its speed of recognition can be finicky, however; one Corvette coupe I tested had interminably long processing times (push the voice command button, say your command and count to eight, then something happens).
The easy way to bypass all this is to use the newly available Apple CarPlay, provided you have a compatible iPhone (Android Auto is not yet available). Plug it in, touch the CarPlay icon on the screen and your MyLink multimedia system is replaced by an obvious Apple layout. It’s as easy to use as an iPhone, and Siri now works through your voice command button on the steering wheel. It works just as well as or better than the best automaker-developed multimedia systems and makes me wonder how long it will be before all automakers give up this system to the personal electronics makers.
The forward gauges are clear and legible. The tachometer and speedometer are repeated as conventional gauges flanking the central LCD, and the available head-up color display is sufficiently bright to be seen with polarized sunglasses. A second climate control display and controls for the passenger reside on the far right side of the dashboard. This was a design feature upon which nearly everyone riding along with me in the car commented.
Trading the coupe’s hatchback for a trunk necessarily means a reduction in the convertible’s cargo room, from 15 cubic feet to 10 cubic feet. It’s still a usable volume, big enough for a couple of soft duffel bags or a small roll-aboard suitcase. It’s on par with competing convertibles, like the Ford Mustang GT500 or the Audi S5 Cabriolet, and well ahead of smaller performance cars, like the Nissan 370Z roadster. There’s a decent amount of room for odds and ends, as well, with a reasonably sized glove compartment and pockets in the doors.
The Corvette has not been crash-tested.
The Corvette received significant updates in the last major model change, but safety improvements have been limited to a stiffer structure … and that’s about it. The Vette has four airbags, stability control and seat belt pre-tensioners, but it lacks modern advances like collision detection, active lane keeping, lane departure warning and blind spot detection. See all the car’s safety features here.
The base Corvette Stingray convertible rings in at $60,395, or just $4,000 more than a base coupe (all prices cited include destination charges). Start adding major option packages, however, and that price can quickly escalate to $75,000 or more. Still, given the car’s outstanding abilities, such a price is an extraordinary value in the sports car realm.
Matching the Corvette Stingray convertible up against competition isn’t as easy as it might sound. With Ford discontinuing the Mustang Shelby GT500 in favor of an all-new, hardtop-only Shelby GT350, the Corvette Stingray convertible really isn’t a competitor anymore. The European automakers do make some suitable competitors, however, with the closest being the Jaguar F-Type roadster.
The F-Type starts with a much less powerful V-6 engine, but the R trim features a 550-hp V-8. That model costs considerably more than you’d pay for a base V-8 Corvette convertible, though, and is more of a match for the Corvette Z06. The base Jag comes in at $69,095, which is still more than a standard Corvette.
Over at Porsche, the Corvette’s power and sophisticated suspension put it in competition with the 911, but its price puts it more accurately against the Boxster. The Boxster is significantly less powerful, with just 265 hp from its flat-six engine, but its mid-engine configuration and significant weight advantage means it handles more sharply than the Corvette.
If you want something a bit more sophisticated than the Vette, try an Audi S5 Cabriolet. It starts at $62,025 and features a 3.0-liter, supercharged V-6 making 333 hp. It’s not as fast as the Corvette but is considerably more comfortable and practical. You can even bring two extra passengers along. See how the Corvette Stingray convertible matches up against competitors here.
A survey of the competition really does put the Corvette Stingray convertible in perspective. Few cars out there can match its exotic-car abilities for anywhere near its premium-car price. With the new eight-speed automatic keeping things smooth and responsive, and the addition of the easy-to-use Apple CarPlay, the Vette just keeps getting better.