EXPERT REVIEW

The Detroit Newspapers's view


There’s always been a Corvette void.

It’s that dead space between models that other carmakers have filled — making their offerings look less expensive and, thus, more attractive.

The rocket ship $100,000 ZR1 sits atop the mountain, while the fiery $75,000 Z06 remains parked nearby, looking slightly agitated. Then there’s the $49,000 base model Corvette — the Cooper Manning of the Corvette family. It’s the oldest, but no one brings it up in conversations about performance.

Even the $26,000 price difference between the bottom and the middle seems to degrade the base instead of elevating the premium.

Chevrolet hopes to change that with the reintroduction of the Chevrolet Corvette Grand Sport — an open-air compromise for the guy who wants something a little more special but doesn’t need to kill himself on a wet hairpin.

(For the automotive historians out there, the Grand Sport first arrived as five prototypes in 1963, then Chevy offered a limited edition Grand Sport in 1996 — resurrecting the front fender hash marks.)

Now, it’s here to stay and the Grand Sport fits perfectly into the Corvette lineup with enhanced performance and styling. It’s the Corvette hybrid we’ve all been waiting for with some Z06 trappings but without the Z06 price.

The reality is the Grand Sport moves in for the Z51 performance package for previous Corvettes, but it’s better. The wider body and wider track (the same size as the Z06 without all of that pesky carbon fiber) help the Grand Sport stick to the road and hug curves. It also uses Z06-sized brakes (14-inch front rotors with six-piston calipers) without the fancy ceramics. It’s as if engineers were building a Z06 but didn’t get all of the high-tech (and expensive) materials. While it’s heavier than the Z06, it still weighs in at 3,311 pounds and has a 51/49 front to rear weight distribution.

The end result is a car that can handle the track and gobbles up curvy roads. I tested the Grand Sport on the track and on the open road and walked away from both experiences with a smile on my face.

V8 hits 60 mph in 4 seconds

This is the touring ‘Vette with 6.2-liters of V-8 muscle under the hood. The LS3 engine can be mated to either a six-speed manual or automatic transmission. (The Z06 only comes with a manual.) And the manual includes General Motors Co.’s new launch control that lets you blast off of the line.

The system lets you floor the accelerator and then holds the revs at around 4,000 rpm as you dump the clutch. It then uses the car’s traction control to control the rear wheel slippage and gives you some top notch 0 to 60 mph times. (GM says the Grand Sport will hit 60 mph in 4 seconds flat.) Also, it can be activated very quickly, with two pushes of a button on the center console.

While there’s a beautiful quiet bravado to the engine, it can almost instantly transform from cruiser to racer. Nothing sounds as pure as the Grand Sport’s transition from humming to screaming through the acceleration lane on to the highway. It’s music.

The 430-horsepower engine launches the car and the 424 pound-feet of torque pulls you along for the ride. If you opt for the dual exhaust, which you should because it sounds even better, the engine adds another six horses and four pound-feet of torque. The hand-built engine includes all the race track improvements, such as the dry sump oil pump and specific gear ratios for the transmission and rear axle, that you’d expect in more expensive ‘Vettes.

But this car, despite its pedigree and enhancements, feels like a touring car instead of a racer. It’s the mature road tripper’s machine. You may have power and precision steering and the ability to take a full G through a corner, but do you really need to? Knowing is sometimes enough.

The Grand Sport glides on the highway, managing 26 miles per gallon on the long hauls. It’s the perfect long weekend getaway vehicle. There’s plenty of storage space in the back for two bags and the cabin offers lots of comfort and amenities. Even if you remove the polycarbonate roof for some open air driving, the roof fits nicely in the back, clicking into two hinges and leaving space for luggage.

The 43 inches of legroom provides lots of space and the sculpted seat makes the ride very comfortable. Even with the heavy-duty suspension, the ride was remarkably smooth. The lack of an insulated roof allowed lots of road noise to leak in, and that might be one of the few drawbacks with this coupe; a full convertible Grand Sport also is available. A seven-speaker stereo system helps nullify the outside sounds, but if the top is off, forget about any serious conversations.

American muscle flexed

The overall interior feels nice but could be improved. When a person throws down more than $50,000 for a sports car, the bar is high. Inside the cabin, the Grand Sport does not match the likes of the Audi S5 or BMW M3 and it should. Those European sports cars may be different than the in-your-face Corvette, but they fall into similar price categories. The Grand Sport missed the chance to up the interior ante.

However, the message a person wants to send with the Grand Sport is certainly different than one sent with a European racer.

Why use a scalpel when you have a baseball bat? The long hood, ax-chopped side vents and bulging fenders say American muscle from a mile away. People will give you a wide berth on the road and in any parking lot.

There’s a mystique that comes with a Corvette that other cars have not earned yet, if ever.

Just feel yourself fall into that low lying front seat and hear the leather creak just a little. Then reach over and push the red start button on the center console. The rumble can make the hair on your arms stand up as a chill goes down your neck. Yeah, it feels good.

Consider that void filled. Welcome to the family.

Sburgess@detnews.com (313) 223-3217

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